Ed News, Tuesday, December 22, 2015 Edition


            A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                                    “Education occurs when students set out to educate themselves…
the student will only learn, can only learn, what he chooses to learn…
(An) advantage of not pushing is an innate sense 
(his) education is (his) responsibility and reward.” 
[Ed. note: The “Ed News” is going to take a break to enjoy the holidays and so I can fulfill my civic obligation to serve jury duty the week of Dec. 28th.  Look for the next edition on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, unless I end up on a lengthy case.]
     Merry Christmas 
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     And a Happy New Year to one and all
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And now to the news.
LAUSD Shut Down
A front-page story in Thursday’s L.A. Times about lessons that could be learned by various groups in L.A. regarding the LAUSD’s decision to close the district in light of an email threat sent to board members prompted 5 letters-to-the-editor published in Saturday’s paper.  The second one was from a current district teacher who concluded: “I’m just glad I don’t work in New York City, which received a similar threat but chose to keep its schools open.  What would New York’s leaders have said if it turned out that the threat was not a hoax? ‘Oops, we’re sorry’?”                Following the closure of the LAUSD on Tuesday, several other districts in Florida, Texas, Indiana and California received similar threats. EDUCATION WEEK recounts what happened in those districts and how officials in each handled them.  “The closure of a large U.S. district because of threats is rare, and the move in Los Angeles—with the nation’s second-largest school system—reflected the lingering unease in Southern California after the attack that killed 14 people at a holiday luncheon two weeks ago in San Bernardino.  Some of the districts affected by the latest threats,” the article points out, “are among the nation’s largest — Miami ranks fourth, Fort Lauderdale’s Broward County system is sixth, Houston seventh, Orlando 10th and Dallas 14th.”
Passage of ESSA
Now that Congress has passed and Pres. Obama has signed the Every Students Succeeds Act, what comes next?  Many commentators are speculating about the ramifications of the new law.  Joanne Yatvin, retired teacher, principal and superintendent, has a piece on her the treasure hunter blog titled “The New Law is Better But Not Good Enough.”  
She notes, as many others have, that major responsibility for education policies has shifted from the federal government under ESSA to the states.  “We need to put pressure on state legislatures to use their funds and power to make intelligent decisions for our schools,” Yatvin urges.  “If we are silent, thinking that all is well now that NCLB is dead, the future will be no better than the past.”                An Associated Press photographer shares six behind-the-scenes pictures he snapped during Pres. Obama’s signing ceremony for the ESSA on Dec. 10th at the White House.  EDUCATION WEEK’s “FULL FRAME Photo Blog” provides the shots and a brief commentary about the event by the cameraman.             The U.S. Dept. of Education sent a letter this week to state school chiefs offering some guidelines and suggestions about how they should deal with the issue of standardized tests opt-outs in light of the passage of ESSA.  EDUCATION WEEK reviews the contents of the letter.  “Under ESSA, states must figure low testing participation into school ratings, but just how to do that is totally up to them,” the article reports.  “And states can continue to have laws affirming parents’ right to opt their students out of tests (as Oregon does).  This is the year of opt-outs, and no less than a dozen states—Rhode Island, Oregon, Wisconsin, Washington, Delaware, North Carolina, Idaho, New York, Colorado, California, Connecticut, and Maine, received letters from the U.S. Department flagging low-participation rates on the 2014-15 tests—statewide or at the district or subgroup level—and asking what they planned to do about it.  The department is reviewing the information it got from states.  So far, the administration has yet to take serious action (like withholding money) against a state with a high opt-out rate.”
New Book
Pedro Noguera, professor of education at UCLA, reviews Vicki Abeles’ new book Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation for The New York Times Sunday Book Review.  Abeles, director of the popular 2010 documentary “Race To Nowhere” (which several ALOED members viewed as part of the group’s Education Film Series) writes about how all those corporate “reforms” have made real learning difficult for an entire generation of students.  Diane Ravitch calls Noguera’s piece “a terrific review of an important book.”  Abeles has also created a documentary film by the same title.  For more information about it, including the official trailer (3:05 minutes), click here.
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The Teaching Profession
Bob Braun was the longtime (50 year) education reporter for the Star-Ledger newspaper in New Jersey.  He retired and now writes an education blog (Diane Ravitch calls it “one of the best in the nation”). He unabashedly “supports teachers and their unions,” opposes charters and he doesn’t “get paid to do it.”  You’ll have to read his full post (Ravitch refers to it as “one of his best”) on hisBob Braun Ledger blog to figure out what he means by that last comment.               The Florida Education Association has filed a complaint with  the state Department of Education and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over a new one year teacher bonus plan linked to educators’ SAT or ACT scores that they took in high school. Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints a copy of the press release from the FEA about the issue.                Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, borrows a headline from a Florida paper’s editorial that referred to the state’s $44 million teacher bonus plan (known, by the way, as the “Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarships”) as the “worst and dumbest” education program.  As bad as the whole idea is, Strauss points out, it could get even worse: “And now, Florida lawmakers want to extend the program to go beyond one year.  In fact, the state House education committee recently approved a bill to do just that.  So this nonsense could easily last more than one year and waste more than $44 million.”  Unbelievable!!!         In the same vein, teachers in Georgia are opposed to the governor’s merit pay plan that’s tied to student test scores.  In a commentary on the “Get Schooled” column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the executive director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators explains why the plan is “unfair” to teaches and students. “Georgia’s 1.7 million students deserve to learn from educators who are committed to their academic progress,”  she concludes, “their development as critical thinkers and their ability to pursue creative expression rather than focus on standardized test scores and how those scores will affect their evaluations and pay.”                Daniel Katz, on his Daniel Katz, Ph.D. blog has an extended essay titled “Advice for My Students: DON”T ‘Teach for America.'”  Katz, Director of Secondary Education and Secondary Special Education Teacher Preparation at Seton Hall University, writes in conclusion: “It is past time for young people to stop lining up to ‘Teach For America,’ and there is no reason that my students – who have earned the title of professional teacher through years of hard work – should ever join them.  I work with amazing and talented young people, many of whom are passionate about working with our schools’ most at risk children.  They can do that brilliantly, and more effectively, without Teach For America.”               BURNOUT.  You hear the term all too often these days, as veteran teachers detail the travails of their profession.  THE EDUCATOR’S ROOM website has a piece titled “Surviving Burnout: A Teacher’s Story” in which a 30-year veteran teacher at a inner-city school in Philadelphia describes two episodes she experienced of burnout and how she dealt with them.  “Burnout occurs often in the field of teaching.  Rarely does it have anything to do with the children that we teach.  Usually, it has to do with decisions made by non-teachers and the ever-increasing paperwork that comes with those decisions.  I went through two burnouts during my teaching career,” she candidly reveals.  “I survived one and continued teaching for many years afterward.  The second burnout resulted in my early retirement.  I am sharing them with you so that you know that you are not alone.”
Charter Schools
Memphis is one city that turned a number of its under-performing schools over to an Achievement School District (ASD) where they were transferred to a charter operator.  Glowing promises were made that the schools would soon be scoring in the top 25% of campuses in Tennessee.  Guess what?  It didn’t happen and the Shelby County (Memphis) School board has declared a moratorium on any new conversions to the ASD.  You can read the official resolution submitted to the superintendent on the Shelby County School website.  Under the “Be it Resolved” section is this item intended to “address the District’s challenges:”  “Co-existence with the ASD and a moratorium on the ASD takeover of additional schools until they show consistent progress in improving student academic achievement.”               Want a tour of one of Eva Moscowitz’s Success Academy Charters in the Bronx?  They claim they are very successful so you’d think they’d want to show off what they are doing.  When Andrea Gabor, professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College/CUNY, tried to join a tour she was at first accepted and then 3 days later was “disinvited.”  You can read the account of her tale of woe on her Andrea Gabor website.  A person Gabor knows (“an anonymous educator source”) did go on the tour and provides her with some detailed information about what the participants witnessed.                 The school board and superintendent of the Anaheim Union High School District last week issued a press release requesting a temporary moratorium on approving charter schools in the district.  The action asked “legislators [to] fix the overly permissive law that enables charters to operate on a business model whose main goal is to make money.”   The statement appears on Diane Ravitch’s blog.                   It seems the trend of elected public school boards turning down charter requests is spreading.  The Glendale News-Pressreports on a recent action in which board members unanimously denied a request to approve a charter application for a campus in Glendale “Glendale school officials found fault with the charter’s proposed staffing, educational and financial plans. . . . In their 18-page staff report recommending denial of the charter school,” the reporter writes, “a team of 10 Glendale Unified administrators concluded that the charter school would not likely fulfill local families’ needs.”  Glendale USD board member and ALOED member Jennifer Freemon is quoted at the end of this piece.                  Charter vs. traditional schools?  The debate can be endless as each side cites studies and research to bolster its case.  A new study from UC Berkeley, featured in an article in today’s L.A. Times, finds that students who enter charters often are more academically advanced to begin with than those in traditional schools.  “Charter students in middle schools also stand out academically after they enroll in charters,” the story further points out, “making faster gains than similar students in traditional schools, according to the study.  The findings add more fuel to the debate over charters but stops well short of settling the question of whether these schools are more effective at educating students.”  The Times piece includes a link to the full study (41 pages) titled “Differing Effects From Diverse Charter Schools: Uneven Student Selection and Achievement Growth in Los Angeles.”              The federal Charter Schools Program received significant boosts from both the passage of ESSA and the budget approved by Congress last week according to an analysis in EDUCATION WEEK.  “Slated to receive $333 million for fiscal 2016, the Charter School Program will be at its highest level of funding ever,” it notes, “according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.  That’s a big deal to the fast-growing charter sector, especially in areas of the country that don’t have access to a lot of philanthropy dollars. . . .  ESSA makes several changes to the program that will help expand its reach.”
Oops!  Sorry about that.  The Indianapolis Star reports that “thousands” of high-stakes tests in Indiana could have been miss scored due to an apparent computer “glitch.” Wouldn’t it be lovely if your high school graduation, or teacher evaluation or your teacher pay or school rating was based on those scores?  Just asking.  And, by the way, did the company in question, CTB McGraw Hill promptly correct the error and offer profuse apologies to all involved?  “The company that scored the exam on behalf of the state — testing giant CTB McGraw Hill — decided to leave those potentially faulty scores in place, even after the problem was brought to management’s attention. . . . Seven supervisors who spoke with The Star disagreed.  All said they believed the problem was more widespread,” the article reveals.  “Two estimated that tens of thousands of test questions were likely given incorrect scores. Others said it is difficult to put a number on the problem, but it was pervasive enough to merit rescoring the potentially impacted tests.”  The story proceeds to outline how the malfunction took place and provides a summary of a response to the issue from the company to the Department of Education.  McGraw Hill refused to respond to inquiries from The Star regarding the scoring.                 THE HECHINGER REPORT describes how some high tech tools developed to aid disabled students to be more successful on standardized tests may have had the opposite effect for some.  “The Common Core tests, which are based on learning goals adopted in 43 states and the District of Columbia, offer many state-of-the-art technological tools to level the playing field for special education students,” it explains.  “. . . .School employees across California have reported glitches in the tests’ enhancements for students with disabilities. . . . According to teachers and administrators, special education students across California spent days last spring toiling over computerized tests that their teachers say often made it more difficult, not easier, for them to access the material.”  The story details some specific issues some elementary special education students in a San Francisco classroom experienced as they took the assessments last spring.
LAUSD Supt. Search
LAUSD school board members met late into the evening on Saturday but at the conclusion of the marathon session no white smoke was visible indicating a selection had been made for a new superintendent.  A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times has the latest details on this critical decision.  “The board has held four lengthy meetings over the last seven days as it tried to make its most important hire,”  it relates.  “Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, 83, left the school system Dec. 11 but is reachable on an emergency basis until Jan. 1.  The district’s No. 2 administrator, Michelle King, will serve in place of Cortines, but will not receive the title of interim superintendent.  King already effectively has those duties because Cortines is on vacation until his retirement.”                LAUSD Deputy Supt. Michelle King has quietly taken over the reins of the districts from Supt. Ramon Cortines who began using his vacation days on Dec. 11 in anticipation of his retirement.  King is a top contender to take over the post on a permanent basis.  The school board was hoping to name a successor after meeting on Saturday but nothing was announced.  An article in yesterday’s L.A. Timesupdates events in the superintendent search.   “King has experience serving for short periods as acting superintendent, especially when she worked under Cortines’ predecessor, John Deasy, who frequently went out of town for conferences and meetings,” it explains.  “Last week, she oversaw the staff presentation at a board meeting over a sensitive topic: the temporary closing of two schools because of a natural gas leak in the northwest San Fernando Valley.”
2016 Election
Donald Trump, the leading Republican presidential contender, often brags about his negotiating ability and about some of the great deals he’s closed.  However, when it came to battling the LAUSD he came in second best.  A page two “Back Story” Feature in Sunday’sL.A. Times, titled “In At Least One Huge Deal in L.A., Trump Got Schooled,” describes the battle royal between the master negotiator and two progressive members of the LAUSD school board over theold Ambassador Hotel site that lasted for years beginning in 1989.  “The 23.5-acre property, much of it open space, became a rare object of desire in a densely built part of the city.  The Board of Education already had its eye on the property for a badly needed high school,” the fascinating story notes, “when a Trump syndicate swooped it up for $64 million in 1989 and announced plans to erect a 125-story office tower.  The school board countered with a 7-0 vote to take the property from Trump via eminent domain.  Usually that would start a process in which the parties and their appraisers, or a court, would settle on a price.  But not when one of the parties was Trump.”  He attempted to gain ownership of the parcel but eventually lost.  Today it houses the Robert F. Kennedy Community School, a K-12 campus that’s incorporated into some significant portions of the venerable hotel’s structure.  [Ed. note:  Several years ago a group of ALOED members toured the school.]  If you’d like more information about the RFK School, check out their official website by clicking here.
What Might Arne Duncan Do After He leaves DoE?
U.S. Department of Education Sec. Arne Duncan will be leaving his post, after almost 7 tumultuous years, at the end of this month.  What might he do next?  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post has some ideas based on an interview Duncan gave to a Post colleague a couple of days ago.  In the interview “Duncan made clear that he will work on gun control in some way after he officially vacates the post he has held for seven years,” Strauss believes.  She includes several links to that full interview conducted last Wednesday in which Duncan lays out what he sees as the successes and failures of his tenure at DoE.  It’s well worth a read to see Duncan’s perceptions of his time in Obama’s cabinet and its impact on education.
Common Core
And finally, how do New Yorkers feel about the Common Core?  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, takes apart anew poll from the pro-Common Core Center for American Progressthat reports that a survey of New York voters found overwhelming approval for a sample of ELA and math standards for grades 4 and 8.  “The poll is as fine an example of scrambled thinking used to fuel PR as you’ll find anywhere,” Greene scoffs.  “In the world of polling, there are two types of polls– a poll that seeks to find out what people are really thinking, and a poll that tries to make it look like people are thinking what I want them to think.  This would be the second type of poll.”  Greene includes a link to the full poll (18 pages).
Happy holidays to everyone.  Look for the next edition in January.  Thanks for reading!

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


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