Ed News, Tuesday, January 5, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

              Happy New Year Everyone!
                         “A teacher will be frustrated if she is only motivated to teach what she has learned. 
                Yet, if she is motivated because of the students, then she will learn from them how to teach.” 
LAUSD Shut Down

An “Education Matters” feature in the Monday, Dec. 28, L.A. Times revisits the decision by LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines toclose the entire district on Tuesday, Dec. 15, after an email threat was received by school board members.  “Now that there’s been[some time] to make sense of the day’s events,” the reporter writes in the introduction, “we asked school board members — the people who direct L.A. Unified — to weigh in on what went down and how it might affect the school district moving forward.  Six of seven got back to us. They all stand by their initial decision to shut down the district.”  The article is a Q & A in which members respond to queries about the decision-making process, what lessons were learned and how a similar situation might be handled in the future.

Election 2016
While delivering a campaign speech at a school in Iowa a couple of days before Christmas, Hillary Clinton made an ill conceived remark about closing public schools.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog at The Washington Post, defends the comment and reprints a good portion of her speech so you can judge for yourself what she said.         Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATIONblog had two separate critiques of Clinton’s comments (see above).  The first one questions her math abilities and includes a brief video (24 seconds) of the  comment in question.  “Whatever the case,” he observes, “it is certainly proof once again (as if any were needed) that Clinton is no friend of public education.  Greene’s second column on the topic responds to her campaign’s justification for the comment based on it being taken out of context.  “So, yes, I considered the context,” he concludes scornfully, “and no, Clinton doesn’t deserve a pass on this one.  She said a really, really dumb thing.  And it is just as dumb in context.”               Anthony Codyweighs in on the comment Clinton made about closing schools on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  “With her ill-informed remarks on school closures, Hillary Clinton set off a bit of a firestorm among education activists.  Her full remarks have been posted by Valerie Strauss, so there is no question what she said, and as Peter Greene points out, context does not help much,” he begins.  “She clearly thinks that if she is elected it will be her responsibility to enact policies that close low performing schools, much as her predecessors, Presidents Obama and Bush did.”  Cody believes that a position like this will hurt Clinton with the pro-public education crowd.                 Not to be outdone, Steven Singer, on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, reacts to the comment Clinton made in Iowa.  He takes a more nuanced view in a piece titled “I Doubt Hillary Clinton Plans to Close Half of All Public Schools–But She Does Want to Close Some.”  Singer is still critical of Clinton but for different reasons.  ” Hold your horses, media backlash,” he urges.  I’m not really a Hillary supporter, but this has gotten a little out of hand.  Maybe I’m being too generous here, but I’m going to assume that Clinton may be a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them.  She made a gaffe. She said something that doesn’t make much sense mathematically. Close all schools below average?  Average means 50%. That’s half of all schools.  It was a blunder, a mistake, a foot-in-the-mouth moment.  I can believe a lot about Clinton, but not that her education policy includes shuttering half of our nation’s schools.”            The first votes to be cast in the run-up to the presidential election in November will take place during the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1.  Education has not been a major topicof most candidates, both Republican and Democratic, during speeches or debates.  However, topics like student debt, Common Core and testing have come up on occasion and often the responses by the candidates have simply demonstrated how uninformed they are about the subject.  EDUCATION WEEK adds to the latter canon with a piece titled “Common Core Keeps Getting Bashed on the Campaign Trail.”  It zeroes in on a speech delivered last week by GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio of Florida.
2015 in Review and Predictions for 2016
As the year 2015 fades into the rear view mirror, it’s time to take a look at some of the key stories of the past 12 months.  EDUCATION WEEK has several articles looking back at the year.  Many of the specific stories were highlighted in the “Ed News.”   The first is titled “Top Ten Teacher Stories of 2015:Education Week Teacher’s Most Viewed.”  Number 1 on this list is titled “9 Mistakes New Teachers Make.”  Another is headlined “Top Opinion Blog Posts of 2015: Education Week’s Most-Viewed.”  [My favorite from this list is number 9: “Three Reasons Why Faculty Meetings Are a Waste of Time.”  A third presents a number ofaspects of the teaching profession through a series of 9 charts and tables.  Chart 1 deals with teacher retention over 5 years; number 2 with the issue of teacher shortages and number 8 covers the topic of girls and computer science.  ED WEEK columnist Larry Ferlazzo has a list of the 10 most popular posts of 2015 from his “Classroom Q & A” blog.  He followed that one up with a list of “The BEST Classroom Q & A Posts of 2015.”                Gene V. Glass, Emeritus Regents’ Professor at Arizona State University, takes a satirical look back at the past year in education, month-by-month, on the National Education Policy Center’s Education in Two Worldsblog. Here’s his first entry: “January–Record-breaking snow fall in New England prompt school officials to order snow shoes for all elementary school pupils so as not to miss a single day of learning, which would render the children unready for career and college.”               Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog reviews the key education stories and personalities of 2015.  Among a few of the topics he features are the end of NCLB and the passage of ESSA, charter schools, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates, Pres. Obama and Black Lives Matter.               The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) looked back at how they impacted 2015 in words, deeds and pictures on their website.               Steven Singer just concluded his first full year of blogging on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG and he picks out his top ten postsout of the 90 he wrote in 2015.  “These are the ones that got the most attention,” he concludes by way of introduction.  ” Often they incensed people into a fury.  Sometimes they melted hearts.  I just hope – whether you ended up agreeing with me or not – these posts made you think.”               Valerie Strauss had “hundreds of posts” on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post in 2015.  She selects ten that her “readers liked most.”  She includes links to each one.  “Subjects that drew big audiences,” she notes, “included the Common Core State Standards, standardized testing and the opt-out movement, the teaching profession, educational equity and early childhood education.”   Larry Ferlazzo, writing on Strauss’ column in the Post, has somepredictions, speculations (and some wishful thinking) about what to expect in the field of education in 2016. Number 5 has a very local connection:“Billionaire Eli Broad will pursue his ill-considered plan to spend $500 million to create hundreds of charter schools and enroll half of Los Angeles’ students in them.  However, it will create such a backlash that the California state legislature will pass bills making it far more difficult to establish charter schools in the state.”
Graduation Rates Increase as Questions are Raised
As graduation rates continue their slow but steady rise, questions are being raised about the quality of those diplomas being earned.  Are more students graduating without the necessary skills for college and careers?  A piece in The New York Times addresses that issue.  “The number of students earning high school diplomas has risen to historic peaks, yet measures of academic readiness for college or jobs are much lower,” it notes.  “This has led educators to question the real value of a high school diploma and whether graduation requirements are too easy.”  A high school in South Carolina is presented as a case study.               The Times followed up on the above story with an editorial blaming the teachers unionsfor opposing the Common Core-aligned assessments and in favor of continuing the standards and the tests.  “Teachers unions and other critics of federally required standardized tests,” it begins, “have behaved in recent years as though killing the testing mandate would magically remedy everything that ails education in the United States. In reality, getting rid of the testing requirement in the early grades would make it impossible for the country to know what if anything children were learning from year to year.”               Diane Ravitch’s blog was highly critical of the NY Times editorial (see above) for several reasons.  “If students are graduating with empty high school diplomas, it cannot be because there wasn’t enough testing,” she argues.  “We have had a federal policy of high-stakes testing, and students are graduating unprepared for college and careers.  So the New York Times’ solution: keep on doing what hasn’t worked for 15 years.  Keep high-stakes testing and add Common Core so that standards are higher.”             Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, takes an even more critical view of the NY Times editorial.  He offers a nearly point-by-point rebuttal of their support for the Common Core and testing.  ” If you want to find one of the problems getting in the way of finding a remedy for everything that ails education, a good first step would be for journalists to stop uncritically running the PR of the people who want to dismantle public education and sell off the parts,” he complains.  “The NYT did not solve any problems today, and they didn’t identify any, either.  But they surely provided an example of one of them.  Come on, New York Times– do journalism better.”
Student Privacy
Google has become ubiquitous in the education technology field.  It’s not just their search product but also their Maps app, Google Docs, YouTube, Calendar, word processing, Gmail and Google News along with growing sales of their less expensive Chromebook laptops and tablets that are showing up more and more in the nation’s classrooms.  But there is apparently a darkside to these inroads.  The company is collecting massive amounts of student data as pupils make use of their myriad products.  A story in The Washington Post reports on some new concerns being raised by privacy advocates.  “Google is also tracking what those students are doing on its services and using some of that information to sell targeted ads,” it notes, “according to a complaint filed with federal officials by a leading privacy advocacy group.  And because of the arrangement between Google and many public schools, parents often can’t keep the company from collecting their children’s data, privacy experts say.”  Google maintains all of its apps comply with the law.               California has a groundbreaking student-data-privacy protection law that went into effect on Jan. 1.  Other states are quickly duplicating the Golden State’s effort according to an item on the “Digital Education” blog for EDUCATION WEEK.  “The law primarily aims to prevent third-party contractors from selling student data for advertising purposes, and restricts vendors from creating profiles of students for any non-educational purpose,” the article explains.  “Companies doing business in California districts are now also required to meet basic cyber-security standards and be prepared to delete student data at school or district requests.”  The article includes a link to the full law (SB-1177), known as the Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (SOPIPA) that was signed by Gov. Brown on Sept. 29.
The Teaching Profession
A 5th grade teacher in Dallas talks about how she usesmindfulness in her classroom.  She discusses the technique in a Teaching Channel video (10:06 minutes) from EDUCATION WEEK and explains how it helps her students to be more focused and engaged in class.               Peggy Robinson, on her Peg With Pen blog, describes what it’s like to work at a “turnaround” school.  It is not a very pleasant portrait, especially for professional educators who are going through the process as she is.  “A turnaround school is a public school that has been deemed ‘failing’ by policy makers.  The policy makers inflict draconian, fascist measures on such schools in an effort to turn them around – aka – increase test scores,” she observes.  “If they don’t increase test scores they bring the hammer down harder by firing teachers, handing the school over to a charter, or closing the school, and so on.   Turnaround schools are not failing.  Rather, the truth is that the policies are the failures.  The racist, classist, sexist policies are based on lies and false realities meant to create compliant worker bees who do as they are told to increase test scores, while ultimately allowing the corporate reformers to push forward other measures which increase profit, increase the privatization of our public schools, and finally, increase the power of the privileged.  That’s it in a nutshell.”                The pivotal Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association case is scheduled to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.  The case involves the issue of whether agency-fee arrangements for unions are unconstitutional and a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could deal a serious (fatal?) blow to public employee unions.  A piece in EDUCATION WEEK profiles Rebecca Friedrichs from Anaheim, California, lead plaintiff in the case, and reviews the issues at stake.  “In California, public-sector unions actually collect the full amount of dues from objecting employees,” it explains.  “Then, the agency-fee payers must ‘opt out,’ or affirmatively object, to paying for unions’ political and lobbying activities, and they then get a refund for those nonchargeable activities.  Some union expenditures are clearly related to collective bargaining, and thus ‘chargeable’ to fee payers; others are clearly not related, and thus ‘nonchargeable.’  But many categories of spending—legal services, public relations, back-office administration—are at least partially chargeable.”
A ‘WAR’ on Charters?  Really?
Who is the L.A. Times editorial board trying to kid?  An extended editorial in Thursday’s print edition is absurdly titled “The Ongoing War on Charters.”  They can’t be serious!  A ‘war’ on charters?  The last time anyone checked, charters were expanding exponentially and a plan is afoot in to convert up to 50% of schools in the LAUSD into charters by 2023.  How is that a ‘war’ on charters?  Most people realize the charter industry is making major inroads into the traditional public schools to the point that proponents of that sector are predicting the end of public education as we know it.  The editorial does take a more even-handed approach to the battle between charters and traditional schools by citing a recent report from UC Berkeley (highlighted in the “Ed News”) about comparisons between the two types of campuses but the title remains totally misleading.  [Ed. note: Interestingly, the online version of this editorial carries the much more neutral title: “Both Traditional and Charters Schools in L.A. Unified Could Learn From This Study.”]               The above noted editorial drew 3 letters-to-the-editor that appear in today’s Times.  The first one is from a LAUSD teacher, the second from a former district administrator (unidentified) and the third from a LAUSD substitute.  [Ed. note: I submitted a letter to the paper using similar verbiage to my comment above, but it has was not selected for publication.  Needless to say, I’m devastated!]
Arne Duncan Says Goodbye; John King Takes Over at the DoE
U.S. Dept. of Education Sec. Arne Duncan wrapped up his controversial tenure in the Obama administration on Thursday.  Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, reviews his almost 7-year term by reprinting some of the comments he’s made over the years on various education topics.  “Duncan was highly effective in pushing — critics say coercing — states to adopt the Common Core State Standards, open more charter schools and evaluate teachers by student standardized test scores,” she writes.  “But, as time has shown, his reforms were hardly as effective as his ability to get them adopted.”               EDUCATION WEEK recaps the final speech Duncan delivered on his last day in office on Thursday.  “Ten years from now, most people will probably remember U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s tenure for Race to the Top, changes to teacher evaluation, and Common Core politics,” the piece begins.  “But his final speech—at Saint Sabina’s Church on Chicago’s gritty south side—centered on something else entirely: Gun violence and its impact on thousands of children around the country.”              Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, reflects on Duncan’s tenure at the DoE.  Duncan may be gone, she concludes, but many of his policies remain.               And what should people expect from Duncan’s successor, John B. King, Jr.?  Before coming to the federal Dept. of Education, King served as New York State Education Commissioner for 3 1/2 years.  His tenure there was a rocky one as described by Valerie Strauss inThe Washington Post who provides a litany of problems King faced in implementing the Common Core and the tests that go along with the standards.                “Acting” U.S. Sec. of Education John King, dropped by an elementary school in Maryland to welcome the students back from their winter break.  During the visit he chatted with reporters and laid out his 3 main agenda items for the Dept. of Education.  EDUCATION WEEK describes what his goals are.
Inline image 1
“Acting” U.S. Department of Education Sec. John B. King
Common Core
A story that appears in the Jan. 1, 2016, edition ofFORTUNE magazine details the extensive involvement of major corporations in supporting the Common Core and how influential individuals like Bill Gates and certain corporate CEOs pushed for the adoption of the standards by prominent politicians and members of the public.  It’s titled “Business Gets Schooled.”  “In truth, Common Core might not exist without the corporate community,” the story suggests.  “The nation’s business establishment has been clamoring for more rigorous education standards—ones that would apply across the entire nation—for years.  It views them as desperately needed to prepare America’s future workforce and to bolster its global competitiveness.  One measure of the deep involvement of corporate leaders: The Common Core standards were drafted by determining the skills that businesses (and colleges) need and then working backward to decide what students should learn.”               Several education activist groups are furious at comments made by ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson in the article above about the role of public education.  He likened graduates of the K-12 system to “defective products” that couldn’t be used by companies like his.   Valerie Strauss, writing inThe Washington Post, comments on the quick reaction by various education organizations to Tillerson’s remarks.  “Activists were swift in their condemnation,” she points out.  “The job of public schools is not, they say, to supply a workforce for Big Business, but, rather, to educate young people to participate fully in American democratic society.”               In addition, Carol Burris, veteran educator, award-winning principal of a high school in New York (now retired) and current co-executive director of the non-profit Network for Public Education Fund, pens a letter to Tillersonabout his comments.  Her reaction appears on Strauss’ blog and is titled “Dear Mr. Tillerson of ExxonMobil: ‘Please Leave Our Children Along.'”  “But let me make this clear — our children are not products for your purchase,” Burris complains.  “You, and the captains of industry (or whatever you call yourselves this century), are not ‘the customers.’  School is not a training camp to work on oilrigs, to pump gas or design lubricants. There is just enough democracy left to make students know they have choices, and more than enough parental commonsense left to know that community control of schools is slipping away.”               Peter Greene, on hisCURMUDGUCATION blog, also took exception to the way the FORTUNE article was presented in general and with Rex Tillerson’s comments in particular.  He titles his piece “When Business Doesn’t Get It.”             Are the Common Core Standards supposed to be good for students or big business?  The Washington Post’sValerie Strauss prints a letter dated May 31, 2013, from ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to the then-governor of Pennsylvania that makes pretty clear where large corporations like Tillerson’s stand on the Common Core and why.  “Tillerson gave a number of speeches,”Strauss explains, “promoting the Core — and he lobbied policymakers in states to stick with the Core when some began to back away from the initiative after an uprising of critics from conservatives as well as others across the political spectrum.”               Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, is highly critical of the FORTUNE article.  [The FORTUNE article’s author Peter Elkind] “shows that CCSS is very much a corporate tool– a magic tool that is supposed to serve their corporations by contorting the purpose of education into corporate service.”
Education Technology
The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) surveyed 1,300 teachers around the nation on their attitudes about education technology.  “The purpose of the survey was to get a pulse on how classroom teachers were feeling about the use of technology in their classrooms,” the article explains.  “With concerns that ESSA seemed to be very ‘online’ friendly, we wanted the voices of teachers to reach the public.  We want the public to understand, from practitioners in the classroom, how technology was being used, what was good, what was bad, and how it was impacting the budgets of school districts.”
The bald piano guy is at is again with his satirical takes on classical tunes.  This time he has a YouTube ode to the opt-out movement (1:18 minutes) sung to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.” Stoke the fire, pour yourself a hot toddy and sit back and enjoy it.
LAUSD Supt. Search
The new year has arrived and the LAUSD is getting ready to name its new superintendent.  The school board is scheduled to meet in a private session today to continue its search for a successor to Ramon Cortines who served for 14 months after the controversial  3 1/2 year term as chief of John Deasy.  A front-page story in yesterday’s L.A. Times reviews Cortines’ time in office and suggests whoever the board selects may want to follow in his footsteps regarding how they run the district.  “The Board of Education is now seeking a leader who will follow his model. . . .  Though some civic leaders still favor someone with Deasy’s aggressive agenda for change,”  the story notes, “district officials described Cortines’ leadership as both calming and productive, particularly on matters that affected students.               Richard Carranza, the chief of the San Francisco school district, withdrew his name from consideration for the top LAUSD post according to a story in the  San Francisco Chronicle.  “Carranza has in a short period made a national name for himself as a young superintendent,”  it notes, “bringing a blue-collar, English-learner background, fluency in Spanish and a reputation for playing well with others. . . .   Los Angeles officials reportedly pressed hard for Carranza while searching for a leader with a proven record in urban education and an ability to restore trust and respect. The district is replacing Ramon Cortines, a former San Francisco superintendent, who stepped in last year as a temporary replacement for the more controversial and reform-minded John Deasy.  Carranza was listed among the presumed top contenders, along with Fremont Superintendent Jim Morris and Los Angeles Unified Deputy Superintendent Michelle King.  District officials said they expect to name a new superintendent this month.”              An item posted on the L.A. Times website early this afternoon reports that the LAUSD board met for almost 5 hours this morning but was unable to agree on a new superintendent.  “If board members had been willing to pick a leader on a split vote, the selection process could have ended weeks ago,” it reveals, “according to inside sources who were not authorized to comment.  At least three candidates seemed certain to claim four votes or more, but not the 7-0 united front that the board wanted to present to its pick and to the community.  The candidates who could have prevailed on a split vote included [LAUSD Deputy Supt. Michelle] King and San Francisco Supt. Richard Carranza — who withdrew from consideration this week.  Fremont Unified Supt. Jim Morris also could have drawn four votes, even though it’s not clear he was granted a second interview.”  The board is scheduled to meet again on Monday in search of an acceptable candidate.
A provision of the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) would allow states to substitute the SAT or ACT for the Common Core-aligned tests now being used.  That could create a profound shift in the focus of testing from standards-based assessment to college readiness according to an article in EDUCATION WEEK.  “Many states offer or require the SAT or ACT statewide as a way to get students thinking about, and applying to, college,” the item explains.  “But few use those tests for the accountability reports that are required by federal law.  Seven states have won permission from the U.S. Department of Education to use SAT or ACT for federal accountability.  But a spokeswoman for the department said the states still must present evidence, through the peer-review process, that the exams are valid for that purpose.  Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire won approval to use the SAT for federal accountability, and Arkansas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming got the nod to use the ACT that way.”
New Laws Dealing With Students in California
The “Education Matters” feature in yesterday’s L.A. Timesdescribes several new California laws that took effect on Friday that deal with some of the state’s most vulnerable students.  The story explains that the new laws focus on students “who are homeless, in foster care, potential victims of sexual assault and those kept out of advanced classes which hurts their ability to go to college.”
Education Around the World
How does education in the U.S. compare to other countries around the world?  EDUCATION WEEK highlights a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics comparing many aspects ofteaching and education of the G-20 nations in an item titled “Five Ways U.S. Education Differs from Other G-20 Countries.”  The article contains several links to the full report (154 pages) titled “Comparative Indicators of Education in the United States and Other G-20 Nations: 2015.”  The report is the sixth one from the NCES, an agency of the U.S. Dept. of Education.  It includes 29 specific “Indicators” of comparative data on many of aspects of education like “Enrollment in Formal Education” (p. 11), “Public School Teachers’ Starting Salaries” (p. 71), “Graduation Rates by Sex” (p. 78) and much, much more.  Bookmark the report, set it aside for now, and pick it up and peruse something new when you have a couple of free minutes.
Charter Schools
And finally, a glut of subprime home loans led to a housing bubble which contributed significantly to the Great Recession the U.S. recently experienced.  Jennifer Berkshire, author of theEDUSHYSTER blog, interviews the lead  author of a new study titled “Are We Heading Toward a Charter School ‘Bubble’?: Lessons From the Subprime Mortgage Crisis.”  She opens the Q & A with this: “You and your co-authors make the case that, just as with subprime mortgages, the federal government is encouraging the expansion of charter schools with little oversight, and the result could be a charter school *bubble* that blows up in urban communities.  Do I have it right?”  You can download the full report (28 pages) by clicking here.               Even though Chicago is facing declining enrollment, the closure of over 50 schools and continuing budget shortfalls, the school board, under the control of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, wants to EXPAND the number of charters in the city.  NPR station WBEZ91.5 has the details.  “The district is prepared to give charters that already run schools approval for up to four additional campuses,” the station notes.  “And it’s poised to grant approvals now for campuses that wouldn’t open for several years, to allow more time for planning a school’s opening, the district says in a press release.”  More money to mostly non-union charters = less funds for the traditional public schools. Charters, what a great way to stick it to teachers unions and traditional public schools.  We’ve seen this agenda in district-after-district around the country.

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


2 responses »

    • I was kidding, as I’m sure you could tell. I was hoping they’d print my message but I was not holding my breath. It’s nice to hear I’m in good company.
      Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s