Ed News, Tuesday, January 12, 2016 Edition


            A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

Upcoming Event Reminder:  The next ALOED Book Club discussion will take place on Monday, February 1, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the home of past ALOED president Jill Asbjornsen.  The title this time is The Giver by Lois Lowry.  Even if you haven’t read the book you’re invited for dinner, provided by ALOED, and a stimulating evening of discussion.  For more details and to RSVP please click here.

            “We do not trust educated people and rarely, alas,
        produce them, for we do not trust the independence of mind
              which alone makes a genuine education possible.”
             ― James BaldwinNobody Knows My Name
Friedrichs v California Teachers Association

Oral arguments were heard yesterday before the U.S. Supreme Court in the pivotal Friedrichs v California Teachers Associationcase.  It involves a challenge to the agency-fee concept by which public employees who do not wish to belong formally to their union can opt-out of paying full dues, that include political activities, by paying a partial agency fee to cover collective bargaining and administrative costs.  A group of Orange County teachers make up the plaintiffs in the case led by Rebecca Friedrichs from Anaheim.  Both The New York Times (click here) and The Atlantic (click here) lay out the issues in the case.  Read one or both and you’ll get a good preview of what’s at stake.  “The court’s decision, expected by June, will affect millions of government workers of all kinds.”  the Times reports, “and may deal a sharp financial and political blow to public unions.  (The ruling is unlikely to have a direct impact on unionized employees of private businesses, as the First Amendment restricts government action and not private conduct.)”  The Atlantic points out the significance of the case to public employee unions this way: “A decision against unions in Friedrichs could severely weaken unions’ bargaining and financial power.  Under federal law, if a majority of employees decide to form a union, the union must represent all employees for bargaining purposes.  But if some people decide not to join (whether because of genuine political disagreement or merely to save money on the fees),” it continues, “the union has less leverage because it represents fewer members.  It also has less money to pay for the things that keep it strong, like bargaining and organizing.  But it still has an obligation to do things such as bargaining and organizing since, in many states, public employers are required to bargain with unions.”               Richard Kahlenberg, writing on The Century Foundation (TCF) website, maintains the stakes in Friedrichsv CTA are much bigger than just for public employee unions.  A defeat for the unions would challenge the foundations of our system of government.  His extended essay is titled “How Defunding Public Service Unions Will Diminish Our Democracy” and it makes a strong case for why the Court should support the union’s position.  “Historically, labor unions have been recognized, by Democrats and Republicans alike, as essential actors that help our democracy flourish,” he concludes.  “Imposing a harsh right-to-work regime on public sector workers nationally would not just be a political power grab; it would severely weaken a key set of institutions that make our democracy work.”                Here’s a poster on the Badass Teacher Association (BATs) website about theFriedrichs case [Ed. note: The “Rebecca” reference is to RebeccaFriedrichs, lead plaintiff in the case.  “I Stand With Rebecca” was the poster supporters of her position held aloft in front of the Supreme Court building during oral arguments yesterday.]         

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Yesterday’s L.A. Times reviewed the Friedrichs case and its possible impact in other areas.  “A free-speech ruling in favor of the anti-union teachers could have an impact in other areas,”  it suggests.  “For example, the court upheld mandatory state bar fees for lawyers in 1990 and did so by citing its earlier ruling upholding mandatory fees for unionized teachers.”              Anextended editorial in yesterday’s Times supported the position of the California Teachers Association in the Friedrichs case that teacher should continue to have to pay “fair share” fees.  “The case of Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Assn. is the latest installment in a long legal campaign to undermine public-employee unions, and it comes at a time when those unions are under fire for the generosity of the benefits they negotiate (especially in relation to those available in the private sector) and for their political influence.  Teachers’ unions in particular — and not just in California — are being faulted for inflexibility and resisting reform. . . .  But the issue before the court,” it argues, “isn’t whether teachers’ unions are beneficial or harmful. It is whether the 1st Amendment prohibits California and other states from requiring public employees who choose not to join the union — but who benefit from agreements the union negotiates — to help defray the costs associated with collective bargaining.”               Charles Kerchner, in the “On California” column for EDUCATION WEEK, titles his opinion piece about the case, prior to it being heard: “Is This the End of Teachers’ Unions?”  He describes it as“one of the most important labor cases in a generation.”                 The New York Times reports on what took place in Washington, D.C.,  yesterday as the U.S. Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in the Friedrichs case.  It summarizes some of the arguments presented by attorneys on both sides and tries to gauge how the individual justices might vote.  “The Supreme Court seemed poised on Monday to deliver a severe blow to organized labor,” it begins.  “The justices appeared divided along familiar lines during an extended argument over whether government workers who choose not to join unions may nonetheless be required to help pay for collective bargaining.  The court’s conservative majority appeared ready to say that such compelled financial support violates the First Amendment.”             The “School Law” column in EDUCATION WEEK describes how the oral arguments wentyesterday.  The piece is titled “Teachers’ Unions Get Cold Reception at U.S. Supreme Court.”               Steven Singer, on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG just couldn’t pass this story up.  He has come up with a parable about the Friedrichs case that involves an airplane, some parachutes and a woman who doesn’t want to pay for anything.  Sound familiar?  His story would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad and dangerous.  It’s titled “F is for Friedrichs. . . . and Freeloader: A Supreme Court Nightmare.”               A story in today’s L.A. Times reviews the case and the oral arguments and speculates, like most other sources, that the union was headed for a stinging defeat “The Supreme Court sounded ready Monday to deal a severe blow to public employee unions,” it begins, “by striking down laws that require all workers to help pay for collective bargaining.  In its tone and questioning, the argument resembled more of a congressional hearing at which Republicans took one position, Democrats argued the opposite, and there appeared little chance to sway either side.”                Keep your eyes on this case, folks.  It could have a major impact on the power of public employee unions throughout the country!  It’s HUGEEEEE
Charter Expansion in LAUSD
With plans afoot to possibly boost up to 50% of schools in theLAUSD into charters by 2023, one member of the district’s school board believes it’s time to seriously discuss the roles of charters and traditional public schools in the LAUSD.  Scott Schmerelson is one of the two most recently elected members to the district school board and he’s introduced a resolution, after several revisions, that will attempt to cut back on charter expansion.  It’s set for debate before the board at today’s meeting.  The LA SCHOOL REPORTprovides the details about the sole sponsor of the resolution and why he’s introduced it at this time.  “The resolution, as now written, outlines nine points for the district with the goal to improve public education,”  it points out,” and to keep students in traditional schools.  Those points include ensuring equitably-funded arts and music education, helping young students who ‘endure the disadvantages of poverty’ and encouraging parent involvement in student achievement.”   If you are into these kinds of things, you can peruse the board’s agenda for today’s meeting and read Schmerelson’s resolution (it’s item #25 on p. 8-10) by clicking here.               An op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times by the director of research at the UCLA Community School challenges the aggressive attempt to turn up to 50% of LAUSD schools into charters by 2023.  She questions the idea that entrepreneurs and billionaire philanthropists, through the development of charters, want to use the market place to create successful schools.  “My point is not that one method of reform trumps all others,” she concludes.  “Rather, it’s that to ensure high-quality schools for all children requires recognizing that public education is both an individual good that helps people get ahead — ‘the great equalizer,’ as Horace Mann put it in 1848 — and a collective good that defines how we together determine our shared fate.  Edupreneurship is designed to unleash creative energy into conservative school systems and disrupt longstanding patterns of underachievement.  But if that comes at the expense of our common good, it threatens the very foundation of public schooling.”
School Reform
David Kirp,  a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, who spoke at Oxy in Sept., 2014 (ALOED members Larry Lawrence and Dave Alpert attended the event), has an op-ed in The New York Tmes titled “How to Fix the Country’s Failing Schools. And How Not To.”  He compares the corporate “reform” hurry-up approach to the slow-and-steady method and uses two New Jersey cities as his case studies–Newark and Union City.  You can probably guess which strategy Kirp favors.  “There’s no miracle cure for what ails public education,” he writes.  “What business gurus label ‘continuous improvement,’ and the rest of us call slow-and-steady, wins the race.”  Diane Ravitch called this one a “smashing article”on her blog.               Ready for some really entertaining and enlightening reading?  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to [former ALOED Book Club author] Yong Zhao who explains the connection between the giant stone heads on Easter Island and dangerous corporate education “reform.”  “Today’s education reform movement in many parts of the world resembles the Easter Islanders’ race to erect stone statues in many ways.  . . .  Countries engaged in this reform movement,” he suggests, “have embarked on a race to produce students with excellent test scores in the belief that scores in a limited number of subjects on standardized tests accurately represent the quality of education a school provides, the performance of a teacher, and students’ ability to succeed in the future, not unlike the chiefs and priests on Easter Island who believed that the statues represented the health and power of their clans, the performance of their members, and promise for a more prosperous future.”  What do you think of Zhao’s comparison?  Intriguing, no?               Gary Sasso, the dean of the College of Education at Lehigh University, asks a question that many people have probably pondered.  Instead of pouring billions of dollars into charter schools, why don’t those billionaire philanthropists, he refers to them as the “1 percent,” spend the money on the schools that most students already attend–traditional public schools?  Good question and Sasso offers a few ideas as to why those philanthropists choose to fund schools the way they do.  His commentary appears in SALON.  He phrases his question like this: “So, why are wealthy school reform funders so squarely focused on identifying teachers and their unions as the cause of public education’s decline and advancing charter schools as the best solution?”  Have you ever thought of that question?  What do you think of his answers?
              In September the Washington State Supreme Court declared that state’s charter law unconstitutional.  Corporate “reformers” and privatizers were dealt another blow when a Nevada State District judge recently ruled the state’s extensive voucher program violates the Nevada constitution.  The program was set to begin next month but the ruling puts the entire plan on hold.  The ELC (EDUCATION LAW CENTER) website details the decision.  “The case challenging the voucher law was filed by parents of Nevada public school children from across the state,” the item explains.  “They argued that the program would divert scarce funding from public schools, triggering cuts to essential programs and services for their children and all other children attending Nevada’s public schools.”
Charter Schools
What happens when a report about charter schools in your state produces a rather unflattering picture?  If it’s North Carolina, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest attempts to suppress it.  The Charlotte News & Observer reviews the study and describes what the Lt. Gov. wants to do with it.  “A report showing the student population at state charter schools is wealthier and whiter than student bodies at traditional public schools was pulled Wednesday from the State Board of Education’s consideration.  Lt. Gov. Dan Forest argued that the report, intended for the legislature and full of data on charter school enrollment, demographics and costs, was too negative.  ‘The report, to me, did not have a lot of positive things to say,’ he said.’  Apparently, the truth hurts and if it paints the charter schools in a poor light you don’t want the public to know about that!  What a great (arrogant?) position for an elected official to take.               North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest was so upset with a report about charters in his state that was too “negative” he wants it rewritten.  The CBS  television affiliate  in Raleigh, WRAL5, provides the disconcerting details.  “State education leaders sidetracked a report describing the overall student population at North Carolina’s charter schools as whiter and more affluent than student bodies at traditional public schools after Lt. Gov. Dan Forest complained it was too negative.  Forest said Thursday he wanted the State Board of Education’s annual report on the status of charter schools rewritten because it lacked sufficient balance. The board was scheduled to approve the report to state lawmakers on Thursday ahead of a deadline next week specified in state law. However, school board members decided Wednesday to postpone a vote.  Forest, [is] a supporter of the alternative form of public school.”  [Ed. note: I wonder if the fact Forest is a supporter of charters has anything to do with his attempt to suppress the report and have it rewritten?  Just asking.]
Opt-Out Movement
A letter recently went out from from the office of the new acting Sec. of Education John King to 13 states (including California) that had higher than normal opt-out rates on last spring’s standardized assessments.  It basically threatened them with possible loss of federal funds if their opt-out numbers did not decrease.  You can read that 3-page letter by clicking here.  American Federation of Teachers Pres. Randi Weingarten was not a happy camper after reading the letter and dashed off a 2-page note to the DoE in response.  “Make no mistake,” she indicates, “the opt-out movement—the reason that so many states did not meet the 95 percent participation requirement in 2014-15—was a referendum on this administration’s policies that created the culture of overtesting and punishment.”  If you don’t feel like reading both missives, you can get a brief overview of the back-and-forth fromEDUCATION WEEK.
2016 Election
The topic of education doesn’t come up too often in presidential debates, speeches or town hall gatherings but the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog has a brief comment (1:03 minutes) from a Bernie Sanders campaign event in New Hampshire in which the candidate responds to a question about charters.  [Ed. note: Full disclosure–Anthony Cody, founder of the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, recently came out in support of Sanders for president.]              EDUCATION WEEK offers a guide to the Republican presidential candidates’ policy on the Common Core.  It’s titled “The Common-Core Voters Guide to Choosing A Presidential Candidate: Republican Edition.”  For the Democratic Edition click here
LAUSD Supt. Search Ends; Michelle King Selected
As the LAUSD board continues its behind-closed-doors search for a new superintendent, an article in yesterday’s L.A. Times identified the two top choices that have emerged. They are current district Deputy Supt. Michelle King and the head of the St. Louis school system Kelvin Adams.  “Besides King and Adams, a third person, whose name has not emerged publicly, also is under consideration,” the piece reveals, “according to sources close to the process who were not authorized to speak.  King and Adams are considered favorites, but the third candidate could prevail as a compromise choice, especially if that pick would enable the board to make a unanimous selection.”               The LAUSD board yesterday evening selected Deputy Supt. Michelle King in a unanimous vote as the district’s next superintendent.  A front-page article in today’s L.A. Times heralds the choice.  “For months, a high-profile head-hunting firm searched the nation for a new superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District,” it notes.  “On Monday evening, the Board of Education gave the job to a candidate who was part of the district all along: Chief Deputy Supt. Michelle King.”  A companion article in the same paper provides a profile of Michelle King, the new superintendent.  “King’s experience in L.A. Unified began when she entered a district school in kindergarten. . . .  King became a secondary school life sciences teacher in 1985 at Porter Junior High School,”  the piece details.  “She also taught at the Porter magnet school for gifted students and at Wright Middle School before becoming an assistant principal at Hamilton High in 1997.  When she became that school’s principal, she won praise from teachers for bringing stability and evenhanded leadership to the campus after the departure of a controversial predecessor.”
Porter Ranch Gas Leak
Students and staff in the LAUSD returned to their campuses from their winter break yesterday.  However, two schools in the Porter Ranch area of L.A. were displaced from their regular schools due to the ongoing SoCalGas Company leak in the Alison Canyon area of their neighborhood.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes what the abrupt move is like and how it is impacting students, teachers, parents and other school staff.  “The students from the schools, Porter Ranch Community School and Castlebay Lane Charter School,” it explains, “are moving after a gas leak that has lasted more than 70 days, resulting in reports of nausea, headaches, and nosebleeds.  The L.A. Board of Education decided in December to move students from the community school, which is kindergarten through eighth grade, to Northridge Middle School, and students from Castlebay to Sunny Brae Avenue Elementary School in Winnetka.”  The online item has an excellent map displaying key locations related to the story.             Who ends up footing the bill for costs related to the leaking gas well?  The LAUSD, SoCalGas, the city of L.A.?  The school district currently estimates the cost of relocating two of its impacted campuses to be over $5 million and rising.  An item in the same paper reviews the mounting costs and who, ultimately, is responsible for paying for them.  “The gas company has covered moving and related living costs for residents,” the item points out, “but has not come to terms with L.A. Unified.”               As LAUSD students and staff returned to their classes yesterday pupils and teachers from 2 schools in the Porter Ranch area of L.A. got an extra day to prepare as their campuses had been relocated due to the ongoing natural gas leak in their neighborhood.  An L.A. Times reporter wrote two stories about the two campuses that were moved because of the disaster.  The first one is about Porter Ranch Community School moving to Northridge Middle School and the second describes the move of Castlebay Lane Charter Elementary to Sunny Brae Avenue Elementary.
High School Exit Exams
And finally, the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog has a two-part series on “Why High School Exit Exams, Not Students, Are Worthless.”  It’s written by a former foster child, current parent and researcher of the education reform movement.  In Part 1 she describes how she took and failed her high school exit exam and how that event impacted her life.  Last year the California legislature passed a law eliminating its exit exam and in Part 2 the author makes the case for why it should not be resurrected.  “No one is suggesting students in high school be given a diploma that is not worthy of receiving.  However,” she argues in her second essay, “if a student attends regularly, and if they did the work and received the grades, then they should receive their diploma.  This is how it should work.  Do the work, get the grades, you get your diploma. And, this is how the new law is written in California.  Students still must do the work, they must still get the grades, and they must still attend regularly, meeting all the requirements to graduate, minus the exit exam.”

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


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