Ed News, Tuesday, January 19, 2016 Edition


            A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                “Your life can be different, Young Ju. Study and be strong. 
                  In America, women have choices.” 
                    ― An Na*, A Step from Heaven

Charter Expansion in LAUSD

Great Public Schools Now, the recently formed nonprofit that’s fronting for the Broad Foundation’s plan to turn up to 50% of LAUSD schools into charters by 2023, named its first executive director last week.  She’s Myrna Castrejon, a strong proponent of charters who is leaving her post as senior vice president of government affairs for the California Charter Schools Association.  She’ll take over her new position on Feb. 22, according to a story in Saturday’s L.A. Times.  “The goal of charter advocates, Castrejon said, is not to undermine traditional public education,”  the article notes, “but to support a range of successful schools.  United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the appointment of a non-educator was evidence that the nonprofit’s focus would be on creating charters at the expense of traditional public schools.”               An editorial in Sunday’s Times mentions that the original Broad Foundation plan to covert up to 50% of LAUSD campuses into charters has been scaled back and the amount of funding has been reduced.  The goals have now shifted to a more inclusive plan.  “The controversial Eli Broad-backed initiative that was designed to double charter-school attendance in the Los Angeles Unified School District has been shape-shifting ever since an early draft was leaked months ago,” the editorial begins.  “The goal of enrolling half of the district’s students in charter schools within eight years has been dropped.  Now, those involved in the planning say, no specific enrollment goal will be included in the eventual plan.  Seed money would be disbursed not just to open more charter schools, as originally intended, but to help fund new high-performing district schools of all types — including magnets, pilot schools and neighborhood schools — using successful existing schools as models.”  The piece also addresses some of the reasons why the plan is being altered–much of it based on the strong opposition it has elicited.               Karen Wolfe, who was one of the panelists discussing the most recent ALOED Education Film Series screening of “Ed, Inc.” in November, has ascathing rebuttal to the Times editorial (see above) about the changing nature of the Broad plan to charterize the LAUSD.  Her commentary appears on her PS connect website.  “In its ongoing effort to convince the city that a huge public entity should be handed over to a private group of titans,” she complains, “the LA Times now suggests inviting the public official to the table to give the effort some credibility. This is the superintendent, who was appointed by the democratically elected board, to lead the public entity the titans seek to control.”               Charles Kerchner, writing the “On California” column for EDUCATION WEEK, comments on the unanimous LAUSD board vote last week to oppose radical charter expansion in the district.  He suggests that the charter movement is not really about improving education but is more about politics and substituting market based ideas for sound education policy. “The 7-0 vote was a political marker,” Kerchner points out, “directing the new superintendent Michelle King to examine the effects on the district of substantially increasing the number of charter schools, and it underscores an important missing element in the charter school debate.  It has been an article of faith among school choice advocates that by providing charters and other choice mechanisms the hidden hand of the market will replace political conflict and interest groups.  Problem is: it’s not true.”                The LIVING in DIALOGUE blog has a brief video (3:16 minutes) summarizing some of the public’s comments and LAUSD board member reactions to the proposal to limit charter expansion in the district.  The vote was 7-0 in favor of the resolution that was passed by the board last Tuesday.  
The Teaching Profession
The “Ed News” has highlighted several classroom management techniques over the years.  This may be a new one.  It’s called “no-nonsense nurturing.”  The use of the word “please” is not part of a teacher’s vocabulary when using the system as explained by NPRwhich has an audio segment (3:51 minutes) and a slightly edited transcript about the technique and how it is being used in a school in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Not all education professionals are enamored of no-nonsense nurturing.  “In ‘no-nonsense nurturing,’ directions are often scripted in advance, and praise is kept to a minimum,” the story points out.  “The method is, in part, the brainchild of former school principal Kristyn Klei Borrero.  She’s now CEO of the Center for Transformative Teacher Training, an education consulting company based in San Francisco.  Klei Borrero says the foundation of the program isn’t new.  It just puts into practice what she’s observed from high-performing teachers — that is, keeping expectations high by only praising outstanding effort.”               Paul L. Thomas, Professor of Education at Furman University, on his the becoming radical blog, was “horrified” (that’s his word) by the NPR story about no-nonsense nurturing (see above).  He was not only upset with the technique itself but the apparent endorsement of it by NPR.  “These harsh and dehumanizing methods,” Thomas mentions, “are yet more of the larger ‘no excuses’ ideology that targets primarily children in poverty and black/brown children.  In other words, there is a general willingness to endorse authoritarian methods as long as the children are ‘other people’s children’—code for the poor and racial minorities.”               Related to the above two items is a piece on classroom management that takes a radically different approachthen does “no-nonsense nurturing.”  It appears on the Smart Classroom Management blog and is titled “Why Gentleness Is A Strong Classroom Management Strategy.”  It’s written by Michael Linsin,a veteran educator who has taught every grade level from K to 12 over the past 25 years and is the author of 3 bestselling books about classroom management.  “21st-century students,” he posits, “respond best to a calm, even-handed approach to classroom management.  They appreciate honesty and kindness.  They respect it, and thus, are quick to listen and please their teacher.  The older the students are, the more this is true.”
Friedrichs v California Teachers Association
Could the CTA pull the proverbial rabbit-out-of-a-hat and prevail in the landmark Friedrichs case?  Could dyed-in-the-wool conservative justice Antonin Scalia actually provide the key vote that allows the union to prevail?  Bill Blum, a former judge, death penalty attorney and author of several legal thrillers lays out just such a scenario.  His intriguing and detailed commentary appears in truthdig.  If you’re feeling a little discouraged about a possible adverse outcome in the case, check this out.  It’s titled “Public Sector Unions Pin Their Hopes on Antonin Scalia Going Rogue.”  On her blog, Diane Ravitch called this article “a clear and direct explanation of the Friedrichs vs CTA case.”
Corporate “Reform”
Jeff Bryant, writing in SALON, believes 2015 was a bad year for those corporate “reformers”  and their ideas regarding charters, privatization, teacher accountability, etc..  “For years, an out-of-touch establishment has dominated education policy.  A well-funded elite has labeled public education as generally a failed enterprise and insisted that only a regime of standardized testing and charter schools,” he writes, “can make schools and educators more ‘accountable.’  Politicians and pundits across the political spectrum have adopted this narrative of ‘reform’ and now easily slip into the rhetoric that supports it without hesitation. . . .  The education counter-narrative is that public schools are not as much the perpetrators of failure as they are victims of resource deprivation, inequity in the system and undermining forces driven by corruption and greed.  In other words, it wasn’t schools that needed to be made more accountable; it was the failed leadership of those in the business and government establishment that needed more accountability.” Bryant provides a litany of areas where the corporate “reformers” and privatizers have met their match and includes many links to other articles that describe what went wrong.  On her blog, Diane Ravitch called this “an excellent article.”
Charter Schools
Some semblance of accountability and transparency is beginning to shed some light on the charter school movement, at least at the federal level.  At the end of December the U.S. Dept. of Education released a list of schools that have received funding since 2006 under the federal Charter Schools Program and the amount involved.  It is a start, but as the story on the “PR Watch” column from The Center for Media and Democracy points out, the report still has some major informational gaps.               From the “charter-school-scandal -of-the-day” comes this item:  Steve Van Zant, a former San Diego County school superintendent (he’s now the chief of a district in northern California), was arraigned on one felony count of conflict of interest for his dealings with charter schools in San Diego.  The San Diego Union-Tribune has the sordid details.  “Van Zant, 53, has been a controversial figure among San Diego County educators.  Long before he faced legal troubles,” it reports, “Van Zant stirred animosity among school districts for years as he brokered deals with charter schools to operate in their districts — often without providing the notice required by law.  Some of the charters that Van Zant ushered through soon hired his consulting firm for support services.” Oops!  That’s a no-no.               Another disgruntled teacher has left the Eva Moskowitz chain of Success Academy charters in New York.  She wrote a note explaining why she had to leave which is printed on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  “I left my job at Success Academy because I couldn’t, in good conscience, be the teacher they wanted me to be,” the woman begins.  “I have a lot of trouble writing and talking about my experience with Success because it truly makes me ill.  Thinking about the way teachers spoke to children, with such disgust in their voices, makes my stomach churn.  Thinking about the way my leaders spoke to me, with that same disgust, leaves me feeling just as sick.” That’s pretty difficult to read but, unfortunately, the rest of her account is just as painful, if not more so.
New LAUSD Superintendent
An editorial in Friday’s L.A. Times approves of Michelle King’s selection as the new LAUSD superintendent.  It goes on to suggest some ways she might try to improve the “contentions and often polarized district.”  “King will need to be more than just cooperative and collegial; to succeed in such a troubled district,”the piece suggest, “she’ll have to be a strong leader, willing to set an agenda and speak forcefully on behalf of students.”               A single letter from Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus of education at USC, appeared in Sunday’s Times in reference to the editorial above.                 Steve Lopez’s column in Wednesday’s Times about King being the “safe choice” but not necessarily the “best” one drew 3 letters that were printed in Friday’s paper.  The first is from a retired LAUSD teacher, the second from the founder of a charter school in the city and the third from a professor emerita at CSU Dominguez Hills.  Another letter in the set commented on the last female superintendent to lead the district in the 1920s.
Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, uses the Martin Luther King holiday to argue that “High Stakes Testing Doesn’t Protect Civil Rights–It Violates Them.”  “As a middle school teacher, I’m well aware how our public schools judge our children, and it’s not by the content of their character,” Singer paraphrases King’s “I Have A Dream Speech.”  “It’s by their standardized test scores.  High scores mean you’re learning.  Low scores mean you’re not.  And if you’re not learning, that’s your teachers fault and we’re going to close your school or turn it into a charter.”  He, once again, looks at how standardized testing is doing more harm than good.
Sexual Violence on the Rise in K-12 Schools

Most educators are well aware of the issue of sexual harassment and assault on college and university campuses but flying under the radar may be the fact that sexual violence is on the increase at the nation’s K-12 schoolsThe Washington Post has a disturbing report on the situation.  “Sexual assault has become a dominant topic on the nation’s college campuses in recent years, as student activists have spoken out and the Obama administration has pushed for institutional change,” the story notes.  “But it has largely remained a hidden issue in elementary, middle and high schools, where parents assume their children are supervised and safe.  Now there are signs that the problem is receiving more attention, including a sharp rise in the number of federal civil rights complaints alleging that K-12 schools have mishandled reports of sexual violence.”  This chart accompanies the article and illustrates the extent of the problem:

The Post’s feature uses several specific cases to illustrate the matter and how it’s being addressed.
Ethics and the L.A. Times
Several months ago, the L.A. Times began accepting money in support of its education reporting from a couple of foundations and philanthropists, among them Eli Broad.  The paper continues to report and editorialize about education, in general, and Broad’s support of charter expansion in the LAUSD, in particular.  Does that raise any questions of journalistic ethics?  A person who belongs to a Facebook discussion group on education brought up the issue.  ThePS connect website describes what happened when the situation was presented to a journalism ethics expert.  “The Times has given up the right to expect any trust or credibility for its journalism on education.  They are trapped in a massive conflict of interest,” the expert maintains, “and no amount of pro forma disclosure will fix that.  It’s so sad to see what has happened to that once-great publication.”
Election 2016
A commentary in THE HECHINGER REPORT raises some serious issues with the just released education policy platform of GOP presidential hopeful, Dr. Ben Carson.  “Carson’s presidential campaign,” the piece concludes, “seemingly didn’t do its homework on education policy of recent past so how can he prepare us for the future?”
Passage of ESSA
The signing into law of the Every Child Succeeds Act in early December ushered in a new era in the relationship between the federal government and state and local education programs.  Many people are curious (worried?) about what the ramifications of the new law will be.  Diane Ravitch, on her Diane Ravitch’s blog,  submitted a serious of specific questions about the law to Sen. Lamarr Alezander’s (R-TN) office (he is the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and one of the co-authors of the original bill).  David P. Cleary, Alexnader’s chief of staff, responded to the questions and Ravitch begins publishing them today.  She plans to continue printing his additional exclusive responses over the next 2 weeks.  Her first question: How does ESSA effect testing and what limits does it place on the exams?  Read the piece to get both Cleary’s “short” and “long” answers.  “In many ways, ESSA is just the beginning of the story,” Cleary notes by way of introduction to his answer, “because states will now need to figure out what to do with all of this new flexibility and responsibility.”  Hopefully, this ongoing Q & A will help make that task easier.
Students in Flint, Michigan, Face Toxic Water Crisis
And finally, have you been following the toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan?  If not, this item in EDUCATION WEEK catches you up on the details and discusses how the problem is impacting students in the beleaguered city.  It’s a sad and tragic 21st century tale of how some uncaring state politicians, in trying to save money, can wreak havoc on a city and its unwary citizens.  “City and school officials are dealing with the fallout of a contaminated-water crisis,” the article grimly reports, “after it was discovered several months ago that hundreds of children in the financially strapped city have high levels of lead in their blood, in part because of the state’s decision to switch Flint’s water supply.”
*An Na was born in Korea and grew up in San Diego, California. A former middle school English and history teacher,
she is currently at work on her third novel. She lives in Vermont.

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

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