The ED NEWS
A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues
“Why don’t we want our children to learn to do mathematics?
Is it that we don’t trust them, that we think it’s too hard?
We seem to feel that they are capable of making arguments
and coming to their own conclusions about Napoleon.
Why not about triangles?”
Financial Funny Business in Newport-Mesa
It’s a great job if you can get it. A deputy superintendent and chief business officer in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District has aseparate retirement account created for him that totals over $273,000. Why? The district wanted Paul Reed to stay on longer as he contemplated retiring. He will also get a regular retirement from the state. A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times reports on the financial shenanigans. “The district’s former director of human resources, John Caldecott, said the lack of specifics related to the retirement contributions raises red flags and questions about transparency,”it explains. “Information about the retirement fund was obtained by Caldecott after he filed a state public records request.”
The Teaching Profession
Peggy Robertson, a teacher at Jewell Elementary,a “turnaround” school in Colorado, conducts an interview (in both English and Spanish) with a parent whose child went through the “turnaround.” The parent, who requested to remain anonymous, describes theimpact on his/her child of that action. The Q & A appears on Robertson’s Peg With Pen blog. Peter Greene, on hisCURMUDGUCATION blog, has a very interesting comparison between different types of athletic coaches and classroom teachers. Are you familiar with the differences between “transactional” and “transformational” coaches and how those terms apply to the business world and teaching? “The terminology was borrowed from the business world, and it transfers nicely to the classroom as well,” Greene explains. “Most of us went into teaching precisely because we imagined becoming transformational teachers, making a difference in students’ lives by helping them become their best selves, helping them transform themselves into more fully whole and human persons. But advocates of education reform have, intentionally or not, worked to redefine teachers as transactional coaches. We are supposed to be there just to get that good test score out of each kid. We should use test prep, rewards, threats– whatever works to get the student to make the right marks on the Big Standardized Test so that we can have that easily measured, numerically-coded win.” Valerie Strauss on her blog in the Washington Post called this “a thoughtful new piece.” Have you heard of “social justice unionism?” It’s a new concept that promotes the idea that all teachers union members become involved in working for educational change not just the union leadership. An article in SALON describes what it is and how it’s working in Philadelphia. Social justice unionism “seeks to drastically change the modus operandi of the teachers union,” the story explains, “from one in which union members pay dues and trust that the big decisions are being made by the leaders and lawyers at the bargaining table to one in which every single teachers union member actively participates in grass-roots educational change. This new approach . . . . comes with a track record of success in cities like Chicago, St. Paul, Seattle and Portland.” A number of experts have complained about the use of student test scores for evaluating teachers for many reasons. The “Ed News” has highlighted a lot of their points over the past several years. The New York Times has a concrete example of why this is not a good idea. Over 200 educators in the state gotinaccurate scores on their evaluations because of an error in how students scores were reported. Aren’t we glad certain salary and hiring and other aspects of the job aren’t based on these reports. They are? OMG, that’s a travesty and totally unfair! “More than 200 teachers and principals,” the piece begins, “received erroneous scores from New York State on a contentious measurement that ties their performance to how well their students do on tests, according to state documents obtained by The New York Times. The error, which affected a small percentage of scores for the 2014-15 academic year, could be another blow to the practice of linking educator performance to student exams, a system that has come under fire in recent years.” Why do the corporate “reformers” and certain politicians keep pushing this junk? Could U.S. teacher training institutions learn anything from those countries that have students outscoring ours on international tests of academic achievement? A commentary in THE HECHINGER REPORT suggests we can learn quite a bit from how teachers are trained in British Columbia, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore. “Professional development of American teachers costs up to $18 billion a year with at least half of that spent on workshops for teachers. But no matter how much we spend, it doesn’t seem to result in much improvement in student achievement. Several other countries,” the author maintains, “are doing a better job than the U.S. in developing teachers.” Is he on to something?
Rafael Cruz, father of Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz, claims that America’s public education system was started by a member of the Communist Party. He gets John Dewey right as one of the founders of the public school system but was he a Communist? Not even close according to a piece in RIGHT WING WATCH. It includes an audio segment (2:38 minutes) of the elder Cruz’s comments about Dewey. Over the past 7 years has the Obama administration and its education policies enabled the privatization of the public school system by the corporate “reformers” and some billionaire philanthropists? That’s the theory laid out in a sure to be controversial piece in ALTERNET. “One might think that the U.S. Department of Education would be a major line of defense for America’s public schools educating the most underserved students or even a bold investor in sustainable community schools that are truly public. One would be wrong,”the author proclaims. “The U.S. Department of Education, as with the education agencies of many states, has been co-opted by the spending frenzy of the billionaire class.” With less than a week to go to the Iowa caucuses, the “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK checks in with a look at some of Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) education policies. In the week ahead it plans to follow-up with some of the other key candidates’ views. The “Ed News” will pass them along to you.
The Opt-Out Movement
Has the opt-out movement had any impact on education policy? The SOCIALIST WORKER has a piece titled “An Opt-Out Victory in New York” that describes how relentless parent, teacher, student and community pressure forced Gov. Cuomo to back down from his standardized testing and teacher evaluation policies. “Just last year, the Democratic governor made himself a national leader in the corporate ‘education reform’ movement,” it relates, “by imposing a dramatic increase in the weight given standardized testing to evaluate teachers–from 20 percent to an incredible 50 percent–in addition to other proposals aimed at dismantling tenure protection and increasing charter schools across the state.”The story goes on to detail how the coalition of grassroots activists swung into action and ultimately forced the governor to retreat from his plans. The Democratic leader of the Florida House isurging parents to opt their children out of the state’s standardized exams in the spring. The Tampa Bay Times has a brief story about the action which includes a short video (1:56 minutes) of Rep. Mark Pafford’s comments about opting-out. “As you might expect,”the article reports, “the Opt-Out Florida Network is widely sharing the support of perhaps its most high-profile statewide official.”
Passage of ESSA
Diane Ravitch, on her Diane Ravitch’s blog, continues her exclusive conversation about the new Every Student Succeeds Act with David P. Cleary, chief of staff to Sen Lamar Alexander (R-TN) chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. In Part 5 of the Q & A she asks about how the ESSA affects the testing of disabled students. “The law allows students with the most significant cognitive disabilities,” Cleary begins his response, “to take alternate assessments aligned with alternate academic achievement standards.” Parts 1 to 3 of the interview are in the January 22nd edition of the “Ed News.” Part 6 of her discussion about the ESSA focuses on how the new law will affect teacher evaluations and inquires about alternate certification programs. Part 7 wonders if the new law expands the regulation of charters in regards to funding, selection of students and financial transparency and accountability. “The Every Student Succeeds Act makes several updates to the federal public charter school program,”Cleary notes in his response, “to modernize the program and ensure public charter schools are held to the same standards as other public schools.” Ravitch asks in Part 8 about the role of the U.S. Dept. of Education under ESSA. In his “short answer” David P. Cleary responds: “The role of the department under the new ESSA will be significantly scaled back from the role it has had under NCLB and the waivers. The Department still has a role in ensuring compliance with the law and monitoring state implementation of state plans, but the level of authority the Department has given itself over the past 14 years is significantly scaled back.” Check out his “long answer” for much more detail on this important query.
Most charter networks are anti-union. Some are more anti-union than others. Urban Prep Charter Academy in Chicago has gone so far as to make union busting part of its teacher professional development. Mike Klonsky, on his SMALL TALK BLOG, provides a series of two anti-union PowerPoint presentations that were surprisingly part of Urban Prep’s staff development, He adds a very brief commentary about the situation. [Ed. note: “ACTS” stands for Alliance for Charter Teachers and Staff, an affiliate of the AFT; “INCS” stands for the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. Tim King is the founder and CEO of the 3-campus Urban Prep Academies.] Eva Moskowitz and her Success Academy charters in New York have been getting a lot of publicity (both positive and negative) lately, but how has the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter network been faring? They were once the darling of the corporate “reformers” but very little has been heard about them in recent years. What’s up? Gary Rubinstein’s Blog decided to take a peek. What he discovered was not particularly encouraging. Maybe that explains why they haven’t been so prominently on display as of late. Rubinstein compared the 3rd grade standardized test results from all 110 New York City charters last year and what he found had to be disheartening for KIPP and its backers. “The KIPP network, founded by two 1992 TFA alumni, was once considered the ‘gold star’ of charter chains,” he suggests. “For a while their growth seemed inevitable, almost exponential. They were all over the press, on Oprah, in Waiting For Superman, even present at the 2000 Republican National Convention. But over the past two or three years, we haven’t been hearing that much about them. Their growth seems to have flattened out and there has not been much press coverage of note.” No-excuses charter schools follow some very strict and, some would say, very negative student behavior models. The former dean of just such a school in New Orleans raises some serious questions about what these policies are doing to the psychological development of their students. His essay is in the form of “An Open Letter to Teachers and Staff at No Excuses Charter Schools.” It appears on the Edushyster blog. “I believe that it is time for a thorough examination of the psychological and emotional impact of No Excuses policies and school cultures. It is time,” he urges, “for everyone involved to start asking some critical questions. Stop being fearful. Let your voices be heard. Ask questions, push back, critically engage, and transform your school and your workplace.”
California Teacher Shortage
The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of articles about teacher shortages around the country. California is not immune to that problem. Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, features a new report titled “Addressing California’s Emerging Teacher Shortage: An Analysis of Sources and Solutions” from the nonprofit Learning Policy Institute. The paper is co-authored by Linda Darling-Hammond, a previous ALOED Book Club author. Strauss reprints the “Executive Summary” of the study that includes a “Prognosis for the Future” and “Policy Recommendations” in addition to providing a link to the full report (49 pages). “Increased demand for K–12 teachers in California comes at a time when the supply of new teachers is at a 12-year low,” the introduction to the report points out. “Enrollment in educator preparation programs has dropped by more than 70 percent over the last decade, and has fallen below the number of estimated hires by school districts around the state. Many signs point to shortages.”
Friedrichs v California Teachers Association
Two teachers, one a member of NEA and the other of the AFT, wereeyewitnesses to the oral arguments presented before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, Jan. 11, in the case of Friedrichs v CTA. They describe their historic outing in fascinating detail and include a link to the full transcript of the oral arguments. Their report appears courtesy of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs)website. “In this piece, we would like to share what we thought were some of the most poignant moments of this case,” they write. “At the core of this case is the overturning of the four-decade-old case of Abood. Abood is the Supreme Court case that protects agency shop fees and thus holds up the ideals of ‘collective’ bargaining. We would also like to address some of the comments that the Justices, Mr. Carvin [plaintiff’s attorney], and the Union side made. Our observations, once again would come from the experience, and lens, of working teachers who have had unions working for them.”
New LAUSD Supt.
The LAUSD has a new superintendent. The “Education Watch” column in yesterday’s L.A. Times provides a primer in the format of a Q & A about different aspects of her job. The online version of this item contains a few more questions and answers than the print edition.
What’s Up At The U.S. DoE?
Arne Duncan stepped down as Sec. of the DoE last month. So what’s been happening now that acting Sec. John B. King Jr. is at the helm? EDUCATION WEEK has a report on the new chief’s activities during his first month in office. “Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. has made it clear over the first few weeks of his tenure,” it provides, “that he will keep up the rhetorical drumbeat on the importance of educational equity for all students, no matter how the complicated process of regulating ESSA turns out. And he urged states to rethink educator-evaluation systems if they’re not actually helping teachers improve their practice.” The item goes on to list some of the other policies and ideas King has been talking about.
Standards and Testing
Do high stakes tests have to follow high standards? If you are part of the testing industry or corporate “reform” your answer is a resounding “yes!” What about everyone else? Those questions are addressed in “The K-12 Contrarian” column in EDUCATION WEEK. The author, a former high school teacher and current professor of education at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, makes a pretty strong argument that the answer to the first question is “no.” How does one separate standards from assessments? “A first step might be to decouple standards and high stakes tests,” he proposes. “Doing that would allow us to re-envision education as a cooperative enterprise, not a competitive one. See, when standards are attached to high stakes tests, students, teachers, and the standards themselves are pitted against one another, especially when accountability is held in such high regard: pass the test or someone pays. When the test is removed from the equation, teachers and students are free to work together to accomplish a shared goal without any more pressure than the pressure of meeting a challenge. Isn’t that what getting educated is all about?” Food for thought.
Student Tracking Still a Problem
The issue of the tracking of students was the topic of a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times. It uses the past experiences of newly appointed LAUSD Supt. Michelle King to illustrate the issue. “The problem . . . .has been well-documented, and it’s referred to as tracking. Students of color, especially black and Latino students,”the article explains, “are kept out of higher-level classes because of entrance requirements such as grades, admission tests, teacher recommendations and other factors that are out of their control.”
One of the policies that newly appointed LAUSD Supt. Michelle King mentioned she might promote is that of single-sex schools. An op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times argues that single-sex campuses might not be such a good idea. The writer, Juliet A Williams, is a professor in the Department of Gender Studies at UCLA and author of an upcoming book on the subject of single-sex education. Her commentary is titled “What Wrong With Single-Sex Schools? A Lot.” “Yes, there are some terrific boys-only and girls-only public schools out there,” she maintains. “But are they great schools because they are single-sex? The evidence suggests not. Research shows that successful schools do certain things — such as creating strong mentoring relationships and keeping class sizes to a manageable level — that benefit students whether boys and girls learn together or apart. Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that single-sex education can do real harm by perpetuating limiting gender stereotypes.”
The California Lottery and Schools
The recent $1.6 billion Powerball lottery jackpot reminded lots of people of the connection between the games of chance and school funding. However, as a story in today’s L.A. Times points out, themoney from lottery sales goes almost equally to rich school districts and poor ones, this, despite the fact that low-income communities tend to buy many more lottery tickets than middle and upper-income ones. Under California’s new Local Control Funding Formula, monies are allocated to school districts not on a strict per pupil basis but based on need such that low performing districts are now getting more money than high performing ones. “EdBuild, an organization that focuses on ways to pay for public education,” the article explains, “says the state’s distribution of lottery money is unfair. . . . Districts statewide got about $163 for every student, as determined by average daily attendance — regardless of how much money is made from lottery ticket sales in those districts. That distribution, said Rebecca Sibilia, EdBuild’s chief executive and founder, runs counter to California’s recent efforts to address inequity in the way it pays for public education.”
Another Important Milestone
And finally, the “Ed News” likes to mark important milestones in the education blogosphere. Yesterday was the third anniversary of Mercedes Schneider’s always entertaining and informative “EduBlog” at deutsch29. As always, her entry marking the occasion is entertaining and informative. If nothing else, check out her “financial disclosure” forms with which she leads off her column and if you have a little more time she lists her top 5 blog posts for the past year and for the past 3 years. Diane Ravitch’s blog captured why Schneider is such a gem and a valuable addition to independent education journalism in noting the anniversary.
*Paul Lockhart became interested in mathematics when he was 14 (outside the classroom, he points out). He dropped out of college after one semester to devote himself exclusively to math. Based on his own research he was admitted to Columbia, received a PhD, and has taught at major universities, including Brown University and UC Santa Cruz. Since 2000 he has dedicated himself to “subversively” teaching grade-school math at St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn, New York.
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)
Member of ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.