Ed News, Tuesday, Februay 9, 2016 Edition


           A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 Sunday is Valentine’s Day–
Don’t Forget Your Valentine
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“Both of these students- both high school seniors both old enough to vote in the upcoming election-
 thought ‘Al’ Qaeda was a person. At that time the United States had been at war for five and a half years 
and here were two students two young adults leaving the educational system who had never heard of al Qaeda. 
Both by the way had passed the multiple-choice reading section of the state’s high school exit exam.” 
― Kelly GallagherReadicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading 
                         and What You Can Do About It

School Shootings, Bomb Threats on the Increase

The entire LAUSD was shut down for a day in mid-December after threats of violence were received.  According to a piece in Mother Jones, school shootings and bomb threats increased during 2015.  “Amid an atmosphere of insecurity from a bad year of mass shootings in 2015,” it notes, “a wave of violent threats has hit schools across the nation.”   The article proceeds to discuss how the threats are manifested and offers some suggestions on how school administrators should respond.
Community Schools
Many people offer suggestions for ways to “improve” the “failing” public school system.  Most ignore the issues of poverty and inequality.  What if someone had a formula for addressing those pressing issues?  yes! magazine has a very intriguing piece titled “A Bold Shift to Make Public Schools Serve Low-Income Students” that puts forward the idea of community schools which it defines as “places of learning that strive not only for academic excellence, but for the holistic development of youth and the strengthening of families and neighborhoods.”  The article goes on to describe how New York City has been working with schools in poor neighborhoods by stressing academics but also providing wrap around services like counseling, health services and much more.  Check this one out.  It offers a possible model that doesn’t require charters or privatization!  [Ed. note: I wonder if those billionaires and their foundations would be willing to pour their money into an idea like this?  I’m not holding my breath!]
Unclaimed Lottery Prizes go to Schools
Thursday was the deadline for an unknown winner to claim a $63 million California lottery jackpot.  What happens when prizes are not picked up?  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times walks you through the answer.  “This would be the largest single unclaimed prize in the California lottery’s history,” the reporter writes, “and more than schools usually receive from unclaimed prizes.  Last fiscal year, a total of $27.2 million from unclaimed prizes went to schools.   Keep in mind that even $1.4 billion doesn’t actually translate to very much per student — about $181 per student during the 2015-16 fiscal year, according to education department estimates.  In total, lottery contributions account for less than 2% of total K-12 funding in the state.”
New LAUSD Superintendent
The Feb. 4 edition of the LAWEEKLY has a feature article titled “Can Superintendent Michelle King Save LAUSD?”  It reviews her biography and details some of the problems facing the nation’s second largest school district.  They include declining revenues and student enrollments, challenges from charters and political divisions among board members.  “At its peak in 2002, LAUSD educated nearly 750,000 kids.  Today, that number is well under 550,000, and shrinking,” the piece explains.  About half of the loss of children is due to a veritable exodus of all kinds of families to independent charter schools, which educate around 100,000 kids within LAUSD borders, nearly one in six children in the district.  Just as significant is L.A.’s declining birthrate.”
More Bad News on the Journalism Front
The “EDUCATION WATCH” column in Wednesday’s L.A. Timesdescribes how the LA SCHOOL REPORT has been taken over by Campbell Brown’s “The Seventy Four” organization.  The LA SCHOOL REPORT was begun 3 years ago amid a contentious school board election.  It was initially a supporter of corporate “reform” and charters but in recent years demonstrated a more neutral stance.  Brown’s takeover signals a possible swing back to the pro-privatization, pro-charter positions of her group.  “The group’s entry into Los Angeles has alarmed union leaders and some supporters of traditional public education,” the Times article relates.  “They say it could undermine trust in the reporting of education controversies. . . . The group’s funders include a roster of charter school supporters, such as the Walton Family Foundation, the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund and Bloomberg Philanthropies.  Critics call the Seventy Four an advocacy effort on behalf of a pro-charter school, anti-union agenda.  The organization, critics say, uses opinion pieces and reported stories to promote charter schools and to find fault with traditional campuses and teachers unions.”               Not sure why Campbell Brown’s takeover of the LA SCHOOL REPORT (see above) is a bad thing?  Check out the janressegerblog.  The author is a long-time advocate for public schools in Ohio.  Her piece is titled “What Gives Campbell Brown Standing to Spin the News About Public Education?”    Jan Resseger reviews Brown’s background and where she gets her funding and references the article above.  “How does all this relate to those of us who don’t reside in Los Angeles?” Resseger asks.  “Clearly there is an ideological battle going on in public education policy.  Reading the news these days requires thoughtful discernment.”
The Teaching Profession
The last edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a student at Lincoln High (LAUSD) who earned a perfect score on the AP Calculus test.  Steve Lopez, in his Wednesday column in the L.A. Times, profilesAnthony Yom who teaches the class at the school.  “When he was first asked to teach calculus five years ago, Yom quaked, “Lopez writes.  “It had been so long since he’d studied the subject, he didn’t feel qualified.  So he cracked the books, late into the night, to prepare for his new challenge.  He also tapped a mentor, Lincoln High math teacher Sam Luu, for advice.”               Lopez’s column (see above) prompted two letters that appeared in Friday’s Times.  The second was from former LAUSD board member David Tokofsky.  “Steve Lopez’s column shows the quiet dedication of a great immigrant teacher working with immigrant working-class students,”  Tokofsky relates.  “This is a success story on par with the late Jaime Escalante, a great math teacher at Garfield High in the Los Angeles Unified School District.”               Remember the Sheri Lederman case in New York?  She’s the 18-year veteran Long Island elementary school teacher who got consistently high evaluations until her 2013-14 rating labeled her “ineffective.”  She promptly sued, claiming the state’s value-added model (VAM) was flawed and inaccurate and should not be used to evaluate teachers.  Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, who authors the VAMboozled blog and is serving on Lederman’s team in the suit updates readers on what’s been happening recently in the case.  The New York State Attorney General offered to settle the suit but Lederman and her attorney husband declined.  Amrein-Beardsley fills in the details.                Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, takes a scalpel to the latest National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) report titled “Learning About Learning: What Every New Teacher Needs to Know.”  He includes a link to the original study. Greene complains about the NCTQ’s indictment of “failing” teacher training programs as well as this latest study.  “The National Council on Teacher Quality is one of the great mysteries of the education biz,” Greene begins.  “They have no particular credentials and are truly the laziest ‘researchers’ on the planet.”  Diane Ravitch is equally dismissive of the NCTQ and its new report writing on her blog: “So, sixteen years later, NCTQ has fulfilled the purpose of its founding: It has become a giant wrecking ball aimed at traditional teacher education programs.”
Charter Schools
A “parent trigger” petition drive to turn the campus into a charter has been started at 20th Street Elementary School (LAUSD) south of downtown according to a story in Friday’s L.A. Times.  Parent organizers of the action claim they tried to work with the district without resorting to this action but the changes made were too slow and not sufficient to meet their expectations.  “The petition drive, announced Wednesday, was carried out with the help of locally based Parent Revolution,” the item reveals, “which has taken a lead role in organizing dissatisfied parents using a state law that makes it easier for parents to exert control at low-performing campuses.  Parents at 20th Street Elementary had been prepared to submit a petition nearly a year ago but backed down when the district pledged to address their concerns.  Organizers now say the district failed to keep its commitments. . . . Parent Revolution receives money from groups that support the growth of charter schools, including the Walton Family Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Arnold Foundation and the Broad Foundation.”               Here we go again.  Democratic Gov. Daniel Malloy of Connecticut is proposing, in the state’s next budget, increases in funding of $9.3 million for charter schools and cuts of $52.9 million in various programs for the public schools.  the ct mirror website has the depressing details.  “In [the City of] Stamford,” it points out, “the governor’s proposal means the public schools will not get the $225,000 increase they would have received, but the new charter school in town will get about $3 million more so enrollment can increase.  That charter school and another in Bridgeport are to expand by about 650 seats.”                Jonathan Pelto, on his Wait What? blog was incensed when he read about Gov. Malloy’s budget plans for charters and public schools (see previous item).  He wonders how this could happen.  Answer: follow the money.  “Call it the new American Way.  The billionaires, millionaires and corporate elite who fund charter schools,” he complains, give generously to Democratic and Republican politicians and the politicians return the favor by shifting public funds into the coffers of the privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools.”    Pelto quotes extensively from the article cited above.            The Progressive Magazine has created a humorous (?) video (2:15 minutes) about charter management companies titled “Shake Off Those Charter Chains.”   Want another one along the same lines?  This one (1:50 minutes) is titled “Profitship! Cashing in on Public Schools.”               Charter schools often claim they are more popular than neighborhood public schools and they have waiting lists to prove it.  A commentary, written by the superintendent of the Northside Independent School District in the San Antonio Express-News, reveals that much of that claim, in Texas at least, is a myth.  “The often-stated phrase that charter schools in Texas have a 100,000-student waiting list is only partially true.  Texas Education Agency staff reported that while the wait list exists, it applies only to specific charter schools,”the author reveals.  “Staff went on to say that when examining charter school capacity across the state, 108,000 seats are available over current enrollment.  Public tax dollars continue to expand charters even though 30 percent of the current capacity is unutilized.”                Several charter school networks are complaining that the LAUSD school board is overly scrutinizing their applications to open new campuses or renew current ones according to a story in today’s L.A. Times.  “Since July 1, L.A. Unified has denied six petitions and approved five others, according to figures from the California Charter Schools Assn,” it notes.  “That’s less than a 50% approval rate. Two years ago it was 89% and last year it was 77%, according to the association.  In a letter emailed to the board Monday, leaders of charter groups accused the district of obstructing their efforts to improve public education.”                Ever heard the argument (usually voiced bycharter school supporters) “but charters are public schools?”  Steven Singer, on his GADGLYONETHEWALLBLOG, titles his essay “Most Charter Schools are Public Schools in Name ONLY.”  He looks at how charters are often funded by taxpayer money but they are NOT at all like public schools.  “Sure, charters are funded by tax dollars.  However, that’s usually where the similarities end,” Singer maintains.  “They don’t teach like public schools, they don’t spend their money like public schools, they don’t treat students or parents like public schools – in fact, that’s the very reason they exist – to be as unlike public schools as possible.”  Singer details 5 ways charters are different than public schools despite their claim that they are public schools.
New California History/Social Science Framework Sparks Controversy
After years of delay, a draft edition of the new CaliforniaHistory/Social Science Framework was finally released in December.  It initially drew little public attention but 2 lines concerning “comfort women” during World War II have sparked heated debate over the 10th grade World History curriculum.  “The passage has been met with celebration among Korean American groups that have campaigned to bring attention to the issue in the U.S., and concern from some Japanese groups that consider it an unfairly negative portrayal of their home country,”  explains a story in Sunday’s L.A. Times.  “The Japanese and Korean groups are only the latest to bring their historic contentions to California classrooms, where the subject of world history is increasingly entangled with questions of personal identity and family history rather than a set of supposed facts that designated experts hand down from ivory towers.”
Rating the States
Many organizations and groups like to rate the individual states based on various education characteristics.  The “Ed News” has made an effort over the years to highlight some of those.  THE NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION (NPE) is out with its evaluations titled “Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card.”  A brief overview of the survey can be found by clicking here.   It includes two links to an interactive map with summaries for each state.  For a detailed, one-page report on each state click here.  Among the criteria rated include “Rejecting high stakes testing,” “Supporting teacher professionalism” and “Education spending.”  California’s overall grade was a “D.”  On the items listed in this summary the Golden State earned a “B,” “C’ and “D’ respectively.  Be sure to read that one-page report for the complete details on all 6 criteria.             Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post has a review of the NPE report cited above.   “How do the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia,” she begins, “support their public schools? Badly, according to a new report card  which evaluates their performance on six key criteria and finds all of them wanting. The best overall grade is a C, with most states earning D’s or F’s.”  Strauss includes a copy of the full report (31 pages) and also has a link to it at the bottom of her piece.
It’s Academic Decathlon Season
There’s college basketball’s “March Madness,” pro football’s Super Bowl, baseball’s World Series and many other championship events among various sports.  For students it’s the Academic Decathlon and competition kicked off this week at the district and county level.  A raucous story in Sunday’s L.A. Times describes what took place when the LAUSD held its Super Quiz competition at the Roybal Learning Center in downtown on Saturday, the only one of 10 events that is open to the public.  This year’s theme: India.  “Granada Hills Charter High School, the defending national decathlon champions, unofficially won the L.A. Unified Super Quiz with a perfect score of 72.  Some say Saturday’s quiz is a good indication of who will place in the overall competition, even though it’s a relatively small portion of the entire score.  The winners of the competition will be announced officially Friday, and teams with the highest overall scores will advance to the statewide competition.”  The state championships will be next month in Sacramento with the national finals at the end of April in Anchorage, Alaska.
Corporate “Reform” Refuted
Gene V. Glass, Regents’ Professor Emeritus at  Arizona State University and senior researcher at the National Education Policy Center, addressed the Ohio Deans Compact in Dublin, Ohio, on Thursday.  The topic of his talk was “Advancing Democratic Education: Would Horace Mann Tweet?”  On his Education in Two Worlds blog he provides a transcript of his rather lengthy presentation (24 pages) which Diane Ravitch glowingly describes thusly: “Glass has written one of the most brilliant, most perceptive commentaries on the billionaires’ reform movement that I have ever read.  He gives a witty, well-sourced analysis of the familiar corporate reform narrative and punches giant holes in it. . . .  Glass is one of our nation’s most celebrated and honored researchers,”she continues.  “He called VAM ‘stupid’ back in 1998.  Unlike many ivory-tower academics, he is taking sides: he is on the side of public education, democracy, and truth.  If you don’t read this, shame on you.  Please tweet it, post it on Facebook, share it with your friends and your elected officials”  His lecture is amply illustrated with pictures, charts and graphs to illustrate his point so it’s not 24 pages of straight text.  Monday is the President’s Day holiday so bookmark Glass’ talk and read it when you have some extra time over the 3-day weekend.  
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Gene V. Glass
California Teacher Shortage
THE HECHINGER REPORT has a detailed piece on the teacher shortage in California titled “California Faces A Dire Teacher Shortage: Should Other States Worry, Too?”  It features a new report on the problem from the nonprofit Learning Policy Institute headed by Linda Darling-Hammond, a previous ALOED Book Club author.  “According to federal data, enrollment in California’s teacher preparation programs fell from more than 719,000 during the 2008-09 school year to 499,800 during the 2012-13 school year,” the article points out.  “The number of teaching credentials issued in special education dropped by 21 percent between 2011-12 and 2013-14, according to the Learning Policy Institute report, and over the past four years, the number of credentials issued to new math teachers dropped by 32 percent.  At the same time, the demand for teachers has increased, according to the report, with the state’s educator job website listing twice as many open positions at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year as it did during that time in 2013.”                 The “Ed News” has previously highlighted a rather acute teacher shortage nationwide.  California has certainly not escaped that problem as George Skelton reports in his “Capitol Journal” column in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  He reviews the issue and describes several bills currently before the state legislature that attempt to lure more people into teaching.  “My favorite bill,” he mentions, “is one by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), a former middle school teacher.  It would reinstate a student loan forgiveness program that was eliminated during the recession.  Pavley’s proposal would require teachers to spend at least four years in a school with a large proportion of disadvantaged students, or in a rural school with lots of staff vacancies.  The teacher also would be required to demonstrate financial need.”
The Opt-Out Movement
And finally, the United Opt-Out (UOO) National conference will convene at the end of this month in Philadelphia.  ALOED member Larry Lawrence is planning to make the trip across the country to attend.  According to John Merrow, on his THE MERROW REPORT, convention goers will be serenaded by a knock off of the chorus of the popular Kenny Rogers tune “The Gambler.”  It’s titled “You Gotta Know When to teach em . . . .”  If you’d like to check out the original (3:31 minutes) you can find it on YouTube by clicking here. Merrow has a couple of links with information about the UOO gathering if you’d like to join Larry and many others and hear the song for yourself.

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




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