Ed News, Friday, February 26, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

               “Apply yourself. Get all the education you can, but then…do something. 
               Don’t just stand there, make it happen.” 
― Lee Iacocca

Letters to the Times

The previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a second “Capitol Journal” column by George Skelton that appeared in the Feb. 15thL.A. Times about how to attract young people into the teaching profession.  It prompted two letters in last Thursday’s paper that seconded his suggestion of increasing teacher pay.               A pair of letters appeared in last Friday’s Times concerning an op-ed in last Tuesday’s paper about how the LAUSD was “neglecting black students.”  [Ed. note: I neglected to include the link to that article which you can find by clicking here.]  The first was written by Stu Bernstein a former administrator with the district who concurred with the op-ed’s view. 
The Teaching Profession
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides all Americans with freedom of speech.  Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs), senses a growing trend that is attempting to silence that right among teachers.  She cites two examples in Ohio and Mississippi.  “A new trend,” she worries, “has appeared on the horizon – laws that silence teachers!   In most states teachers are not allowed to engage in political activity while in school but what has appeared in the last few months, thanks to lawmakers in Ohio and Mississippi, is frightening.”               Steven Singer, on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, opines about the teaching profession and free speech.  He headlines his essay with an important question: “Should Teachers Have Strong Opinions?”  “I am an opinionated person.  I am also a public school teacher.  Those two things should not be mutually exclusive,” he writes.  “You should not have to give up the one to be able to do the other.  Teachers should not have to relinquish their judgment in order to run an effective classroom.  In fact, you might expect good judgment to be a prerequisite to doing the job well.  Yet it seems many people disagree.  They like their teachers tame, docile and opinion-free.  That’s just not me,” he continues.  “Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying teachers should instruct their students to think just like them.  I’m not saying they should indoctrinate or unduly influence the young people in their care.”               The “Ed News” has, unfortunately, published a number of “Why I’m Quitting Teaching” stories over the past several years as educators get increasingly fed up and can’t take it any more as low pay, poor working conditions and blame for what ails education pile up.  It’s time to turn the tables with this uplifting story from EDUCATION WEEK titled “Why I Plan to Stay in Teaching.”  It’s written by Justin Minkel, a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher in Arkansas.  He offers 3 solid reasons (#1 is “The Kids”) why he plans to keep teaching until he’s a happy old man.  “These gloomy tales of departure also demand an equal and opposite reaction: stories by teachers who have chosen to stay,” he writes.  “Those of us who plan to teach for the rest of our careers need to speak up about why we have made that choice.”  If you are feeling burned out or need a boost after a tough week (month, year) sit down with your favorite beverage and recharge your batteries as you read his piece over the weekend.  You’ll feel better after you do.  Guaranteed!!!               Need an assist with that lesson or how to handle that unruly student?  Welcome to the 21st century and online teacher-coaching services.  THE HECHINGER REPORT describes this new type of teacher support program that works with both neophytes and veteran educators.  It profiles several different plans providing these services and zeroes in on a couple of teachers who have made good use of what they offer.  “EdConnective is among a handful of startups and education nonprofits offering virtual coaching,” the article relates, “both to new teachers struggling to control their classrooms and to experienced teachers hoping to boost critical thinking and engagement.  Virtual coaching’s backers promise teachers a sustained high dose of feedback, personalized action plans for their classrooms and follow-up during implementation, three vital features missing from most professional development according to a parade of recent reports.”
Charter School Protest
You’ve certainly heard of the labor protest called a “walk-out.”  But what about a “walk-in?”  That’s what UTLA and the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools organized last Wednesday to protest plans to expand charter schools in the LAUSD.  The action took place at several campuses around the district.  Similar events took place in other cities around the country as detailed by a story in last Thursday’s L.A. Times.  “Union representatives,” it reports, “said the event was . . . . an effort to take back schools ‘for the public, for teachers, for students,’ and away from the ‘billionaire privatizing agenda,’ said United Teachers Los Angeles spokeswoman Anna Bakalis.”               Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, explains “What School Walk-Ins Teach Us,” referring to the the events above that involved over 900 schools in 30 cities around the country.  He suggests that the widespread labor actionproves that the American public has not given up on its school system despite what the corporate “reformers” and privatizers would have you believe. “What’s A ‘Walk-In?’  Walking into schools – as opposed to walking out – is a symbolic gesture of support for public education,” he responds, “and an opportunity for concerned citizens and the media to see the conditions and challenges these schools face.  The walk-in concept originated in North Carolina and St. Paul, Minnesota, where teachers and students – unable or unwilling to walk out of schools – held walk-ins to voice their concerns, educate their communities, and galvanize support for public schools.” Bryant describes what took place in several other cities including Los Angeles.
Undocumented Students Threatened With Deportation
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency of the federal Department of Homeland Security has been cracking down on undocumented minors who entered the U.S. to avoid violence and threats in their Central American home countries.  Six high school students were arrested in North Carolina and are now being held in federal detention centers in the south according to a story on the Global Voices website.  Teachers and the local school board are protesting the government’s actions.  “Support for the students is growing.  A vigil was held in Charlotte on February 12,”  it points out, “for the teens who are in ICE prisons awaiting deportation, despite the fact that none of them have criminal records, all of them are now either 18 or 19 years old having crossed the border as minors, all have legitimate fears about returning to their country of origin (which should qualify them for refugee consideration), and all are, by DHS’s own standards, low priority for arrest and deportation.”
LAUSD Graduation Rates
 Despite warnings to the contrary, graduation rates in the LAUSDare projected to reach some truly high levels this year.  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times details the turnaround.  “The early grim news had arrived in December,” the piece relates. “At the time, only 54% of seniors were projected to graduate based on stiffer requirements that took effect for this year. The figure would represent a free fall from last year’s 74% rate — despite more than a decade of preparing for the higher standards.  Then came the seeming impossible,” it continues.  “As of the beginning of February — after a three-week winter break and one month of school — the estimated graduation rate rose to 63%.  And officials say they are optimistic the rate will rise much higher, perhaps to 80%.”  One reason: online classes, and that raises some additional issues.               Two letters in Wednesday’s Times reacted to the story above regarding the possibility of the LAUSD achieving its highest graduation rates ever.  Both were critical of some of the policies and methods the district is utilizing to achieve those result.               A follow-up article to the first one in this section appeared in Wednesday’s paper.  It described how the LAUSD board, at their meeting on Tuesday, reacted to the news that graduation rates may reach 80% this year and why they are on the increase.  “The beleaguered Los Angeles Board of Education,” it begins, “had that rare moment Tuesday when it could celebrate good news that verged on the spectacular: The nation’s second-largest school system seems headed for a record graduation rate despite more rigorous standards and despite fears — as recently as last week — that half of students would not make it into their caps and gowns.”   An editorial in today’s Times is uncertain about the LAUSD’s attempt to stiffen graduation requirements  and wonders about the district’s use of questionably rigorous online “credit-recovery” classes for students to make up credits they failed to earn in the past.  The piece is skeptical of the jump in the graduation rates over the past several months due to the latter.  “Setting high standards for graduation is a fine idea, but they must be achievable or else they can be counterproductive,” it concludes.  “And once they’re set, students must be helped to meet them fair and square.  Not through shortcuts or last minute brush-ups.  That means building a solid scaffold of curriculum, instruction and other programs that improve actual learning, which was supposed to be the goal all along.”
Chinese Students Visit U.S. Schools
Students from China always seem to excel on those international tests and their country is held up as an exemplar of how to educate children today.  So what kinds of impressions did a group of 60 kids from China have about U.S. schools after spending several weeks in classrooms in Tacoma, WA?   An interesting piece from The Tacoma News Tribune describes what the Chinese students experienced here.  “While many Americans admire the high test scores produced by students in China on international tests,”  it relates, “Chinese parents are interested in having their children learn the independence and creativity they see in American students.”
Death of Novelist Harper Lee
The death of “To Kill A Mockingbird” author Harper Lee last Friday had a profound impact on millions of students and teachers.  The “Education” column in Saturday’s L.A. Times relates how the death of Lee resonated with  both educators and their pupils in L.A. who read her Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece.  “The novel became a staple in classrooms across the country,” it explains, “as people of all ages found resonance in its timeless characters, including Scout, the precocious narrator who gives us her account of the wrongly accused Tom Robinson and his defense by her trial attorney father, Atticus Finch.”
Election 2016
The executive director of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER, a pro-charter proponent of school privatization (despite the “democratic” name) prefers Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders because of the former’s stance on charters.  Steven Singer, on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, finds that to be a great reason to back Bernie Sanders as the Democratic candidate for president.  “If an odious organization like DFER is in favor of Clinton,” Singer wonders, “shouldn’t the rest of us back Sanders?”             The field of presidential contenders has been winnowed down from about 17 Republicans to 5 and from 3 Democrats to 2.  How do the remaining candidates stack up on education issues?  EDUCATION WEEKoffers another of their “Election Guides.”  This one focuses on 5 key issues including early-childhood education, charter schools, The Ed. Dept., Common Core and K-12 funding among others and what the individual contenders’ positions are.             Hillary Clinton spoke at a town hall gathering in South Carolina yesterday ahead of the Democratic primary in that state tomorrow.  She took time to expound on her proposals to expand the school day and year as reported by Anthony Cody on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  
Science Bowl Competition
This is not only the season for basketball, hockey, golf and tennis.  Saturday found almost 240 students from 25 high schools around the city locked in fierce competition during the L.A. Department of Water and Power’s Science Bowl in which the “athletes” demonstrated their knowledge in subjects like math, science and technology.  The winning team was seeking a trip to Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl.  Check out a story in Sunday’s L.A. Times for all the exciting results and to find out which team was victorious.  “The purpose of the Science Bowl,” the article mentions, “is to encourage high school students from all backgrounds to pursue studies and careers in math, science and technology fields.  More than $25,000 will be presented to members of teams who place among the top four in the buzzer competition and top four in the Water and Power Community Credit Union Hands-on Competition.”
“Acting” U.S. DoE Sec. John King Faces Confirmation Hearing
When long-serving U.S. Dept. of Education Secretary Arne Duncan stepped down in December, Pres. Obama named John King  as “acting” secretary because the president didn’t believe he could get his nominee approved by the Republican controlled Senate (see the ongoing battle over a needed Supreme Court nominee).  Recently, Obama received signals the GOP leadership in the Senate may be amenable to the King nomination so hearings began yesterday before the Senate education committee.  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to now-retired Long Island high school principal Carol Burris, a staunch opponent of King since he was New York State Commissioner of Education, who pens a piece titled “Three Key Things to Know About Obama’s New Education Chief.”  “The new Every Student Succeeds Act — the federal education law that succeeds No Child Left Behind — is supposed to move educational policy in a new direction.  Its implementation requires open communication,” she concludes, “flexibility and a willingness to let states do the work of school improvement with minimal federal interference.  John King’s history as New York’s education commissioner calls into question his ability to get that job done.  As New Yorkers learned, leadership matters a lot.”               The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) is urging everyone to contact Senate Education Committee Chair Sen Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to turn down King’s appointment as Sec. of Education.              In light of the hearings on the confirmation of John King (see the first item in this section) here’s an interesting question [Ed. note: You may not think so.] posed in the “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK:“How Many Education Secretaries Have Been K-12 Classroom Teachers?”  FYI: The U.S. Dept. of Education was created in 1980 under Pres. Jimmy Carter. In all 11 different secretaries served under 6 presidents (including Mr. King).  So, how many do you think were full time K-12 classroom teachers?  [Full disclosure: John King has teaching and administrative experience but most has been in charter schools.]  You also might want to ask how important it is for DoE secretaries to have teaching experience?         Are you sitting down, because you may not believe what I’m about to write?  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, seems to come out in FAVOR of John King as the secretary of Education.  But if you read his full piece carefully and completely you’ll notice his reasons are rather convoluted and is that “endorsement” really tongue-in-cheek?  “I’m just hoping that King can do for the nation what he did for New York,” Greene concludes.  “Spread opt out across the country.  Galvanize parents.  Tout reformster ideas with so little sense or restraint that even the most casual observers will start to think, ‘Hey, those seem like really bad policies.’  What do you think?  Did I read his column correctly?         The confirmation hearing for John King to assume the job as Secretary of the Department of Education kicked off in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee yesterday.  EDUCATION WEEK describes the friendly and collegial nature of the questioning, at least so far.  The committee plans to vote on the nomination on March 9, and, if approved, send it on to the full Senate for debate and a vote.
Student Privacy
How would you feel if personal student data like social security numbers, home addresses and mental health records were going to be revealed to two nonprofit groups based on a federal court ruling regarding a special education case?  That is what’s in the offing according to an item in Sunday’s L.A. Times.  “The groups allege that the state is not providing a free and appropriate public education to children with disabilities, as is required by law,” the article reports.  “School districts began notifying parents this week that the data would be provided to comply with a recent court ruling in the case.”               An L.A. Times editorial yesterday weighs in on the issue of releasing personal student data as a result of a federal judge’s ruling (see above).  The piece argues for the information being kept private and offers some suggestions if that isn’t possible.  “One reasonable compromise might be for the California Department of Education to redact students’ names, addresses and the like, while agreeing to turn over the useful underlying data in an anonymized format,”  it proposes.  “But the state is not arguing for such a compromise.  Instead, it is vehemently objecting in court to providing pretty much any demographic material at all, arguing that in some cases — such as when a student is the only one of a particular race in a small school — the information, even if anonymous, could be used to figure out who that student is.”
Standards-Based Grading
First it was the roll-out of the Common Core and then the assessments that are aligned to them.  The latest catch-word is “standards-based grading” and it has to do with how teachers individually evaluate their students’ learning and understanding of the Common Core standards.  If you were comfortable with your old classroom grading system you may need to make some modifications.  The author of this piece in the “CTQ Collaboratory” column for EDUCATION WEEK teaches English and Language Arts at a middle school in North Carolina.  She offers some practical guidelines for “Putting Standards-Based Grading into Action.”  “To begin, let me share my interpretation of aligning my grading to standards,” she writes, “instead of assignments.  Standards-based grading aims to communicate how a student is performing against a set of essential standards. A student is ‘judged’ on what she knows, not how many assignments she has completed.”
LAUSD Student Dress Codes
A situation regarding a dress code violation back in October at the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts (LAUSD) in downtown has led to a reappraisal of how those code infractions are handled so that students don’t have to miss valuable class time because of them.  A story in Tuesday’s L.A. Times describes the particular incident and its ramifications.  The local area administrator wants to be sure the school’s dress code is aligned with district policy.              The above item prompted one letter-to-the-editor published in yesterday’s Times.  It offers a simple solution to dress code issues–uniforms.
Investing in Education Can Yield BIG Profits
Can you keep a secret?  The next big opportunity for private investors to make huge profits is in the field of . . . . EDUCATION.  Shush!  Don’t tell anyone!  Steven Singer, on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, has a commentary titled “How to Get Rich From Public Schools (Without Actually Educating).”  “So how do you get your hands on some of those delicious taxpayer greenbacks?   You gotta’ invest.  No!  I don’t mean increase education budgets for traditional public schools that can barely make ends meet!  I mean invest in shiny new charter schools.  Here’s how it works.  Lend money to a for-profit company to build a new charter school.  If you do it just right, you’re almost guaranteed to double or triple your money in seven years.”  If that all sounds too good to be true, read Singer’s article.  He lays out the details for you.  Just think, if you make enough money you can give up that low-paying, lousy working conditions, under-appreciated teaching job and retire to the life of Riley. 
Is Flint Water Disaster Repeating in Calif. School? 

“High levels of lead have been discovered in drinking fountains at Healdsburg Elementary School’s main building, county school and public health officials said Wednesday.” That’s how a story from theSonoma Press Democrat begins amid visions of what happened in Flint, MI.  The lead contamination was discovered over the Thanksgiving break and levels were found to be almost 60 times above what the federal EPA requires for corrective action.  One wonders how many other schools have similar toxic situations brewing as elevated levels of lead are particularly dangerous in children.

Vergara vs California
Remember the Vergara case from 2014?  It’s baaaaaack.  The landmark ruling in June of that year by an L.A. Superior Court judge tossed out tenure and seniority rights for teachers among other things. The decision was appealed by the defendants and their allies including Gov. Brown and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.  Arguments were heard before a 3-judge state appeals court in L.A. yesterday.  A story in today’s L.A. Timesreviews the original case and discusses some of the arguments presented and questions raised during the appeal process.  The court has 90 days to issue its ruling and observers predict that the losing side will appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court.             EDUCATION WEEK’s “Teacher Beat” column has an item titled “Understanding the Vergara Teacher-Tenure Appeal: What You Need to Know” that provides, in a simple Q & A format, the basics about the original case, the appeal process and what comes next.  The information is informative, interesting and easy to understand.  If you are at all unclear about what Vergara entails and the stakes involved, don’t skip this one.  “In my 11 years covering education and teachers,” the author of the piece begins, “nothing has even come close to generating the level of sheer angst, anger, and high-pitched PR battles that have accompanied Vergara v. California, a case challenging nearly every aspect of California’s teacher tenure rules.”
Charter Schools 
A recent edition of the “Ed News” featured a secret video taken in an Eva Moscowitz charter school in Brooklyn, New York, of a first grade teacher berating a student for an incorrect response during a math lesson.  The segment went viral and elicited a not particularly effective response from Moscowitz.  An article in The New York Times features the mother of the child in the video who has since withdrawn her daughter from the charter and enrolled her in the neighborhood public school.  “In two lengthy interviews, [the parent] said that she did not know what was happening in her daughter’s classroom before she saw the video,”  the piece explains.  “She said that she was so upset by what she saw — and by the network’s rush to rally around  [the teacher in question], while showing little concern for her daughter or other students — that she took the girl out of the school in late January.”              Dave Powell, author of “The K-12 Contrarian” column inEDUCATION WEEK, reviews some of the “scandals” surroundingEva Moscowitz’s Success Academy charters in New York City and wonders why she and her network are still held up as some kind of successful alternative to the public schools.  Powell references a column by John Merrow (link included) that tries to describe  Moskowitz as “Education’s [Richard] Nixon” only to realize that analogy is a total stretch.  “Actually, now that I think of it,”  Powell concludes, “maybe Merrow was right.  Threats, intimidation, arrogance—maybe Moskowitz is the new Nixon after all.”              The NBC NEWS website has an investigative piece on online charter schools titled “Online Charter Schools Tested by Setbacks and Self-Inflicted Blows.”  “Online charter schools have soared in popularity in recent years,” it reports, “based on a deceptively simple promise: delivering quality instruction — anytime and anywhere — to any student with an Internet connection.  But new questions about the quality of that education, and how the schools operate, are threatening to stifle that growth.  Supporters of traditional public school systems say the online schools lack accountability and are too dependent on for-profit school managers.  High-profile scandals have added to the perception.”
A Way Forward for Real Education Reform
Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK,reviews what he believes are the discredited attempts at corporate “reform” and offers some encouraging ideas for a “New Deal” in education.  He discusses a revitalized project called The Broader Bolder Approach to Education (BBA) that began in 2008, was moribund for a few years, and now is making a comeback.  It wants to focus on issues of equity and promote the concept of community schools. 
The High School of the Future
What would high schools look like if students could design them?  A group of 6th and 7th graders at the Brooklyn Charter Lab School were given the task of creating the school of their dreams.  THE HECHINGER REPORT describes what they came up with.  “The day would start later and end earlier,” the kids proposed.  “Testing and school uniforms would be banned.  There would be dancing in the hallways.  And – some changes adults might get behind, too – there’d be more art, more projects and more computers.”
Slam Poem on Education
And finally, Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column inThe Washington Post over to 2 high school students from Florida who have written a slam poem about the state of education today from their perspective.  If you don’t know what a slam is Strauss provides an explanation and after reading the students’ work you’ll get the idea.  Their work is titled “Education Shmedumacation” and includes these lines as a sample:  
       “Education is clearly a priority in our nation and nations elsewhere as well.
And because this subject is valued so highly by our society
I stand here today to tell you how much it sucks.
Oh, excuse my language, I mean, how much it displeases me to my core, my common core.”
Enjoy this and, BTW, they earned an A+ on the assignment.

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



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