The ED NEWS
A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues
[The “Ed News” is going to take a very brief break.
Look for the next edition on Tuesday, March 8]
“Here is a truth that most teachers will not tell you, even if they know it:
Good training is a continual friend and a solace; it helps you now,
and assures you of help in the future. Good education is a continual pain in the neck,
and assures you always of more of the same.”
― Richard Mitchell, The Gift of Fire
Climate Change and the Classroom
How is the teaching of climate change being handled in the nation’s middle- and high-school classrooms? The answer, according to a story in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, is with much “confusion.” “Climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that climate change is driven by human action,” it begins, “but middle- and high-school teachers seem to have missed that message. The majority of teachers are not aware of this consensus and teach climate change as an ongoing debate in the scientific community.”
The charter school movement has been growing by leaps and bounds. However, its attempt to expand within the LAUSD has hit some roadblocks as of late according to a item from ALTERNET. The piece reviews the explosive growth of charters around the U.S. and, in particular, in Los Angeles and details efforts to derail that plan, led by UTLA and the local school board. “It is important to note that all charter schools are not the same; charter chains come in different sizes with contrasting objectives,” the piece points out. “In many cities, there are charter schools idealistically developed by parents, teachers and local communities who seek to improve the environment for their children and bring values of openness and cooperation to the task. . . . But overall and increasingly, the charter movement has been co-opted and dominated by corporate-run chains and franchises mixing for-profit and nonprofit operations.” THE HECHINGER REPORT (the same story appears in the “Education Matters” column in today’s L.A. Times) features a extended profile singing the praises of a network of 10 charter schools, Summit Public Schools, in the Bay area with 8 campuses plus 2 in Washington State, that utilize a “blended learning” approach but with a much more human face. “What’s happening inside the ‘new’ Summit schools is still human-centered work, but supported by a silent high-tech filing cabinet,” the article explains. “The computer system, dubbed the ‘Personalized Learning Plan,’ is more than a database, though. It stores projects, curriculums, mentoring materials and academic assessments. Teachers can quickly pull materials from a curated list, to create lessons that are the right fit, neither too easy nor too hard. They can also search for advice from colleagues about which lessons have worked well for a particular concept or project. Students can also use the system, but they don’t sit around clicking through computer screens all day long. They have traditional classrooms with teachers,” it continues, “as well as real-world projects. Outside of class, and at designated times during the school day, they can log into the computer network and work as fast or as slowly as they want through various lessons. As they progress, a line on the screen chugs forward like a pace car through a list of the lessons, showing students (and their parents and teachers) if they are ahead of or behind where they need to be to complete the course on time.”
EDUCATION WEEK’s annual “Leaders to Learn From” profiles two administrators in the Vancouver, Washington school district who have transformed the academic growth of their students by incorporating a “community schools” model. “The district set out in 2008 to incorporate a bold vision into its strategic plan: Vancouver would create an ‘opportunity zone’ where schools would focus on addressing the impact of poverty that can affect students’ classroom performance. . . . In several phases,” the item reports, “schools in the opportunity zone each set aside space for a family- and community-resource center staffed by a coordinator to help meet the needs of students and their families. Each resource center developed its own menu of services that are tailored to the specific needs of the school community, offering such help as food pantries, free clothing, referrals to mental-health services, family-literacy classes, GED prep programs for parents, and on-site dental care through mobile dental vans.” The article proceeds to feature how things are working at one district campus, Hudson Bay High School. Because of the innovations taking place in Vancouver, the district has seen increases in graduation rates, parent involvement and student enrollment in AP classes.
Corporate “Reformers” Target Steve Zimmer
The next LAUSD school board elections are more than a year away but the corporate “reformers” and privatizers are already targeting board president Steve Zimmer’s seat in what could turn out to be a battle royal for control of the nation’s second largest school district. Nick Melvoin has already announced his challenge to Zimmer’s seat. The LA progressive website describes a fight that could turn out to be more interesting than the current race for president and could last even longer. “Zimmer’s District 4 race will be the most publicized race in the nation,” the piece predicts. “Here we have the Reform candidate announcing his candidacy over a year before the election as if he were running for U.S. President. We all know how great the nationwide stakes are in these ‘piddly’ school board battles and this race is the humdinger. Here is where I have to groan in misery. We are now looking at a year of tsunami fundraising the likes America has never seen for a school board race. Most of the money on Melvoin’s behalf will come through the dark money contributions,” it continues, “that have fueled all Reform races nationwide and Los Angeles in particular. The Who’s Who of contributors is well known to all of us who know these billionaires as pop stars. Every charter group, hedge fund and corporate entity will pour massive resources into this race for Melvoin.”
Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted Hillary Clinton’s response to an audience member’s question at a town hall in South Carolina last week about extending the school day and year. It appears to have been a leading question. Karen Wolfe, local L.A. activist and author of the PS connect blog, did some investigating and discovered the questioner was actually the principal of an online virtual charter school and he was pushing a particular agenda which Wolfe gladly exposes. “Given the limited attention K-12 schools have received in any of the presidential campaigns, education voters were glad for an opportunity to evaluate a candidate’s position. Public education advocates recognize this particular question as a talking point of Democrats for Education Reform [DFER], ‘Third Way’ dems who seek to turn public education into a business,” Wolfe relates. “They’re supported by disruptive innovators poised to receive massive amounts of public money to provide the services. It wasn’t surprising that this question would come from a charter administrator.” Steven Singer bumped into Jill Stein, the little-known Green Party candidate for president, before she addressed the United Opt Out Conference in Philadelphia over the weekend and on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG gushes “Dr. Jill Stein is the Best 2016 Presidential Candidate, But Can She Win?” He especially likes her specificity on education issues, unlike most of the other candidates on the Democratic and Republican sides, and Singer thinks her overall platform is vastly superior to any other person running.
The Teaching Profession
A new book titled “The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School” tells the all too familiar tale of an idealistic teacher who believes he can change the word only to be chewed up and spit out by a lack of proper training and placement in a difficult teaching situation. An item in The New York Times discusses the book and interviews its author who recounts his trials teaching 9th grade history. “Mr. Boland [the book’s author] said he hoped people would not conclude from his book that the students were to blame for their chaotic classrooms, or that poor kids could not be taught,” the article explains. “He wrote the book, he said, to dispel the myth of the hero teacher, and the idea that just caring was enough. In the book’s final section, he blames poverty for the school dysfunction, nodding only briefly to the teachers and the methods that succeed with impoverished students, even where others fail.”
Alan Singer, writing on the HUFFPOST EDUCATION blog,didn’t have much positive to say about “The Battle for Room 314” (see above), titling his critique “Nobody Told Him How to Take A Cellphone Away From a Kid.” “My fear,” he writes, “is that this will book will be used as another weapon in assaults on public schools and teacher certification programs.” Singer proceeds to list “10 Teaching Tips” he would have proffered to Boland to help him get through that very difficult first year of teaching. Another blogger was equally unimpressed with Boland’s book. John Warner, on the INSIDE HIGHER ED website, talks about certain“education tourists” who drop by for a visit and claim to be “experts” on education reform. He includes David Coleman, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and author Ed Boland in that classification and he explains why. “People like Ed Boland and these other reformers are not saviors,” Warner complains. “They are education tourists. Boland has used his year as an education tourist to launch a book that’s been reviewed everywhere, and is now a sought after public speaker, a supposed expert on education and our educational system. This is like a student pilot who crashes on his inaugural flight being asked by the FAA about aeronautical safety. More and more I’m starting to think we need someone who can save us from the saviors.”
Paul Thomas, on his the becoming radical blog skewers The New York Times piece about Ed Boland’s book (he even references Alan Singer’s and John Warner’s pieces cited above). Thomas has never been very impressed with how the non-education media tends to cover education issues and this one is no exception. “So Ed Boland wrote a really bad edu-book that all the mainstream media adores because, well, you know,” Thomas begins, “nobody gives a crap what a teacher thinks, but let ANYbody dip a toe in education who isn’t an educator and then everyone is all gaga.” Ed Boland, book author and focus of The New York Times’s article, responds to some of the criticisms he and the paper have received on Diane Ravitch’s blog. “I’m trying to call attention to the fact that we are expecting teachers in high poverty schools to do too much,” he notes. “We must end the myth of the hero teacher.” Ravitch was somewhat sympathetic to his point-of-view. With many states currently experiencing teacher shortages (including California) the issue of supporting and retaining new educatorscomes to the fore. THE HECHINGER REPORT features a study released today from the nonprofit New Teacher Center out of Santa Cruz, California, and includes a conversation with Liam Goldrick, policy director of the NTC, who talks about what his group’s new teacher support looks like. “Since 2012, the number of states that require schools to provide support for new teachers has increased slightly, from 27 to 29,” the story points out by way of introduction. “Only 15 of those states require that teachers be supported during their first and second years, and only nine states require support for new teachers beyond the first two years. Twelve states mandate a minimum amount of contact time between a mentor and a new teacher, whether it’s per week, semester or year. Yet only 16 states have dedicated funding for this teacher support, and that number is shrinking.” This item includes links to different parts of the full report. For a look at the “Policy Report” for how California retains and supports its new teachers (4 pages) please click here.
Arguments were heard in the appeal of Vergara vs. California on Thursday. Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” carried a story from theL.A. Times that reviewed the oral arguments in the case. That story prompted two letters that appeared in Saturday’s paper. Both were upset that plaintiffs in the case want to blame teachers for all that ails education today. “Of course, some teachers are better skilled than others,” the first one remarks, “but teachers are only one part of the equation. Stop blaming them and start focusing on the root cause of our dire education situation: social and economic conditions.”
United Opt Out Conference Highlights
The United Opt Out (UOO) conference was held in Philadelphia over the weekend. [Ed. note: ALOED member Larry Lawrence attended the gathering.] Steven Singer, on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, offers some convention highlights. On Friday Dr. Stephen Krashen delivered the keynote address directing his comments to the role of technology, both positive and negative, in education. Krashen was especially wary of the latest panacea, competency based education (CBE). “CBE is touted as a way to reduce high stakes standardized testing,” Singer summarizes Krashen, “by allowing students to work at their own pace while on various computer programs. However, Krashen sees this is an increase in testing. In effect, it’s testing everyday. The computer programs used in CBE are little more than the same kinds of questions you’d see on a standardized test. An emphasis on CBE would replace a robust school curriculum with never-ending test preparation and multiple-choice assessment.” Singer continues his “musings” about the UOO conference. Saturday’s keynote speech was delivered by Chris Hedges who talked about what it will take to bring effective, positive change to our public schools: “Rebellion, [Hedges] said, is not about changing the world. It’s about changing yourself. When you stand up for what is right, you become a better person – whether you achieve your goal or not. In a sense, it doesn’t matter if we destroy the testocracy. But in trying, we transmute ourselves into something better.”
Some of the other speakers that day addressed the same issue.
Confirmation of John King to Head U.S. Dept. of Education
Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, was rather astounded at the ease with which John King was treated before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee during his confirmation hearing last week. This is in particular contrast to how Republicans have reacted to Pres. Obama’s attempt to appoint a justice to fill the seat on the U.S. Supreme Court created by the death of Antonin Scalia. “Some New Yorkers are upset with the elevation of King at the U.S. Education Department,” she reminds readers, “and a few school boards have gone to the trouble of passing resolutions urging that King not be approved — which nevertheless is expected both by the Senate panel and the full Senate.” King was treated with kid gloves by both Democrats and Republicans and asked mostly softball questions of which a few he didn’t or couldn’t answer.
SAT and ACT Test Security
And finally, Valerie Strauss, on her column in The Washington Post, reports on an interesting development regarding the SAT and ACT. It’s widely known that companies and organizations that provide test prep for these exams like to take them so they can coach students to do better. The College Board, which owns the SAT, has moved to prohibit this practice and the organization that owns the ACT has followed suit. “The College Board, which owns the SAT,” Strauss writes, “says that it has instituted a new security measure that is meant to keep anybody from taking the college entrance exam for any purpose other than applying to a college, a financial aid program or any other program that requires a college entrance score.”
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.