Ed News, Tuesday, March 8, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

[The “Ed News” is going to take a 2-week break.  Look for the next edition on Tuesday, March 22.]
Daylight Saving Time Begins Officially at 2 am Sunday.  Turn your clocks ahead one hour.
Inline image 1
                “The more Adams thought about the future of his country, the more convinced he became that it rested on education. Before any great things are accomplished, he wrote to a correspondent, a memorable change must be made in the system of education and knowledge must become so general as to raise the lower ranks of society nearer to the higher. 
The education of a nation instead of being confined to a few schools and universities for the instruction of the few, 
must become the national care and expense for the formation of the many.” 

― David McCulloughJohn Adams

Charter Schools 

What is it about unionization that drives charter schools batty?  An article in THE Nation explores the issue through the lens of L.A.’s largest charter network and it’s battle to prevent teachers from unionizing.  The author of the piece describes some of the nasty and underhanded tactics adopted by Alliance College-Ready Public Schools to fight unionization on its campuses.  “As of now, it is unclear where the union drive is headed,” it relates.  “Since starting from 70 teachers publicly on board last March, the union claimed its support was up to 140 teachers as of last summer.  Alliance, on the other hand, claims that despite a yearlong campaign, “the majority of Alliance teachers have shown no interest in allowing UTLA leadership to speak on their behalf,’ according to a statement from spokesperson Catherine Suitor.  It remains to be seen whether the pro-union teachers can convince their colleagues that a union is the best way to be heard.”               The California chapter of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) is circulating a petition requesting the State of California investigate the Magnolia Charter Chain in the Golden State which is affiliated with the Gulen Schools.  They have a post on their Facebook page which you can read by clicking here.  It includes links to a list of the schools in question, the petition, if you’d like to sign it and a review of the formal complaint that has been filed against the network.               Jeff Bryant, writing on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, discusses a new poll that finds public attitudes towards charters is starting to wear “thin.”  “A new survey of voters across the country reveals growing concerns about charter schools.  The poll, conducted by an objective third party firm for Washington, DC advocacy groups In the Public Interest and the Center for Popular Democracy,”  he reports, “found the public has generally very positive views of their existing local public schools and generally opposes expansion of charters.  Huge majorities in the poll expressed strong support for a wide range of charter schools reforms that the industry often opposes.”  Bryant includes a link to the full poll (6 pages) conducted by GBA strategies.  Here is one of the “Key Findings” from the survey of 1,000 registered voters nationwide: “Voters offer public schools and public school teachers very high ratings. Sixty-four percent of voters rate the quality of education at public schools in their neighborhood excellent or good, while just 29 percent rate them fair or poor.  Voters are more likely to say public schools in their neighborhood are getting better (30 percent) than getting worse (17 percent), while a 43 percent plurality are not seeing much change either way.  By 8:1, voters are more likely to have favorable than unfavorable views of public school teachers (72 percent favorable – 9 percent unfavorable).”

Teacher Evaluations

Remember the hew and cry from the corporate “reformers” about the dire need to alter teacher evaluations and include student test scores?  People were promised that this would help get rid of all those “bad” teachers.  What’s become of all that?  A story in The Washington Post titled “Very Few Teachers Receive Poor Job Ratings, And New Evaluations Haven’t Changed That” features a new study by two researchers from Brown University and Vanderbilt that examines the issue.  They looked at 19 states that changed their teacher evaluations (California is not among them) to include test scores or other measures of student achievement. 
California’s Teacher Shortage
Thanks to ALOED member Ron Oswald for sending this article from EdSource about the California teacher shortage.  It’s the first in a series of pieces on the subject and this one deals with some proposals for what the state can do to alleviate the problem.  One of the co-authors is Linda Darling-Hammond.  Ron points out that one suggestion for attracting new teachers, increase salaries, is not among the ideas for ending the shortage.  Interesting.  “California has solved this problem before and can do so again,” the authors suggest, “by restoring programs that worked, investing in teacher recruitment and training, and signaling the value with which the state views its teachers.  These investments can offer long-term payoffs by increasing retention, saving the dollars wasted on high turnover, and improving outcomes for all of California’s students.”

Ever wonder how a school that accepts vouchers works?  Lindsay Wagner, on the NC POLICY WATCH websitetakes you inside a small private school in rural North Carolina so you can get a sense of how taxpayer money is being spent.  “Star Christian has received more than $75,000 in state funds since 2014 through the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarships program, created by the legislature in 2013,” she explains.  “It provides low-income families with vouchers worth $4,200 per year that can be applied to tuition at private schools. There is nothing to prevent schools such as Star Christian from continuing to receive the state money.  The law establishing the program contains no meaningful standards for accountability or transparency in terms of how public funds are spent.  It sets no minimum qualifications for teachers (except that they must have a high school diploma), no requirements regarding the curriculum, and no means of assessing student performance.”  That doesn’t sound very encouraging, but keep reading, it gets worse.              Diane Ravitch’s blog highlights a piece by Christopher Lubienski who is a professor at the College of Education at the University of Illinois.  He reviews some of thelatest research on vouchers and finds them to be, in some cases, academically harmful to students.  Vouchers were once considered a panacea for the corporate “reform” crowd but their efficacy is more and more being called into question.  “Now, a slew of new studies and reviews — including some conducted by the same voucher advocates that had previously found vouchers ‘do no harm’ — is telling quite a different story,” Lubienski points out.  “New reviews of existing voucher studies are pointing out that, overall, the impact on the test scores for students using vouchers are sporadic, inconsistent, and generally have ‘an effect on achievement that is statistically indistinguishable from zero.” But some new studies on vouchers in Louisiana raise substantial concerns, finding that students using vouchers were significantly injured by using vouchers to attend private schools.”

Teaching Grit?
Jan Resseger, a social justice activist from Ohio, on herjanresseger blog, addresses the issue of character education or teaching “grit,” which was the topic of the book “How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough (a previous ALOED Book Club selection).  She actually references the book in her piece headlined “Teaching ‘Grit,” Blaming the Poor, and Undermining the Public Will to Address Poverty.”  Resseger also cites an article in The New York Times which reports on several school districts in California that are attempting to teach character education and test for its success.  Ironically, one of the foremost proponents of teaching grit, Angela Duckworth, is strongly opposed to trying to test for the learning of those character skills.  You can read that Times story by clicking here.               Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post over to two professors of education from the University of Pennsylvania who also object to trying to test for the acquisition of traits like grit.  “The intrusion of non-cognitive teaching and testing into schools is not a prospect we welcome,”they write. ” Our opposition is based on two claims: teaching and testing this loose amalgam of traits is impossible to do well and would be undesirable even if feasible.  It cannot realistically be done.”

The “Ed News” has pointed out a number of ways standardized tests are and have been misused.  Here is the anatomy of another bad idea.  Currently, New Jersey is the ONLY state that requires passage of their Common Core aligned standardized test, the PARCC, as a graduation requirement.  Why is this such a bad idea?  The president of a school board in the state pens an op-ed on theNJSPOTLIGHT website laying out her case.  “New Jersey is the only state in the nation that mandates passing PARCC as a requirement for a high school diploma; as a result,” she worries, “a significant number of our qualified students are now at risk of not meeting graduation requirements.”
Teacher Pension Investments Questioned
The California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) is tasked with paying out teacher pensions and investing, wisely, the money deducted from educators’ monthly paychecks for future pension payouts.  Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUEblog, wonders why CalSTRS chooses to invest in enterprises likeonline charter schools and private prison corporations.  Why has is chosen to invest in businesses that seem to work against teachers’ best interests, he asks?  One reason, online charters and private prison groups provide high returns on investment.
Confirmation of John King as U.S. DoE Secretary
 A large group of  students, parents and education activists has signed on to a letter urging the Senate education committee not to confirm John King to become secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.  Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, comments on the action and includes a copy of the letter and the list of prominent signatories.  “The Senate education committee held confirmation hearings last week,” Strauss writes in introducing the letter, “and his confirmation by the panel and the full Senate is expected this month.  But a growing number of King critics are speaking out, including a few school boards in New York, which passed resolutions against his confirmation.  Now a letter signed by a long list of individuals and organizations warns senators not to be ‘misled’ by King’s ‘vague promises to do better.’”
Election 2016
Most of the Republican candidates for president have, at one time or another, promised to “do away with Common Core” when they become president.  Why is this an empty promise at best?  Valerie Strauss explains in her column in The Washington Post why presidents can’t unilaterally end the standards.  “If students in any state are being taught the Common Core State Standards, it is because their state legislatures approved it — and at one point, nearly all states had done so,” she points out.  “. . . Some states  have repealed the Core, but in many of those cases, similar standards were chosen to replace them.  No president can force the states to end Common Core.”               EDUCATION WEEK takes a look at some education policies of a possible Pres. Trump administration.  ” When education policy mavens and advocates contemplate a Donald Trump administration and its impact on K-12, what do they see?  In many cases,” it maintains, “they’re confused or uncertain about what a Trump-led U.S. Department of Education would do, or not do, if it even survives.  But in some cases they have clear concerns, or other thoughts about how he might significantly alter what’s been happening with federal education policy.”              Another piece in the same publication reports on some (rare) discussion of education issues at the Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, on Sunday night.  It seems like candidates from both major parties are shying away from topics like Common Core, testing, the new ESSA, unions, teacher shortages, etc.  A few of those subjects were broached by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders during the course of the evening.  “The Detroit debate may have been the number one K-12 bonanza of the Democratic race so far,” it concludes.  “And there were plenty of smaller edu-moments, including discussion of gun control, and the impact of the water crisis in Flint on student learning.”              Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, provides acomplete transcript (courtesy of The New York Times) of the give-and-take between Clinton and Sanders at Sunday’s debate. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, happens to hold a second job as a lobbyist who supports standardized testing, Common Core and charter schools.  Clinton’s chief educator advisor, Ann O’Leary, also has a strong corporate “reform” background.  Steven Singer, on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, is troubled by this and he includes a number of quotes from both Podesta and O’Leary that support their positions.  “If Hillary Clinton really wants to forge a new path for U. S. schools, it’s surprising she’s surrounding herself with the same people responsible for the status quo.  Funded by wealthy privatizers, advised by standardization true believers,”Singer worries, “it is difficult to accept a second Clinton Administration would be anything more than a seamless continuation of the Testocracy.”
The New SAT
The newly revised SAT made its debut for test-takers on Saturday.  How has it changed?  Let me count the ways.  Saturday’s L.A. Times has a “pop quiz,” in the form of 15 multiple-choice questions to get you up to speed and see what you know about the new exam.  “The new version marks the first major change to the SAT since a grammar and essay section was added in 2005. It comes amid widespread opposition to standardized testing, but the College Board says that more tests mean more opportunity for poor and minority kids whose potential might otherwise go unrecognized.”  Take the “test” that is part of this article and see how you did.  The answers are provided.               On the same topic, who truly benefitsfrom the newly revised SAT asks Karin Klein, who writes about education issues for the Times editorial board.  Is it the students?  Admission officers?  Her answer may surprise you–The College Board, which owns the SAT, and the test-prep industry.  “The revamp,” she suggests, “might do more for the College Board’s bottom line than for the needs of colleges, universities and students.”  She proceeds to explain her position.               One letterappeared in today’s Times in reaction to Karin Klein’s op-ed about the SAT (see above).               Does the name David Cameron ring a bell?  [Ed. note: That’s not James Cameron–he’s the filmmaker, director, producer, etc.]  David Cameron is the president of the College Board.  The Washington Post offers a profile of the man who is the main figure behind the Common Core and the SAT.  “Coleman, 46, came to the College Board in 2012 after helping to lead the development of the Common Core State Standards,” the story explains.  “Those standards, for what students should learn in math and English language arts from kindergarten through high school, have been widely adopted but are deeply controversial.”
Tackling Corporate “Reform” Head On
How should you respond to someone from the general public who has questions or comments about the corporate “reform” movement?  Diane Ravitch, on her Diane Ravitch’s blog, worked together with a reader to come up with some “appropriate” responses to those queries from those not in the field and who are not staying up-to-date on the latest issues.  “I received an email from a daily reader of the blog,” Ravitch writes, “who asked me how she could explain the downside of corporate reform to friends at a dinner party in the suburbs who know nothing at all about the issues.  She said that her friends were liberal Democrats, but their own children are grown, and they don’t read the blogs. What could she say that was direct, accurate, and informative?  We exchanged emails and began creating a list of snappy explanatory comments.”  Ravitch and the reader provides some early ideas and solicit additional suggestions from followers of the blog.
Anti-Sexting Bill Introduced
A bill (AB 2536) that would allow school districts to expel or suspend students for sexting was introduced in the California legislature last month.  A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times provides the details.  “This bill is more specific than existing cyberbullying, revenge porn and child pornography laws already on the books in California,” it explains.  “It gives school districts a way to discipline students who have directed their sexting at classmates or teachers but whose actions don’t reach a legal threshold for criminality.”
Two Book Reviews
Diane Ravitch reviews 2 books in the current (March 24) issue ofThe New York Review of Books.  The first is “The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?” by Dale Russakoff about how Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to the Newark schools went mostly to waste and the second is “Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students  and Teachers  Who Made it Triumph” by Kristina Rizga.  It’s about a school in San Francisco that was labeled a “failure” and how the staff and the community were able to turn it around.  It is, by the way, being considered as a selection for the ALOED Book Club next year.  [Ed. note:  I was in San Francisco this month and my wife and I drove by the campus to see what it was like and to snap some pictures of the outside to be shared when we discuss the book.  I also purchased a copy of the book at a local bay area bookstore.]  “Mission is a good example of bottom-up reform, where teachers work together and lead the changes that benefit the students,” Ravitch notes.  “The principal of Mission, Eric Guthertz, has twenty-eight years of experience in urban schools.  He encourages his teachers not to ‘teach to the test,’ but to use a rich curriculum, hands-on projects, field trips, art and music classes, elective courses, and student clubs.  In view of the diversity of the students, Guthertz believes in the value of such clubs as well as after-school programs, and extracurricular activities that teach important skills, like getting along with students from different cultures.”
“We’re #7, We’re #7”
And finally, it’s not exactly something to brag about.  The U.S. ranked number 7 among over 60 nations that were rated on how literate they are.  Number 1? Finland.  Number 2? Norway.  The study was conducted by the president of Central State Connecticut University and is featured in Valerie Strauss’ blog in The Washington Post.  “The rankings look at variables related to tested literacy achievement — scores on the PIRLS, or Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, and on the PISA, Programme for International Student Assessment — as well as to literate behavior characteristics,” she points out.  “Those include 15 variables grouped in five categories: Libraries, Newspapers, Education System – Inputs, Education System – Outputs, and Computer Availability, as well as population, which is used for establishing per capita ratios.”

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


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s