Ed News, Tuesday, March 22, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

             Spring officially arrived at 9:30 pm Saturday.
              Inline image 1
                “Hey there, Hallie, welcome to the next place we need a Deer Crossing sign.’
I didn’t know that deers could read.’
They can in Cosgrove County. It’s part of the No Deer Left Behind program.” 

― Laura PedersenBest Bet

Toxic Levels of Lead in School Water Supplies

The disaster in Flint, Michigan, regarding highly toxic levels of lead in the municipal water supply is well known by now.  What is not so well known is that similar problems are beginning to plague school campuses around the country.  telesur provides some rather disturbing details in an article titled “Beyond Flint: US Schools Suffer Toxic Water Contamination.”                EDUCATION WEEKweighed in on the same topic.  It identifies of number of school districts with issues of unsafe levels of lead in drinking water and describes how some are working to mitigate the problems.  “School districts are not required to annually test their drinking water for lead if they use their city’s water source,”  the article mentions.  “A common source of lead-tainted water in schools is from leaching of old lead pipes in the schools or the solder used to weld pipes together.”
Opting Out

The “bald piano guy,” whose song parodies have been featured before on the “Ed News,” has a new contribution titled “It’s Still Opting Out to Me.”  You can listen to it on facebook (1:29 minutes).  This one takes a Billy Joel song “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me.”  You can hear  the original on You Tube (3:03 minutes).               Peggy Robertson, on her Peg With Pen blog, describes how several districts in Colorado, including her own, downplay a parent’s right to opt out his/her child from standardized testing in the state. Parents legally have that right but many districts make it next to impossible for families to know about the law and how they can take advantage of it.  Robertson concludes with a basic opt-out letter (in both English and Spanish) that parents in Colorado can complete and send to school with their child.

Student Discipline
Corporal punishment has been outlawed in California since 1986 (the LAUSD disallowed the practice in 1984).  30 other states ban its use in public schools but only two states, New Jersey and Iowa, prohibit its use in private schools.  truthout takes a look atdisciplinary practices around the nation and you may be surprised to learn that they include the use of mace, stun guns, tasers, restraints and other techniques that might sound more appropriate to the middle ages.  “The 12 to 15 percent of public school students living with disabilities also experience disproportionate corporal punishment,” it mentions, “regardless of race and regardless of whether they have learning disorders, are autistic or have illnesses ranging from cerebral palsy to asthma.  According to the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center, children with disabilities are between two and five times more likely to be hit than other students.”  The item goes on to discuss other forms of punishment.  
Trouble for TFA
 Diane Ravitch’s blog has a note from a “current high-level administrative employee at Teach for America,” who wishes to remain anonymous, who chronicles some major shake-ups in the upper ranks of TFA.  “Despite the flashy celebration at TFA’s 25th Anniversary Summit held in Washington D.C. last month,” the insider reveals, “TFA did not meet its recruiting target for the second year in a row.  2015 was the first time in its history that TFA laid off employees, and now it’s happening again.  But something appears to be different this time around.  It’s not just the rank and file staff employees who are getting the ax, like they did in Spring 2015.  This year it goes all the way up to the C-suite. Sources say several senior leaders are ‘voluntarily’ resigning amid alleged rumors of mismanagement and questionable business practices by the nonprofit organization.”  You can read the official announcement about the cut-backs and the group’s “new strategic direction” on the TEACHFORAMERICA website.               Valerie Strauss comments on the difficulties facing TFA on her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post.”  The piece includes an interview that Jennifer Berkshire (“EduShyster”)  conducted with the author of an article about the problems confronting TFA.  Strauss also references the item by Diane Ravitch above.
Corporate “Reform”
ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the organization that brings together conservative and right wing legislators with corporate representatives to influence legislation at the state level had a busy year in 2015 promoting bills to privatize the public school system.  The Center for Media and Democracy’s “PR WATCH” details some of the over 170 measures ALEC formulated to “reform” public education. “ALEC’s education task force has pushed legislation for decades to privatize public schools, weaken teacher’s unions, and lower teaching standards.  ALEC’s agenda would transform public education from a public and accountable institution that serves the public into one that serves private, for-profit interests,”  it notes.  “ALEC model bills divert taxpayer money from public to private schools through a variety of ‘voucher’ and ‘tuition tax credit’ programs. They promote unaccountable charter schools and shift power away from democratically elected local school boards.”  The end of the article contains a detailed list of the bills, by state, pushed by ALEC (California was spared).               Jeff Bryant discusses how the Walmart model is being used to privatize and “reform” (eradicate?) the public school system. His analysis appears on ALTERNET as he delves deeply into the background, philosophy and business model of the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) which recently announced a $1 billion (that’s with a “b”) grant to expand charter schools and other methods of school choice.  “Meanwhile, as WFF contemplates how to best ‘soften the ground’ for increased school choice, and policy makers ponder the growing impact of philanthropists in education,” Bryant writes, “more communities may have to contend with the reality of schools, public or charter, coming and going based on forces not in their control.  Completely lost in the discussion, though, is whether it’s right for the American populace to have its access to education determined by the values and philosophy of a few rich people.”               The corporate “reformers” continually claim that excellent schools, by themselves, can solve all the problems facing education today.  Valerie Strauss’s blog for The Washington Post invites Kevin Wellner, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education and director of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the school, to demonstrate through an infographic and a written explanation why those schools can’t solve all of education’s and society’s problems.  “The basic premise underlying school reform today is that great schools can perform wonders, lifting students out of poverty and closing achievement gaps,” Strauss writes by way of introduction.  “They can’t.  Research and practice prove that schools can’t do it alone in any systemic way, though policymakers continue to pretend that they can.”
Income Inequality Impacts High School Dropout Rates
A story in The CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR features a new report from the Brookings Institute that finds a causal relationship between income inequality and increased high school dropout rates “By comparing low-income students who go to school with middle class students with low-income students whose classmates are in the same socioeconomic bracket,” it notes, “the researchers show that the former group – those more exposed to inequality – are considerably more likely to drop out of high school.” This article includes a link to the full report (73 pages) and concludes with some brief recommendations from the research on how to combat the problem.
Charter Schools
A recently released study from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project finds that charter schools nationwide have higher student suspension rates than traditional public schools.  This situation falls particularly hard on black and disabled students.  The new data is featured in an article from The New York Times.  “The report is likely to fuel an often fierce debate about disciplinary practices in charter schools,”it suggest, “which are publicly funded but privately run.  Some charter networks have come under fire for ‘no excuses’ behavioral codes, under which students can be suspended for offenses like clothing violations.”  Interestingly, the L.A. Times has a slightly different take on the data.  The reporter raises questions about the timeliness of the information.  “The results reflect data that’s a few years old,” she points out, “and between then and now, much has changed in the ways schools discipline their students. . . .  A lot has changed since the survey was administered, in part because  the topic of school discipline has become a flash point in the debate about racial equity after videos of students being physically or verbally punished in classrooms attracted media attention.”  You can read the full report (36 pages), titled “Charter Schools, Civil Rights and School Discipline: A Comprehensive Review,” and decide for yourself who has the more accurate story by clicking here.              Thomas Ultican, on his TULTICAN blog, has had it with charter schools and thinks they should be totally abolished in California.  Ultican is a high school physics and math teacher in the Golden State.  He reviews several other bloggers and commentators who have written about charters and concludes his piece thusly:“The charter school movement (aka privatization of public schools) is dangerous for children and for society.  It is time to pull the plug on profiteers and fools raiding public coffers.”                Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of the Success Academy Charter network in New York City, and her schools have taken some heavy flak of late over high rates of suspending primary students, getting rid of pupils who don’t fit in and a video of a teacher verbally abusing a young student.  So what does she do?  She goes on a public relations offensive by hiring an expensive PR company and appealing to her media allies for more positive coverage.  John Merrow, on his THE MERROW REPORT, explains what’s going on.  “Eva Moskowitz is fighting  hard to maintain her position as the face and voice of the charter school movement here in New York City–and perhaps beyond.  In my private conversations with leaders of other charter networks here,” Merrow writes, “they have told me that they wish this weren’t so, but so far they have not been willing to stand up and be counted.”               When charter schools open they often seek to share space on public school campuses.  This is known as “co-location.”  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to former New York high school principal Carol Burris who describes how this works in practice.  Burris uses as an example a public middle school in Brooklyn.  “Imagine this.  You get a call telling you that another family will now occupy the second floor of your home.   After you recover from your initial shock, you complain. ‘Outrageous, you say. That is where I have my office, our second bathroom and the guest bedroom for when my mother comes to stay.’  You quickly learn the decision is not yours to make.  This is a top-down order, and you must comply.  As far-fetched as the above might seem,”Burris suggests, “the above is what principals in New York City and other cities around the country face when charter schools demand space.  And although principals may not ‘own’ their schools, the community that surrounds the school surely does.  Yet, no matter how strongly they protest, community voices are nearly always ignored.”               Charter vs traditional public school?  You can compare the two on a number of different issues but here’s one the “Ed News” hasn’t seen before: school violence.  THE Nation took some data put out by Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter group, about the level of violence in New York schools and came up with some surprising (at least to charter advocates) conclusions.  The item is titled “Why Has Charter School Violence Spiked At Double the Rate of Public Schools?”  “A Nation analysis of the charter school group’s data, however, suggests the move may backfire,” it points out, “since the numbers also show that charter schools themselves reported a far higher spike in incidents of school violence, 54 percent, more than double that of the public school average between the 2014 and 2015 school years.”
60 Minutes Segment on St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey
Sunday’s edition of CBS’s “60 Minutes” featured a segment (13:49 minutes) on St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark which you can view along with a brief article on the “Education and the Media” column on EDUCATION WEEK “The private school run by Benedictine monks serves more than 500 boys, mostly from low-income African-American or Hispanic families,” the article mentions.  “Student group leaders help run the school, and all they have to do is raise a hand to silence an assembly of boisterous teenagers.  And the school has a no-nonsense leader in the Rev. Edwin D. Leahy.  Father Ed, as he is known, is one of the monks of Newark Abbey.”
Election 2016
Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK,comments on an apparent stumble by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders over his understanding of charter schools.  Bryant points out that Sanders isn’t the only person who seems to be confused about what charters really are.  His piece is titled “Don’t Blame Bernie; Most People Don’t Get Charter Schools” and Bryant reviews a number of other articles that attempt to discern what charters are and what they aren’t.              Diane Ravitch’s blog commented on Sanders’ response and the question that drew it out.              Steven Singer has an item titled “The One Reason Bernie Sanders is the Best Mainstream Candidate for Parents and Teachers” on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG.  Singer likes the fact that Sanders is firmly against the privatization of the public schools and that’s a key factor for him.  “America’s parents and teachers are fighting a battle for our children’s schools.  Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle stand against us.  They are giving away the store” Singer complains.  “They are selling our system of public education – once the envy of the world – to for-profit corporations piece-by-piece.  They are stealing our schools out from under us, giving them to unscrupulous charter school operators who are stripping away services for our children so that they can pad their own bottom line.  And only Bernie truly stands against them.”

Parent-Trigger Law

Here’s one way for school districts to avoid the parent trigger law.  Decide it doesn’t apply to them.  Parents at 20th Street Elementary School in the LAUSD are trying to take over the campus using the parent trigger legislation and the district is claiming it doesn’t apply.  A story in Thursday’s L.A. Times describes this novel tactic.   “In rejecting the petition concerning 20th Street Elementary School,” it notes, “the district said that California’s 2010 ‘parent trigger law,’ which allows parents to take over low-performing schools if they gather enough signatures, is not valid because it asks for outdated performance measurements.  An attorney for the district, David Holmquist, argued in a letter rejecting the petition that even if the law were valid, the district has a federal waiver that exempts it from using the Academic Performance Index and Academic Yearly Progress as performance measures.”              Aneditorial in Friday’s Times urges the California Board of Education and the legislature to remedy the outdated parent trigger law and bring it up to date concerning the Common Core and the assessment measurements that go along with the standards.  “The dismantling of the API and AYP has had a strange effect on California’s parent trigger law,” the item explains, “a reform that was pioneered in this state in 2010 but that has been faltering here of late.  The law allows parents at low-performing schools to force change, such as a switch to charter status or new campus leadership, if a majority of them sign a petition.  But under the law, the trigger can be invoked only at schools that have fallen short of an 800 API and missed their AYP targets.  With those measurements gone or rendered meaningless, is the trigger dead?”             How are parent trigger-like laws faring in other states?  The author of the “K-12 Parents and the Public” column forEDUCATION WEEK reviews what’s been taking place around the country.  Trivia question:  Do you know how many states, including California, have parent trigger laws?  (A) 42   (B) 6   (C) 29   (D) 17.  The correct answer is . . . . “B.”  It used to be 7 states but Connecticut recently backed away from its legislation.  California, BTW, was the first state to have a parent trigger law.  It was passed in 2010.  “Josh Cunningham, a senior education policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures,” the author notes, “checked on whether state legislatures are advancing new parent trigger laws this year for me.  He found out that lawmakers in four states—Iowa, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania—have introduced bills to create parent-trigger laws.  But no action has been taken.”
“Why Finland Has the Best Schools”                                                  
That’s the title of an op-ed piece in Friday’s L.A. Times by a 2015-16 Fulbright scholar and lecturer at the University of Eastern Finland who enrolled his 7-year-old in a primary school in the Nordic nation for 5 months.  He offers a number of reasons why Finland has earned that accolade.  Among them are this one: “Finland doesn’t waste time or money on low-quality mass standardized testing.  Instead, children are assessed every day, through direct observation, check-ins and quizzes by the highest-quality ‘personalized learning device’ ever created — flesh-and-blood teachers.”              The above op-ed about Finland’s schools elicited 3 letters that appear in today’s L.A. Times.  The first one is from a teacher and school board member in the Garvey School District.  “Finland decided to professionalize education — to view all educators not as employees,”  he writes, “but as professional educators.  Sadly, most Americans still believe that it is the teacher’s ‘job’ to teach.”
John King Confirmed as Sec. of DoE
While the “Ed News” was on hiatus John B. King was confirmed March 14, by the U.S. Senate on a vote of 49-40 to the job of Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Education.  Sunday’s L.A. Times has a “Back Story” feature on King that reviews his background and discusses some of the challenges he will face in the remaining 10 months of his tenure.  “Even though King is going to be schools chief only until Obama leaves office in January, he has a long road ahead, and a full plate. The Department of Education must regulate the Every Student Succeeds Act, the bipartisan replacement for the No Child Left Behind Act, the country’s sweeping education law.”  You can read about King’s confirmation in a piece from The Washington Post by clicking here.  In case you’re interested, 7 Republicans voted in favor of King and one Democrat, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York voted “no.”  Both California senators voted “yea.”             The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) immediately issued a press release condemning the confirmation of John King to be the next Sec.of Education.  They describe it as “A Blow to Public Education in America.”  “John King consistently showed a lack of interest in listening to parents and educators in New York State,” the announcement concludes.  “We anticipate that not much will change as he takes control of the USDOE. What we know for sure is that the policies he initiated in New York State will become national education policy, and this will be detrimental to our children and our public education system.”
Academic Decathlon
Granada Hills Charter High (LAUSD) won the state Academic Decathlon competition held in Sacramento.  The results of the 3-day competition were announced Sunday and are featured in a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  The winning team also happens to be the defending national champions and 5 of the top 10 schools in the statewide event were from the LAUSD.  9-member teams represented 68 schools in the 10-event competition.  The theme this year was “India.”  Granada Hills will represent California in the national championship next month in Anchorage, Alaska.
March Madness Academic Style
All college basketball fans know it’s “March Madness” time when the college hoop playoffs ultimately determine the national champion.  However, what if that tournament was not based on lay-ups, rebounds, steals and 3-point shots?  What if is was purely determined by things like player graduation success rates and  academic progress rates?  Believe it or not, the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports released its annual report of all 68 schools selected to compete this year and the author of the article about it in EDUCATION WEEK completed a tournament bracket based solely on those academic measures.  Guess which school emerged as champion based on that?  You’ll have to read the article to find out and see how the metrics were established and the methodology of the data.  Interesting stuff whether you’re a basketball fan or not.
Competition for Private Kindergarten
Many people are aware of the pressure and stress felt by parents and  students to get into a top college or university.  It can also be pretty nerve-wracking trying to gain entrance to a highly regarded magnet school or top charter.  But what about getting your toddler into an exclusive private kindergarten?  The “Education Watch” column in yesterday’s L.A. Times has a print edition story titled “A Different Type of  (Rug-) Rat Race” that details the elaborate steps families go through to get their child into a top private kindergarten. Be sure to check out the graph that illustrates how much it costs to attend a private kindergarten in Los Angeles.  “For some of the most exclusive schools,” the article points out, “the admissions process is demanding, requiring essays, open houses, parent interviews, child assessments and in some cases even IQ tests.  And most schools send their acceptance letters on the same Friday afternoon in March, a day that mothers have long dubbed ‘Black Friday.'”  The author concludes with some strategies that are NOT recommended for getting your child accepted.
New York Board of Regents Has a New Leader
The New York State Board of Regents has a new leader and Diane Ravitch’s blog is singing her praises in a brief announcement about the selection.  “This is a huge setback for corporate reform in New York,” she proclaims.  “A great victory for NY’s students!!”               Chalkbeat NEW YORK has an early profile of Betty Rosa, the new head of the New York Board of Regents, who says that if she were a parent she’d “opt out” her children from standardized testing.  “Rosa’s statements underscore the striking nature of Monday’s leadership shift,” it suggests.  “Former Chancellor Merryl Tisch was a staunch defender of the exams, which grew more difficult to pass under her leadership as they incorporated the Common Core standards. Last year, frustrations about testing led to one in five eligible students not taking the tests statewide.”                Retired New York principal Carol Burris is often a guest columnist on Valerie Strauss’ column in The Washington Post.  This time Burris writes about the positive direction New York seems to be headed with the selection of Betty Rosa as leader of the state’s Board of Regents.  “I have known and admired Betty Rosa since 2011,” Burris concludes.  “I worked with her on the Schools of Opportunity program last year.  She holds high standards for schools and those who work in them, but also brings a deep understanding of the challenges that schools and students face.  She understands that our public schools are the pillar of our democracy.  She knows there are no ‘silver bullets’ for school improvement.  Over time her leadership will bring meaningful change and real solutions for the students of New York State.”
Teacher Prep
The U.S. Dept. of Education last week released some recent data regarding enrollment in teacher prep programs that is featured in an article in EDUCATION WEEK.    The bottom line?  Those numbers continue to decline but not as steeply as before.  The graphic that accompanies the piece puts the situation in clear terms.  California’s “Report Card” can be accessed by clicking here.
The Teaching Profession
And finally, we will leave you with this story from the “Teaching Now” column at EDUCATION WEEK about a hero teacher who decides to donate a kidney to her very little first grade student who was born with chronic kidney disease.  [Ed. note: Be sure to have a couple of boxes of tissue handy.  It’s a real tearjerker.  You’ll go through one box just reading the story.  Viewing the video (3:12 minutes) will require another box or two.]

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



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