Monthly Archives: April 2016

Ed News, Friday, April 29, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

           “To understand life is to understand ourselves,
              and that is both the beginning and the end of education.”

        ― Jiddu KrishnamurtiEducation and the Significance of Life

Network for Public Education Conference Follow-up
If you didn’t attend the NPE’s 3rd annual conference in Raleigh April 16-17, or even if you did, and maybe missed an interesting session or two, you can catch up by viewing the keynote addresses and some of the more popular sessions via video from school house LIVE.  This website provides a menu of workshops and speeches to pick from.  If you view enough of them you may be able to fool people into thinking you actually attended.  Only kidding!  Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence, who attended this year’s gathering for forwarding the link to the videos.  The prominent presenters and information provided may entice you into thinking about attending next year’s convention.  The good news is it is supposed to be at a yet to be determined city on the west coast.  Make your plans now for April, 2017.               The NPE unveiled at their conference an extensive report on teacher evaluations (see the April 19th edition of the “Ed News”).  Peter Greene, aka the author of the CURMUDGUCATION blog, commented on the report shortly after the study was released.  He was astounded that real live classroom teachers were actually consulted in the development and recommendations contained in the paper.  “‘Educators on the Impact of Teacher Evaluation’ is a rarity in the world of reports on the world of education in that it involves the voices of actual classroom teachers. . . .  I have read so many ‘reports’ and ‘white papers’ and ‘policy briefs’ covering many aspects of education policy over the last few years,” he concludes, “and the appearance of a teacher voice is rarer than Donald Trump having a good hair day and displaying humility at the same time.  That alone makes this report valuable and useful.  I recommend you read the whole thing.”
If you’d like a handy, concise summary of the Network for Public Education’s teacher evaluation report, you can find it on the NPEwebsite, in the form of a colorful infographic, by clicking here.  It includes information from the survey the organization conducted among teachers regarding the impact of evaluations on their time, relations with their principals, individual opinions about the process and a summary of the 6 recommendations.  If you don’t want to take the time to read the full report (25 pages) this will provide an excellent overview.
Ed Tech Challenges
For schools to enter the 21st century they need to have up-to-date connections to the internet in order to have proper access to lessons, materials and even the ability to take standardized tests in a timely and proper manner.  Some poor and rural districts are at a distinct disadvantage in this regard as soberly reported in a story in the “Business” section of The Washington Post titled “At Schools With Sub-Par Internet, Kids Face A Poor Connection With Modern Life.”  A poor, rural school in Alabama is the focus of the article and illustrates the problems faced by too many other campuses.  “The schools with sub-par Internet are scattered around the country,” it spells out, “spanning from the far-flung communities of Alaska to the desert towns of New Mexico.  The danger is that students who attend these schools will struggle for years with the critical tasks that now require online fluency: applying to colleges, researching papers, looking for jobs.”
 The Teaching Profession
How should educators approach the teaching of controversial topicsto elementary students?  That’s always a question fraught with uncertainly.  A commentary in EDUCATION WEEK by a veteran educator takes a stab at an appropriate answer.  Her piece is titled “How to Teach for a Better World.”  “As an educator with more than 25 years of experience teaching about global ethical issues, I believe that we must teach students about the interconnected issues of human rights, animal protection, and environmental preservation. But we must take great care,” she cautions, “to share information about cruelty and injustice in age-appropriate ways that provide students with the tools for meaningful problem-solving.  The goal is not to traumatize students but to engage them in awareness.”               Online (virtual) schools and blended learning were two ideas for combining technology and education.  A new report from the National Education Policy Center raises some serious questions about their effectiveness as a teaching tool.  The study is featured in a story from THE HECHINGER REPORT.   “Too many students in virtual and blended learning schools are performing poorly,”  it indicates, “according to a new National Education Policy Center report, released last week, by Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan University, and Charisse Gulosino, an assistant professor at the University of Memphis.  The center’s annual report about online learning for the first time took a look at blended learning, as well.  It found that those schools were not doing much better than fully online schools. . . .  Both fully online (virtual) schools and blended learning schools included in the report tended to fare worse than traditional schools on state assessments of quality.  The report described this as a ‘red flag.'”  The research doesn’t suggest abandoning these techniques but makes 6 specific recommendations for improving them.
Are We Standardizing Our Students?
Most teachers view each student as an individual who is not like any other human being.  They try to individualize instruction as much as possible to meet the needs of each pupil and their particular learning style.  So why is it that corporate “reformers” want tostandardize every student and turn them into the identical products (cars, washing machines, lawn mowers, etc.) that businesses and factories turn out every day?  That’s the critical issue addressed by Lynn Stoddard, a now retired, longtime educator, who titles his commentary for the Deseret News “Let Teachers Teach: Education That Magnifies Individual Differences.”  The quote from Albert Einstein at the start of his piece makes his point perfectly.  Stoddard laments the lack of individualization in today’s classrooms and believes America needs to listen to its athletic coaches and arts teachers to get that quality back.  “The best thing that can now happen to our culture is to let all teachers perform as professionals,” he proposes, “not as servants to an obsolete curriculum. Let teachers magnify student differences rather than uselessly trying to make students alike in knowledge and skills.”
Money for Schools
NPR has a segment titled “Can More Money Fix America’s Schools?”  It looks at the chronic issue about spending the proper amount of money to alleviate the impact of poverty on educating low-income students and closing the achievement gap.  The piece includes an audio (7:19 minutes) and a printed story that accompanies the program.  It is part of the “School Money” Project that includes a number of other segments which you can access by clicking on the link in the “About the ‘School Money’ Project” sidebar.  Diane Ravitch described this item as “a balanced and thought-provoking discussion.”
Latest 12th Grade NAEP Scores Disappoint
12th grade scores on the biennial 2015 NAEP (National Assessment for Educational Progress–known as the “Nation’s Report Card”) declined in math and were statistically flat in English over the previous 2013 results.  An article in THE WASHINGTON POST provides the disappointing numbers .  “In 2015, average math performance among seniors slipped two points, to 152 on a 300-point scale. On the reading test,” the story reports, “seniors posted an average score of 287 on a 500-point scale, which was not statistically different from 2013. . . .  The stagnation comes after a turbulent period in public education.  Most states adopted sweeping educational policy ­changes, including teacher evaluations tied to test scores and Common Core academic standards that have changed what and how students learn in the classroom.”  It seems like all that corporate “reformy” stuff is not meeting its promise to improve education and it might, in fact, be having a deleterious effect on learning.   Hmmm.                If you’d like to take a more detailed look at these latest results from the source, check out the NAEP’s website The Nation’s Report Card.  It includes some graphical analysis and includes a video (4:30 minutes) with an overview of the scores.  “In comparison to the first year of the current trendline, 2005, the average mathematics score in 2015 did not significantly differ.  In comparison to the initial reading assessment year, 1992,” the piece distressingly indicates, “the 2015 average reading score was lower.”  Hmmm.
WHOA!!  Wait a minute!  This is going too far.  You need to sit down before reading this next item.  Brian Whiston, the new Michigan Superintendent of Education, is proposing that students take standardized tests not once but twice or even three times a year.  The good news is they would be shorter than the once-a-year assessments.  In addition, he wants to (you really need to be sitting down for this) begin the exams in KINDERGARTEN!!!  He really believes this will improve what ails education in his state.  The really sad part is that Michigan is not the only state that has made similar proposals.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, provides the maddening details.  “It is most certainly the case that it has become commonplace in recent years to force kindergartners to take standardized tests,” Strauss writes.  “The ubiquity of the practice does not make it a sound one.  Many experts in early childhood education and development adamantly oppose such testing.”                Going in a diametrically opposite direction, Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG,headlines his piece “School Accountability Without Testing.”  Finally, some sanity in this test, test, test swamp we’ve been led into. “Q: Is it possible to ensure educational accountability without giving standardized tests?  A: Not only is it possible, it is necessary.  In fact, we will never have accountability while we continue giving standardized tests,” he maintains.  “This is the irony of modern education policy.  High stakes testing is seen as the only tool that can ensure schools operate correctly when in reality it is the very thing that blocks true responsibility. . . .  When it comes to true accountability, we need to look beyond the school at all the factors involved.  We also need to look to the legislature, the taxpayers, parents, the community, the media, and all stake holders.”  Singer proceeds to describe how to achieve school accountability without testing and he cites “an ingenious plan“, with a few caveats, taking place in California, which he describes in some detail.  In conclusion, Singer advocates for performance or portfolio-based assessments like what New York’s Performance Standards Consortium is doing [Ed. note: And, I might add, High Tech High in San Diego.]  Hurrah!  Somebody gets it. Check this one out (it’s a little lengthy, but I think you’ll find it well worth the effort.)                 More glitches for the testing process. Tennessee just decided to pull the plug on the second half of its state testing program due to a delay in the delivery of materials from the vendor.  NPR station WPLN in Nashville describes what happened and why and includes a Statement from the Nashville Public Schools about the decision.  “So now schools are being told not to worry about the second part of their year-end exams,” the story notes.  “And it looks like districts are eager to opt out.  Many are already telling parents that testing is done for the year.”  You can also listen to a brief audio segment (1:27 minutes) from the station that closely follows the printed story.                Two states are going in opposite directions regarding making the PARCC standardized test a graduation requirement.  The Maryland State Board of Educationdecided this week to implement that idea which THE BALTIMORE SUN predicts will result in many more students in that state not graduating.  “If the standard had been in effect last year, more than half of Baltimore County’s students would not have passed the math test and 35 percent would not have passed the English test,” the item reports.  “In Baltimore, 70 percent would not have passed the math exam and more than half would not have passed the English exam.”  On the other hand Ken Wagner, theState Education Commissioner in Rhode Island, is proposing his state drop the PARCC test as a graduation requirement due to the fact it was causing an inordinate number of students to fail to graduate.  The PROVIDENCE Journal indicates the idea is getting a “mixed reaction” from various stakeholders.  “Wagner wants to eliminate the state’s latest standardized test as a high school graduation requirement. The state would continue to test students,” it relates, “but the districts would be held accountable, not the students. Districts that already include a standardized test as a graduation requirement would be able to continue to do so.”                Since the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law in December it’s been the job of the U.S. Dept. of Education to draft regulations that define how to implement the new legislation.  Draft rules have been negotiated and approved regarding testing and will soon be released for public scrutiny and comment.  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, also known as FairTest, who explains the impact the new regulations about testing will have on parents, teachers and students.                 A coalition of 7 Oregon education advocacy groups has written an open letter to the citizens of the state in support of 5 school superintendents who have requested that Oregon drop the use of the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) standardized assessments (the same exams used in California).  The Oregon Save Our Schools site has the details and includes a list of the 7 organizations at the bottom.   
Election 2016
Along with a so far rather bizarre presidential primary season, there are also some key congressional races for members of the U.S. House and Senate who serve on those chambers’ education committees.  EDUCATION WEEK lists some of the members serving on those committees and their re-election status.  “Aside from some hearings and the confirmation of Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.,” it begins, “Congress has not been particularly busy on the K-12 front since it passed the Every Student Succeeds Act late last year. But there are congressional elections this year, and some of them could have a notable impact on the two committees that deal with K-12 policy.”               Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) shook up the Republican primary race for president Wednesday when he named Carly Fiorina as his choice for vice president should he win his party’s nomination.  Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and unsuccessful candidate against California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2010, was an early rival of Cruz for the GOP presidential nomination until she dropped out fairly early in the process.  She doesn’t have much of a track record on education policy but ED WEEK recounts some of her K-12 positions gleaned from the campaign trail.               THE Nation has an interesting Q & A with Jane Sanders, wife of Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who describes her and her husband’s K-12 educational views.  This is how Ms. Sanders responds to a query about how education would be different under a Pres. Sanders: “We don’t really believe in standardized testing.  I think our purpose would be, schooling is meant to help people be creative, to have their curiosity stimulated, and have them be actively thinking whatever they’re thinking about—whether it’s the stars, the universe, climate change, anything.  Having them be able to feel they can explore anything, learn anything.”  She unfortunately believes rather naively that there is a role to be played in K-12 education by people like Bill Gates, the Waltons and Eli Broad.  The piece includes a video (10:50 minutes) of the interview and a full transcript.
Science Fairs Becoming Commercialized  
Remember the old school science fair?  Students picked a topic and often with the help of parents put together an presentation illustrating their project.  Would you be surprised to learn that bigcorporations are getting involved in the projects?  Two members of the Yale School of Medicine faculty and parents of a teenager who recently took part in a school science fair, write on Valerie Strauss’ blog in The Washington Post about the intrusion of corporate sponsors into the venerable school event.  “Corporations should stay involved in science fairs but should turn down the volume,”they suggest.  “In the world of theater, corporate sponsors are listed at the back of the program rather than being granted naming rights to the play.  In the world of science, including science fairs, corporate sponsors should be applauded, but as supporting cast.  Not every science fair offers top billing to corporations.  It’s time for science fair planners,” they continue, “to rethink the message they’re sending when they give front row access to corporations.  Our children need to know that recognition in science is based on ideas, hard work, and collaboration, and need not be linked to a corporate name.
Career Education is Coming Back
The old idea of “shop” classes and vocational education is making a comeback in high schools around the country according to an item in EDUCATION WEEK that just happens to focus on a program in California.  “Nowhere has the renewed embrace of work-based learning been stronger than in California,” it mentions, “which expects to spend $900 million to reinvigorate career and technical education at high schools by 2019.  The money comes on top of another $500 million the state has awarded to partnerships of public school districts, community colleges and employers promising to prepare students for jobs in fields that do not require four years of college.”
Opt Out
How might a parent who has chosen to opt her child out of standardized testing respond to another parent who made the decision to opt in because it’s a good way to teach kids about how to deal with a challenge?  Jeannette Deutermann, founder of Long Island Opt Out, offers some suggestions on the BATs (Badass Teachers Association) website.  “Our children will be and are challenged on a daily basis.  Sports, social challenges, challenges in the classrooms,” she maintains.  “These assessments go beyond a challenge and represent a narrative of failure.”               California has been relatively quiet on the opt out front.  However, as the standardized testing season winds down in the state there have been nascent movements afoot.  One is sparked by a junior at Burbank High School (Burbank USD) who was able to convince up to 40% of his classmates to skip this year’s assessments.  That’s a pretty good record.  An item posted on the L.A. Times website Saturday afternoon has the details about how a single student made a big impact.  
Corporate “Reform”
After Hurricane Katrina devastated many areas of the Gulf Coast in 2005, New Orleans took the opportunity to remake its schools.  It ended up becoming an almost total charter district and corporate “reformers” hailed the changes.  How are things going in The Crescent City?  According to a piece on BUZZFLASH(dot)com,the answer is “cracks” are beginning to show.  It reviews some of the research and reporting on educational outcomes in New Orleans.  The road to educational improvement may be turning back towards more traditional ways in the city.                 If charter schools are not quite panning out the way the corporate “reformers” envisioned, what about some of their other agenda items like vouchers?  How are they fairing?  Actually quite well, but like charters, they are having a devastating impact on traditional public schools.  Why?  In this case many of the voucher/choice programs are channeling taxpayer money to parochial schools at the expense of funds for those public schools.  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, revisits the issue in a commentary titled “How School Vouchers Promote Religious Schools and Hurt Education.”  “Most of the war over voucher programs,” he relates, “is fought over quantifiable data about the academic results these programs hardly ever seem to produce and the money they redirect from public schools to private pockets.  But there is an important quality issue as well. . . .  All research shows that most of the money voucher programs redirect from public schools to private institutions ends up going to religious schools.”             Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, thinks the corporate “reformers” are beginning to act a little like the cuckoo bird. [Ed. note: I’ll let him explain.]  He titles his essay” Co-opting the Language of Authentic Education: The Competency Based Education Cuckoo.”  He’s angry at how the privatizers are using high sounding language to trick people into buying their snake oil programs. “When parents, teachers and administrators unwittingly engage in corporate school reform strategies to help students learn, they end up achieving the opposite while the testing industry and charter school operators rake in obscene profits,”Singer complains.  “But some of us have seen through the scam, and we think it’s cuckoo.  We’ve seen this kind of bait and switch for years in the language used by oligarchs to control education policy. For instance, the defunct federal No Child Left Behind legislation had nothing to do with making sure no kids got left behind.  It was about focusing obsessively on test and punish even if that meant leaving poor kids in the rear view.”  He provides a number of other examples of how language is used as a means to a rather nefarious end.
Family Income, Race and School Success
A major new study from 3 researchers at the Stanford Education Data Archive is once again looking at the impact of family income, race and school success. It verifies what many experts have been saying for a long time about a direct correlation between these factors.  The report appears courtesy of The New York Times.  “We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools,” the article begins.  “We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families.  A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.  Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.”  The story is accompanied by 3 scatter graphs that illustrate the key points made in the report.  If you click on individual dots in each graph, you’ll get specific data for individual school districts.  Try it, it’s fun.  The big blue dot at the lower elbow of the second chart is the LAUSD.
Common Core
The “Ed News” once again returns to the issue of the Common Core State Standards after a fairly lengthy interlude.  Richard Phelps, an economist and testing expert, writes on Diane Ravitch’s blog that the Education Writers Association (EWA) has drunk the Coolaid and become another shill for the Standards.  He analyzes a number of their journalistic products and discovers a preponderance of them supported the CC.  Where’s that reporters’ responsibility to present both sides, he wonders?
All Star Educators
NPR (National Public Radio) has a “50 Great Teachers” project in which they continually search all over the country for outstanding educators.  This morning they reported on a special 4th grade teacher they found at Sunset Elementary in Miami.  The unique thing about their story is that they allowed several of Marlem Diaz-Brown’s (aka Mrs. D-B) students to report the story and explain why she’s so unique.  This item includes an audio segment (5:40 minutes) and a written story.  They are both well worth your time.  All the pictures that accompany the story were taken by the students, oops, I mean the photographers, too.  [Ed. note; My wife and I listened to the segment this morning on the radio while we were sitting in our car waiting for our bank to open.  We both thought it was very heartwarming.]  This item serves as a perfect segue to the story below.  A companion NPR piece to the item above is titled “Behind the Scenes: How a Fourth-Grade Class Reported Our Story.”  It explains how the “50 Great Teachers” segment (above) was put together.  It’s well worth a read, also!
Teacher of the Year Named
And finally, a veteran high school history teacher from Connecticut was named the 2016 National Teacher of the Year yesterday.  [Ed. note:  Yeah!  I was a high school history teacher for 26 years.]  EDUCATION WEEK profiles Jahana Hayes.  “Hayes, who has taught for 12 years, was announced as the 65th winner of the national prize today on CBS This Morning,” it describes.  “She has been a history teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Conn., for the past 10 years.  She is the eighth history teacher to win the award.”  Hayes and a group of other finalists in the competition will be honored at a White House ceremony on Tuesday.  


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



Ed News, Tuesday, April 26, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

            “We can’t build a nation by keeping the teachers hungry.”

                        ― M.F. Moonzajer

[Correction: The editor failed to include the link for the story in Friday’s “Ed News” about the shareholder revolt against Pearson.  A sharp-eyed reader caught the oversight.  You can find that “missing link” by clicking here.  The editor regrets the error.]
And now to the news.
A Blast at the L.A. Times
Ellen Lubic, a public policy educator and writer has several bones to pick with the L.A.Times.  She continues to find their reporting biased and one-sided towards charters and privatization and openly supportive of  the corporate “reform” agenda.  She cites a number of recent examples, many of which were highlighted by the “Ed News,” in a piece for the LA Progressive.  Lubic titles her commentary “Why Does the LA Times Hate Real Teachers and Public Schools?”
The Teaching Profession
Over the years the “Ed News” has highlighted many articles about ways to improve the teaching profession.  Marc Tucker is the current president of the National Center on Education and the Economy and he writes a piece for EDUCATION WEEK titled “How to Get a First-Rate Teacher in Front of Every Student.”  It features some soon to be released research by Linda Darling-Hammond and a team of experts who looked at teacher quality policies and practices in several highly successful countries in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).  Darling-Hammond and her group will formally release several volumes soon of case studies and analysis.  Tucker briefly summarizes some of their findings.  “You MUST buy the books when they come out, later this year.  Having read several draft chapters from one section of the cross-case analysis and several from the case studies,” he enthusiastically reports, “I promise you that it will be worth every penny and as much of your time as you can spend.  This will be the landmark study on teacher quality for many years to come.”                Andy Goldstein, a middle school teacher in Palm Beach County, Florida, recently delivered an appeal to his local school board opposing a merit pay plan proposed by the Florida legislature.  You can view the video (3:50 minutes–the beeping sound you hear at the 3-minute mark is an indication to him that his allotted time has expired) of his remarks and/or read the complete transcript by clicking here.  They are from Diane Ravitch’s blog.
Could It Happen Here?  Is It Already?
Rick Perlstein, magazine correspondent for the “Washington Spectator” and an author, has an extensive investigative piece for the JACOBIN about how a small, wealthy corporate elite has parlayed their money, power and influence to engineer a “hostile take-over” of the Chicago Public Schools.  Perlstein lives in the Windy City.  The tale is long, complex and SCARY. Diane Ravitch describes this piece  as “a well-written story of arrogance, greed, corruption, and deceit.”  Could the same scenario play out in the LAUSD?  “NO!” You answer?  Eli Broad and other members of the “billionaire boys club” may have already hatched their plot.  Be afraid.  BE VERY AFRAID!
Teach for America
Diane Ravitch’s blog has been featuring a series of podcasts on YouTube created by the Network for Public Education (NPE) about Teach for America.  The April 12th edition of the “Ed News” highlighted episodes 1 and 2.  Episode 3 (52:15 minutes), again co-hosted by Julian Vasquez Heilig and Jameson Brewer, invites 3 TFA alums (from 1991, 2001 and 2004) who attended the 25th anniversary of Teach for America and who relate their experiences with TFA.    You can find #4 (48:41 minutes), titled “Not Special Education” which includes a conversation with two TFA alums who were assigned to work with special education students and who describe the experiences they had.  Part 5 (40:30 minutes) is titled “The Bestsellers” and features an interview with two authors of bestselling books about TFA alums who worked in 15 cities around the country.                Were you aware that Teach for America has gone global through a series of “network partners?”  Well, they have.  You can read all about the Teach for All program in 40 countries and note its principles by clicking here which will take you to the Teach for All website.  You can peruse the world map to see where their network partners are located.  And you just thought TFA was in the U. S. only!
School Climate 
School climate has recently become an important metric for measuring how successful a school is at providing a strong education for all its students.  EDUCATION WEEK focuses on a new free online survey tool developed by the U.S. Dept. of Education that will allow districts to measure school climate.  If you’re not familiar with that concept be sure to read the sidebar to this article titled “What’s Measured” to get an overview of what if means.  “The survey, developed by a panel of school climate experts, uses questions from existing surveys that were tested with panels of students to ensure their validity,” the article explains.  “The site creates an instant analysis of a school’s results, and administrators can save the data in existing local data systems so they can track results over time.  Its release comes as schools are increasingly exploring the effects of non-academic factors on student success, and as states are poised to broaden their accountability systems under a new federal education law.”  This story briefly refers to a statewide school climate survey in California.
More Reactions to Latest Vergara Decision
Thanks to a reader of this blog, Shellby Ribakoff, for forwarding an op-ed piece in THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, who comments on the recent California appellate court ruling in the Vergara case“California schools desperately need to be improved.  But eliminating job security,” he concludes, “for teachers will do little, if anything, to achieve it and it may make it worse if it makes harder to attract and keep talented teachers.  The Court of Appeal got it right.  Now my hope is that the California Supreme Court will deny review and that will be the end of this litigation in California.”               EDUCATION WEEK has another interesting analysis of the recent appellate decision in the Vergara case.  It’s titled “Vergara Reversal Spotlights Ongoing Equity Concerns.”  “Regardless of which way any future decision goes, the fallout from the appeals decision has made several things clear.  First, it is unlikely to stop legal challenges to California’s teacher-employment laws, although future lawsuits could well take a different tack.  Second,” it suggests, “there appears to be little appetite among either party to strike a legislative compromise to rework portions of the laws in question.  And finally, although the new ruling has been billed as a win for the teachers’ unions,Vergara has already brought significant attention to the sometimes counter intuitive processes by which teachers are hired, fired, and assigned.  As a result, unions are likely to continue to face pressure to come up with or accept changes.”  If nothing else, check out the sidebar titled “Teacher Job Protections on Trial: A Timeline” which lays out the key events in the case from May, 2012, to the date next month when an appeal must be filed with the California Supreme Court.
Charter Schools
Eva Moskowitz’s chain of Success Academy charters in New York City have been held up by the corporate “reformers” as campuses that really “work” and they are constantly touted for their high test scores.  So, just how successful have the schools been?  Gary Rubinstein, on his Gary Rubinstein’s Blog  attempts to find out how SA’s students did on the New York State Regents exams.  He has a little trouble finding out as you will discover as you read his account.  He also checks into the high school’s enrollment figures and unearths some interesting information there.  Tell me again why those corporate “reformers” as so enamored of these schools?
Election 2016
Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, has somemajor complaints regarding the campaign Hillary Clinton is waging against Bernie Sanders.  Singer discusses 5 concrete problems with what’s taking place including suppressing the Democratic vote in Arizona and New York, how the Democratic National Committee seems to be openly taking sides in the race and playing the sex card, among others.  “If the Clinton campaign continues to disenfranchise voters, receive an unfair advantage from party leaders, silence dissent and misappropriate sexism,”  Singer concludes.  “I may end up casting a write-in for Sanders or voting for the Green candidate Dr. Jill Stein.  Either way, I won’t be bullied into giving my vote to a candidate that’s done nothing to deserve it and has worked to make sure people like me often don’t get the chance to vote at all.”              Did Republican presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz just blame public education and bad civics for opposition to his brand of conservatism?  If you don’t believe it, you can hear him say it himself in a short RIGHT WING WATCH piece that includes the soundbite. If you think that’s bad, wait until you read what the article reports Cruz’s dad said about communism and the public schools.  Bizarre!  
Transgender Bathrooms
The last two editions of the “Ed News” highlighted news about the first all gender restroom in the LAUSD at the Santee Education Complex, a demonstration against its existence and counter activities in support.  A 4th U.S. Circuit Court of  Appeals decision, on a 2-1 vote, should help provide some legal clarity to the issue.  It ruled that a federal court judge was wrong when he failed to take into account a U.S. Dept. of Education interpretation of the Title IX law from 1972 regarding gender identity and restroom use.  You can read all the details in a story from EDUCATION WEEK.  “The ruling, the first by a federal appellate court on the issue,” it notes, “affirms the Obama administration’s position on allowing transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity, which it has increasingly asserted in legal briefs and civil rights agreements with school districts in recent years.”
U.S. News & World Report’s List of Top High Schools Downplayed
Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted the annual List of Top High Schools as compiled by U.S. News and World Reports.  In a very brief piece, Diane Ravitch’s blog was most dismissive of the rankings.  She urges readers to “pay no attention” to the rankings” because “they are meaningless.”  Ravitch offers a couple of specific reasons why she feels this way.  If you get the chance, check out the comments at the end of the article.  They are much longer than Ravitch’s original item and provide some additional insights. “I think someone should publish a ‘best news magazines’ ranking,”suggests reader SomeDAMPoet, “I’m sure that by any reasonable standard (accuracy, lack of bias, etc) US News would consistently come out near the bottom.”
Why Not Magnet Schools?
In the ongoing discussion/debate between traditional public schools and charters in the LAUSD, magnet schools often get short shrift.  They really need to be part of the conversation as they tend to do quite well academically in the district.  One major problem: a shortage of seats for parents who’d like to enroll their children in the coveted slots.  The “Education Watch” column in yesterday’s L.A. Times revisits the magnet program in the LAUSD and describes some nascent plans to expand it.  “The district already expands magnets wherever there is room and demand, said Keith Abrahams, the head of student integration services.  There are 146 magnets that share campuses,” the story explains, “and 52 with their own campuses.  Some of the most popular magnet schools, though, don’t have room to expand. . . . This fall, 16 new magnet programs will open with about 5,800 seats, and 14 schools will expand by one to three teachers, adding 515 spots.”
Education Reform
Diane Ravitch, on her Diane Ravitch’s blog, has an extended exchange of ideas on what needs to change in the field of education with Whitney Tilson, one of the founders of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) a pro-charter, anti-teachers union group, despite their name.  In her blog post, Ravitch begins with a brief introduction of Tilson and how they came to exchange emails.  ” I have never met Whitney,” she notes, “but our emails have been very cordial, so I consider him a gentleman (no matter what he has written about me on his blog).  He was gentleman enough to suggest that we exchange views, and he initiated the dialogue by sending me a list of statements that represent what he believes.  I responded, closing out the conversation after midnight [on Sunday].  It seems that Whitney never sleeps, as he posted the exchange immediately this morning.  He has promised to write a response to my comments.  When he does, I will post them too.”  This first piece is rather long but offers a frank and open discussion between two people who often agree but not on every position.  Give this one a chance.  Read it in chunks, if you have to.  [Ed. note: Just for clarity, once the exchange commences, Tilson’s comments on in gray and Ravitch’s are in blue.]
Opt Out
Mercedes Schneider turns her “EduBlog” on deutsch29 over to a parent who explains why he’s opting his child out of standardized testing in Louisiana for the second year-in-a-row.  Besides being a father, James Kirylo is a professor of teaching and learning at Southeastern Louisiana University so he approaches the topic from two critical points-of-view. “Fourteen years later since NCLB was introduced—standardized tests, as they are currently administered, interpreted, and used in school communities across the country, do not work, have not worked, and will not work as they were presumably intended,” he argues.  “In fact, the adverse effects of them are overwhelming.   Nevertheless, we continue to use them like a bad drug to which the desperate addict keeps crawling back.”
Need A Lift?
And finally, if you’re having a bad week or are just feeling down or are in need of a little boost, check out this commentary from a former Omaha Public School (OPS) high school teacher who is now an instructor in the College of Education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.  She has some uplifting words on the OMAHA (dot)com website for those of you in the classroom, administrators, staff and everyone else who works with students.  Her comments are directed to teachers in the OPS but I give you permission to pretend they’re meant for you.  “I see you.  I see your work,” she leads off.  “I know you are doing innovative, creative, pedagogically sound things.  I know how much you care about your students and how hard you love them.  I know this because I’ve been in dozens and dozens of your schools in the past three years and have been blown away by your talents, skills and resilience.”  Now, after reading that doesn’t it make you feel even a little bit better?


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



Ed News, Friday, April 22, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

          The 8-day Jewish festival of Passover began at sundown today
            Inline image 1
                        “You go to school everyday. Folks who think they’ve learned everything
they need to know 
               are usually dumber than chickens.”

 ― Jodi Thomas*

A Little School Desegregation History
Before the landmark Brown v Board of Education case in 1954 there was Mendez, et al v Westminster School District of Orange County in 1946.  The former ordered the desegregation of schools nationwide while the latter did so in a few schools in Orange County, California.  A short time later the Golden State became the first state in the country to desegregate its schools.   An even earlier case in 1930 dealt with segregated schools in the Lemon Grove School District in San Diego County.  [Ed. note: I attended kindergarten and 1st grade in Lemon Grove in the mid-1950s.]  It became the first successful desegregation case in U.S. history.  The entire story in told in a fascinating article in Wednesday’s L.A. Times that focuses on the Mendez case and a descendant of the family that brought it.  “In the 1940s, Orange County’s public parks, swimming pools, restaurants and movie theaters all were segregated, said Gilbert Gonzalez, professor emeritus of Chicano/Latino studies at UC Irvine.  Houses often had restricted covenants,” it reports, “stipulating that they could only be resold to whites. And so-called Mexican schools were designed to Americanize the students — speaking Spanish was prohibited — and to train boys for industrial work and agricultural labor and girls for housekeeping.”
Top U.S. High Schools Listed
The U.S. News and World Report’s annual list of the top public high schools in the U.S. was published this week.  A story in The Washington Post features the rankings and includes a searchable link to the list.  The number 1 spot in the rankings, for the fifth year in a row, was garnered by the School for the Gifted and Talented in Dallas.  Two campuses in Arizona came in second and third.  Top rated in California was Whitney High (ABCUSD–19th overall).  LACES, the L.A. Center for Enriched Studies was the top rated  LAUSD school (#18 in California and #138 nationwide).   “Overall,” the Post article points out, “the magazine found that Maryland, Connecticut and California had the most public high schools that best prepared students for college and careers.”  A short video (1:41 minutes) accompanies the piece and helps explain how the ratings were determined.”
The Impact of Decaying School Buildings on Students & Teachers
Corporate “reformers” have all kinds of reasons for the existence of the “achievement gap” including poor teachers, single-parent families and powerful teachers’ unions.  They rarely, if ever, mention the effects of poverty or poor school conditions.  An interesting item from Education DIVE looks at the “physical and psychological consequences” of “decaying school buildings.”  A report released last month found that the U.S. would need to spend $46 billion annually on building construction and maintenance in order to provide safe and healthy facilities for students.  “Research links children’s ability to learn to the condition of their school environment.  That means that the deteriorating condition of school buildings,” the piece reports, “should be more relevant in ongoing discussions about closing achievement gaps.   According to studies compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, a child’s ability to learn can be negatively affected by things like wobbly broken desks or black mold in classroom ceilings . . . . Building decay also impacts the quality of teachers’ instruction, playing a role in their confidence and general wellbeing in the workplace. “
The news about charters just seems to get worse and worse.  “Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a scathing report damning the state charter law Tuesday [April 12],” according to a story on the newsworks website from NPR station WHYY, “and he blamed many of the School District of Philadelphia’s fiscal woes on state lawmakers who have not revised the nearly 20-year-old measure.  ‘Our charter school law is simply the worst charter school law in the United States,’ said DePasquale at a news conference at the Philadelphia District’s headquarters.”  The piece proceeds to offer a number of reasons why DePasquale characterized the system the way he did and includes a brief (2:25 minutes) audio segment about the situation.              The San Jose Mercury News ran a two-day series on the failure of virtual academies or cybercharter schools in California run by K12 Inc.  Part 1 is titled “California Virtual Academies: Is Online Charter School Network Cashing in on Failure?”  It includes a short video (5:10 minutes) that accompanies the story.  “The TV ads pitch a new kind of school where the power of the Internet allows gifted and struggling students alike to ‘work at the level that’s just right for them’ and thrive with one-on-one attention from teachers connecting through cyberspace,” the expose begins.  “Thousands of California families, supported with hundreds of millions in state education dollars, have bought in.  But the Silicon Valley-influenced endeavor behind the lofty claims is leading a dubious revolution.  The growing network of online academies, operated by a Virginia company traded on Wall Street called K12 Inc., is failing key tests used to measure educational success.  Fewer than half of the students who enroll in the online high schools earn diplomas,”it continues, “and almost none of them are qualified to attend the state’s public universities.  An investigation of K12-run charter schools by this newspaper also reveals that teachers have been asked to inflate attendance and enrollment records used to determine taxpayer funding.”  That’s a pretty poor record but keep reading, it gets worse.  You can also read Part 2, Part 3 (documentary evidence backing up the investigation) and K12 Inc’s response to the series and there are links to related stories.  Taken as a whole, Diane Ravitch calls it “a stunning series.”              Teachers who work at non-union charter schools have little or no job protections.  They can be fired at-will at any time during the school year without explanation.  Don’t believe it?  Read what happened to 8 teachers at Universal Academy charter in Detroit who were notified by email that they were being let go in the middle of the school year.  Yes, it can and does happen just like that.  An extensive story in the DETROIT METRO TIMES provides the chilling details along with how one student was pushed out after the school received all the funds it was going to get for her.  “As [her teacher], and those within the Universal community have discovered,” it relates, “educators and kids can be expendable, especially when a school is manned by a for-profit management company and an appointed board, who have little to no accountability to the public.”               Can you fight charter expansion and, more importantly, win?  They did in Chicago.  Catalyst CHICAGO reports that the Walton Family Foundation will cease funding charters in the Windy City due to the political climate.  “A deep and seemingly intractable financial crisis, an unprecedented wave of public backlash against privately run charters and the district’s own slowdown of charter expansion,” it suggests, “have made Walton shift its course.  The foundation—which says it has given start-up funds to one of every four charter schools nationwide—is pulling out of Chicago.  Between 2009 and 2014, Walton gave nearly $7 million in direct grants to charters in Chicago, including the UNO Network of Charter Schools and Urban Prep Academies, among others, according to tax records.”  In addition, the article notes, the Foundation withdrew financial support for charters in Newark.  The LAUSD is in the crosshairs of the Walton money.  “Camden is on Walton’s list of 13 target cities that will receive the bulk of the $1 billion in education dollars from the foundation over the next five years,” the article continues.  “The target cities, listed in a strategic report released earlier this year, include New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, and Houston.”  [Emphasis added.]  Maybe it’s time to up the ante in L.A. and increase the heat against charter expansion here.  If it can succeed in Chicago and Newark, there’s always hope it will work in our neck of the woods!  Be sure to check out the bar graph at the end of the piece titled “Walton Target Cities.”  Los Angeles is prominently included.  
Is Pearson Trying to Privatize the Entire World?
Anya Kamenetz, author of the most recent ALOED Book Club volume “The Test,” explores how education publishing giant Pearson is trying to conquer the world in a piece for WIRED titled “Pearson’s Quest to Cover the Planet in Company-Run Schools.”  She travels to the Philippines to illustrate the company’s growing worldwide influence.  “In the US, Pearson is best known as a major crafter of the Common Core tests used in many states.  It also markets learning software, powers online college programs, and runs computer-based exams like the GMAT and the GED. . . . But the company has its eye on much, much more,” Kamenetz indicates.  “Investment firm GSV Advisors recently estimated the annual global outlay on education at $5.5 trillion and growing rapidly.  Let that number sink in for a second—it’s a doozy.  The figure is nearly on par with the global health care industry, but there is no Big Pharma yet in education.  Most of that money circulates within government bureaucracies.  Pearson would like to become education’s first major conglomerate, serving as the largest private provider of standardized tests, software, materials, and now the schools themselves.”  Diane Ravitch characterized this as a “frightening article.”  Do you agree?
Free School Meal Program Could Be Reduced
Yes, you read that headline correctly.  A draft bill is circulating among members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Education and Workforce Committee that changes the eligibility requirements for students to get free meals on their campuses.  If passed in its current form it could impact thousands of schools that educate millions of low-income students. THINKPROGRESS provides you with all the heartless details. “Millions of low-income American students could lose access to free school meals under a proposal circulating among House lawmakers,” it depressingly begins.  “The measure would reverse years of progress on free meals in U.S. schools by setting a much higher eligibility bar for schools to start making meals free to all students. Thousands of schools have expanded their meal offerings in recent years as researchers expose the extent of child hunger — and the dividends that come from curing it inside schoolhouses.”  For a much more detailed analysis of this proposed bill from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (referred to in the item above) click here.  “Growing up in a high-poverty neighborhood can have lasting effects on a child’s growth and development, even if the family itself is not low-income,” it soberly notes.  “Access to healthy meals at home and school can help children overcome some of the negative consequences of poverty and food insecurity.  Yet the bill would eliminate the option of community eligibility for thousands of schools serving some of our highest-poverty communities, imposing more paperwork and administrative burdens on under-resourced schools.”
Standardized testing season proceeds and the reports of problems continue to mount.  The latest come from New Jersey.  Computer glitches that made it difficult for students to even log on to take the PARCC assessments forced the postponement of the exams statewide.  The NJ(dot)com website has the sad details.  “In Roselle Park, 160 juniors sat in classrooms waiting to take the exam,” it explains, “as coordinators tried and tried to log on to the test, provided by testing company Pearson, said Susan Carlstrom, the district’s testing coordinator.   When the first teacher couldn’t log in this morning, Carlstrom said she thought maybe she had forgotten her password, but a call to Pearson confirmed that the testing site was in fact down, she said.”  The article did not mention when the testing might resume.             Bad news, New Jersey!  The computer glitches that disrupted the PARCC standardized testing statewide (see above) have reportedly been remedied and the assessments resumed yesterday.  The latest details are courtesy of the Asbury Park Press.  “Pearson, the vendor administering the online standardized tests, said it was ‘truly sorry’ for the mass disruption on Wednesday,” it explains, “and attributed the problem to a technical glitch. . . .  The outage impacted classrooms throughout New Jersey, where PARCC has been a sore spot for many students and their parents, some of whom view the exams as a waste of classroom time.  There was little to counter their argument Wednesday.  Students stared at blank screens; teachers, expecting to monitor testing, were thrust back into teaching lessons; and already-hired substitute teachers were left with nothing to do.  Some districts said they would have to extend testing at least one more day.”  (Sigh), more classroom disruptions and loss of instructional time.              Is this only the first or second time Pearson has had a problem with its tests?  NOT ON YOUR LIFE as Valerie Strauss demonstrates on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post.  She supplies a (long) list of difficulties, glitches, problems, inconveniences, annoyances (call them what you will) since 1998 that states have had to face with Pearson products and policies.  It is compiled by FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.  California is even mentioned twice (1998, 2015) and it’s right up to date as the computer glitches in New Jersey (see above) are included.  So sit down, put your feet up, grab your favorite beverage and peruse the list (it will take you a while, so make yourself comfortable.)                 How bad are things getting for Pearson?  A coalition of unions, including the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF), has crafted a resolution to be presented at a Pearson shareholders meeting later this month complaining about some of the company’s actions and demanding it conduct a thorough business strategy review.  Valerie Strauss in her column for the Post details what is happening and why, provides a link to the resolution mentioned above and includes a copy of a letter from CTPF to Pearson stockholders laying out their case against the company.  In all fairness, she follows that up with a response from Pearson to the resolution.  Strauss references the article by Anya Kamenetz mentioned in the headline “Is Pearson Trying to Privatize the Entire World?” featured in this edition of the “Ed News” (see above, headline #5)
All Gender Bathroom
 An item in Tuesday’s “Ed News” reported on the first all gender bathroom in the LAUSD at the Santee Education Complex High School near downtown.  A group of adult protesters with signs (“Homo sex is a sin”) and a bullhorn (“you will go to hell”) gathered outside the campus on Tuesday afternoon to complain about the restroom.  A member of the L.A. School Police identified the protesters as belonging to the Westboro Baptist Church, a rabidly anti-gay congregation.  As students were leaving for the day several of them crossed the street and confronted the protesters.  Objects were thrown at the adults and a scuffle broke out.  KABC Channel 7 has a brief account of the incident and a short video (3:00 minutes) about it.  “Officers arrived at the scene to provide protection for the protesters, but police said the protesters decided to leave the area.  According to officials,” the stations reports, “no one was injured, and one person was detained.  There are extra patrols and increased police presence in the area in case of more protest following Tuesday’s brawl.” On Wednesday the Santee community rallied in support of the students and the school after the disturbance that broke out over the all gender bathroom the day before (see above).  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes what went down.  “Hundreds of students and community members,” it begins, “rallied outside Santee Education Complex on Wednesday to defend a bathroom and the Gay Straight Alliance students who advocated for its creation.  The bathroom is gender-neutral, meaning it can be used by both boys and girls, and last week it was the first one to open in L.A. Unified.  The rally came one day after a fight broke out between students and protesters outside the school over the bathroom.”
The Teaching Profession
The “Ed News” reported on this a year or two ago but the idea is spreading.  More and more teacher training institutions are turning to digital classroom simulations to assist new teachers in learning how to deal with classroom management.  The “Teaching Now” column in EDUCATION WEEK explains the technique and how it’s spreading.  “The University of Central Florida was on the cutting edge of classroom simulations,” it relates, “with its TeachME initiative, which allowed teachers in training to practice in a virtual classroom.  That program (now called TeachLivE) has spread to over 85 college campuses in the United States.”              “We Won’t Improve Education by Making Teachers Hate Their Jobs” is the title of an essay by Jeff Bryant on the Education Opportunity NETWORK.  He’s reacting to a survey (highlighted in Tuesday’s “Ed News”) published by the NPE (Network for Public Education) at their national conference in North Carolina over the weekend in which teachers were very discouraged by their working conditions, low morale, lack of respect, misuse of student test scores for their evaluations and low pay, among others.  “The survey findings add strong anecdotal weight to previous statistical surveys of teachers that have found their work dissatisfaction is at an all time high,” Bryant indicates.  “A survey from 2012, found teacher job satisfaction has plummeted to 39 percent, its lowest level in 25 years, according to one review of the findings.  Findings from a more recent survey, published in 2015, revealed only 15 percent of teachers feel enthusiastic about the profession, and about three in four ‘often’ feel stressed by their jobs.”  Bryant goes on to point out that with feelings about the profession running so low, it’s no wonder it’s so difficult to attract people into the profession or keep ones who are already there.  GOOD point!!!              Indiana is trying to remedy the teacher shortage problem as it joins several other states in offering tuition dollars to students who enter the profession.  An article in EDUCATION WEEK describes the plan in Indiana and briefly mentions that California lawmakers are considering re-instituting a similar program in their state.  “Starting in the fall of 2017,” it characterizes,” up to 200 college students who commit to teaching in Indiana for at least five consecutive years after graduation can receive up to $7,500 per year (no more than $30,000 in total) to cover tuition as they pursue their degrees.  To be eligible, students must have graduated in the top 20 percent of their high school classes or scored in the top 20th percentile on their ACT or SAT exams.  After receiving the scholarship, the students are required to maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or higher.  Students who fail to meet the terms of the scholarship, including by not remaining in teaching for five years, would have to repay all or some of the money, depending on the circumstances.”
More Money Woes for the LAUSD
The LAUSD, second largest school district in the nation, has been plagued with huge cost overruns in programs over the years.  The new Belmont Learning Complex cost millions of dollars more than initially planned due to environmental problems.  The roll out of a new payroll system paid some employees much more then they were entitled to and others much less or nothing.  The “iPad-for-all” fiasco has been thoroughly covered by the “Ed News” which referred to it as “iPadgate.”  Now comes MISIS (My Integrated School Information System), the district’s problem-plagued computer information system.  The story appears in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  The school board originally allocated $29.7 million for the project in 2013.  “Last week, the school board approved $40.3 million,” the piece notes, “for what the technology division says will be the last of six large chunks of bond money needed to fix the problems.  The money will be used to incorporate independent charter schools into the system, allow schools to customize their reports and give parents access.  That brings the district’s total spending on the program to $189 million since 2013.”  That works out to over 6 times what the program was initially budgeted for!!!  No wonder the LAUSD never has enough money to offer teachers an adequate pay raise.
Number of Special Education Students in U.S. Creeps Upward
An EDUCATION WEEK analysis of data provided by the U.S. Dept. of Education reveals that the number of special education students in the U.S. inched up from the 2011-12 school year after years of decline.  The number peaked in 2004 at 6.03 million and then dropped to 5.67 million in 2011 and 2012.  2014 registered an increase to 5.83 million.  The state with the largest increase was New York.  Be sure to click on the sidebar “Graphic, Chart: Special Education Enrollment” for a snapshot of spec. ed. statistics.
Student Behavior Monitored by an App?
It’s the 21st century and it’s undeniably the age of technology.  Schools are no way immune from this phenomenon as described by a story on the “Tech Smart” column in THE HECHINGER REPORT that describes a couple of new apps that monitor individual student behavior.  One is called “I Connect” and the other is “Score It.”  Students are able to self-monitor their behavior by answering prompts on their computer screens.  “Self-monitoring must be precisely targeted.  If a student gets engrossed in reading, then he doesn’t need to be pestered by an app every minute,” the piece explains.  “But, if this student can’t focus on math worksheets for more than three minutes at a time, then a little on-task reminder during these lessons every couple minutes could be quite helpful.  The idea is to break up a big behavior challenge into manageable chunks.  For some students, the prospect of focusing for an entire school day can seem daunting.  Staying focused for the next two minutes, however, until your app checks in again to ask how it’s going, is much easier.”
Non Religious Scholarships
And finally, an article in Tuesday’s L.A. Times (highlighted in the previous “Ed News”)about 2 groups that filed a lawsuit against the Antelope Valley Union High School District for its refusal to publicize scholarships aimed at non-religious students drew two letters that appear in yesterday’s paper.  Both were highly critical of the district’s behavior.  The first letter concluded: “Repent, AVUHSD, before it’s too late!”
*A New York Times and USA Today Best Selling author, wife, mother, in-law, grandmother, sister, friend, and owner of one fat cat.


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



Ed News, Tuesday, April 19, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

             “A wise teacher learns in the midst of teaching; 
             a wise student teaches in the midst of learning.” 

                            ― Mollie Marti*

Corporate “Reform” on the Decline?
Is the corporate “reform” movement on the decline?  If not on the decline, maybe at least in retreat?  Charters are being challenged; the amount of testing is questioned; teacher evaluations using student test scores are under fire; the opt-out movement is growing; teachers and their unions have won several recent court rulings regarding dues (Friedrichs) and tenure and teacher rights (Vergara).  A front-page story in Saturday’s L.A. Times reports that  corporate “reform” may be on the run but it remains well funded and still focused on its goal of privatizing public education and it has scored some major victories in states other than California.  “The movement had made the Vergara case — which would have thrown out the nation’s most generous teacher employment protections — a centerpiece in their effort to remake schools,” it reports.  “Despite the defeat in California, nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups have scored victories in other states.  But experts say making inroads has become harder recently as teachers’ unions have flexed their muscle locally and nationally.”
The Bible in Schools
You may have read about the governor’s veto last week of a bill to make the Holy Bible the official state book of Tennessee.   That action may have followed in the footsteps of a bill that was vetoed by the governor of  Idaho earlier this month that dealt with the use of the Bible in public schools.  You can find all the pertinent details about this issue on the IDEDNEWS (Idaho Education News) website.  “Pushed by Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, Senate Bill 1342 would have allowed teachers to use the Bible and other religious texts in public school classrooms as a reference,” it explains.  “Current law already allows teachers to use the Bible, and the leaders of several education groups have said there has been no confusion about the matter.  However, Nuxoll and other supporters said the bill was necessary to clarify the issue and ease educators’ fears.  Opponents, including some legislators, claimed the bill was clearly unconstitutional and would only lead to costly litigation.”              On the topic of religion in the classroom, comes this story.  Two groups, the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Antelope Valley Freethinkers,  have filed suit against the Antelope Valley Unions High School District complaining that the district fails to inform students of the existence of collegescholarships tailored to non-religious students.  A story in today’sL.A. Times reviews the dispute.  “District officials allowed descriptions of overtly religious scholarships in their lists,” the item describes, “according to Freedom from Religion officials, including the ‘Playing with Purpose Award,’ which requires applicants to describe ‘how and when you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior.’  Later, district officials told both the Freethinkers and the Freedom from Religion Foundation that their scholarships would not be advertised in school lists, the suit said.  But Jeff Foster, a deputy superintendent with the district, told David Dionne, the Freethinker’s president, that the wording of their essays ‘would upset parents,’ according to the suit.  Later, district officials told both the Freethinkers and the Freedom from Religion Foundation that their scholarships would not be advertised in school lists, the suit said.”
Lead in the Water in California
The disastrous story regarding lead in the water in Flint, Michigan, is widely known by now.  After that story came to light, the “Ed News” highlighted several items about lead in the water in schoolsaround the country.  EDUCATION WEEK has a brief piece titled “California Schools, Communities Not Immune to Lead in Water.”  “An Associated Press analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data shows that nearly 1,400 water systems nationwide,”it reveals, “reported lead amounts exceeding the government’s allowable level at least once between Jan. 1, 2013, and Sept. 30, 2015.  Lead poisoning puts young children at greatest risk.  In California, 57 water systems reported high levels of lead.”
Another Chicago Teachers Strike?
Most teachers unions have to follow a series of steps before they can legally call for a strike.  Things like negotiations, impasse, fact-finding and arbitration often must be concluded before members can hit the picket lines.  The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Friday rejected a neutral fact-finding report about the current state of affairs regarding a contract with the Chicago Public Schools.  That sets in motion a timeline that could result in a strike beginning as early as May 16.  The CTU last struck in 2012 and prior to that in 1987.  The previous contract with the CPS expired on June 30, 2015.  Catalyst CHICAGO has the latest details.
NPE Conference      Inline image 1
The Network for Pubic Education held their third annual conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, over the weekend.  One of the first orders of business was “Movie Night” where attendees viewed excerpts of a number of education-themed films including “Go Public” the documentary about the Pasadena School District which the ALOED Education Film Festival screened on the Occidental College campus in 2014.  Diane Ravitch’s blog has a brief description of the movies that were viewed.                Steven Singer, on his always entertaining GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOGattended the NPE conference and provides some musings about the keynote address and the first day’s topics on testing, the opt-out movement and his own panel presentation on education blogging with the likes of Julian Vasquez Heilig, Anthony Cody, Jonathan Pelto and several others.  “We will have victories.  We may end high stakes testing.  We may abolish Common Core. But we may never see the promised land,” he sums up.  “One day perhaps our children will get there. And the only thing we have to propel them to that place is our love and activism.  At the Network for Public Education, you begin to realize these are really the same thing.”         NPE co-founder and current Pres. Diane Ravitch was at the conference and on her Diane Ravitch’s blog she notes that the organization released a brand new study on teacher evaluations in conjunction with the convention.  It describes major problems with current test-score based evaluations and offers six excellent suggestions for developing a truly useful teacher evaluation system.  She reprints a press release about the report on her blog and includes a link to the full report (25 pages).  “‘Teachers Talk Back: Educators on the Impact of Teacher Evaluation’ is a ground-breaking report,”  Ravitch quotes from the release, “that brings forth the voices of those on the front lines, teachers and administrators, to reveal the impact that changes to teacher evaluations are having on our schools, teachers and students.              Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post comments on the NPE’s new report on teacher evaluations (see item above) which includes the survey findings of almost 3,000 responses from educators from 48 states.  If you don’t want to read the full 25-page report she reprints the 2-page “Executive Summary” which includes the 6 specific “Recommendations” it offers for improving those evaluations.  “A majority of teachers who responded said, among other things, that test-based evaluation systems hurt teachers who educate the most vulnerable students,”Strauss notes, “and that the relationships that teachers have with their students — and other educators — have been harmed.”              Diane Ravitch’s blog reflects on the just concluded NPE conference in Raleigh “About 500 activists, mostly teachers, but also principals, administrators, school board members, parents, and even representatives of the Newark Student Union were there,” Ravitch reports.  “Most of the best-known education bloggers were there.  I haven’t done a count but we had representation from nearly every state, including people who flew in from California, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nebraska.”  Ravitch reminds everyone that next year’s conference will be held on the west coast–no indication, yet, in what city.  Mark your calendars now.
Reaction to Appeal Court’s Ruling in Vergara Case
A California Appellate Court ruling overturned the controversialVergara decision on Thursday (see Friday’s edition of the “Ed News.”)  Reactions to that have been swift.  The LA SCHOOL REPORT, now owned by The 74, the  pro-corporate “reform” group founded by Campbell Brown, printed brief reactions from a number of sources, most of them favoring the plaintiffs.  “The plaintiffs have until May 24 to file a petition for review,” it explains, “and then the state Supreme Court has 60 days to decide if they are going to take the case or extend the review period further.  It could take six months to a year once they grant the review to actually hear their appeal.  That would be the last stop, as the case would not go to the U.S. Supreme Court because it deals with state law.”              Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” atdeutsch29, briefly reported on the Vergara ruling but jumped the gun slightly in her criticism of how Brown and her website reported on the decision which she corrected in an “Update” at the beginning of her piece.  Schneider also complains about how the L.A. Times covered the story and how numerous edits were made to it over time (see Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” for that  original Times article.)  “Brown and her 74 must be recovering from the shock of the Vergara reversal.  After all,” Schneider writes, “the plaintiffs in Vergara bypassed litigating over implementation of California education statutes in an apparent go-for-broke effort to kill the statutes themselves– which would have been a real coup for organizations desiring to kill teacher job protections.”               Ellen Lubic, a public policy educator and writer, is “raging” over the reporting on Vergara by Campbell Brown and the L.A. Times.  Her comments appear on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  “Today the LA Times follows up on the last few articles on Vergara over the past few days, and distorts the entire matter,” Lubic complains.  “I am writing a full on review of this and hope Diane will post it.  So won’t go into the many issues here except to say that Howard Blume [LA Times education reporter] and his pals follow the Broad line imposed by their Times bosses, even though they do not have the usual disclaimer on today’s front page manipulated article.”              Peter Greene, aka the author of the CURMUDGUCATIONblog, writes “Vergara Pt. II–Now What?”  Should teachers and their allies claim victory and move on or is there more to do on this front?  Greene takes the latter position and lays out what needs to come next in the battle over unions, tenure, teacher rights and hiring practices that Vergara parts 1 and 2 addresses.  “First of all, it’s not over,” he concludes, “and it will never be over as long as there are rich and powerful union-loathing teacher-dissing folks out there (and that will be forever), and because there will always be a need to talk about how to keep the teacher pipeline and school classrooms filled with good people, and that’s a conversation we should not walk away from.”     Yesterday’s L.A. Times looks at the latest ruling in the Vergara case and its impact on tenure and teacher rights rules in California and around the country in the form of a Q & A.   An editorial posted on the Times website Thursday afternoon (it has not yet appeared in the print edition) urged the California legislature to make the changes that the paper feels are necessary to the state’s tenure and teacher hiring practices that were addressed in the Vergara case.  It believes the courts are not the proper venue to make those alterations.  “The laws should be changed, but it is not the courts’ job to intervene in every poorly crafted or outdated statute. . . . What happens next?  Probably nothing very good,”  the piece worries.  “The school reform-minded plaintiffs vow to appeal.  With the pressure of a lawsuit off its neck, the Legislature, which has been far too solicitous of the wishes of the California Teachers Assn., is less likely to pass AB 934, a reasonable legislative fix to the laws in question that would still protect teachers from capricious and vindictive firings.”              EDUCATION WEEK reports that the attorney for the 9 student plaintiffs in the Vergara case, who were dealt a setback when an appellate court reversed the original decision, vowed to appeal the ruling to the California Supreme Court.  A lawyer for the defendants didn’t think the state’s highest court would even take the case.  You can read the thoughts about the case from both sides by clicking here.  “Stuart Biegel, a law and education professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the California Supreme Court is likely to take up the case because it has state and national implications,” the story mentions.  “But, he said the high court is likely to side with the appellate court decision, which he described as ‘much more sophisticated in its reasoning’ than the trial judge’s.”
Transgender Bathroom
The LAUSD debuted its first gender-neutral bathroom last week at the Santee Education Complex high school located just south of downtown.  The sign outside the door of the former girls restroom will now read “All Gender-Restroom” and will allow students of different genders to use the 15 stalls at the same time.  An article in Saturday’s L.A. Times describes the changes.  “The country’s second-largest school district is joining a growing movement toward gender-neutral bathrooms, particularly in California,”  it notes, “where state law and L.A. Unified policy already specify that transgender students can use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.  Policies differ elsewhere: In North Carolina, lawmakers passed a bill that restricts which bathrooms transgender people can use, and South Dakota’s governor recently vetoed a bill that would have denied students the right to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.”
The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of problems with standardized exams from technical glitches, inappropriate grade level exams, confusing questions with possible multiple answers, teaching to the test, too much test prep and the elimination of time spent on subjects (art, history, science, etc.) that are not tested.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, has a piece titled “The Other Testing Problem.”  Any guesses what that might be?  If you answered students who don’t even try or who give up in frustration and despair, you are RIGHT!  What do test scores indicate about students who resort to those options?  What kind of data is generated when students give up or don’t even try and what does it all mean for individual pupils, classes, teachers, schools or districts who are rated or ranked by those scores?  “But all the data,” Greene supposes, “all the analysis of the data, all the conclusions based on the data– all of that starts with the assumption that the students who took the Big Standardized Test actually tried.”               The Davis (California) Enterprise reports on bandwidth problems in the local schools during standardized testing which begins today and continues through May 20th.  Many classroom teachers have been utilizing technology in their lessons.  Guess which is more important, lesson plans or testing?  If you picked the former–you’re WRONG!   [Ed. note: So, what else is new?]  “Teachers have been asked to restrict their classroom use of several online resources while the testing is underway,” the paper reports, “to make sure there will be enough bandwidth available for test-takers. . . . The restrictions have upset teachers who got only 10 days’ notice that their lesson plans would have to change.  Those plans — some of which included collaborative, year-end projects — were prepared weeks or months ago with the assumption that online resources would be available.”  The district is working on expanding bandwidth over the summer to deal with this situation and avoid restricting teachers’ access in the future.               We are “Assessing Our Children to Death.”  That’s the title of an essay by Steve Nelson, who is the head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan, on the HUFFPOST EDUCATION blog.  He complains that we are cutting the heart out of education by spending so much time and money on standardized tests that create “outcomes” that provide little useful data about students.  “There is a nearly perfect inverse correlation between the emphasis on metrics and the quality of learning in schools,” he points out.  “More metrics mean less powerful learning.  As reliance on this data (and the scores it measures) goes up, the real quality of learning experiences goes down.  Children are real, flesh and blood, funny, eccentric, imaginative, irreverent, loving and sensitive human beings, not data points for arcane studies of ‘outcomes.’  Until and unless there is a revolution in how we think about educational ‘outcomes,’ our children will be increasingly deprived of the experiences that will allow them to become the beautiful, thoughtful, imaginative, ethical adults our world so desperately needs.”               As you can easily see, it’s testing season and lots of people are finding it a great time to complain about the exams and how they are misused.  Wendy Lecker has jumped on board.  She’s a regular columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  Her latest contribution is about the misuse of student test scores to evaluate teachers.  It appears on the stamford (Connecticut) advocatewebsite.  “One of the most damaging practices in education policy, in Connecticut and nationwide, is the misuse of standardized tests for purposes for which they were never designed,” she begins.  “Standardized tests are being used to measure things they cannot measure, like school quality and teacher effectiveness, with deleterious results; such as massive school closures, which destabilize children and communities, and the current troubling shortage of students willing to enter the teaching profession.”  Connecticut has been using test scores to evaluate teachers since 2012.  Lecker thinks this is a HUGE mistake and concludes: “Connecticut teachers and children do not deserve an easy, but invalid, solution to the complex task of measuring teacher quality.  They deserve the right solution.”
A Modest Proposal Regarding VAMs
A reader of Diane Ravitch’s blog has a brief suggestion aboutusing value-added models to rate professors at the nation’s colleges and universities by using those graduate school entrance exams.  I’m not sure she’s thought out the idea completely but it may be the logical extension of using scores to rate individual K-12 teachers, schools, districts and states. The reader concludes with a blast at college-level tenure, while she’s at it.
Charter Schools
Independent charter schools often battle traditional public schools over issues like classroom space and unionization, among other things.  The next front in these ongoing clashes appears to be shaping up over teacher retirement benefits in the LAUSD.  A piece in Sunday’s L.A. Times describes this latest conflict.  “In this case, it’s a battle over who should pay for an employee’s health benefits after retirement — the charter school or the larger school district,”it relates.  “Financial challenges are all-but-universal in the education world, and retiree benefits are particularly costly.”  The story describes the situation developing at El Camino Charter High School which is offering to pay teachers $30,000 to return to the LAUSD so that the district ends up on the hook for their retirement benefits.  The district has announced it is not going along with the plan.  Read the article for all the important details.
Per-Pupil Spending Nationwide
Per-pupil spending varies widely from district-to-district around the country.  EDUCATION WEEK offers an interactive map where you can check a district’s funding per student. The information comes from federal data analyzed by ED WEEK’S Research Center and the map was created by NPR.  The U.S. average is $11,841 for the fiscal year 2013; the LAUSD spends $10,667.  How does your district compare?  This article includes a link to the NPR series on public school spending.
The Opt Out Movement
The debate over the opt out movement is apparently beginning to turn nasty.  Jeanette Deutermann, founder of the Long Island Opt Out group, was maliciously blocked from posting on her group’s Facebook Page and all of her previous posts had been taken down without her knowledge.  She was one of several people who found themselves locked out.  Who was behind this action and why it was done remains a mystery.  The Long Island Business News (libndotcom) website provides the curious details.  “Deutermann hopes that whatever occurred will be only temporary,” it relates, “and that her posts and shares will be restored, rather than erasing her thoughts and the threads that have helped weave together the fabric of criticism regarding what many people consider the excesses of the current testing system.”  Diane Ravitch referred to the situation as “a strange story” and views it as a possible threat to free speech.               A letter to the editor in The Fresno Bee urged parents to opt their children out of standardized testing in California.  “All over the country,” the person writes, “parents are fed up with being ignored by a government education system.  They are exercising a parent’s right, and even civil duty, to refuse testing.”               Along those lines, if anyone is thinking of opting their children out of the tests, the author of this piece on ALTERNET, offers “8 Reasons My Family Decided to Opt Out of Meaningless High-Stakes Testing.”  She lives in Chicago where they take the PARCC test but her points are perfectly applicable to California where the SBAC assessment is used.  “Rather than giving millions of dollars to Pearson, a for-profit company from Great Britain that is raking in big bucks as part of the educational-industrial complex, let’s instead give the money saved by not administering the PARCC test directly to our schools, so teachers can teach and children can learn.  Let’s work to bring joy, creativity, curiosity and risk-taking to the educational lives of children—because that’s what every child deserves,” she concludes.  “It’s time to opt all children out of taking these meaningless standardized tests.”
Election 2016

EDUCATION WEEK profiles the K-12 education policies of Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas.  While on the campaign trail, Cruz often touts his opposition to the Common Core and his wish to abolish the U.S. Dept. of Education along with his support for charters and vouchers.  “Cruz is one of the few members of Congress to take a truly conservative approach to issues such as ESSA, the common core, and student-data privacy,”the item discusses, “instead of merely pushing for a watered-down, more gradual enactment of Democratic policy preferences, said Joy Pullmann, an education research fellow at the Heartland Institute, a think tank that supports school choice and opposes the common core.”

Teacher Evaluations
Charlotte Danielson, author and consultant to state departments of education in this country and ministries of education abroad, takes a detailed and scholarly look at how teachers should be evaluated. Her proposals appear in EDUCATION WEEK.  “I’m deeply troubled,” she relates, “by the transformation of teaching from a complex profession requiring nuanced judgment to the performance of certain behaviors that can be ticked off on a checklist.  In fact, I (and many others in the academic and policy communities) believe it’s time for a major rethinking of how we structure teacher evaluation to ensure that teachers, as professionals, can benefit from numerous opportunities to continually refine their craft.”  Needless to say, she never suggests using student test scores to evaluate teachers.               The New York State Board of Regents, under new leadership, has  undertaken a review of that state’s use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.  ED WEEK reprints an article that originally appeared on Newsday.  “Regent Judith Johnson of New Hempstead in Rockland County, a consistent critic of state testing and evaluation procedures,”  it reports, “was named to head up a new ‘work group’ that will look into issues that strike at the heart of the state’s current system.  Johnson said the foremost question revolves around whether there is credible research evidence that test scores of students in elementary and secondary schools are effective in helping evaluate teachers’ classroom performance.”
Bilingual Battle Returns in California

And finally, California voters have faced ballot measures regardingbilingual education several times in the past.  Guess what?  A new proposition will appear on the November ballot renewing the battle.  Prop 227, passed in 1998, made it extremely difficult to teach academic subjects in any language other than English.  The issue to be voted on in the fall will substantially alter how bilingual education is delivered in California.  One major roadblock the article in THE HECHINGER REPORT points out: a severe shortage of qualified bilingual teachers.  “A growing body of research now shows that high-quality dual language immersion programs benefit both native English speakers and English language learners,” the story points out.  “Since 22 percent of California’s students are English language learners and since they’re some of the lowest performing students in the state, such programs could provide a possible solution to an urgent problem.”  The piece makes a VERY brief reference to the highly successful dual-language programs in the Glendale USD.
*Mollie Marti is a psychologist, lawyer, and adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Iowa. She speaks around the globe on leadership resilience, servant mentorship, life design, and business ethics.  Dr. Marti brings years of experience in peak performance coaching with a prestigious list of clients, including Olympians and business elites, to her work mentoring leaders to thrive and serve.


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



Ed News, Friday, April 15, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

       Today is April 15–Income Tax Day
            (Although due to a technicality you have until Monday
            to file your taxes unless you live in Massachusetts or
            Maine in which case you have until Tuesday.)*
      Inline image 1
                 “Nations, as well as men, almost always betray the most prominent features 
               of their future destiny in their earliest years.” 

― Alexis de TocquevilleDemocracy in America

“What Defines a Good School?”
That’s the simple question tackled by David Gamberg, former teacher, principal and current superintendent of two adjacent districts on Long Island, N.Y.  His commentary appears inEDUCATION WEEK and his responses reflect his 30 years of experience and some deep thought on the issue.  “We must strive to retain the core values that define a school,” he suggests, “as a place that upholds the tenets of our democracy and cares about people, rather than a place that efficiently manages the system or pits stakeholders against one another.”  Diane Ravitch calls this “a brilliant essay” on her blog.
Charter Schools

The “charter school scandal of the day” this time involves a former charter school operator, Kendra Okonkwo, being fined $16,000 for using public funds to lease and pay for renovations to her buildings and for conflicts of interest in her dealings with the school.  The South L.A. campus of Wisdom Academy for Young Scientistsopened in 2006 but lost its charter to continue operations last year.  Wednesday’s L.A. Times has the sordid details.  “The violations cited this week by the state date from 2010 and 2011,” it reports,“when Okonkwo earned a total of $223,615 as the elementary school’s executive director. She also received about $19,000 a month in rent from the school. She attempted to eliminate the appearance of conflict by assigning the property to a new, separate corporation, for which her mother signed the leases. But the arrangement did not pass legal muster, according to the state.”               Why is Bill Gates so intent on promoting charters in Washington State despite the fact voters turned down initiatives to do that 3 times and the state supreme court ruled charter funding was unconstitutional?  According to a fascinating piece in NPQ (NONPROFIT QUARTERLY), it has to do with Gates (and other members of the “billionaire boys club) wanting to flex their muscles–democracy be damned.  The author uses the term “charitable plutocracy” and titles her piece “Bill Gates, Washington State and the Nuisance of Democracy.”  The author concludes with some intriguing questions for the reader to ponder: “Questioning the work of megaphilanthropists is a tricky business.  Many readers of this article will be fuming in this way: Would you rather let children remain illiterate, or allow generous people to use their wealth to give them schools?  Would you rather send more money to our bumbling government, or let visionary philanthropists solve society’s problems?  Here is a counterquestion: Would you rather have self-appointed social engineers—whose sole qualification is vast wealth—shape public policy according to their personal views, or try to repair American democracy?”  It’s a pretty long piece but the case she makes is pretty compelling and it is thoroughly footnoted.  Read it and see what you think.  Diane Ravitch called this “a must read. . . .[It’s] a story you should read and understand.”              Here we go AGAIN!  If you don’t believe this is really taking place just read what is happening in Pittsburgh and remember similar plans are or have been implemented in New Orleans, Colorado, Chicago, Los Angeles and too many other places.  A brand new PAC (political action committee) has been formed with million of dollars of backing with the sole purpose of taking over the local school board and turning as much of the public school system into charters.  “The moneyed interests behind [the PAC] want to swipe control of even more Pittsburgh schools away from the community,” the author complains, “and give them to for-profit companies in the shape of charter schools.  Since charter school boards are appointed, not democratically elected, this means the decisions about how these newly charterized schools operate would be made behind closed doors out of public view.  The community would have no way to hold them accountable.  Likewise, this means operators could spend taxpayer money however they want with little to no oversight.  They would have nearly unlimited power to reduce student services and pocket the savings as profit.”  Is this to provide a “quality education” for the children of Pittsburgh or vast profits for the backers?  Read Steven Singer’s piece on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG and answer that question for yourself and BEWARE–this is happening in many more cities than Pittsburgh.


Closing Schools

Shuttering low performing schools is a popular strategy among the corporate “reform” crowd.  Campuses have been closed in New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Oakland and in other urban districts around the country.  How effective is this technique and what are its ramifications?  The AMERICAN PROSPECT takes a detailed look at the issue in a piece titled “School Closures: A Blunt Instrument” that traces the harm done to both students and the communities involved.  “Rather than shutter schools, residents argue, districts should reinvest in them. They point to full-service community schools,”  it suggests, “a reform model that combines rigorous academics with wraparound services for children and families, as promising alternatives. The effort to fight back against school closures has grown more pronounced in recent years, as tens of thousands across the country begin to mobilize through legal and political channels to reclaim their neighborhood public schools.”

Opt Out

What happens to students whose parents choose to opt them out of standardized assessments?  The treatment they receive is often not all peaches and cream.  Julie Borst, a New Jersey parent who writes the Education Lessons from a Sparkly District blog, reports on some truly disturbing behavior by teachers, principals and superintendents in her state.  “Once the testing started,” she relates, “truly awful stories started pouring in, and continue to this week, about how districts were handling students whose parents refused PARCC.  You really have to wonder what is going on inside the heads of these teachers, principals, superintendents, and county superintendents.”

Suspension Rates Highest for Black Students

This is not surprising but a new analysis of data from the U.S. Dept. of Education reiterates what should be widely known.  Suspension rates from school are much higher for Black students as compared to Whites.  3 researchers looked at nationwide numbers and, in addition, some state-by-state results for truthout.  “The nearly 50 million students in the US public school system,” they write, “are not all at equal risk of facing harsh disciplinary measures: Black students are more than three times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled from school.”
Election 2016

Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a wide ranging interview Hillary Clinton conducted with the editorial board of the Long Island Newsday newspaper including some comments she made about Common Core and opt out.  Ken Bernstein, aka “teacherken,’ dissects what Clinton has to say regarding her education policies for the DAILY KOS. Even though he is a supporter of her run for the presidency, Bernstein is rather critical of some of her positions on the issues.  “I hope that when she becomes President, as I believe she will,” he concludes, “Hillary Clinton will make sure that she includes the voices of teachers in (a) who she picks for Secretary of Education, (b) how her administration shapes it educational policy.  I know from others how good a listener Hillary Clinton can be.  I hope very much that she will apply that skill set and listen to different voices on education, because what I read in this interview with the editorial board was disappointing.”               Some of the pronouncements from the Donald Trump for President campaign are making certainstudents feel “unsafe.”  That finding is from a survey conducted by the Teaching Tolerance branch of the Southern Poverty Law Center according to a story from the “RULES OF ENGAGEMENT” column in EDUCATION WEEK.  “The report’s findings, based on a non-scientific survey, may be skewed by the nature of its respondents,’it clarifies.  “About 2,000 K-12 teachers responded to the survey, after visiting the Teaching Tolerance website or being referred by its mailing list, which suggests they may have a higher level of sensitivity or interest in issues related to racial and cultural sensitivity.  The survey didn’t mention specific candidates, but respondents overwhelmingly singled out billionaire businessman and Republican frontrunner Donald J. Trump as the most problematic.”  The full report (20 pages) is titled “The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation’s Schools.”
U.S. DoE Sec. King Draws Fire
 The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December promised to usher in a revised relationship between the federal government and the states regarding education policies.  As regulations are drafted and the new law is implemented, misinterpretations and misunderstandings are inevitable.  Case in point: A clash over funding for low-income schools between Senate education committee chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN), one of the key authors of ESSA, and Department of Education Sec. John King during a hearing on the law on Tuesday.  The Knoxville News Sentinel outlines their disagreement.  “At Tuesday’s hearing,”  it relates, “Alexander accused the Department of Education of overstepping its authority and trying to work around a provision that says federal funding must be used to supplement state and local spending on education.”              Valerie Strauss, in an extended  “Answer Sheet” column for The Washington Post,expands on the contretemps between King and Alexander and indicates King and his interpretations of ESSA have drawn the ire of other influential figures in Washington, D.C.  She includes a copy of a letter from one group of organizations over differences with King and reprints portions of the Senate committee hearing transcript with the give-and-take between Sen. Alexander and Sec. King.  
Poll of Black and Latino Parents

Wednesday’s L.A. Times reports on a new national poll of black and Latino parents regarding their concerns related to the education of their children.  The survey was commissioned by a series of civil and human rights organization and questioned 400 black and 400 Latino parents.  “Half of the black and Latino parents surveyed believe that good teachers are the most important asset needed to make a school great,” the story points out.  “Only 2% percent in each group cited less reliance on standardized testing as the most important component of great schools.  And most of the black parents and 45% of Latino parents surveyed believe children in their communities receive a worse education than white students.”  The article is illustrated with several graphs depicting findings from the poll.
It’s the middle of the standardized testing season and things are rolling along very smoothly–NOT!  A story in The Washington Post chronicles some of the mostly technical glitches plaguing the assessments again this year.  California, it notes, has so far been spared but it’s still early in the testing window for the Golden State.  “As most states have moved to new standardized tests based on the Common Core during the past two years, many also have switched from administering those tests the old-fashioned way — with paper and No. 2 pencils — to delivering them online using computers, laptops and tablets,” the piece relates.  “The transition aims to harness the power of technology to move beyond simplistic multiple-choice questions, using interactive questions and adaptive techniques to measure students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills.  But the shift to computer-based testing has been riddled with technical glitches that have spanned many testing companies and states, including those that have adopted Common Core and those using other new academic standards.”
Guns on Campus
How many of you are aware that at least 3 school districts in CALIFORNIA allow school staff to bring loaded guns to their schools?  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times contains the rather surprising details.  You need not worry, however.  None of the districts are anywhere near Los Angeles so a stray bullet should not be a concern.  The closest is outside of Fresno, another is east of Sacramento and the third is in the northern part of the state.  “Only staff with concealed weapons permits are eligible under the[Folsom Cordova] district’s policy,” the story carefully explains.  “They also must have their own liability insurance and interview with [Supt.] Bettencourt, who also reviews their personnel file and disciplinary records.  The employees also must undergo safety training and pay for a safe that requires a key and digital code.   Teachers and bus drivers are not permitted to have guns on campus.”
Teacher Prep Programs
A number of different programs have been developed for preparing teachers to earn their credentials.  Traditional college and university plans, Teach for America and residency programs are just some of the alternatives.  In the third of a three-part series on how teachers are trained and supported, THE HECHINGER REPORTdescribes the Urban Teachers residency in Washington, D.C., that places prospective candidates in classrooms for as many as 1,500 hours before they earn their credentials.  “The Urban Teachers residency program in D.C. is one of many new alternative routes to becoming a teacher,” it describes, “that have sprung up as education schools have come under attack for inadequately preparing teachers for today’s challenges, including higher standards, new technology and stubborn achievement gaps.  Alternative routes are often faster than traditional education school programs, making them attractive to career changers and noneducation majors.  But residency programs like Urban Teachers are something of a hybrid of traditional and alternative routes, and some experts hope they’ll be the wave of the future.”
Vergara Decision Overturned on Appeal

In another court victory for teachers and their unions, a California appellate panel yesterday unanimously overturned the 2014 ruling in Vergara v California which had determined tenure and other job protection rules for public school teachers were unconstitutional.  An article in today’s L.A. Times reviews the original case and describes this latest decision.  Lawyers representing the 9 student plaintiffs immediately announced their intention to appeal the ruling to the state supreme court.  “Parties on both sides viewed the Vergara decision as a bellwether for the nation,” the story points out.  “Similar litigation was filed soon after in New York; and on Thursday, just before the release of the appellate decision in California, another lawsuit was filed in Minnesota.  On one side are teachers unions and their allies, who say that well-protected teachers make for strong student advocates.  On the other are philanthropists and others who criticize unions as defenders of a failed status quo.”               You can find the complete official ruling on the California Courts website (36 pages) by clicking here.               The CTA (CALIFORNIA TEACHERS ASSOCIATION), one of the key defendants in the litigation, immediately issued a press release about the decision.  “Vergara was the brainchild of Silicon Valley multi-millionaire David Welch,” it explained, “and a group of corporate attorneys and public relations experts who founded the organization Students Matter to back the suit and to recruit the nine student plaintiffs used to front their failed attempt.  At issue in the case were five California statutes covering due process rights for teachers, probationary periods, and the value of educator experience when school districts are forced to lay off personnel due to cuts.”              Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, analyzed the recent Vergara-like suit filed in Minnesota this week.  He wasn’t impressed with the original or this latest iteration, titling his piece “MN: Another Baloney Attack on Tenure.”  “Look– there are plenty of legitimate conversations to be had about teacher job protections, hiring and firing practices, etc.  But this lawsuit, like Vergara in California and Campbell Brown’s lawsuit in NY, is not an attempt to have that conversation,” he complains.  “It’s simply an attempt to break the teachers’ union and destroy teacher job protections so that teaching staff costs can be kept low and teachers themselves can be cowed and bullied into silence and compliance.”

Group Calls for Universal Pre-K in California

And finally, a group of academics, former policymakers, researchers and business leaders is calling for increased spending by the state of California for universal child care and preschool.  A story in today’sL.A. Times features a report from a new nonprofit advocacy group called Common Sense.  “A report timed to influence this week’s early education budget hearings in Sacramento,” the item mentions, “calls on California to spend significantly more money on preschool and child care. . . . Children’s experiences in their first five years, including child care, education and healthcare, can influence brain development, future academic performance, economic outcomes and health risks, the report notes.”


*If you still haven’t filed your taxes, take a deep breath and see this article for an explanation of why they are not due this year until Monday and then get to work and get them in!


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



Ed News, Tuesday, April 12, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

               “…the greatest service we can do to education today is to teach fewer subjects. 
               No one has time to do more than a very few things well before he is twenty, 
               and when we force a boy to be a mediocrity in a dozen subjects, 
               we destroy his standards, perhaps for life.” 

                    ― C.S. LewisSurprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

The Teaching Profession.  Really?
This one may be a little hard to wrap your head around.  THE NEW YORKER has a piece titled “Why Are Educators Learning How to Interrogate Their Students?”  It was not an “April Fools” prank or meant to be humorous.  It is SERIOUS.  It describes a particular program, The Reid Technique,  that offers training to teachers and administrators on just what the title indicates.  “Like the adult version of the Reid Technique,”  the story explains, “the school version involves three basic parts: an investigative component, in which you gather evidence; a behavioral analysis, in which you interview a suspect to determine whether he or she is lying; and a nine-step interrogation, a nonviolent but psychologically rigorous process that is designed, according to Reid’s workbook, ‘to obtain an admission of guilt.’” Upon reading the article I was really at a loss for words as to how to react.  I think I was truly speechless as I thought “this can’t really be true.”  What do you think?
Common Core & Testing
A group of 115 California college and university-based education researchers have suggested a moratorium on Common Core aligned assessments.  Their findings and recommendations are contained in their “Research Brief #1” (10 pages) on the CARE-ED (California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education) website.  “Overall, there is not a compelling body of research supporting the notion that a nationwide set of curriculum standards, including those like the CCSS, will either raise the quality of education for all children or close the gap between different groups of children.  Therefore attaching high-stakes testing to the CCSS cannot be the solution for improving student learning.”               It’s just the start of standardized testing season and already major errors and technical glitches are coming to light around the country.  Valerie Strauss, in her  “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post,recounts problems that have already emerged in New York, Alaska, Kansas, Texas, Ohio and Mississippi.  “You might think that given the hundreds of millions of dollars that go into test development administration, some of this stuff would be checked out in advance.  But the testing blunders just keep on happening.  New testing year,” she concludes disgustedly, “same old stuff.              Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, has figured out standardized testing.  He perceives them as part of a long history in the U.S. of controlling certain segments of society.  Singer provides a fascinating history of standardized assessments in the U.S. back to their use during World War I.  “Today, critics from all sides of the political spectrum decry the overuse of high stakes tests while paradoxically championing them for accountability purposes – especially for schools serving minority students.  Civil rights organizations that last year opposed testing have suddenly come to demand it – not because testing ensures racial equity but for fear of losing wealthy donors tied to the assessment industry.  Yet one look at where these tests come from and how they have been used in the past,” he maintains, “shows their essentially classist and racist natures.”               W. James Popham, professor emeritus at the graduate school of education and information studies at UCLA, has a scholarly commentary in EDUCATION WEEK titled “The Fatal Flaws of Educational Assessment” in which he points out what’s wrong with the standardized testing program today and what needs to be done to make it a more valuable tool.  “The time has come for us to abandon the naive belief that an educational test created for Purpose X can be cavalierly used for Purpose Z.  Too many children in our schools are harmed by these methods because educators are basing their decisions on inaccurate information supplied by the wrong tests.  We must follow the up-to-date advice of the measurement community.”  he appeals for, “and demand the use of purposeful educational testing.”  [Ed. note: My wife took a class from Dr. Popham in the early 70s.]               Katie Lapham, an ESL and bilingual public elementary school teacher, chronicles some specific problems she noted in this year’s 3rd grade English Language Arts Common Core exam which she just finished administering to her students in Brooklyn, New York. The title of her essay would seem most apropos: “The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Pearson Tests.”  Her observations appear on her Critical Classrooms, Critical Kids website.  “Over the course of three consecutive days last week, students in grades 3-8 took Pearson’s New York State (NYS) Common Core English-language arts (ELA) tests.  As was the case in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the 2016 ELA tests were developmentally inappropriate, confusing and tricky.  Despite the New York State Education Department (NYSED)’s ‘adjustments’ to the 2016 assessments, there was no improvement to the quality of the tests,” she fumes.  “While I am barred from disclosing the reading passages and questions that appeared on the tests, in no way will I refrain from broadcasting to the world how outraged I continue to be – year after year – over New York’s oppressive testing regime.  Since 2013, when Pearson’s Common Core tests were first administered in New York state, I’ve been documenting this nightmare on my blog.”
Teacher Shortages Projected to Extend Well Into the Future
The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of items about teacher shortages in California and around the nation.  Recent data indicate those shortfalls will extend well into the future.  The AMI (American Media Institute) NEWSWIRE has the latest details on this serious problem.  “In California, with the nation’s largest student population, teacher shortages were described in February as ‘dire;’ enrollment in teacher preparation programs there dipped to 499,800 in 2012-13 from 719,000 in 2008-09.  The biggest needs in California schools, according to the education department,” the article relates, “were in English/drama/humanities, history/social science, mathematics/computer education, science and special education.” Gee, that seems to cover just about everything!  The story describes a few innovative programs to address the issue.               Here is more data to fortify the prediction (see above) that the teacher shortage will extend into the foreseeable future.  UCLA has been surveying incoming freshman nationwide and their attitudes on a number of topics for almost 50 years.  The news is rather depressing in regards to students planning to go into the teaching profession, according to Peter Greene who provides an analysis of the data on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  “For the education world, the most striking data comes from the survey question asking in what field the freshmen plan to major.  The percentage of probable education majors stands at 4.2%,” Greene reports, “the lowest percentage ever since the question was first asked in 1971.  And that 4.1% [sic] comes at the end of a fifteen-year decline– at the turn of the century, the figure hovered around 11%.  The other dip in teacher enrollment came in the early eighties, when the numbers hovered around 6.5%.  In that period of time, business majors were the burgeoning group.  Currently, physical and life sciences are the only big growth, followed by a small bump in engineering.”  Greene proceeds to ask “why” so few college students are contemplating being education majors and provides a number of answers.  He also supplies a link to the full report (96 pages) titled “The American Freshman: National Norms, Fall 2015” from CIRP (Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA).  [Ed. note: See p. 35 of the report for the education statistics Greene reports on.]  In conclusion, Greene really seems to nail the whole issue of why there are such dire teacher shortages: “Many local districts and many states have done their utmost to make teaching as unattractive as it could possibly be. No respect, no autonomy, low pay, no job security, poor work conditions, no control over your professional fate, and treated as if you’re a child.  What could be more appealing?
I keep waiting for Free Market Acolytes to read the writing on the wall.  After all, the invisible hand is very clear on this– when people don’t want to buy what you’re selling, when people do
(not)want to take your job under the conditions you’ve set, that is a clear sign that you have undervalued the merchandise.”
The Opt-Out Movement
Valerie Strauss’ column in The Washington Post, features a short video (2:16 minutes) from Diane Ravitch who urges parents nationwide to opt their children out of standardized testing this year.  Strauss adds her always insightful comments to her post.  “Ravitch says families should opt out of state-mandated high-stakes testing in part because the scores provide ‘no useful information’ about the abilities of individual students and are unfairly used to evaluate educators,” Strauss summarizes the video.  “She also notes that testing and test prep take up valuable class time that could be better put to use providing students with a full curriculum, including the arts.”               Peggy Robertson, on her Peg With Pen blog, discusses the expanding state of the opt-out movement as it reacts to another season of standardized testing.  She forecasts how the passage of ESSA will impact opt-out and what lies ahead for the movement.  “Opt out is still surrounded by intense bullying and harassment by school district employees (I anticipate that this will grow unfortunately).  But, the good news is that the Opt Out Movement continues to increase in numbers,” she begins.  “Opt Out, the People’s Movement, grows by the day – and thank god for that because the work ahead of us is daunting.”               New York State led the opt-out parade last year with the highest number of students choosing to skip the standardized assessments.  The testing season is still in its early stages this year but how are things looking on the opt-out front this time around?  Valerie Strauss turns her blog in The Washington Post over to award winning high school principal, now retired, Carol Burris who assesses the state of the movement as of today.  Her quick observations:  opt-out is alive and well and stronger than ever.  “New York State rocked the world of test-based reform last year when nearly a quarter of a million students opted out of the Grades 3-8 Common Core tests,” Burris begins.  “Despite the pleas, admonishments and insults directed at opt-out parents by many in the New York media, test refusals have exploded again this year, and early indications point to even higher numbers.”
Problems With Lead in School Drinking Water Widen 
Mother Jones has a scary story about the problems of lead in school drinking water becoming more widespread.  The problem relates to how water quality is monitored on our nation’s campuses.  Here’s the rub: “It may seem incomprehensible that drinking water for children could go without scrutiny, yet roughly 90 percent of the nation’s schools aren’t required to test their water, says Yanna Lambrinidou, a Virginia Tech University scientist who studies the issue.  The Environmental Protection Agency requires schools to be connected to a water source that is regularly tested for lead, but those schools needn’t test for on-site contamination.  The problem is,” the item continues, “the vast majority of the lead contamination comes from within—from schools’ lead pipes, lead solder, water cooler linings, and leaded brass drinking fountains.”  Can you believe that?
More Reactions to the Friedrichs Ruling
By now you may be getting a little tired of reading about theFriedrichs v California Teachers Association ruling.  However, its impact cannot be underestimated so lots of different sources from many points of view continue to weigh in.  The Atlantic has an item on the case titled “A Narrow Escape for Public-Sector Unions.”  It reviews the decision and offers some interesting details about a previous Supreme Court precedent, Abood v Detroit Board of Education (1977)that the tie vote in Friedrichs failed to overturn.  “A decision that struck down agency fees,” The Atlantic story suggests, “would not deal a fatal blow to American organized labor, but it would leave a grievous wound.”              Now that public employee unions have a (temporary) reprieve from attacks on the agency fee concept, what next?  truthout suggests theycelebrate quickly and move on to fighting to strengthen their movement so that such attacks don’t continue.  “With Friedrichs out of the way (at least for the time being), the US labor movement should work with other mass movements on a grassroots solution to the current political and economic crisis.  . . .  It is time for organized labor,” it maintains, “to put its still substantial resources to work by advancing a coherent vision for a more just society at a time when the major parties have effectively lost the consent of the people to rule.”               Just as several experts predicted, the 10 non-union teacher plaintiffs in the Friedrichs case have filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme court for a rehearing once the vacancy on the court is filled.  The “School Law” column in EDUCATION WEEK has the latest developments.  “It’s not uncommon for the Supreme Court to formally reject petitions for rehearing within two months of filing,”  the author of the piece points out.  “For the Friedrichs teachers, their only hopeful sign would be if the court did not act on their rehearing petition while the vacancy on the court remains open.”
Charter Schools & Vouchers

Former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown ostensibly began her “The Seventy Four” website to provide “balanced” reporting about educational issues.  An extensive investigative item in ALTERNETreveals what her true motives are by chronicling the corporate “reformers” and charter supporters who are backing her effort.  “Brown, leveraging her longstanding image as a truth-seeking newsperson in service of her new brand as an earnest education reformer,” it suggests, “has been indispensable to this effort.  As the head of the Seventy Four, under the guise of providing hard-hitting education news, she leads one of the key media efforts to push the anti-union, pro-privatization message of the charterization movement, all while keeping its billionaire backers out of the picture and off the front page.”  The piece proceeds to list the numerous and well-known foundations and billionaire philanthropists who are behind the scenes.  The end of this extensive expose describes the major push being made to turn the LAUSD into a majority charter district. “That’s sobering news for watchers of Los Angeles public schools, and schools nationwide, who know that a win for privatization is a loss for student, teachers, public schools and democracy,” it concludes.               How does the explosive growth of charter schools impact the traditional public school sector?  The author of a story in THE AMERICAN PROSPECT uses Massachusetts as an example of how the former drain millions of dollars from the latter.  Her piece is titled “The Great Diversion.”  “When a student leaves a school district [in Massachusetts] to attend a charter, that district transfers a tuition payment based on a district’s average per-student expenditure.  To mitigate the financial impact of this transfer,” the article notes, “a district receives a 100 percent tuition reimbursement from the state the first year but only 25 percent in each of the next five years.” This funding formula leaves traditional public school districts with massive budget shortfalls.  Diane Ravitch describes this story as “one of the clearest analyses of the fiscal impact of charters on district public schools that I have ever read.”              An editorial in The Washington Post supports a newly passed “scholarship program” [Ed. note: A euphemism for vouchers.] in neighboring Maryland that will allow parents to spend taxpayer money sending their children to private schools.  The paper, home to pro-public school blogger Valerie Strauss, has a rather negative editorial policy towards public schools, teachers and unions.  Diane Ravitch describes it, rather succinctly, as a “bizarre editorial.”  You can read her highly skeptical reaction to it by clicking here.               More headaches for the LAUSD from the growing charter presence in the district.  A state arbitrator ruled the LAUSD needs to pay $7.1 million plus $650,000 in attorney’s fees to the San Fernando Valley based Ivy Academia Entrepreneurial Charter for failing to provide the school with rent-free classroom space as delineated in state law.  Today’s L.A. Times has the details.  “L.A. Unified acknowledged that it did not provide Ivy Academia the space it is entitled to under Proposition 39,” the story reports, “which requires districts to offer charters facilities that are reasonably equivalent to those provided to students in traditional public schools.  David Huff, an attorney representing the school district, said L.A. Unified simply didn’t have the space during the years that it did not comply.”

New Rules on Teacher Tenure
An editorial in last Tuesday’s L.A. Times supports a new bill introduced in the California state legislature by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), AB 934, that would change the way tenure is handled in the state.  The paper believes trying to change the rules through the courts, as in the ongoing Vergara case, is ill-advised.  “No matter which way the appellate courts rule in Vergara, Bonilla’s AB 934 would rightly amend these laws, making them more reasonable and practical, while preventing capricious or vindictive firings of teachers by school administrators.”  This item briefly explains the provisions of the bill and includes a link to the full bill (28 pages) for those who want more detail.
Corporate Tax Avoidance Hurts Schools
With the April 15th income tax deadline approaching (have you filed yet?) it’s time again to wonder why public schools seem to be so underfunded.  You (I’m assuming) and I pay our fair share of federal and state income taxes that go to run government, fund schools, support the military and national parks and all the other things that our taxes go for.  Are businesses and large corporations doing their share?  Apparently NOT!  BUZZFLASH has a story titled “Tax Time: How Corporations Are Cheating Schoolchildren.”  “Many of the largest U.S. corporations aren’t paying the state taxes that should be funding our schools.  Kids are the victims.  So are the average Americans,” it points our, “who are forced to pay higher property taxes, sales taxes, and excise taxes to meet educational budgets.  Government and media sources would have us believe there’s no alternative, for in a market-driven world it’s heresy to make demands of big business, even when the companies are flagrantly avoiding their taxes.”  The article specifically notes how companies in Illinois, California and a couple of states on the east coast are avoiding taxes and outlines some of the tricks they employ.  Think about all of this as you are paying your taxes or getting your refund.               Heard of the “Panama Papers” leak?  That refers to the release of millions of documents outlining how many  international individuals and companies have used the services of a law firm in Panama to hide substantial wealth and avoid paying taxes in their home countries.  Does this impact school children?  The answer is a resounding “Yes!” according to a story by Jeff Bryant on the Education Opportunity NETWORK website that goes into detail about the leak and what it all means.  Bryant’s item is titled “Why the Panama Papers Scandal is About Cheating School Children” and he extensively references the piece above (it also appeared on the “Common Dreams” blog). “Much of the reporting about the Panama Papers overlooks two critically important contexts,” Bryant suggest.  “While the story of the scandal stands out for its grandiosity – involving world leaders, international corporations, and over $2 billion – tax avoidance at a much smaller scale is actually quite commonplace right where you live.  And while the consequences of the revelations are so world shaking – toppling regimes, prompting government decrees, disrupting the dealings of mega-corporations – the effects of tax avoidance, in all its forms, are actually most consequential on the individual lives of the least powerful.”
Teach for America
Diane Ravitch’s blog highlights two podcasts from the Network for Public Education’s (NPE) “Truth for America” series that discuss different aspects of Teach for America.  They are hosted by Julian Vasquez Heilig and Jameson Brewer.  In episode 1 (30:25 minutes) a Houston educator and former high school principal discusses her difficult experiences with TFA members in Houston.  Episode 2(44:26 minutes) offers a debate between the co-hosts and a reporter who wrote a piece for the Education Blog titled “Hey TFA Haters, What’s Wrong With a Little Idealism?”               Facing a 3-year decline in applications, TFA announced a major recruitment driveto reverse the trend.  One major change in its attempt to attract students will be to begin engaging with them as early as their sophomore year rather than waiting until they are seniors or juniors.  A story in The Washington Post details both the problem and proposed solutions put forward by the current CEO of TFA.  “TFA received 37,000 applications in 2016, down from 57,000 in 2013 — a 35 percent dive in three years.  It’s a sharp reversal for an organization that grew quickly during much of its 25-year history, becoming a stalwart in education reform circles and a favorite among philanthropists. . . . To boost interest in TFA on college campuses, the organization is focusing on recruiting students earlier in their college career, when they are sophomores and juniors, before they commit to another employer.  More than 5,300 current juniors,”  the article mentions, “have applied to join TFA in 2017, a nearly 50 percent increase from last year.”
Election 2016
Clinton or Sanders?  How are teachers breaking in the Democratic race for president?  Even though both the NEA and AFT were quick to jump on the Clinton bandwagon, rank-and-file members are more divided according to POLITICO.  “The only hitch in Clinton’s plans to rally this vital Democratic constituency: Teachers aren’t fully on board,” it reports.   “Bernie Sanders netted more money from people who listed themselves as teachers and educators than Clinton in February, according to a POLITICO analysis of FEC records. . . The division between leaders and rank-and-file members of teachers unions reflects a campaign in which Clinton has won overwhelming support from leaders of Democratic constituencies but struggled to beat back the Sanders challenge among average voters.”               Republican presidential hopefulOhio Gov. John Kasich is profiled by EDUCATION WEEK as one of the few remaining candidates in either party who has a relatively detailed track record regarding education policy.  Over his two terms as governor and 18 years in Congress he addressed a number of issues relating to K-12 schools.  “In the Republican field, when it comes to K-12, Kasich—who’s been mathematically eliminated from obtaining the number of delegates necessary to win the nomination on the first ballot at the GOP convention in July—has also been defined in large part by what he doesn’t support,” the item relates.  “In contrast to his remaining rivals, real estate developer Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Kasich has not attacked the Common Core State Standards as an insidious intrusion by the federal government into public schools.  Kasich has defended the standards, albeit sometimes in vague and indirect ways, and Ohio has kept the common core on the books despite significant political pushback in the state.”              Hillary Clinton sat down for a wide ranging discussion with the editorial board ofLong Island Newsday.  The paper provides a video of that Q & A (51:56 minutes) and a full transcript which you can access byclicking here.  Her comments in the video relating to education (Common Core and opt out) begin at the 40:37 mark.  If you are only interested in what she had to say about educationDiane Ravitch’s blog printed just that portion of the transcript for you with some very brief introductory remarks from Ravitch.
The Value of Universal Preschool
Is there a simple magic wand that could eliminate the achievement gap between rich and poor students?  The HUFFINGTON POST features a new paper from the Center for American Progress that finds high-quality universal preschool programs just might be the answer.  “Researchers looked at how high-quality universal preschool programs have reduced achievement gaps in Boston and Tulsa, Oklahoma, to estimate what these programs could do nationwide,” the story relates.  “Tulsa and Boston are rare examples of cities that offer wide-scale, high-quality preschool to all 4-year-olds.  These programs have been shown to have significant impact on children, although some critics question the methodology that goes in to determining how successful they are.”  You can find the full report (32 pages) titled “How Much Can High Quality Universal Pre-K Reduce Achievement Gaps?”  written in conjunction with the NIEER (National Institute for Early Education Research), by clicking here.  

Teachers’ Unions
The “CTQ Collaboratory” column in EDUCATION WEEK takes a look at “Changing Perspectives on Teachers’ Unions” written by an elementary art educator and union member in Fairfax, Virginia.  She addresses the question of why more and more teachers are choosing not to join their local, state and federal labor organizations “As a progressively minded educator, I see myself as an agent of change—and the union is the vehicle through which I can have a voice and promote that change,” she maintains.  “I understand that I am the union, and therefore I need to stay engaged, even when I might not share all the views of the national unions.  The truth is, I am a better teacher because of my union.”         Karen Lewis, the popular and charismatic president of the Chicago Teachers Union, was recently re-elected by acclamation along with her full slate of officers.  Mike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blogprovides the details.  “The re-election of the slate is testimony not only to broad teacher support and respect President Lewis enjoys,”Klonsky writes, “but also to the need felt by union members for unity of action in the face of anti-union attacks.  If not for last year’s health problems, President Lewis would likely be Mayor Lewis today.  She and the union continue to out-poll Rahm Emanuel citywide, offering hope that an end of mayoral control of the schools is on the horizon.”
More Students for AP/IB Classes

And finally, the San Diego Unified School District, the state’s second largest, is making a major push to attract more low-income and students of color to its Advance Placement and International Baccalaureate classes.  An item in EDUCATION WEEK describes what the goals are and how the district plans to achieve them.  “If San Diego is successful,” it explains, “it will become the largest district to close the gaps between low-income students and students of color and middle- and high-income white and Asian students in AP and IB programs.”


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

You will be removed promptly from the mailing list.


Ed News, Friday, April 1, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

          [Ed. note:  This is the Friday edition of the “Ed News.”  
Due to events beyond my control, it’s arriving a little late.  
          I am going to take a short break. 
Look for the next edition on Tuesday, April 12.] 
             “Real education should educate us out of self into something far finer; 
               into a selflessness which links us with all humanity.” 

― Nancy Astor the Viscountess Astor

Friedrichs Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court, on a 4-4 vote Tuesday, ruled on the pivotalFriedrichs v CTA case.  The previous edition of the “Ed News” featured several items about the decision including a preliminary post on the L.A. Times website.  Wednesday’s paper featured the story prominently on the front page.  It added some details to the ruling, included additional reactions from various sides of the case and the implications of possible future 4-4 deadlocks “Tie votes could be a theme this year as justices vote on several major disputes that divide along ideological lines,” the article notes, “including abortion, election districts and immigration.   The White House said the court’s deadlock in the union case underscores the need for the Senate to confirm the president’s nominee, Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to replace Scalia.  The Republican-controlled Senate is refusing to act on Garland’s nomination, saying the next president should fill the seat.”                How did anti-union groups react to the Friedrichs ruling?  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints a comment from the Heartland Institute, a conservative and libertarian public policy think tank based outside of Chicago.  David Anderson, Senior Fellow, Education, at the Institute, released this statement: “This Supreme Court decision, favoring the California Teachers Association, effectively forces teachers who declined union membership to be forced into it.  In a blue state like California,” he continues, “these teachers have alternatives, but none of their options will be easy to exercise.  Could they become non-unionized teachers in charter schools or private schools? Not easily.  Would they move to a state, such as Wisconsin, that has a right-to-work law?  Getting hired there might be easier but moving and the uprooting would be their challenge.”               Walt Gardner, retired teacher with the LAUSD and a former lecturer at the UCLA Graduate School of Education, has a brief comment on the Friedrichs case.  It appears on his “Reality Check” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  “I still do not understand why the 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education is challenged,” he argues.  “It made the correct distinction between two kinds of mandatory payments: those used for the union’s political activities, which violated the First Amendment, and those used for the union’s collective bargaining, which were constitutional.”               Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank out of Washington, D.C., has a more right wing analysis of the court’s ruling in Friedrichs.  His commentary appears on his “Straight Up” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  “In any event, rest assured that more cases are coming,” he concludes.  “The litigation-as-reform strategy that first appeared in education desegregation and finance cases has now been adopted more broadly.  It’s a safe bet that we’ll see much more legal activity around agency fees, tenure, teacher dismissal, and the rest.  The split decision in Friedrichs is only a pause in this action—it is far, far from the last word.”                Now that the Friedrichs decision has been announced what’s the prognosis for teacher unions vis a vis the courts?  The “School Law” column in ED WEEK conveniently checks in with a piece titled “After Friedrichs, What’s Next for Teachers’ Unions in the Supreme Court?”  It looks at several cases working their way through our judicial system that deal with various issues about agency fees and the record of Pres. Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, in regards to labor unions.  “The issue of whether collecting service fees violates the First Amendment rights of non-union members,” it predicts, “will bubble up to the Supreme Court again in a year or two.”  If you’d like a peek into the future of public unions check this one out.

Student Engagement

A recently released Gallup Poll of over 900,000 students found that their engagement with school declined as they advanced in grade level.  The survey was conducted among pupils in grades 5 to 12 last fall.  EDUCATION WEEK features the findings.  The measurement of student engagement was based on questions about school environment and adult relationships including perceptions of how well educators value pupils.  “The survey, conducted by Gallup, found that only half of adolescents report feeling engaged in school, and a fifth are actively disengaged,” the article explains.  “About 10 percent of students are classified as both disengaged and discouraged. . . . [The poll] asked the participants two dozen questions about their level of success in school, then categorized the answers into four areas: engagement, hope, entrepreneurial skills, and financial literacy.”  The ED WEEK item includes a link to the full report (8 pages) titled “Gallup Student Poll: Engaged Today–Ready for Tomorrow.”

New Q & A With Diane Ravitch
If you haven’t caught up with Diane Ravitch lately, here’s your chance.  rsn (Reader Supported News) conducts an in depth conversation with Ravitch titled “So Many Children Left Behind.”  “Ravitch expresses deep concern regarding the current presidential campaign’s profound lack of attention to the failing K-12 public school system,” the interviewer states in his introduction, “and the abject failure of the last two administration’s attempts to mitigate the failures through an expanded program of privatization and a regime of costly and useless testing.”  Ravitch also touches on a number of other subjects.
Election 2016
ALTERNET provides a timely guide to the education policy positions of the remaining Republican and Democratic candidates for president.  As usual, the contrast between the two parties is pretty stark on things like charters, privatization and the role of teacher unions.  “Democrats . . . . are at least saying there are problems with corporate charter schools, including a lack of transparency; private and for-profit operators running schools; cherry-picking better students; and diverting scarce taxpayer funds away from deserving schools.  The Republicans, in contrast,”the piece compares, “seemingly have little patience or respect for the American tradition of public education and locally elected school boards.”              Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has mentioned few specifics regarding education matters on the campaign trail so far.  He does stress his plan to provide free tuition to public colleges and universities but other than that his pronouncements regarding school issues have been few and far between.  EDUCATION WEEK has a profile of Sanders’ education policies, such as they are.  “As he continues his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination,” it begins, “Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders keeps hammering away at concerns that resonate with many educators, including higher-education access and income inequality.  But with a few exceptions, pre-K-12 issues have been left out of Sanders’ speeches at rallies, town halls, and other high-profile political events.  And his record on school issues in his combined 25 years in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives also hasn’t been a big part of his campaign.”  [Ed. note:  Full disclosure: I’m a strong supporter of Sen Sanders and plan to vote for him in the June 7th California primary.]               “My Students Are Scared of Donald Trump” is the eye catching headline of a commentary by Steven Singer, aka the author of theGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG.  Singer teaches Language Arts to 8th graders in a low-income area of western Pennsylvania.  Most of his students are African American and he has very few who are Hispanic or Muslim.  Singer is White.  During a recent class discussion about the Holocaust in preparation for reading “The Diary of Anne Frank,” one of his students mentioned “Donald Trump” and “racist” in the same sentence.  “In over a decade in the classroom, I’ve never had students so upset about politics,” Singer confesses.  “Sure they get angry when unarmed people of color are shot by the police.  Sure they feel the pull of Baltimore and Ferguson.  But never have they cared about who’s running for President.  They won’t be able to vote, themselves, for five or more years.  But they wanted to talk public affairs.  What was I to do?  The purpose of history is to learn from it.  We look to the past so we won’t repeat it.  Yet that was a lesson I didn’t need to teach.  They already knew it.  That’s why they were bringing this up.”
The Teaching Profession
As the real estate market heats up in certain pockets around the country and housing prices and rents soar, more and more teachers can no longer afford to live in the communities in which they work.  NPR has a short segment (3:22 minutes) about the problem.  It visits with two teachers, one outside Boston and the other in Palo Alto, who struggle to find housing within a reasonable commute of their classrooms.  The audio feature has an accompanying transcript.  The correspondent on the program discusses a few plans that cities have developed to try to deal with the problem.  “Cities and communities, meantime, are scrambling to find solutions,” he explains.  “Scores of cities have added affordable-housing quotas to rules on new development.  Some are debating building subsidized condos or apartments specifically for teachers.”               
Common Core
The Common Core standards are bringing some significant changes to what is taught in 8th grade math classes around the country and in California.  No longer is there a push for those students to take Algebra I and instead they are getting a course with an emphasis on more general concepts.  An “Education Watch” column in Wednesday’s L.A. Times is accompanied by several graphs to illustrate the changes.  The shift in subject matter in 8th grade math classes is yielding another benefit.  More minority students seem to be getting a better opportunity to enroll in advanced level courses.  “Having more students taking a single, general eighth-grade math course might help solve a different problem: the segregation that happens inside schools and between classrooms, when black and Latino students are kept out of high-level classes, “the reporter on the story points out. “Students are still separated into different classes — there are others in pre-algebra classes, not shown in the results.  And even within Common Core, school districts can implement an ‘accelerated pathway’ for high-achieving middle school students, as L.A. Unified has done.”
First U.S. Sec. of Education Dies
Shirley M. Hufstedler, appointed by Pres. Carter in 1979 to be the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, died at age 90 in California on Wednesday.  She served in that post until 1981 when Pres. Reagan took office.  Upon completing her stint at the DoE she returned to the private practice of the law.  EDUCATION WEEK has a short death announcement.   “Although Hufstedler was not the sort of person to speak extensively about her accomplishments,” it describes, “her pride in her past work in education was clear, said Miriam Vogel, senior of counsel at Morrison & Foerster in its Los Angeles office, where Hufstedler worked.”
Conversations About Race
It is often believed that we’d like to raise our children and teach our students to be “colorblind” regarding race.  Is that really what we should be aiming to achieve?  Valerie Strauss, turns her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, over to Marie-Anne Suizzo, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who tackles the provocative subject of colorblindness and race.  The essay is headlined “The Danger of Teaching Children to be ‘Colorblind.'”  “When children go to school they find themselves in classrooms with other children who may not be their color.  And they notice.  Research shows that most children can distinguish between skin colors before they can walk,” Suizzo writes, “and by the age of 6, they understand that some colors are considered superior to others and may themselves engage in stereotyping.”
Portfolio Districts
Ever heard of the concept of “portfolio districts?”  [Ed. note: I never had until reading this item.]  Apparently, a number of large school districts including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans and others treat their schools like a stock portfolio.  They retain the campuses that get high test scores and divest themselves of those that score poorly by converting them to charters, closing them, reconstituting them or adopting some other approach.  The NEPC (National Education Policy Center) out of the University of Colorado, Boulder, has a study out that finds that “the policy’s expansion is not being driven by evidence of success.”  You can find a short press release about the research byclicking here.  It includes a link to the 4 sections of the full report titled “The ‘Portfolio’ Approach to School District Governance.”  “But research evidence does exist,”  the press release indicates, “concerning the four primary reform strategies that provide the foundation for portfolio districts: school-level decentralization of management; the reconstitution or closing of “failing” schools; the expansion of choice, primarily through charter schools; and performance-based (generally test-based) accountability. The research into these strategies gives reason to pause— it provides little promise of meaningful benefits.”  The press release proceeds to offer 5 reforms that the coauthors of the report suggest would help improve under-performing schools.
ESSA Simply Explained
Still not completely clear about how the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will change the landscape of education at the federal, state, local and classroom level?  EDUCATION WEEKprovides a simple written and video (3:38 minutes) primer.  The author breaks down the law, signed by Pres. Obama in December, into a number of categories, i.e., Accountability, Testing, Standards, Ells, Special Ed., Teachers and others and delivers a brief overview.  The reporter also appears in the video to explain certain parts of the legislation in the form of a Q & A.  At the bottom of the article are some addition resources about ESSA.  After perusing all of these you no have no excuse for not understanding how it will work when fully implemented in the 2017-18 school year.
Corporate “Reform”
Corporate “reformers” like to couch tax credit programs and vouchers as tools for ending segregation and increasing opportunity for minority students in private schools, in other words as a civil rights issue.  Are they actually achieving those laudable goals?  A new study from SEF (Southern Education Foundation)reports that the evidence points to an answer of “no.”  You can read a brief summary of the full report and/or check out the full report(80 pages) titled “Race and Ethnicity in a New Era of Public Funding of Private Schools: Private School Enrollment in the South and the Nation.”   “In 2012, on all indicators ­of race and ethnicity in private schools – over-representation of white students, disproportionate white enrollment rates, virtual segregation, and virtual exclusion of students of color – segregation continues in private schools across the country and in the South,”  the summary informs.  “The six Deep South states that resisted longest the constitutional mandate for school desegregation, and that today have revived state support for private schools, were by far the worst in the nation – demonstrating that state support does not appear to have led to greater access for students of color.”
CTU Holds One-Day Strike Today
The Chicago Teachers Union held a one-day strike today to publicize a number of important issues, among them the fact they have been trying to reach a contract with the Chicago Public Schools for 18 months.  Michelle Gunderson, a veteran elementary school teacher in Chicago and a member of the CTU negotiating team, penned a piece titled “Why We Will Strike” prior to today’s action.  It appears on theLIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  “Contracts are a promise – a promise for what schools can be and a promise for the future,” she concludes.  “The world is watching Chicago right now, and how teachers are treated in this city will have historical memory.  It will impact who decides to become a Chicago teacher for years to come.”               WLS–Channel 7, the ABC affiliate in Chicago has extensive coverage of today’s one-day strike by the Chicago Teachers Union.  It includes several videos, photos and an article.  “Teachers and their supporters descended on the Thompson Center to rally after a day of picketing that began early Friday morning,” the story relates.  “CTU members were joined by a number of labor organizations, students and activists who share the goal of mobilizing people to force Illinois lawmakers to fund public education.”
New L.A. County Office of Education Supt.
Tuesday’s “Ed News” highlighted a profile of the new L.A. County Office of Education Superintendent Debra Duardo in Monday’sL.A. Times.  A single letter appeared in today’s paper in reaction to the story.  
And finally, today is the first of April (April Fools Day, BTW) and that means it’s the START OF TESTING SEASON!!!  Jeff Bryant, on theEducation Opportunity NETWORK, wonders if the obsession with testing and data is becoming a serious disorder.  His commentary is titled “Is Education Being Measured to Death?”  “The truth everyone knows is that America’s education is vastly unequal in how it educates children, and it’s in undeniable fact students of lesser income, and who aren’t white, struggle the most.  But while testing can make something already well understood even more apparent,” he points out, “ it’s of little use in determining what to do about the inequity.”              Jesse Hagopian, the Seattle high school History teacher who was one of the first educators to urge his colleagues to refuse to give standardized tests, has a new Ted Talk (22:02 minutes) titled “More Than A Score: Giving Students a Solid Chance.”  It appears courtesy of The Progressive website and discusses his road to boycotting the assessments.  [Ed. note: ALOED member Larry Lawrence and I heard Hagopian give a similar talk to the Antioch University credential program in L.A. in November.  We recommend it highly.]


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