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.




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