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.

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