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.




Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s