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.



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