Ed News, Friday, April 22, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

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

 ― Jodi Thomas*

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


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




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