Ed News, Friday, April 29, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

           “To understand life is to understand ourselves,
              and that is both the beginning and the end of education.”

        ― Jiddu KrishnamurtiEducation and the Significance of Life

Network for Public Education Conference Follow-up
If you didn’t attend the NPE’s 3rd annual conference in Raleigh April 16-17, or even if you did, and maybe missed an interesting session or two, you can catch up by viewing the keynote addresses and some of the more popular sessions via video from school house LIVE.  This website provides a menu of workshops and speeches to pick from.  If you view enough of them you may be able to fool people into thinking you actually attended.  Only kidding!  Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence, who attended this year’s gathering for forwarding the link to the videos.  The prominent presenters and information provided may entice you into thinking about attending next year’s convention.  The good news is it is supposed to be at a yet to be determined city on the west coast.  Make your plans now for April, 2017.               The NPE unveiled at their conference an extensive report on teacher evaluations (see the April 19th edition of the “Ed News”).  Peter Greene, aka the author of the CURMUDGUCATION blog, commented on the report shortly after the study was released.  He was astounded that real live classroom teachers were actually consulted in the development and recommendations contained in the paper.  “‘Educators on the Impact of Teacher Evaluation’ is a rarity in the world of reports on the world of education in that it involves the voices of actual classroom teachers. . . .  I have read so many ‘reports’ and ‘white papers’ and ‘policy briefs’ covering many aspects of education policy over the last few years,” he concludes, “and the appearance of a teacher voice is rarer than Donald Trump having a good hair day and displaying humility at the same time.  That alone makes this report valuable and useful.  I recommend you read the whole thing.”
If you’d like a handy, concise summary of the Network for Public Education’s teacher evaluation report, you can find it on the NPEwebsite, in the form of a colorful infographic, by clicking here.  It includes information from the survey the organization conducted among teachers regarding the impact of evaluations on their time, relations with their principals, individual opinions about the process and a summary of the 6 recommendations.  If you don’t want to take the time to read the full report (25 pages) this will provide an excellent overview.
Ed Tech Challenges
For schools to enter the 21st century they need to have up-to-date connections to the internet in order to have proper access to lessons, materials and even the ability to take standardized tests in a timely and proper manner.  Some poor and rural districts are at a distinct disadvantage in this regard as soberly reported in a story in the “Business” section of The Washington Post titled “At Schools With Sub-Par Internet, Kids Face A Poor Connection With Modern Life.”  A poor, rural school in Alabama is the focus of the article and illustrates the problems faced by too many other campuses.  “The schools with sub-par Internet are scattered around the country,” it spells out, “spanning from the far-flung communities of Alaska to the desert towns of New Mexico.  The danger is that students who attend these schools will struggle for years with the critical tasks that now require online fluency: applying to colleges, researching papers, looking for jobs.”
 The Teaching Profession
How should educators approach the teaching of controversial topicsto elementary students?  That’s always a question fraught with uncertainly.  A commentary in EDUCATION WEEK by a veteran educator takes a stab at an appropriate answer.  Her piece is titled “How to Teach for a Better World.”  “As an educator with more than 25 years of experience teaching about global ethical issues, I believe that we must teach students about the interconnected issues of human rights, animal protection, and environmental preservation. But we must take great care,” she cautions, “to share information about cruelty and injustice in age-appropriate ways that provide students with the tools for meaningful problem-solving.  The goal is not to traumatize students but to engage them in awareness.”               Online (virtual) schools and blended learning were two ideas for combining technology and education.  A new report from the National Education Policy Center raises some serious questions about their effectiveness as a teaching tool.  The study is featured in a story from THE HECHINGER REPORT.   “Too many students in virtual and blended learning schools are performing poorly,”  it indicates, “according to a new National Education Policy Center report, released last week, by Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan University, and Charisse Gulosino, an assistant professor at the University of Memphis.  The center’s annual report about online learning for the first time took a look at blended learning, as well.  It found that those schools were not doing much better than fully online schools. . . .  Both fully online (virtual) schools and blended learning schools included in the report tended to fare worse than traditional schools on state assessments of quality.  The report described this as a ‘red flag.'”  The research doesn’t suggest abandoning these techniques but makes 6 specific recommendations for improving them.
Are We Standardizing Our Students?
Most teachers view each student as an individual who is not like any other human being.  They try to individualize instruction as much as possible to meet the needs of each pupil and their particular learning style.  So why is it that corporate “reformers” want tostandardize every student and turn them into the identical products (cars, washing machines, lawn mowers, etc.) that businesses and factories turn out every day?  That’s the critical issue addressed by Lynn Stoddard, a now retired, longtime educator, who titles his commentary for the Deseret News “Let Teachers Teach: Education That Magnifies Individual Differences.”  The quote from Albert Einstein at the start of his piece makes his point perfectly.  Stoddard laments the lack of individualization in today’s classrooms and believes America needs to listen to its athletic coaches and arts teachers to get that quality back.  “The best thing that can now happen to our culture is to let all teachers perform as professionals,” he proposes, “not as servants to an obsolete curriculum. Let teachers magnify student differences rather than uselessly trying to make students alike in knowledge and skills.”
Money for Schools
NPR has a segment titled “Can More Money Fix America’s Schools?”  It looks at the chronic issue about spending the proper amount of money to alleviate the impact of poverty on educating low-income students and closing the achievement gap.  The piece includes an audio (7:19 minutes) and a printed story that accompanies the program.  It is part of the “School Money” Project that includes a number of other segments which you can access by clicking on the link in the “About the ‘School Money’ Project” sidebar.  Diane Ravitch described this item as “a balanced and thought-provoking discussion.”
Latest 12th Grade NAEP Scores Disappoint
12th grade scores on the biennial 2015 NAEP (National Assessment for Educational Progress–known as the “Nation’s Report Card”) declined in math and were statistically flat in English over the previous 2013 results.  An article in THE WASHINGTON POST provides the disappointing numbers .  “In 2015, average math performance among seniors slipped two points, to 152 on a 300-point scale. On the reading test,” the story reports, “seniors posted an average score of 287 on a 500-point scale, which was not statistically different from 2013. . . .  The stagnation comes after a turbulent period in public education.  Most states adopted sweeping educational policy ­changes, including teacher evaluations tied to test scores and Common Core academic standards that have changed what and how students learn in the classroom.”  It seems like all that corporate “reformy” stuff is not meeting its promise to improve education and it might, in fact, be having a deleterious effect on learning.   Hmmm.                If you’d like to take a more detailed look at these latest results from the source, check out the NAEP’s website The Nation’s Report Card.  It includes some graphical analysis and includes a video (4:30 minutes) with an overview of the scores.  “In comparison to the first year of the current trendline, 2005, the average mathematics score in 2015 did not significantly differ.  In comparison to the initial reading assessment year, 1992,” the piece distressingly indicates, “the 2015 average reading score was lower.”  Hmmm.
WHOA!!  Wait a minute!  This is going too far.  You need to sit down before reading this next item.  Brian Whiston, the new Michigan Superintendent of Education, is proposing that students take standardized tests not once but twice or even three times a year.  The good news is they would be shorter than the once-a-year assessments.  In addition, he wants to (you really need to be sitting down for this) begin the exams in KINDERGARTEN!!!  He really believes this will improve what ails education in his state.  The really sad part is that Michigan is not the only state that has made similar proposals.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, provides the maddening details.  “It is most certainly the case that it has become commonplace in recent years to force kindergartners to take standardized tests,” Strauss writes.  “The ubiquity of the practice does not make it a sound one.  Many experts in early childhood education and development adamantly oppose such testing.”                Going in a diametrically opposite direction, Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG,headlines his piece “School Accountability Without Testing.”  Finally, some sanity in this test, test, test swamp we’ve been led into. “Q: Is it possible to ensure educational accountability without giving standardized tests?  A: Not only is it possible, it is necessary.  In fact, we will never have accountability while we continue giving standardized tests,” he maintains.  “This is the irony of modern education policy.  High stakes testing is seen as the only tool that can ensure schools operate correctly when in reality it is the very thing that blocks true responsibility. . . .  When it comes to true accountability, we need to look beyond the school at all the factors involved.  We also need to look to the legislature, the taxpayers, parents, the community, the media, and all stake holders.”  Singer proceeds to describe how to achieve school accountability without testing and he cites “an ingenious plan“, with a few caveats, taking place in California, which he describes in some detail.  In conclusion, Singer advocates for performance or portfolio-based assessments like what New York’s Performance Standards Consortium is doing [Ed. note: And, I might add, High Tech High in San Diego.]  Hurrah!  Somebody gets it. Check this one out (it’s a little lengthy, but I think you’ll find it well worth the effort.)                 More glitches for the testing process. Tennessee just decided to pull the plug on the second half of its state testing program due to a delay in the delivery of materials from the vendor.  NPR station WPLN in Nashville describes what happened and why and includes a Statement from the Nashville Public Schools about the decision.  “So now schools are being told not to worry about the second part of their year-end exams,” the story notes.  “And it looks like districts are eager to opt out.  Many are already telling parents that testing is done for the year.”  You can also listen to a brief audio segment (1:27 minutes) from the station that closely follows the printed story.                Two states are going in opposite directions regarding making the PARCC standardized test a graduation requirement.  The Maryland State Board of Educationdecided this week to implement that idea which THE BALTIMORE SUN predicts will result in many more students in that state not graduating.  “If the standard had been in effect last year, more than half of Baltimore County’s students would not have passed the math test and 35 percent would not have passed the English test,” the item reports.  “In Baltimore, 70 percent would not have passed the math exam and more than half would not have passed the English exam.”  On the other hand Ken Wagner, theState Education Commissioner in Rhode Island, is proposing his state drop the PARCC test as a graduation requirement due to the fact it was causing an inordinate number of students to fail to graduate.  The PROVIDENCE Journal indicates the idea is getting a “mixed reaction” from various stakeholders.  “Wagner wants to eliminate the state’s latest standardized test as a high school graduation requirement. The state would continue to test students,” it relates, “but the districts would be held accountable, not the students. Districts that already include a standardized test as a graduation requirement would be able to continue to do so.”                Since the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law in December it’s been the job of the U.S. Dept. of Education to draft regulations that define how to implement the new legislation.  Draft rules have been negotiated and approved regarding testing and will soon be released for public scrutiny and comment.  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, also known as FairTest, who explains the impact the new regulations about testing will have on parents, teachers and students.                 A coalition of 7 Oregon education advocacy groups has written an open letter to the citizens of the state in support of 5 school superintendents who have requested that Oregon drop the use of the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) standardized assessments (the same exams used in California).  The Oregon Save Our Schools site has the details and includes a list of the 7 organizations at the bottom.   
Election 2016
Along with a so far rather bizarre presidential primary season, there are also some key congressional races for members of the U.S. House and Senate who serve on those chambers’ education committees.  EDUCATION WEEK lists some of the members serving on those committees and their re-election status.  “Aside from some hearings and the confirmation of Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.,” it begins, “Congress has not been particularly busy on the K-12 front since it passed the Every Student Succeeds Act late last year. But there are congressional elections this year, and some of them could have a notable impact on the two committees that deal with K-12 policy.”               Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) shook up the Republican primary race for president Wednesday when he named Carly Fiorina as his choice for vice president should he win his party’s nomination.  Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and unsuccessful candidate against California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2010, was an early rival of Cruz for the GOP presidential nomination until she dropped out fairly early in the process.  She doesn’t have much of a track record on education policy but ED WEEK recounts some of her K-12 positions gleaned from the campaign trail.               THE Nation has an interesting Q & A with Jane Sanders, wife of Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who describes her and her husband’s K-12 educational views.  This is how Ms. Sanders responds to a query about how education would be different under a Pres. Sanders: “We don’t really believe in standardized testing.  I think our purpose would be, schooling is meant to help people be creative, to have their curiosity stimulated, and have them be actively thinking whatever they’re thinking about—whether it’s the stars, the universe, climate change, anything.  Having them be able to feel they can explore anything, learn anything.”  She unfortunately believes rather naively that there is a role to be played in K-12 education by people like Bill Gates, the Waltons and Eli Broad.  The piece includes a video (10:50 minutes) of the interview and a full transcript.
Science Fairs Becoming Commercialized  
Remember the old school science fair?  Students picked a topic and often with the help of parents put together an presentation illustrating their project.  Would you be surprised to learn that bigcorporations are getting involved in the projects?  Two members of the Yale School of Medicine faculty and parents of a teenager who recently took part in a school science fair, write on Valerie Strauss’ blog in The Washington Post about the intrusion of corporate sponsors into the venerable school event.  “Corporations should stay involved in science fairs but should turn down the volume,”they suggest.  “In the world of theater, corporate sponsors are listed at the back of the program rather than being granted naming rights to the play.  In the world of science, including science fairs, corporate sponsors should be applauded, but as supporting cast.  Not every science fair offers top billing to corporations.  It’s time for science fair planners,” they continue, “to rethink the message they’re sending when they give front row access to corporations.  Our children need to know that recognition in science is based on ideas, hard work, and collaboration, and need not be linked to a corporate name.
Career Education is Coming Back
The old idea of “shop” classes and vocational education is making a comeback in high schools around the country according to an item in EDUCATION WEEK that just happens to focus on a program in California.  “Nowhere has the renewed embrace of work-based learning been stronger than in California,” it mentions, “which expects to spend $900 million to reinvigorate career and technical education at high schools by 2019.  The money comes on top of another $500 million the state has awarded to partnerships of public school districts, community colleges and employers promising to prepare students for jobs in fields that do not require four years of college.”
Opt Out
How might a parent who has chosen to opt her child out of standardized testing respond to another parent who made the decision to opt in because it’s a good way to teach kids about how to deal with a challenge?  Jeannette Deutermann, founder of Long Island Opt Out, offers some suggestions on the BATs (Badass Teachers Association) website.  “Our children will be and are challenged on a daily basis.  Sports, social challenges, challenges in the classrooms,” she maintains.  “These assessments go beyond a challenge and represent a narrative of failure.”               California has been relatively quiet on the opt out front.  However, as the standardized testing season winds down in the state there have been nascent movements afoot.  One is sparked by a junior at Burbank High School (Burbank USD) who was able to convince up to 40% of his classmates to skip this year’s assessments.  That’s a pretty good record.  An item posted on the L.A. Times website Saturday afternoon has the details about how a single student made a big impact.  
Corporate “Reform”
After Hurricane Katrina devastated many areas of the Gulf Coast in 2005, New Orleans took the opportunity to remake its schools.  It ended up becoming an almost total charter district and corporate “reformers” hailed the changes.  How are things going in The Crescent City?  According to a piece on BUZZFLASH(dot)com,the answer is “cracks” are beginning to show.  It reviews some of the research and reporting on educational outcomes in New Orleans.  The road to educational improvement may be turning back towards more traditional ways in the city.                 If charter schools are not quite panning out the way the corporate “reformers” envisioned, what about some of their other agenda items like vouchers?  How are they fairing?  Actually quite well, but like charters, they are having a devastating impact on traditional public schools.  Why?  In this case many of the voucher/choice programs are channeling taxpayer money to parochial schools at the expense of funds for those public schools.  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, revisits the issue in a commentary titled “How School Vouchers Promote Religious Schools and Hurt Education.”  “Most of the war over voucher programs,” he relates, “is fought over quantifiable data about the academic results these programs hardly ever seem to produce and the money they redirect from public schools to private pockets.  But there is an important quality issue as well. . . .  All research shows that most of the money voucher programs redirect from public schools to private institutions ends up going to religious schools.”             Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, thinks the corporate “reformers” are beginning to act a little like the cuckoo bird. [Ed. note: I’ll let him explain.]  He titles his essay” Co-opting the Language of Authentic Education: The Competency Based Education Cuckoo.”  He’s angry at how the privatizers are using high sounding language to trick people into buying their snake oil programs. “When parents, teachers and administrators unwittingly engage in corporate school reform strategies to help students learn, they end up achieving the opposite while the testing industry and charter school operators rake in obscene profits,”Singer complains.  “But some of us have seen through the scam, and we think it’s cuckoo.  We’ve seen this kind of bait and switch for years in the language used by oligarchs to control education policy. For instance, the defunct federal No Child Left Behind legislation had nothing to do with making sure no kids got left behind.  It was about focusing obsessively on test and punish even if that meant leaving poor kids in the rear view.”  He provides a number of other examples of how language is used as a means to a rather nefarious end.
Family Income, Race and School Success
A major new study from 3 researchers at the Stanford Education Data Archive is once again looking at the impact of family income, race and school success. It verifies what many experts have been saying for a long time about a direct correlation between these factors.  The report appears courtesy of The New York Times.  “We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools,” the article begins.  “We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families.  A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.  Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.”  The story is accompanied by 3 scatter graphs that illustrate the key points made in the report.  If you click on individual dots in each graph, you’ll get specific data for individual school districts.  Try it, it’s fun.  The big blue dot at the lower elbow of the second chart is the LAUSD.
Common Core
The “Ed News” once again returns to the issue of the Common Core State Standards after a fairly lengthy interlude.  Richard Phelps, an economist and testing expert, writes on Diane Ravitch’s blog that the Education Writers Association (EWA) has drunk the Coolaid and become another shill for the Standards.  He analyzes a number of their journalistic products and discovers a preponderance of them supported the CC.  Where’s that reporters’ responsibility to present both sides, he wonders?
All Star Educators
NPR (National Public Radio) has a “50 Great Teachers” project in which they continually search all over the country for outstanding educators.  This morning they reported on a special 4th grade teacher they found at Sunset Elementary in Miami.  The unique thing about their story is that they allowed several of Marlem Diaz-Brown’s (aka Mrs. D-B) students to report the story and explain why she’s so unique.  This item includes an audio segment (5:40 minutes) and a written story.  They are both well worth your time.  All the pictures that accompany the story were taken by the students, oops, I mean the photographers, too.  [Ed. note; My wife and I listened to the segment this morning on the radio while we were sitting in our car waiting for our bank to open.  We both thought it was very heartwarming.]  This item serves as a perfect segue to the story below.  A companion NPR piece to the item above is titled “Behind the Scenes: How a Fourth-Grade Class Reported Our Story.”  It explains how the “50 Great Teachers” segment (above) was put together.  It’s well worth a read, also!
Teacher of the Year Named
And finally, a veteran high school history teacher from Connecticut was named the 2016 National Teacher of the Year yesterday.  [Ed. note:  Yeah!  I was a high school history teacher for 26 years.]  EDUCATION WEEK profiles Jahana Hayes.  “Hayes, who has taught for 12 years, was announced as the 65th winner of the national prize today on CBS This Morning,” it describes.  “She has been a history teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Conn., for the past 10 years.  She is the eighth history teacher to win the award.”  Hayes and a group of other finalists in the competition will be honored at a White House ceremony on Tuesday.  


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




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