Ed News, Tuesday, May 3, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

  This week is “National Teacher Appreciation Week”
and today is “Teacher Appreciation Day.”
The “Ed News” joins in proudly expressing its appreciation
to each and every educator out there (active or retired).
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                This Google Doodle appeared on Teacher Appreciation Day today:
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          “In large part, we are teachers precisely because we remember what it was like to be a student.
Someone inspired us. Someone influenced us. Or someone hurt us. And we’ve channeled that joy (or pain)
into our own unique philosophies on life and learning and we’re always looking for an opportunity to share them—
with each other, our students, parents, or in our communities.”

― Tucker Elliot

And now to the news.

What is the connection between a backhoe in Kansas and cancelled standardized testing in Alaska.  Trust me, there is a direct connection but you’ll have to read a brief item by Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 to find out what it is.  You may be surprised or, then again, you may not.  👿               Alaska isn’t the only state fed up with its standardized testing vendor.  The previous edition of the “Ed News” chronicled some major testing glitches in Tennessee that caused the state to delay and ultimately cancel the second half of its assessment program.  The Volunteer State then abruptly ended their contract with the vendor that provided their testing materials.  EDUCATION WEEK explains what happened. “The state of Tennessee on Wednesday abruptly terminated a $107.7 million contract with a testing company,” it reports, “following repeated failures with the rollout of the new assessment called TNReady. . . .  The company’s contract was terminated after it revised its deadline for shipping the tests to students three times in April.”  [Ed. note: I wonder which other states will follow in the footsteps of Alaska and Tennessee and say “goodbye” to those unreliable vendors.]
Lead in the Water in Schools
By now the lead-in-the-water disaster in Flint, Michigan is well known.  That situation has raised questions about similar problems in schools.  The PBS NEWSHOUR weekly program “Making the Grade”on April 19th had a segment titled “Why Safe Drinking Water is No Safe Bet for Some U.S. Schools.”  You can view the video (7:37 minutes) and/or read the full transcript by clicking here.  Unfortunately, Los Angeles was one of the cities identified with a lead contamination problem in some of its schools’ water. 
Teacher Evaluations
The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of articles, studies, editorials and reports about how to improve the teacher evaluation process.  EDUCATION WEEK provides a forum for another commentary on the subject.  This one comes from a vice president of the Aspen Institute and the executive director of its Education and Society Program.  That organization has a brand new report (24 pages), issued in March, titled “Teacher Evaluations and Support Systems–A Roadmap for Improvement.”  It contains 10 strategies for improving teacher evaluations of which the article from ED WEEK features 3 that hold particular promise.  The story also includes a link to the full report.  “States and districts are entering a new era in education policy, and they face the important—but not impossible—task of focusing on improvement,” the author of the article concludes.  “Just as teacher evaluation calls for feedback that improves teacher practice, states need to learn what’s working and what’s not to improve policy.  By clarifying their vision for education and learning from best practices around the country, leaders can ensure that their policies and systems—including those around evaluation—move in the right direction under ESSA, supporting educators and students on their paths to success.”
Charter Schools 
Many charter schools proudly tout the fact they are “no excuse” campuses that deal harshly with discipline in a rather authoritarian manner.  They claim that’s exactly what low-income and minority students need to learn in order to succeed in college and beyond.  How accurate is that assessment?  Jennifer Berkshire, aka theEduShyster, interviews a researcher, a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at Princeton University, who spent almost 2 years observing a “no excuses” charter and recounts her experiences and how this type of behavior model is impacting its students.  The school is never identified.  It’s referred to as the “Dream Academy,” a middle school in a Northeastern city with about 250 Black and Hispanic students.  In response to a question to summarize her conclusions, the woman responded: “The school failed to teach students the skills and behaviors to help them succeed in college.  In a tightly regulated environment, students learned to monitor themselves, hold back their opinions, and defer to authority.  These are very different skills than the ones middle-class kids learn—to take initiative, be assertive, and negotiate with authority,” she continues.  “Colleges expect students to take charge of their learning and to advocate for themselves.”               Is Boston about to be “charterized” or “privatized?”  Could your district be next on the list?  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, got his hands on the “Private and Confidential” report prepared by an outside consulting group, McKinsey, to “improve” the Boston Public Schools and make them more efficient and cost effective so investors can make more money.  The study was initiated at the behest of Boston’s mayor.  Greene lays out for all to see what’s possibly in store for Boston.  It’s not a pretty sight but one that’s been implemented in several other cities and could be headed your way in the near future.  “If there is ever a doubt that these guys[authors of the report] are corporate money guys and not educators,” Greene charges, “their language choices make it clear.  The plan suggests that BPS can right-size by ‘consolidating’ 30-50 schools.  It is so worth noting that this report is dated March of 2015, which was roughly nine months before Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was whining about all the dirty liars accusing him of wanting to close 36 Boston schools– exactly what the McKinsey plan calls for.”  Big city school district.  Close a bunch of schools.  Here we go again!             All those billionaire philanthropists who give millions of their dollars to support charter schools are starting to feel picked on.  And guess who’s taking their side?  None other than the Wall Street Journal in an op-ed piece titled “The Union War on Charter School Philanthropists.”  Wow.  No kidding.  A “war” on those poor billionaires?  The original item requires a paid subscription and the editor of the “Ed News” is not a millionaire and can’t afford it (he’s a retired teacher, for heaven’s sake).  Fortunately, Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints the piece in full and you can read it by clicking here.  It is, incidentally written by the president and CEO of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.  I wonder why she would be standing up for those mistreated philanthropists?  Your guess is as good as mine!
Pearson Decides Not to Change its Testing-based Business Model
The publishing behemoth, Pearson PLC, rejected a call by several unions, who happen to own shares in the company, to move away from its heavy reliance on producing standardized testing materials for the U.S. market.  A recent edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a letter from several unions, including the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund and a couple of large labor organizations in Great Britain that supported a resolution presented to a recent Pearson shareholders meeting.  Valerie Strauss, writing on her “Answer Sheet” blog forThe Washington Post, includes a link to the resolution and a short recap of what happened at the meeting.
Latest 12th Grade NAEP Scores
The L.A. Times has two articles about the latest 12th grade math and English scores on the NAEP exams (National Assessment of Education Progress–aka the “Nation’s Report Card”) that were highlighted in Friday’s “Ed News.”  The first one appears in Sunday’s “Back Story” column and reports the disappointing results and what can be done about them.  “The scores came as the country continues to teach and test Common Core State Standards,” it reminds readers, “a set of learning benchmarks intended to make school more demanding and lessons more consistent among states.  The scores also follow years of money and energy being poured into what’s become known as the education reform movement, an effort to revamp how teachers are hired and fired and to make schools more efficient.”  The second story is in yesterday’s paper and pretty much concentrates on the test results.  “The scores come against the backdrop of major change in the governance of schools: Late last year, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act,” it points out, “marking the end of the No Child Left Behind Act, the much-maligned federal law that required regular standardized testing and doled out consequences in accordance with test results.  As a result of the new law, California — along with all other states — must now devise a new way to rate its schools, and to communicate those ratings to parents.”  [Ed. note: Curiously the latter article appeared on the Times’ website on April 26, while the former was posted on their website on May 1.  You’ll have to ask them about the order that they appeared in the print editions.  It may be a case of poor editing.]                Valerie Strauss turns her column in The Washington Postover to Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, to interpret the latest 12th grade NAEP scores in math and English.  “The newly released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for twelfth graders found that reading results, a measure that has remained consistent over the years, were the same in 2015 as they were in 2002,” he reviews.  “NAEP math scores are flat compared with 2005, the earliest reported date for that exam.  That means that a decade of test-driven school ‘reform’ resulted in no academic progress. . . . Parents and educators who have built the national testing resistance and reform movement know well that test-driven schooling is junk food education, Neill concludes.  “Ensuring the nation moves away from failed test-and-punish policies will require the already impressive movement to grow even stronger.”
Where Did Cursive Writing Go?
Most educators are aware by now that the Common Core State Standards make no mention of teaching cursive handwriting.  In this age of computers, cursive writing may seem like an anachronism but its abandonment has also raised the ire of a number of teachers and experts.  A Missouri teacher and member of the BATs (Badass Teachers Association) raises the issue once again in a very informative and entertaining way.  She includes a number of pictures, illustrations and even a cartoon to make her point about the absence of cursive instruction.  The author thankfully reports that Missouri decided just last month to resurrect the teaching of cursive writing in the 2nd and 3rd grade English Language Arts Standards.  “No Child Left Behind led to a test prep take over of our lesson plans, leaving no time for cursive handwriting.  The Common Core State Standards ignored handwriting entirely,” she complains.  “The result is a generation of children who can type better than we ever imagined they would, but they can’t sign their names.  Was eliminating cursive handwriting a good idea?  I believe most teachers think cursive is an essential skill and want to see it returned to our elementary classrooms.  Has Missouri done the right thing by bringing cursive back? We will find out soon enough.”
Common Core
Many states were quick to join the Common Core bandwagon but upon deeper reflection have since been backing away from the standards in various ways.  Valerie Strauss, on her blog in The Washington Post, writes about a bill that recently passed a Michigan Senate Education committee that would see the state drop the standards but in their stead Michigan would adopt the highly praised standards Massachusetts abandoned prior to the Bay State’s adoption of the Common Core 6 years ago.  If that sounds a little convoluted or even bizarre to you, join the club.  If all of this is not strange enough, Strauss further reports that “in Massachusetts, Core critics are scrambling to get a referendum on the 2016 ballot asking voters to return to the standards that used to be in place.”  What?  Now I’m totally confused.  Strauss does an excellent job of sorting all this out for you.  Give her a chance.
National Teacher Appreciation Week
Diane Ravitch’s blog has some timely and thoughtful comments on the occasion of National Teacher Appreciation Week “What does it mean to appreciate teachers?”  she asks. “It means respecting their professionalism.  It means turning to teachers as experts on their work, not to people who study teaching or think about teaching.”  She includes a link to a piece from theHUFFPOST EDUCATION blog by John Ewing, a fellow educator, mathematician and President of Math for America, who titles his essay “Appreciating Teachers.”  It’s well worth reading, too.               Well, it seems most people know it’s National Teacher Appreciation Week EXCEPT Pres. Obama.  A reader of Diane Ravitch’s blogpoints out that Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation on April 29th, making May 1-7, National Charter Schools Week.  Don’t believe it?  Ravitch includes a link to the White House website with the full, official proclamation for one and all to see.  Unbelievable!  And wait until you peruse the brief comments the reader of Ravitch’s blog has to say about this.                Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, offers her 2 cents worth on Teacher Appreciation Week in a piece headlined “It’s Teacher Appreciation Week.  Why Some Teachers Don’t Exactly Appreciate It.”  She points out that all the free offers and proclamations of teachers as “heroes” are not what most educators need and want.  “If that sounds good to you, it doesn’t to many teachers, who say that what they really need isn’t free food and a once-a-year exercise in flattery,” Strauss suggests.  “What they want, they say, is for their profession to be respected in a way that accepts educators as experts in their field.  They want adequate funding for schools, decent pay, valid assessment, job protections and a true voice in policy making.”
Granada Hills Charter High Wins National Decathlon Title Again
Some positive news for the LAUSD.  Granada Hills Charter High School claimed the national Decathlon championship for the second year in a row and the fifth time in the past 6 years.  A campus in Texas placed second in the competition that took place over the past weekend in Anchorage.  Since the national event began in 1982, LAUSD schools have dominated with 17 titles.  A story in Sunday’sL.A. Times has details about this year’s event.  “Students were tested in 10 events: art, economics, essay, interview, language and literature, mathematics, music, science, social science and speech,”it reviews.  “The study topic this year was India.”  It is interesting to note that the initial concept of an academic competition for high school students began in Orange County, California in 1968.  California high schools have won the national championship 23 times, including the last 14 in a row; Texas has won 11 times and Wisconsin once.
Student Blogging
If you read the “Ed News” and other blogs, you must be a fan of this particular medium.  Have you ever thought of having your students blog?  The author of the “Finding Common Ground” column (blog) in EDUCATION WEEK is an author, presenter and former K-5 public school principal who asks in the title of his piece “Why Aren’t Students Allowed to Blog?”  He provides some answers to that question and presents 6 justifications for having students blog as part of a class.  “One great aspect of blogging is that not all the rules of standard writing apply.  We live by so many compliance measures these days, that blogging offers an artistic freedom that no other forms of writing may offer.  Bloggers can play with words,” the author maintains, “or use one sentence instead of worrying about making sure there are 4 or 5 sentences in a paragraph.  Blogging is awesome that way.  Unfortunately, not everyone sees the benefits of blogging; especially when it comes to students.  They feel as if there are more important things to be completed during class time, and that student blogging should be left for free time, homework, or random weekends.  Blogging deserves a better place in the classroom.”
Education Writers Association
Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a piece on Diane Ravitch’s blog by a reader who blasted the Education Writers Association (EWA) for its biased, pro-Common Core reporting as he wondered where their journalistic responsibility was to be fair and balanced.  Another reader on the same blog has a possible answer as to why the EWA takes the positions it does.  As is too often the case, he suggests, “follow the money.”  He proceeds to list thephilanthropists and foundations that provide much of the funding for the EWA and, guess what, it’s the usual suspects.  “The Education Writers Association claims that it provides ”’high-quality education coverage.’  Sometimes, it probably does.  Many times it doesn’t come close,” writes the author of the comment.  “Which begs the question, why not?  Perhaps it’s because it’s ‘generous support’ comes from The Gates Foundation, the Dell Foundation, the Kern Foundation and the Walton Foundation, among others.  The Gates Foundation is neck deep in education ‘reform,’ corporate-style.  SO are the others.”
Student Privacy

Is the National PTA selling out to the folks who want to collect as much data (individual information) from students as they can?  That’s the serious charge leveled by Peter Greene on hisCURMUDGUCATION blog.  The group has joined forces with a movement called The Data Quality Campaign (DQC).  Greene reviews some of their policy objectives and concludes “DQC is about data-mining the living daylights out of students.”  So how does the DQC legitimize their push to collect student data?  Get a nice warm and fuzzy family oriented group like the national PTA to endorse what you are doing.  BINGO!  That’s exactly what has happened.  “So this is what the National PTA has climbed in bed with this time,” Greene groans.  “It’s worth noting, as always, that many state and local chapters of the PTA have stood up and been feisty for public education, and the students and teachers therein.  But the National PTA seems bent on letting itself be turned into an astroturf group.”

Corporate “Reform”

If you think things are bad in California . . . . wait until you read about the educational disaster taking place in North Carolina.  Stuart Egan, a high school English teacher in the Tarheel State, was invited by Diane Ravitch’s blog to write about what the governor and legislature have done to K-12 schools in that state.  It is worse than ugly as you will discover upon reading his discouraging narrative.  Keep in mind these types of assaults on public education are taking place in many other states, too.  “North Carolina’s situation may be no different than what other states are experiencing,” Egan explains, “but how our politicians have proceeded in their attempt to dismantle public education is worth exploring.  Specifically, the last five year period in North Carolina has been a calculated attempt at undermining public schools with over twenty different actions that have been deliberately crafted and executed along three different fronts: actions against teachers, actions against public schools, and actions to deceive the public.”  Egan proceeds to offer a number of specifics under each of those 3 categories.                Things are not much better in Detroit whereteachers held a “sick-out” yesterday to protest the possibility they won’t be paid this summer for work they’ve already done.  A story in the Detroit Free Press describes what’s going on in the Motor City.  “The union staged a sick-out Monday that closed 94 of the district’s 97 schools.  Hundreds attended a rally,” it relates, “in which they called for a guarantee that they would be paid this summer for work they’ve already completed.”  [Ed. note: The sick-out continued in Detroit today according to a piece inEDUCATION WEEK.]

Teacher Accidentally Stabbed by Her Own Pencil
And finally, the “Ed News” reluctantly leaves you with this sad tale of woe.  It seems a teacher was leading a group of students to the Eaton Canyon waterfall on Monday when . . . . It’s best to let this very short item in today’s L.A. Times tell the rest of the story.  It does not end happily as you can tell from the headline.  However, the victim of the accident was apparently OK but it was a close call as you will read.  


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


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