Ed News, Friday, May 6, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

   Sunday is Mother’s Day.  Don’t forget mom!
          Inline image 1
  “He never reckoned much to schooling and that. He said you could learn most what was worth knowing from keeping your eyes and ears peeled. Best way of learning, he always said, was doing.” 

― Michael MorpurgoFarm Boy

And now to the news.
Charter Schools
Do you every get the impression that some charter schools like toplay by a different set of rules compared to those  the traditional public schools follow?  If you are not yet convinced of that than you need to read this expose from The Center for Media & Democracy’sPRWATCH.  This organization has been keeping a close eye on the charter system and they just uncovered another example of an unfair playing field.  To wit, it seems the KIPP charters have asked for AND been granted an exemption from the U.S. Dept. of Education from making public certain documents and information that it would rather not provide.  That sounds like a different set of rules to me.  “The Education Department complied with almost all of KIPP’s instructions, despite how contrary they are to public policy and even to publicly available information.  These black marks come at a time,” it reveals, “when cracks are starting to show in KIPP’s once beyond-reproach veneer.  KIPP is the largest and most lauded charter school chain in the United States and the recipient of many millions of dollars in taxpayer grants, foundation gifts and handouts from billionaire charter school enthusiasts.”  Just one example of the type of data KIPP wants to keep under wraps: “Graduation and College Matriculation Rates.”  Gee, I wonder why they’d want to keep that hidden?               The previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a commentary in the Wall Street Journal by Nina Rees defending the foundations and philanthropists who donate millions of dollars to the charter school movement and demanded that critics of that largess consider backing off from their complaints.  Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, couldn’t wait to confront the author of that piece.   “In her WSJ ad,” Schneider complains, “Rees doesn’t even hint at the ‘balance’ farce.  She considers the charters-are-swell sale as important and the boosting of the uber-rich morale, imperative.  No scandals.  No mismanagement.  No exploitation.  No negative consequences.  None whatsoever.  But it is nonetheless a lie.  And Rees knows it.”   The “Ed News” will remind everyone, as we did in our Tuesday edition, that Nina Rees is the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.  There is certainly no conflict-of-interest there.               Ready for a story that supports charter schools?  U.S. News & World Report has a commentary titled “Charter Schools Stack Up Well” by none other than Nina Rees.  Not sure who she is?  Name sound familiar?  See the item directly above.  “The best high schools in America are preparing students not just for college, but for life,” she concludes.  “Charter schools are helping thousands of low-income students have a shot at the American dream by giving them a customized, first-rate education.”  Sounds pretty good, huh?  However, is it just me, or did she leave out some key factors from her laudatory essay?  Diane Ravitch’s blog has a very brief critique of the above item.  Ravitch uncharacteristically limits herlist of criticisms of charters to just a few.  I would add to her tabulation things like a lack of accountability and transparency, fraud and corruption, poor performance, financial support from foundations and philanthropists, the draining of resources from traditional public schools, the forced closure of neighborhood campuses, their possible contribution to the re-segregation of U.S. education and on and on.  This is still a free county so Rees is entitled to her opinion.               For a diametrically different point-of-view regarding charters check out an item from NEVADA PUBLIC RADIO that takes a nuanced look at the impact of the charter industry on traditional public education in The Silver State.  “Charter schools are publicly funded, but privately operated.  The result is a charter-school industry,” it points out, “encompassing what can be a dizzying array of arrangements and contracts between the schools, their unelected boards, state agencies, property developers, for-profit management companies, nonprofit arms of private companies, hedge funds and investment firms, and myriad consultants, contractors and education-industry vendors. Virtually every dollar everyone in the charter-school industry makes is provided by the taxpaying public.”  I don’t know about you, but that description of charters doesn’t sound quite as appetizing as the one provided by Nina Rees (see above).  True the author is describing schools in Nevada but the picture is generic enough to be applicable to charter in just about every state.                Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, suggests that parents would be better off having their children skip school then enroll them in a cyber, virtual or online charter.   He titles his commentary rather disdainfully “Make Tons of Money Doing a Terrible Job–Start a Cyber Charter School.”  “Nowhere else is the goal of corporate education reform as starkly clear as in the cyber charter industry,” Singer complains.  “Nowhere else can such terrible academic results reap such tremendous financial gain.”  He goes into great detail about the poor quality of education cyber charters provide and the great deal of money one can make starting one.              Charter opponents held a nationwide “walk-in” (as opposed to a walk-out) to protest charter school expansion and the impact it is having on traditional public schools.  A story in Mother Jones has the details.  “In nearly 75 cities across the country,” it begins, “students, parents, and teachers marched at their public schools on Wednesday, protesting inadequate funding and charter school takeover, issues that especially affect black and Latino students in urban areas.  The organization Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools is behind the ‘walk in’ demonstrations, and it’s made up of large-scale organizations, such as teachers unions, and local community groups.  The walk-ins began last spring and have doubled in size since February.”  Particular actions in Oakland and San Francisco are featured in the article.
The Teaching Profession
Teachers in Detroit returned to their classrooms on Wednesday after two days of “sick-outs” in protest of a possible plan by the district to not pay a large number of teachers over the summer for work they’d already done.  A press release from the aft (American Federation of Teachers) has details of the action and its resolution.  “Over the weekend, the DFT heard a rumor that the school system would not guarantee educators at least some salaries from as early as April 28 through June.” it explains.  “This would especially affect the people who have their pay spread across 26 weeks of the year—about two-thirds of the city’s 3,800 educators.”                “Late Night” host Seth Meyers does an extended segment (6:59 minutes) about the Detroit “sick-outs” earlier this week on his NBC show.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post, includes the video, summarizes the content and adds her own comments to it.  “Clearly there is something wrong with the way our society values the work teachers do,”Meyers states, “and yet when teachers object to budget cuts or ask for increases in pay, they are dismissed and the politicians who dismiss them are often celebrated as straight-shooters.”  It’s a perfect piece for National Teacher Appreciation Week “Watch the video,” Strauss urges.  “It is worth your time.”                Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, take the occasion of Teacher Appreciation Week to ask a question “If You Were Secretary of Ed For a Day, How Would YOU Elevate the Teaching Profession?”  “We should be clear on what WOULD elevate the teaching profession, and push for it.  I want to see changes in policies that would be obvious to anyone who spent a week or two in a school,” he writes.  “I posted this question on my Facebook wall: If you were made Secretary of Education for a day, what are three things you would do to truly ‘elevate the teaching profession’?”  Cody proceeds to share many of the suggestions that he received.  Here’s just one example: “Free teachers from evaluations based on test scores and bogus VAM calculations.”  That sounds pretty good.  Check out the other ideas he got.
Add Georgia to the growing list of states experiencing “glitches” in its online standardized testing program.  The “Market Brief” column in EDUCATION WEEK has the latest disappointing details.  “Technology issues have caused disruptions to Georgia statewide assessments, and the state board of education will decide on Thursday,” it notes, “whether the tests will count for retention and promotion, a spokesman for the state’s education agency said.  While the high school testing window is open until May 6, the problems in lower grades with the Georgia Milestones tests—including an inability to save responses and issues with connectivity—were sufficient that the education department has asked the state board to waive Georgia’s promotion retention rule for students in 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades.”               The San Diego Unified School District is cutting back significantly on its standardized testing program.  Superintendent Cindy Marten made the announcement earlier this week.  You can read the official statement regarding testing on the SDUSD website by clicking here.  “A major factor behind the changes . . .  was the recent study showing the overuse of standardized testing is harmful to area students,” the announcement mentions, “according to some 90% of San Diego’s teachers.  The study was conducted by the San Diego Education Association.”  How refreshing.  A superintendent who actually listens to her teachers!  NBC7, the network affiliate in San Diego, has a short report and video (1:30 minutes) about the changes in testing.               What types of tests seem to be the most effective?  A Gallup poll of 4,200 parents, students, teachers and administrators placed greater value on classroom and formative assessments as opposed to those year-end summative tests.  A story in the “Curriculum Matters” column for EDUCATION WEEKfeatures the results from the survey “Teachers told the researchers that they valued different kinds of assessments for different kinds of things,” it indicates.  “Statewide testing is useful in figuring out whether students are meeting ‘critical benchmarks,’ they said, but not very helpful in identifying students who need extra support, or even in closing the achievement gap.  Formative assessments get the highest marks for helping teachers figure out which students need more support, and classroom tests and quizzes are most valuable to teachers as a gauge of what students are learning.”  You can read the full report (56 pages), titled “Make Assessments Work For All Students: Multiple Measures Matter,” commissioned by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) with polling conducted by Gallup by clicking here.               “Testing in Texas is a Big Fat Mess–But Scores are Going to Count Anyway” is the headline on a piece by Valerie Strauss on her blog for The Washington Post.  This isn’t Texas’ first brush with testing woes.  “In Texas, officials had hoped it would be a problem-free testing season.  There were so many glitches in 2015 that officials fired the testing vendor, Pearson, and hired the Educational Testing Service to administer the STAAR tests, formally known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness  program, which were first implemented in 2012 to hold students, teachers and schools accountable’ for academic progress.  Things didn’t go as well as hoped.”  Strauss reprints a letter from nearly 50 superintendents in the Houston area to the Texas Education Commissioner who outline specific problems they experienced with the assessments and another letter from a group called Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment.
Teacher Appreciation Week
As previously noted in the “Ed News,” May 2-6 (this week) is designated as National Teacher Appreciation Week and Tuesday was Teacher Appreciation Day.  Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director of the BATs (Badass Teachers Association), has a commentary for the occasion titled “Want to Appreciate Teachers This Week?  Stand Up to Those Seeking to Destroy Our Profession and Public Education.”  Hear!  Hear!  “So, I have a charge for the general public as we end Teacher Appreciation Week.  Stand up, and look with eyes wide open,” she implores, “at what is happening to your public education system.  There needs to be a recognition that the teaching profession is being destroyed and that our public education system will one day be extinct.    Want to appreciate teachers?  Stand up and fight against those seeking to destroy our profession and public education!  That is how you can show teachers you appreciate them.”               As it turns out, this week was BOTH Teacher Appreciation Week and National Charter Schools Week and Pres. Obama issued proclamations celebrating both.  Leave it to Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, to compare the wording of the two to see if he can detect any bias, one way or the other.  What do you think Greene discovered?   “So, bottom line,” he compares.  “Charter schools got some unambiguous praise, a list of specific things they’re doing right (which public schools also do), and honor for being dedicated professionals who made this calling their life’s work (even though they are loaded with TFA folks and others who have no intention of making teaching their lives’ work).  Teachers got a list of administration policies (including the failed ones), a reminder of how much we are to blame for what hasn’t happened in schools, and a list of things we haven’t achieved yet, finished off with an ambiguous line on  the order of ‘We hope you get exactly what you deserve.'”   
Common Core
Is the Common Core and the push for digital education simply a veiled plot to replace teachers with machines?  That’s the intriguing theory behind a piece titled “Is The Digital Revolution Turning Education Into a Ponzi Scheme?” appearing in truthout.  “The myth of social progress that was a source of hope for individuals has now been reduced to the new myth of technological determinism that serves the interests of computer scientists, technologists, venture capitalists and ideologues in the larger society,” it asserts.  “With the merging of neo-social Darwinism and technological determinism that are now central features of the digital revolution, students hoping to find meaningful long-term employment and the opportunity to pursue a career and practice a craft are simply driven by forces now out of their control.”  Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence for forwarding this.               How about a story supporting the Common Core?  U.S. News & World Report has a piece titled “A Hidden Benefit to Common Core–High Education Standards Prevent Unprepared College Students and Help the Economy.” It argues that students who arrive unprepared for college due to poor educational achievement caused by low standards have a negative impact on the economy.  “Clearly, better educational achievement should be a priority,” the article maintains.  “The most effective way to improve achievement is to utilize educational standards.  Educational standards are written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at specific stages of their education. However, the use of education standards is at a crossroads.”  Most educational experts wouldn’t argue with the first sentence of that quote.  Where the author may run into trouble is the assumption included in the second sentence.
Election 2016
After the primary election results in Indiana on Tuesday, it now appears almost certain that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for president.  Given that reality, what has Trump said during the campaign regarding his policies towards K-12 schools?  EDUCATION WEEK offers a glimpse in its “Politics K-12” column.  [Turmp] hasn’t spoken at great length about the topic at any one time,” the piece points, “and he doesn’t have the kind of record on the issue that say, a former governor would.  But over the course of the campaign, we have followed his statements about K-12.”  Here’s one example from the article: “Trump says he hates the common core, and says he’ll get rid of them. But, thanks in part to the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal government does not have the power to do that.”               With Trump now close to wrapping up the GOP nomination for president, you may be interested in a bit of history involving his real estate group and the LAUSD school board who engaged in a protracted and acrimonious battle in 1990 over the former Ambassador Hotel property on Wilshire Blvd.  A story from ED WEEK describes the clash and you may be surprised to learn that the school district emerged triumphant although the battle was not finally resolved until 2001.  The hotel was razed in 2006 and the site now houses the RFK Community Schools, a K-12 complex.  
Corporate “Reform” 
Want a peek behind the curtain of what happens to a school district when the corporate “reformers” spend millions of dollars to take control of the local school board?  You have to look no farther thanwhat’s happening in Denver.  Jeanne Kaplan, on her Kaplan for Kids blog, titles her extended piece “Disruption, Disenfranchisement and Drama in District 4” and that pretty much sums up what took place.  “This is a saga about Disruption (school closings and openings, extraordinarily high teacher and principal turnover, destruction of neighborhood schools), Disenfranchisement (two board resignations in four years, two representatives chosen by the Board of Education, not the voters), and Drama (the most recent Board vacancy replacement appears to never have undergone the most basic background check which is mandatory for all Denver Public Schools – DPS – employees and volunteers.  The seat became vacant in February 2016 and remains vacant as of May 2.)”  [Ed. note: Kaplan provides an update regarding the vacant seat that was filled shortly after she posted her piece.]
Student Addiction to Cellphones
 And finally, yes, the author of this article in EDUCATION WEEKreferred to it as an “addiction” to cellphones and that may be too strong a characterization but it’s not far from the truth.  Steve Gardner is no neophyte to a classroom.  He’s a 28-year veteran educator, a high school English teacher in Montana, National Board Certified and was selected as teacher of the year in his state in 2008.  [Ed. note: That qualifies him as an expert on the subject in my mind.]  He’s not against the use of the devices in class for certain lessons and projects but recounts a number of stories about how teenagers simply cannot stay off them for even a short period of time.  “Yes, addiction is a strong word, but physically, mentally, and emotionally, a high percentage of teenagers are addicted to their cellphones.  We have incentives to promote attendance and graduation, but many teenagers need help,” he concludes descriptively, “because their bodies are in the classroom, but their minds are inside their cellphones.”  How many of you would concur with that sentiment?


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




Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google+ photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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


Connecting to %s