Ed News, Tuesday, May 10, 2016


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

     “A good education helps us make sense of the world and find our way in it” 

― Mike RoseWhy School?

Charter Schools

Ever wonder how an urban charter school compares to a wealthy suburban traditional public school?  Well, you’re in luck since Emily Kaplan has been an elementary teacher in both settings plus she has the added bonus of working in an urban public school.  She’s the guest author on the EDUSHYSTER blog and compares her experiences in the first two in a piece titled “How Parental Power(lessness) Distinguishes Suburban Public Schools from Urban Charters.”                From our “charter school scandal of the day” comes TWO scandals.  The first is from Pensacola, Florida whereNewpoint Education Partners and 3 other companies have been indicted by a grand jury on charges of grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white collar crime relating to their management of 4 campuses in Pinellas County.  The Tampa Bay Times has the details. “In recent weeks as parents and volunteer board members at each of the schools have started to raise questions, Newpoint officials have disappeared from the scene,” it points out.  “No one at the schools or the school district has been able to reach them, leaving parents and others to sort out bank accounts and legal issues.”  Wonder where they went?  Wonder why?               In the second scandal, the North Carolina Attorney General has sued a charter company that literally took the money and ran.  The Kinston Charter Academy received $666,000 from the state and closed 10 days into the school year.  The Raleigh News & Observer has the grim details on this case.  “The suit, filed in Wake County Superior Court on Tuesday,” the article points out, “claims that school CEO Ozie L. Hall Jr. and Demyra McDonald-Hall, his wife and board chairwoman, illegally obtained and misused state money.  They knew the academy would not survive the 2013-14 school year, yet made imprudent or self-interested business transactions, and misled students by persuading them to enroll, the suit said.”  You’ll need to hold onto your hat when you hear that Mr. Hall, the former CEO of Kinston, is now RUNNING A DIFFERENT CHARTER and claims the suit is without merit.  The LAPD is investigating a case of possible student grade tampering at New West Charter in West L.A.  The University of Miami alerted officials after noticing some possible funny business on a transcript submitted to the school.  A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times reviews what’s happened so far.  “After the university alerted New West Charter in West Los Angeles about apparent grade tampering,” it reveals, “the charter filed a report in March with the LAPD suggesting that a student or students may have obtained a counselor’s password and logged into the school’s computer system several times to change the course grades of three students, two of whom are brothers.               A parent in New Jersey describes herdisappointing experiences when she enrolled her 5th grade son in a brand new middle school in her town that was part of the “highly touted”  North Star Academy Charter network.  Her observations appear courtesy of the parentingthecore blog.  “The idea of Charter school was appealing to me,” the mother relates.  “We had such a great experience his fourth grade year at East Orange Charter School and we wanted more.  North Star Academy was a nightmare and a decision I will always regret.”               A new report from Civic Enterprises, in partnership with several other organizations, titled “Building a Grad Nation”  has some very poor statistics comparing high school graduation rates between regular high schools and alternative, charter and virtual schools.  EDUCATION WEEK’s “High School and Beyond” column provides the disconcerting data.  “Charter, virtual, and alternative schools account for a disproportionate share of U.S. high schools with low graduation rates,” the story begins, “according to a study released Monday. Even though they enroll only a small slice of students, they account for more than half of the U.S. high schools that graduate 67 percent or less of their students in four years.”  You can access the full report (94 pages) titled “Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Raising High School Graduation Rates” by clicking here.               A report commissioned by UTLA takes a look at how much money charter schools bleed from traditional public schools in the LAUSD.  The study, produced by MGT of America Consulting with analysis and a separate policy brief provided by In the Public Interest, was presented to the board at their meeting today.  The L.A. Times was given an advanced copy and has a story about it in today’s paper.  “The study calculates that services to charters encroach on tax money the district intended to use for traditional schools,” the article notes, “adding up to at least $18.1 million a year and growing.”  A follow-up item appears on the Times’ website this evening with reaction to the report from district officials and a local leader of the California Charter Schools Association about how much charter schools were costing the LAUSD (see above).  


As more and more students take their standardized tests on computers there’s a growing concern about the increase in havingcomputers grade students’ written responses on those exams.  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to Leonie Haimson, co-founder of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, who looks at the issue in a piece titled “Should You Trust A Computer To Grade Your Child’s Writing on Common Core Tests?”  “The issue of computer scoring — and the seeming reluctance of the states and companies involved in the PARCC and SBAC consortia to be open with parents about this — is further evidence that the ostensible goal of the Common Core standards to encourage the development of critical thinking and advanced skills  is a mirage,  Haimson charges.  “Instead, the primary objective of Bill Gates and many of those promoting the Common Core and allied exams is to standardize both instruction and assessment and to outsource them to reductionist algorithms and machines, in the effort to make them more “efficient.’”                Texas was one of a number of states experiencing standardized testing problems this year and yet the state Education Commissioner was going to proceed with reporting the results anyway  (see Friday’s “Ed News”).  A scathing editorial in the San Antonio Express-News called for a moratorium on the assessments until the problems were totally cleared up.  “There are inherent problems in any massive project, but this is no simple undertaking.  The STAAR test — the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness — is high stakes,”  it maintains.  “The scores impact schools, teachers and students.  Failing grades can cause students in the fifth and eighth grades to be held back, and high school students who don’t pass three of the five end-of-course exams will not get a diploma.  Teachers’ evaluations will be based in part on how well students perform on the STAAR test.”
Election 2016
Donald Trump, presumptive Republican presidential nominee, may be appearing in court some time after the election in November related to a class-action suit filed against his Trump University.  “Citing concern Friday that a ‘media frenzy’ would ensue if a trial were held before the November presidential election, the judge overseeing a class-action lawsuit against Donald Trump over a real estate ‘university’ accused of defrauding students scheduled a late November date for the years-old litigation. . . .  U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel in San Diego,” the story in Saturday’s L.A. Times reports, “said his top priority was making sure jurors would be able to evaluate the case and render a verdict based strictly on evidence rather than on influences related to events surrounding the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.  Plaintiffs claim that they paid thousands of dollars for a program that was worthless, something Trump denies.”                Valerie Strauss uses her blog in The Washington Post to point out a few“misstatements” offered by Donald Trump regarding K-12 education policy.  She points specifically to things he’s said about American students’ rankings on international assessments, doing away with the Common Core, per pupil funding as compared to other countries and local versus federal control of education .  “This isn’t the first time that I, or other writers, have pointed out Tramp’s incorrect and exaggerated claims about education,” she exasperatingly concludes.  “Something tells me it won’t be the last.”               Now that the 2016 presidential race is looking more and more like a battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, speculation has turned to who they might pick as their vice presidential candidates and, if elected, who could be selected for their cabinet.  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK features a survey of some education “insiders” from the Whiteboard Advisors group who offer their expertise on who the respective candidates might pick to head the Department of Education.  Some of their choices may, or may not, surprise (shock?) you.  “The survey of roughly 50 to 75 current and former White House and U.S. Department of Education leaders, current and former congressional staff members, state education officials, and think tank leaders,” the article explains, “also found that a slight majority of them believe that over the next two years, more states will stop participating in two consortia (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) that were originally funded by Washington and create tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards.”  A copy of the full survey (27 pages), titled “Education Insider: Assessment Trends, Higher Education, and the Presidential Campaigns,” is included at the end of the piece.   It covers a number of topics besides possible future secretaries of Education.
The Teaching Profession
It’s the second week of May and the school year is beginning to wind down.  Justin Minkel, a 15-year veteran elementary school teacher in Arkansas and teacher of the year in his state in 2007, offers some practical advice on “How to End the School Year Right” in a “First Person” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  “So as the days get warmer, the kids get crazier, and we are overcome with that impending sense of nostalgia, panic, contentment, and bone-deep relief that the end of the year brings,” he explains, “here is my countdown checklist for a good home stretch.  Teachers, I’d love to hear your additions to the list.”  Minkel starts with some concrete suggestions on what to do “One Month Out,” “One Week Out” and the “Last Day of School.”  Check out the comments at the end and maybe add a few of your own.               Have you heard of the Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE)?  In a nutshell, it’s a non-traditional graduate school of education created by three charter chains in New York City to prepare teachers to work in charter schools.  It has no affiliation with any college or university and all the course work seems to be aimed at one goal: raise student test scores.  Peggy Robinson, on her Peg with Pen blog, reprints the testimony of Amy Achtermann, an elementary school teacher, who is against certifying the RGSE before the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE). Achtermann has a principal who graduated from the RGSE and relates what now takes place at her school: “No more do we hear things like let’s do what is best for children or how can we make our teaching more engaging or how can we provide the services needed to help these students be successful.  Gone were the years we dedicated to inquiry and deeper thinking.  These were all replaced by thinking about test scores and drill and practice. . . .  These are my concerns,” she continues, “and why I feel so strongly that Relay is not a solution for struggling students.  My students are not just a test score or a set of data to collect.  They are human beings who have differing needs and abilities.”  Robinson adds her two cents worth at the end to express her disgust at the approval of RGSE by the CCHE.               A recent edition of the “Ed News” highlighted the announcement of the National Teacher of the Year.  The winner, Jahana Hayes, a veteran history teacher from Connecticut, and a number of other exemplary educators were feted at the White House last Tuesday.  A piece in the “Teaching Now” column in EDUCATION WEEK has details about the celebration.  “Hayes plans to use her year-long tour of schools across the country to call for better recruitment of minority teachers and to promote service learning,”  it mentions.  “In his speech, Obama praised Hayes’ commitment to her students and called for higher teacher pay to elevate the teaching profession.”  Hear!  Hear!  I’ll drink to that last proposal.              When you first started teaching, what are some things you wish you’d known?  That’s the topic again tackled by Larry Ferlazzo inED WEEK in the second of his three-part series on the issue (he includes a link to part 1).  In this segment, Ferlazzo solicits advice from 4 veteran educators.  Here’s just one example of the suggestions Ferlazzo’s contributors offer:“Model, model, model.  Never ask learners to do something they haven’t seen you do first.  Demonstrate and think aloud as you go, show students how to approach learning tasks–how to craft their writing, how to read with expression, how to turn facts into interesting sentences.  Let your demonstrations fuel the fire of new learning.”  That’s great advice.  Whether you’re a veteran or new to the profession, be sure to check out all the other ideas.                Anthony Cody, on hisLIVING in DIALOGUE blog, received a note from a reader of his column about a test this person was required to take upon applying for a position with the Downey USD that claimed it could predict the impact of future teachers on student achievement.  Are you kidding me?  The candidate, who Cody chose not to identify by name, describes the test in detail and his thoughts about the entire experience.  Cody adds his disgusted reactions to the whole crazy idea.  “School districts that turn their hiring process over to systems like this will spend many thousands of dollars to make themselves ‘data-driven’.  In so doing, they are likely to make choices influenced by factors that may have little bearing on that which makes teachers most effective,” Cody fumes.  “Just as many of the most important aspects of student learning are not measured by tests, the qualities that make a great teacher cannot be captured by a test.”  You have to watch the video Cody includes from the company that created the test, TeacherMatch, that explains the development of their inventory. Unbelievable!!!  Check out the comments added at the end of this piece.  One respondent simply wrote “Chilling.”
Finland Does it Again 
And finally, the education system in Finland has been held up, time and again, as an exemplar of how to do the job right.  Fulbright Scholar William Doyle spent a semester last year as a lecturer in rural Finland and enrolled his son in a Finnish elementary school while he was working in the country.  His observations and suggestions go beyond “Finland does it better” to providing some concrete ideas about HOW the U.S. might learn from this Nordic educational powerhouse. They appear courtesy of Valerie Strauss’ column in The Washington Post.  “Finland’s education system continues to be an inspiration to teachers around the world,” he raves.  “If you asked them which system comes closest to getting childhood education right, many would automatically say ‘Finland.’”  Doyle lists a few of his ideas for improving education in this country.  Here’s just one example: “Don’t waste time and money on mass standardized testing of children.  Instead, test students correctly on a daily basis, with assessments and observations designed by their own classroom teachers and used for diagnostic purposes to improve learning.”


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



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