Ed News, Friday, May 13, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“The task of teaching has never been more complex and the expectations
that burden teachers are carried out in antiquated systems
that offer little support—and yet, teachers are finding success every day.” 

― Tucker Elliot*

The “Ed News’ Hits a Milestone

It’s not quite in the same league as Diane Ravitch’s blog (26 MILLION page views in just over 4 years) but Tuesday the “Ed News” blog (https://tigersteach.wordpress.com) reached a nice milestone with 2 thousand views in slightly more than 40 months.  The entire endeavor is aimed at supporting teachers, unions and the public schools of this nation and although it takes a major effort to produce each edition, I will keep doing it as long as you keep reading.  Thanks to all of you and don’t forget to spread the word about the “Ed News” to everyone who you think might enjoy and benefit from reading it.
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Opt Out Movement
Is the opt out movement spreading to other countries?  An op-ed intheguardian (UK) describes a father’s frustration with testing in Great Britain and his plan to take his seven-year-old son and eleven-year-old daughter out of school soon to protest what’s happening to education in his country.  “It’s not a decision any parent would take lightly, especially one who strongly believes in the importance of learning (and spends five mornings a week hurrying their children into school).  But it’s an act of protest against a government agenda that’s putting undue pressure on children,” he complains, “subjecting them to a narrow, joyless curriculum, shutting out parents’ democratic rights and, ultimately, forcing every school to become an academy, effectively putting all of state education into private, democratically unaccountable hands – or rather, pockets.”  [Ed. note: Is it just me or are his complaints very similar to what a lot of people are upset about in respect to what is taking place in this country?]
Narrow Ruling in Lederman Case
It wasn’t anywhere near the victory teachers were hoping for but it was still a win for veteran fourth-grade teacher Sheri Lederman in her suit challenging the legitimacy of the controversial teacher evaluation system in New York that made extensive use of student test scores.  A short item in The New York Times describes the decision.  Lederman, who was represented by her attorney husband in the suit,  was rated “effective” in 2012-13 only to see that downgraded to “ineffective” the following year.  She challenged the effectiveness of the entire evaluation system.  “Justice Roger D. McDonough of State Supreme Court in Albany,” the story reports, “vacated Ms. Lederman’s 2013-14 growth score in part because of the difficulty in measuring growth for students who already perform above grade level on state tests.  The court’s decision does not extend beyond Ms. Lederman, in a sense because she had so much company in her opposition to the evaluation system.”   The judge resisted throwing out the entire evaluation system since the State of New York is moving to replace it.                 Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, has a more lengthy report and analysis of the decision in the Lederman case.  She explains how Lederman’s suit was essentially a challenge to the controversial value-added models (VAMs) that many corporate “reformers” have been pushing for inclusion in teacher evaluation systems like the one adopted in New York.  “A judge has ruled that a New York teacher received an evaluation that was ‘arbitrary’ and ‘capricious”’ as part of an assessment system that was developed when John King, the new U.S. education secretary, was the New York State education commissioner,” Strauss notes.  “New York Supreme Court Judge Roger McDonough said in his decision that he could not rule beyond the individual case of fourth-grade teacher Sheri G. Lederman because regulations around the evaluation system have been changed, but he said she had proved that the controversial method that King developed and administered in New York had provided her with an unfair evaluation.  It is thought to be the first time a judge has made such a decision in a teacher evaluation case.”                Carol Burris, writing a short time later on Strauss’ column in The Washington Post, explains the impact of the ruling on the teaching profession.  “The Ledermans knew they were fighting against the testocracy that is destroying the schools that they love.  Across the country, students are laboring over unfair tests that are too long in order to produce enough ‘data’ for a teacher score.  News agencies have printed these invalid scores, humiliating teachers across the nation. . .  It is time for the madness to stop,” Burris demands.  “It is time for other teachers to stand up and legally challenge their scores.  And it is past time for taxpayers to stop these silly measures that cost them millions while enriching test companies and the research firms that produce the teacher scores.”               Daniel Katz, chair of the Department of Educational Studies at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, and a former high school English teacher, offers a scholarly analysis of the ruling in the Lederman case with a detailed dissection of the problem with using VAMs to evaluate teachers.  His comments appear on his Daniel Katz, Ph.D. blog.  “VAMs promise to remove some of the subjectivity of teacher evaluation by relying solely upon tests that large numbers of students take and by calculating how well a teacher’s students did all things considered – literally.  VAM formulas claim to account for differences in students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and home life,” he writes, “and only hold teachers accountable for students’ predicted performance.  Sounds great.  Trouble is that they don’t work.  The research base on VAMs continues to grow, but the evidence against them was strong enough that the American Statistical Association strongly cautioned against their use in individual and high stakes teacher evaluation in 2014.  So, of course, New York took its already VAM heavy evaluation system and doubled down hard on the standardized testing component because Governor Andrew Cuomo decided that the evaluations were finding too many teachers competent.”  
In a sign that harsh beliefs toward testing may be softening, the newly appointed chancellor of the New York State Regents, Dr. Betty Rosa, who happens to be a veteran educator, recently told a Manhattan forum of parents and community leaders that she believes that standardized testing can be “abusive” for special needs students and ELLs.  How refreshing.  A short article in the New York Daily News describes her feelings on the matter.  “Rosa, an outspoken critic of state tests,” it points out, “spoke of her own challenges as a youngster in city schools after living for several years in Puerto Rico.”              A public school teacher who wishes to remain anonymous offers his/her critique of the 4th grade English PARCC test in the Outrage on the Page blog hosted by Celia Oyler, a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University.  The anonymous educator has two major complaints about the assessment which he/she goes into detail to explain and provides 3 actual prompts from the spring, 2016, PARCC exam.  First, “The PARCC Test is Developmentally Inappropriate” and second, it “Does Not Assess What it Attempts to Assess.”               Diane Ravitch’s blog, which included a mention of the item above about the PARCC test, got an email from an official at PARCC telling her to remove certain “copyrighted material” from her post.  Celia Oyler basically got a cease and desist order from the same official demanding that she delete the post about the PARCC test from her blog and reveal the name of the teacher who wrote it. Ravitch goes on to describe how things got even worse than that when she tweeted her complaints about the exam.  You can read all about the tempest created, with copies of pertinent documents provided and links to other items by clicking here.  It’s a great illustration of what happens when certain toes get stepped on and a real eyeopener as to how far certain groups will go to protect their turf.  Interesting stuff!  If you get a chance, check out some of the comments added to Ravitch’s post.
Is Somebody Trying to Hide Something?
A little over 2 weeks ago Media Matters published an expose by Pam Vogel purporting to provide a long list of philanthropists and foundations that provided much of the funding behind the corporate education “reformers.”  Only problem according to Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, is thenumerous prominent omissions from the tally.  Names like Gates, Broad and Walton were missing along with groups like Teach for America and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).  Why might that be? In this instance it’s not just a case of “follow the money” but also “follow the politics.”  David Brock is the founder of Media Matters and is a campaign operative for Hillary Clinton’s current presidential run in addition to having close ties to Pres. Obama.  “But there are reasons why the Vogel report glaringly omits mention of Gates, Walton, Broad, DFER, and Ed Post, and it has to do with the White House– both who is there now,” Schneider asserts, “and who hopes to be there soon.  Obama and Clinton, respectively.  Both Democrats.”  Schneider proceeds to offer some intriguing reasons why those names and groups were missing from the original Media Matters story. 
Is “Grit” What Poor Students Really Need?
The idea of teaching “grit”  and “character” to students was bought to the fore by University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth and has been in vogue for a number of years.  Paul Tough, in his 2012 book “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character” (an ALOED Book Club selection several years ago) connects the two concepts to low-income students.  However, Ethan Ris, a doctoral candidate in education at Stanford University, now questions the concept of “grit” and offers an interesting history of how it developed among education “reformers.”  His comments appear on Valerie Strauss’ blog for The Washington Post and are headlined “The Problem With Teaching ‘Grit’ to Poor Kids?  They Already Have it.  Here’s What They Really Need.”  Ris references Tough’s book in his analysis and describes an interesting reversal Tough has made in his latest book out later this month.
Rich vs Poor
The proverbial divide between rich suburban school districts and poor urban ones is made clear by a teacher who works at a prime example of the latter.  The author is a member of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) and draws a stark contrastbetween his poor school and the rich one barely 10 miles away.  “Barely ten miles from where I teach, there is a brand new, 85 million dollar high school, fully staffed, equipped, and ready.  Each day its students arrive and are buoyed by all the support that money can buy.  If a student there has trouble learning something,” he relates, “no resource is spared to help them.  Their parents likely have advanced degrees, and have experienced academic success themselves, so even if they can’t help their kids, they can afford to hire tutors who can.  The students at this wealthy school have been steeped in the expectation of success since pre-school,” he continues, “and most of them will go on to college and high earning potential for the rest of their lives.  So why are my poor, urban students less deserving of opportunity than their wealthy, suburban neighbors?  The accident of birth that separated them by ten miles.”               A front-page story in yesterday’s L.A. Times takes a fascinating look at how two teens from  similar backgrounds took very divergent paths to college.  One attended Roosevelt High School (LAUSD) in Boyle Heights while the other matriculated at the very exclusive private Chadwick School on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  Their routes through high school and applying for colleges with help from campus counselors are chronicled in the Times’ article that illustrates the rich vs poor divide described in the item above.  “The well-documented ‘achievement gap’ in grades and graduation rates that separates rich and poor students at once affects and is affected by who gets into college,” the piece explains.  “And by and large, those on one side of the gap get richer and those on the other get poorer, because people with college degrees make an average of 1.67 times as much money each week as those who don’t, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  In the U.S., about 49% of high school graduates from low-income families enroll in college soon after receiving a diploma, compared with 80% of students from high-income families.”
The Teaching Profession
A new poll from the Center for Education Policy (CEP) of a representative sample of 3,328 public school teachers asked 67 questions last fall about their attitudes toward their profession, standards, assessments and teacher evaluations.  It found that educators are both concerned and frustrated with constantly changing policies, an over emphasis on student testing and the lack of a voice in decision-making.  You can peruse a Press Release (3 pages) summarizing the report or access the full piece (68 pages), titled “Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices.”  From the former: “The survey found a majority of teachers expressing satisfaction with their own school, but about half or more agreed with statements indicating diminished enthusiasm, high stress and a desire to leave the profession if they could get a higher-paying job.  Particularly striking are teachers’ views about their limited impact on certain decisions.”                 Jeff Bryant, on theEducation Opportunity NETWORK, comments on the CEP poll (see above) about teachers’ attitudes toward their profession and other surveys of how educators are feeling about their jobs.  He offers some suggestions for improving the low morale and poor working conditions of teachers and concludes:“The reality is teachers’ work conditions are inextricably connected to their ability to engage in quality instruction and to develop cultivating relationships with students.  Teachers know this, but people in charge won’t until they start listening to them.”               Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week and most people were singing the praises of educators for the difficult and important jobs they do.  Henry A. Giroux, Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, prolific blogger and author, takes that appreciation quite a bit farther.  He believes K-12 teachers and college and university professors may the last bulwarkagainst a number of problems facing our society today.  His extended essay for truthout is titled  “Why Teachers Matter in Dark Times.”  “For the most part, public school teachers and higher education faculty are a national treasure and may be one of the last defenses available to undermine a growing authoritarianism, pervasive racism, permanent war culture, widening inequality and debased notion of citizenship in US society.  They can’t solve these problems but they can educate a generation of students to address them.  Yet, public school teachers, in particular, are underpaid and overworked, and lack adequate resources,” he charges.  “In the end, they are unjustly blamed by right-wing billionaires and politicians for the plight of public schools.  In order to ensure their failure, schools in many cities, such as Detroit and Philadelphia, have been defunded by right-wing legislators.”  Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence for mentioning this item to the editor.
Charter Schools
As if Eva Moskowitz and her network of Success Academy Charter Schools weren’t in enough hot water as it is, comes this story of possible cheating on standardized tests and other problems.  POLITICO NEW YORK was able to obtain a series of internal reports that raise some serious questions about cheating, high staff turnover and toxic relationships among teachers due to a SA rating system.               After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005 decimating the New Orleans school system, officials decided to have the state take over control and now more than 90% of the students in the district attend charters.  The Louisiana legislature recently passed a bill that would return the 52 campuses the state administers back to the control of local school boards.  A story inThe Washington Post describes what’s taken place since the hurricane and what’s in store for the future for the first nearly all-charter district in the country.  “In the decade since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and swept away its public school system,”it begins, “the city has become a closely watched experiment in whether untethering schools from local politics could fix the problems that have long ailed urban education.”
Ed Tech
A new study by researchers at Michigan State University has found that 1-to-1 computer programs do help to increase student test scores and boosted their technology skills. EDUCATION WEEK’s“Digital Education” column explores the recent findings.  “One-to-one student computing was first introduced to K-12 schools in the United States in the late 1990’s,” it mentions.  “In 2002, Maine became the first state to launch a statewide program.  The trend has since gathered steam: In 2013 and 2014 alone, schools purchased more than 23 million laptops, tablets, and Chromebooks for use by students and teachers in the classroom (and sometimes at home.)  Generally, the goal is to enable teachers and software to deliver more personalized content to students, to boost students’ technology skills, and to empower children to do more complex and creative work.”  [Ed. note: For extra credit, can you find the veiled, though unidentified reference to the LAUSD’s disaster with “iPads-for-all” plan?]
A New Report and Some Interesting Statistics About ELLs
EDUCATION WEEK has a new special report (in English and Spanish) titled “Teaching America’s English Language Learners.”  An overview of it in the form of a Q & A can be found by clicking here.  “Nearly 3 in 4 American classrooms now includes at least one English-language learner, and these students make up roughly 1 in 10 public school students,” the article begins.  “While their numbers continue to rise quickly, the evidence on what works best to help non-native speakers become proficient in English—particularly the more formal academic language needed for school success—has been harder to come by.”   A sidebar to the story has links to the 6 separate chapters of the report. In addition, ED WEEK has a map and a graph with some interesting information about ELLs.  The map illustrates the percentage of ELLs by state.  California is “10% or higher” and the graph presents the “30 most common reported home languages of ELLs in the country.”  Spanish is number 1 at 76.5%, Arabic and Chinese are tied at number 2 with 2.2%.
Are Students Wasting Their Senior Year?
If you have ever taught high school seniors [Ed. note: I did for almost 26 years] you’ll be aware of high much the students tend to coast as graduation approaches.  A piece from THE HECHINGER REPORT takes a look at the phenomenon and at how some schools are tackling the problem.  High Tech High is one of the campuses featured for some innovative ideas about how to keep seniors’ noses to the grindstone right up until they have that diploma in hand.  “Policymakers are urging schools to put the 12th grade to better use, teaching students skills that many haven’t learned, as a way of improving college enrollment and college graduation.  Senior year in most schools,” the article suggests, “is ‘a laissez faire period that offers little challenge, motivation, or direction,’ according to the nonprofit group Jobs for the Future.”
Murky Water at Several South LA Schools
Concerns in other cities over problems in the water that plagued Flint, Michigan, have been highlighted in the “Ed News” with a particular focus on schools.   Now comes word that 5 elementary campuses in South L.A. and Watts are experiencing “murky” water emerging from the taps and local residents what answers and corrective actions taken.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Timesdescribes the situation.  “At Grape Street Elementary, meanwhile, plastic bags covered water fountains to discourage students from drinking the tap water.  The Watts school,” it notes, “with 660 pre-K to fifth-grade students, is awaiting the results of water quality tests.   Grape Street is one of five schools to raise concerns over water safety.  Administrators at Compton Avenue, Florence Griffith Joyner, 96th Street and Lovelia Flournoy elementary schools have also complained of murky tap water in recent weeks.”
Corporate “Reform” Debate Parts 2 & 3
Whitney Tilson, a wealthy hedge fund manager and important figure in the corporate “reform” movement, and Diane Ravitch engaged in an email debate about a number of key issues.  The April 26th edition of the “Ed News” highlighted their first encounter.  Whitney Tilson’s School Reform Blog now has part 2 of the dialogue in which they discuss who is considered the educational statue quo, charter schools and how tests should and shouldn’t be used.  (You can find a link to part 1 in the “Previous Posts” sidebar, at the beginning of Tilson’s latest post or by clicking here.)  Part 3 which delves into who is the underdog in the education debate, the tone of that discussion and the implications of the Vergara case can be found on Tilson’s blog by clicking here.
More bad news for Teach for America.  The San Francisco Unified School District has terminated its contract with TFA for the 2016-17 school year according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle “The city’s school board made clear this week that staffing some of the city’s neediest classrooms with recent college graduates who are on a two-year teaching stint and with just five weeks of training is no longer acceptable,” it notes.  “The board had been set to vote Tuesday night on a new contract to obtain 15 teachers for the upcoming school year — after reaching similar agreements each of the last eight years with the national nonprofit, which receives federal grants, private donations and fees from districts.  But before the vote, Superintendent Richard Carranza pulled the contract from consideration, acknowledging he didn’t have support despite a statewide teacher shortage and a local need to fill at least 500 teaching jobs by August.  The 15 teachers would have been placed in science, math, special education and bilingual education classrooms — the hardest positions to fill, Carranza said.”
How to Teach About the 2016 Election
Presidential elections often introduce some controversial and difficult issues.  2016 is no different and may even present some especially troublesome ideas and policies for students. A guest column in EDUCATION WEEK offers some strategies and resources teachers can use in middle and high school classes to discuss the critical question of immigration which can touch students in a very personal and uncomfortable way.  The piece includes a list of online resources that teachers and students can make use of as they research and become knowledgeable about these important issues.  
New School Accountability System Coming to California
The California State Board of Education is in the process of completing a new system for holding schools in the state accountable that it aims to implement in the 2017-18 school year.  Gone is the old reliance on the the AYP and API numbers and in their place are things like suspension rates, attendance and graduation figures.  Student test scores will likely still be part of the mix.  Additional criteria could be added when the board meets again in July according to a story in today’s L.A. Times.  “The changes come as California revamps its method for measuring schools, and how it intervenes in those deemed to be performing poorly,” it mentions.  “They follow years of reliance on the now-suspended Academic Performance Index, a measure that depended on test scores that, in the words of board member Bruce Holaday, make real estate agents so happy’ in its simplicity.  The index, many say, was far too simplistic and did not provide a cumulative glimpse of what happens inside schools.”
Feds Intervene in Transgender School Bathroom Issue
 Today the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education jointly issued a letter to all the nation’s public school districts requiring that they allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker room facilities that match their gender identity.  The “Rules for Engagement” column in EDUCATION WEEK has the details on this latest, sure to be controversial in some corners, action.  “Civil rights guidance from the agencies does not carry the force of law, school law experts have said, but it serves as a warning of possible enforcement actions,” it notes, “including loss of federal funding, for schools that run afoul of the agencies’ interpretation.”              Sure enough, [Ed. note: You could almost predict this] Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick quickly announced that his state would sacrifice federal funds rather than comply with the new federal guidelines on transgender bathroom access.  KEYE TV, the CBS affiliate in Austin, has the defiant news from Texas.                And there’s more.  The Gov. of Arkansas is suggesting districts in his state ignore the newly promulgated government regulations on restroom use.  A brief item in ED WEEK has the sad details.  I wonder which states are next?
“Is There a Teacher in the House?”
And finally, Diane Ravitch calls this segment from npr “a wonderful story.”  See if you agree. [Ed. note: Spoiler alert: you may want to have a box of tissue close at hand.]  As a plane was circling in an attempt to land in Melbourne, Australia, a call went out over the intercom that if a teacher was on board he/she was needed to assist with a young special needs boy who was in distress.  You can listen to the audio (3:56 minutes) and/or read the transcript of what took place on that plane by clicking here.  “This was not just me.  This was what teachers do.  This is what they do in their classrooms every day.  They problem solve,” Sophie Murphy, the teacher/hero of this story, unassumingly relates, “and they connect with children on a daily basis.  And any one of my colleagues and friends who are teachers would have done exactly the same.”  Where did I put that tissue?
*Tucker Elliot is a former teacher for the United States Department of Defense in Korea and Germany. He has visited schools on four continents and more than twenty countries as a volunteer or an invited speaker/lecturer.


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




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