Ed News, Friday, May 20, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

        “So what indeed! The lesson I myself learned over and over again when teaching at the college 
          and then the prison was the uselessness of information to most people, except as entertainment. 
     If facts weren’t funny or scary, or couldn’t make you rich, the heck with them.” 
Common Core
ALOED member Larry Lawrence alerted the “Ed News” about thisdocumentary (39:08 minutes) on the Common Core State Standards.  It’s titled “BUILDING THE MACHINE” and appears onYouTube.  If you are not sure you want to view the full film you can check out the official trailer (2:51 minutes) first.  Larry calls the film “one of the best analyses of the Common Core I’ve seen.”
Protecting Transgender Students in California
The rights and protection of transgender people have become a key issue in the country.  The “Education Watch” column in Wednesday’s L.A. Times has a discussion, in the form of a Q & A, that looks at how those rights and policies are being protected fortransgender students in California and the LAUSD.               On Monday the Times ran a front-page story about a 9-year old transgender girl and her experiences as a 3rd grader at her LAUSD elementary school in West L.A.  You can find that item by clicking here.  This is one example of what “T” (the name given to protect her privacy) goes through: “One friend asked T if she was a boy or a girl.  T said she was a girl.  ‘But you were a boy last year,’ the friend said.  ‘I’m a transgender girl,’ T replied.  The friend asked what that meant.   T’s response?  ‘Google it.’   The next day, the friend came back and said that she and her grandmother had done just that.  Now they both know what transgender means, she said.”               The article about the 9-year-old transgender girl (see above) prompted one letter-to-the editor in yesterday’s paper.  “The article addresses how Los Angeles Unified School District staffers had to be trained on how to deal with T; it appears the adults are handling this well.  Unfortunately,” the author writes, “it also appears there are all sorts of politicians, such as those in North Carolina, who also need training.”
Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee
When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly in December, Senate Republicans immediately announced that no matter who Pres. Obama nominated they would not hold hearings on the appointment until the next president was chosen.  When Obama picked Judge Merrick Garland in March GOP Senate leaders reiterated their position of not holding hearings.  Despite all that posturing, are their any clues as to Garland’s positions on K-12 issues?  An interesting piece in EDUCATION WEEK reveals that Judge Garland has so far left a very limited track record.  He did clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan for a short time in the late 70s.  Therein can be mined a few clues about Garland’s education positions.  The high court’s 1978-79 term had some key education cases.  “But anyone looking for clues about what Garland—President Barack Obama’s pick to succeed the late Antonin Scalia on the high court—was thinking during that year, or what advice he gave Brennan, will find the record frustratingly bare.  While some justices preserve their law clerks’ memos for posterity, Brennan,” it reveals, “mostly didn’t. . . .  Still, just looking at the cases that a law clerk encounters during his or her year serving a justice provides some sense of perspective.”
Battle for School Funding Continues With Possible Dire Consequences
Tuesday’s “Ed News” described some budget battles in Chicago, Detroit and Pennsylvania that were reaching crisis proportions.  Things are getting so bad that one district in Erie, PA, is contemplating closing all its high schools.  Peter Greene, on hisCURMUDGUCATION blog, has the incomprehensible details.  His commentary is titled “PA: Erie and the End of Public School.”   “Erie, Pennsylvania– not exactly a teeming metropolis, but not exactly a one horse town, either– is considering closing all of its high schools.  Yes, at a meeting [Wednesday] afternoon, the leaders of the Erie School District will meet to decide if it might be more doable to just send all of Erie’s teenagers to neighboring school districts.  The district is looking at a $4.3 million gap, and like many districts in PA, it has no possible response except to cut, ‘including eliminating sports, extracurricular activities, art and music programs, district libraries, and the district’s police department.’  Plus cutting various administrative positions out the wazoo.”               You can add North Carolina to the infamous list of cities/states (see above and there are too many more) that are starving their public schools to death by failing to adequately fund them.  Stuart Egan, author of the CAFFEINATED RAGE blog, is a National Board Certified high school English teacher in the Tar Heel State and he chronicles the damage done by a Republican governor and legislature to the public schools in North Carolina.  “When the GOP won control of both houses in the North Carolina General Assembly in the elections of 2010, it was the first time that the Republicans had that sort of power since 1896.  Add to that the election of Pat McCrory as governor in 2012, and the GOP has been able to run through multiple pieces of legislation that have literally changed a once progressive state into one of regression,”  he complains.  “From the Voter ID law to HB2 to fast tracking fracking to neglecting coal ash pools, the powers that-now-be have furthered an agenda that has simply been exclusionary, discriminatory, and narrow-minded.  And nowhere is that more evident than the treatment of public education.”  Egan provides a litany of education policies that have severely degraded teaching and learning in his state.   Texas has a convoluted funding systemfor its K-12 schools that no one seems to be able to figure out, least of all the legislature that doesn’t really want to provide adequate financial support to its schools.  An article in The New York Times attempts to sort out all the competing arguments.   A recent state supreme court ruling only seems to have made matters more complicated.  “The [GOP] lieutenant governor and many Republicans in the state Legislature seized on the ruling to push for increasing ‘school choice’ in the form of expanded charter schools and voucher programs.  Outnumbered Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, said 2017 should bring a major effort to strengthen traditional public schools — though that will be a tough sell.”  [Ed. note: Why is “strengthening traditional public schools” such “a tough sell” in Texas?  Good question.  Your guess is as good as mine!]
Election 2016
The author of this commentary in THINKPROGRESS believes that Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton haschanged the conversation about teachers for the better.  “But[Clinton’s] interest in bolstering the teaching profession,” the piece explains, “by urging that states work on increasing teacher pay, improving recruitment, and provide more funding for public schools is the part of her education platform that represents a bigger change in how Democrats talk about teachers.”
Teacher Evaluations
 Have you been trying to keep up with the latest news on teacher evaluations?  It’s not easy, is it?  Things seem to be in constant flux.  The “Teacher Beat” column in EDUCATION WEEK features two recent reports that attempt to bring readers up-to-date on the latest happenings on the teacher evaluation front.  The author of the article offers a very brief overview of each one.  “There’s a lot more in both reports, so check them both out,” he urges.  “But above all else, these papers try to make it clear that evaluation is only going to be as good as the quality of the observations and feedback that are offered, and the time and attention that both administrators and teachers put into it. The new systems pose significant logistical challenges—as well as opportunities to really improve instruction for the better.  The bottom line: Teacher evaluation isn’t something you can do purely for compliance’s sake, on a Friday afternoon, or on the cheap—as had been the practice for so long.”  The piece includes links to both reports.
Questioning Some Test Questions is Becoming Personal
The May 17th and 20th editions of the “Ed News” highlighted thebattle between the PARCC CEO and various education writers over the former’s attempt to silence a number of bloggers over their carrying of a column by an anonymous 4th grade teacher who had some major concerns about the company’s 4th grade English/Language Arts assessments. Steven Singer, on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, picks up the debate with a focus on the nondisclosure agreements many teachers are required to sign regarding discussion of the exams in an essay titled “The First Rule of Test Club Is We Don’t Talk About Test Club.”  “We know the federally mandated high stakes assessments public school children must take are poorly constructed, culturally and racially biased, and ultimately unfair.  But if we speak up in public with any kind of specificity,” he suggests, “we’re threatened with steep fines.  And if we write about it on-line, those articles will be taken down, censored or otherwise disappeared.”               Jonathan Pelto, writing on The Progressive website, frames the attempt by PARCC officials to censor various bloggers for publishing a piece by an anonymous 4th grade teacher who was critical of the company’s English exam (see above), as a free speech issue.  He titles his essay “Beware: The Education Reform Industry is Watching You!”  He reviews how the whole story developed and who are the key characters involved.  “PARCC’s attack on citizen journalists and public school advocates is a perfect case study of the corporatization of public education.  As the corporate elite extend their influence over the country’s institutions and elected officials,”Pelto charges, “they threaten legal action to silence those who push back.  But citizen journalists and education advocates refuse to be silenced.”               Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” column inThe Washington Post, joined the chorus of critics of PARCC’s actions against a number of bloggers for posting certain copyrighted items from the company’s 4th grade English assessment. She, too,reviews the story and mentions a number of the people involved.  In addition, she reprints letters and other correspondence that are germane to the case.  “The Common Core testing group called PARCC Inc. has been waging an aggressive campaign,” Strauss reminds readers, “to take down several dozen social media references to the PARCC test being administered to students this spring — items that include questions from the exam and some that don’t.”
New California History/Social Studies Framework
A very brief item in EDUCATION WEEK reports that the Instructional Quality Commission will consider forwarding a new proposed California History/Social Studies Framework to the State Board of Education this week.  “Debate about the plan over the past decade has been painstaking and emotional,”  it notes, “peppered with testimony from ethnic groups who want something different in how their people are presented in textbooks and discussed in classrooms.”
School Desegregation Finally Ordered
How long does it take to desegregate a school district?  If you’re a rural town in Mississippi the answer is over 50 years!  A federal court ordered the integration of the middle and high schools in theCleveland, Mississippi, School District in a case that dates back to July, 1965, according to an article in The New York Times.  “A Justice Department motion filed in 2011 illustrated the inequities between the poor and well-off in Cleveland, a Mississippi Delta town with a population of about 12,000.  Before 1969,” it mentions,  “schools on the west side of the railroad tracks that run through Cleveland were white and segregated by law.  Schools on the east side of the tracks were originally black.”   Tuesday was the 62nd anniversary of the landmark Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court case that declared the separate but equal doctrine that had been the law of the land since 1896 to be unconstitutional.  Given the recent court order to desegregate the middle and high schools in Cleveland, Mississippi (see above), THE HECHINGER REPORT reviews the history of desegregation efforts over the past 6 decades.  A recent Government Accountability Office report (highlighted in Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News”) found that the percentage of Black and Latino students attending segregated schools has actually increased.  “What is more alarming is that the Cleveland School District is likely not alone in its maintenance of separate educational systems,” the story points out.  “Many students still attend segregated schools, and research shows that racial segregation is on the rise, accelerating most rapidly in the South.”
Charter Schools
Yesterday’s L.A. Times has an op-ed from Marguerite Roza, the Director of the “Edunomics” Lab at Georgetown University, who tries to make a case for how charters are not detrimental to the LAUSD.  She seems to gloss over the whole idea of economies of scale and the unique fixed costs of schools.  “While LAUSD has lost revenue in recent years, those funds were for the students it no longer serves.  And if a system educates fewer students,” she assumes, “shouldn’t it operate on a smaller budget?  Some will say that economies of scale work such that the district can’t be expected to operate with proportionately fewer dollars when it loses students.  But that argument doesn’t hold water.  There are 14,000 or so districts in this country that can and do operate at all different sizes.  And most are much smaller than the urban districts perpetually in fiscal trouble.”  Take a 5% drop in student enrollment (her hypothetical figure). Schools still need to retain a custodian, bus driver, librarian, nurse and other staff (one can’t reduce one of those by 5%) and heat and air conditioning don’t get reduced by the percentage enrollment drop.  Those are known as “fixed costs” in economics and are also a familiar concept in business.  Roza also tries to make the case that smaller districts (she mentions Lindsay Unified) do just fine with their size.  However, she seems to assume their enrollments remain static so they aren’t faced with enrollment (and revenue) drops.  That’s not even like comparing apples to oranges.  That’s more like comparing apples to cows!  It’s a bit disingenuous to compare large, urban, often poor districts that are loosing enrollment to charters, to small, suburban and often wealthier districts with static or growing enrollments.               Talk about auspicious timing, The NPE (Network for Public Education) posted a brand new video (3:48 minutes) on Tuesday titled “The Impact of Charters on Neighborhood Schools. Simply Told” that makes the case for how choice, vouchers and charters are doing major damage to the traditional public school system.   Thanks again to ALOED member Larry Lawrence for alerting the “Ed News” to this latest item.               Additional research that refutes Roza’s contention (see first item under this headline) comes from the NATIONAL CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF PRIVATIZATION IN EDUCATION (NCSPE) out of TEACHERS COLLEGE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY.  The group posted a paper (50 pages) on Tuesday titled “The Effect of Charter Competition on Unionized District Revenues and Resource Allocation” by Jason B. Cook, doctoral student in economics at Cornell University.  In his “Conclusions” Cook writes (p. 31) “I find that charter competition directly decreases TPSD [traditional public school district] revenues in excess of the mechanical loss of state resources due to lower enrollment.”  He finds other areas of impact on public school budgets as well.  You are encouraged to read a one page review of the full paper titled “The Impact of Charter Schools on District School Budgets” by the NCSPE.   “At once crisply written, grounded in careful statistical analysis, and buttressed with a rich appendix” it concludes, “Cook’s study promises to be a significant addition to the literature on charter schools and their impact on school districts.”  After that, set aside some time to read the full report.  [Ed. suggestion: Read Roza’s op-ed, view the video and read the short review and Cook’s paper  and see what you think.  What else do you have to do?]
Does Education Reform Include Improving School Infrastructure?
And finally, Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, raises an interesting question.  Amid all the discussion and debate over education “reform” there’s a glaring lack of focus on improving campus infrastructure.  What does he mean by that?  Allocating enough funds to improve classroom facilities and environment including heating and air conditioning, bathrooms, playgrounds, transportation, school grounds and, most importantly, increasing pay and benefits of school personnel.  Bryant describes terrible conditions in cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Boston.  “In some school districts, the physical state of the buildings has gotten so bad,” he mentions, “community groups organize to take on the maintenance tasks governments won’t provide. In one Kansas community, a high school student resorted to a crowdfunding campaign to raise enough money to fix his school’s bathroom.”


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



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