Ed News, Friday, June 3, 2016 Edition

The ED NEWS

             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

           
 
Tuesday is the California Presidential Primary Election. Polls will be open
from 7 am to 8 pm.  Be sure to vote if you are eligible and have not
already cast an absentee ballot. 
 
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          “Our progress as a nation can be not swifter than our progress in education.” 

― John F. Kennedy

Sexual Misconduct Payouts Cost LAUSD Millions
A damning front-page story in last Wednesday’s L.A. Timesreveals how the LAUSD has paid out over $300 million to settle a series of sexual misconduct cases and that’s in just the last 4 years.  What may be even worse about the article is the allegation that the district has been less then totally vigilant regarding previous reports of inappropriate behavior from employees that later were charged with more serious offenses.  “The nation’s second-largest school system has been plagued in recent years by a series of cases in which officials missed indications of teacher misconduct, and in some instances, continued to employ teachers who were under a cloud, or ignored or overlooked direct complaints. . . .  LAUSD officials acknowledge past mistakes,” the extensive piece recounts, “but insist they have taken strong measures and now have some of the most extensive policies for preventing and uncovering abuse.  But a pattern has emerged: The district announces measures to make students safer, only to discover a new weakness in the system or to find that policies were not followed.  And predators keep surfacing.”
 
School Funding
One reason why some many school districts are starved for funds has to do with the disparate way local schools are financed.  Many still rely on the property tax which favors those districts in areas of high housing values while those in poor neighborhoods struggle.  NPR recently presented a series of stories exploring the differences in funding.  Pro Publica has a Q & A with Cory Turner who led the NPR team that researched and reported the original stories.  It includes an audio segment with the full interview (26:26 minutes) and a brief article with highlights of the conversation.  
 
The Vergara Case
The widely watched Vergara v California case is back in the news.  A group of students who sued the state over teacher tenure and firing practices initially won their case in 2014.  In April of this year the ruling was overturned on appeal.  On Tuesday of last week the plaintiffs asked the California Supreme Court to take up the case.  A story in last Thursday’s L.A. Times reviews the timeline in the case and discusses a bill in the legislature that would attempt to modify the tenure and firing practices in the state.  “This month, Democratic Assembly Member Sue Bonilla introduced AB 934,” it explains, “a bill that would change the process for earning tenure and firing teachers.  Currently, two years after starting work, teachers in California can earn tenure or be dismissed.  Under the new bill, teachers who have logged three years on the job could earn tenure, while teachers who end their third year and are evaluated as ineffective would go into a peer-review process.  After a fourth year as a probationary teacher, that person would either be fired or granted tenure.”
 
Grit
Paul Thomas of Furman University writes the becoming radical blog.  He has some major concerns about how some “edujournalists” have promoted the concept of “grit” and believes the whole bandwagon for the concept is overblown and based on poor research and reporting.  “So why did ‘grit, and[Angela] Duckworth, garner so much media and educational momentum?  One reason.” he maintains, “is the utter failure of edujournalism; another reason is that the ‘grit’ narrative speaks to and perpetuates racist and classist beliefs among the U.S. public; and a final reason is that Duckworth’s genius’ grant as well as her TedX talk provided financial and celebrity cover for her shoddy work.”
 
Charter Schools
The California legislature’s Joint Audit Committee voted last week to conduct an audit of the Alliance College-Ready Schools, the biggest charter chain in the LAUSD, after it engaged in a year-long battle with UTLA to prevent its teachers from forming a union.  The audit would look into “whether Alliance charter schools used money intended for instruction on ‘purposes unrelated to student support and learning’.”  In addition, auditors would “determine whether Alliance gave confidential student information to third-party organizations, and for a detailed review of how much money the charter group has spent on attorneys, consultants and materials to fend off unionization.”  Details regarding these latest developments appear in a story in last Friday’s L.A. Times.              Things are not all peaches and cream at a charter school in Connecticut.  Hundreds of Black and Latino students walked out in protest of racial insensitivity and lack of diversity at the Achievement First Armistad Charter High School in New Haven, according to a story in the New Haven Independent.  “[Students] charged that a racially insensitive climate had led most of the black teachers to leave,” it reports, “and to indiscriminate discipline.  The protests brought into the open complaints students and parents have had about the racial climate in the school.”               A bipartisan group of California legislators is calling for a state audit of K12 Inc’s online Virtual Academy charters in the state after it was revealed that the highly profitable company has a lot of poorly performing students.  An investigative series in the San Jose Mercury News turned up all kinds of problems with the way the schools are run.  This latest story also appears in the Mercury News.  “Published last month, the two-part series revealed that the Wall Street-traded company reaps tens of millions of dollars in state funding while graduating fewer than half of the students enrolled in its high schools,” this latest article reviews.  “It also found that teachers at K12’s California Virtual Academies have been asked to inflate attendance and enrollment records used to determine how much state funding the schools receive.”              Many corporate “reformers” like to sell choice, vouchers and charter schools as a civil rights issue to Black and Latino families.  Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, takes exception to that ploy in a piece he titles “The Charter School Swindle–Selling Segregation to Blacks and Latinos.”  He argues that using this tactic is highly deceptive.  Why?  “Because charter schools DO increase segregation,” Singer suggests.  “They DO suspend children of color at higher rates than traditional public schools.  And they DO achieve academic outcomes for their students that are generally either comparable to traditional public schools or – in many cases – much worse.”               There is no doubt that charter schools can help certain students.  Unfortunately, there is quite a bit ofcollateral damage as charters siphon off more and more students from the traditional public schools.  A thoughtful essay on theCAPITAL & MAIN website explores a few winners but also way too many losers in a series of vignettes focusing on parents. students and other educators like Steve Zimmer, Occidental College professor and president of the LAUSD school board {and recent panelist at an ALOED Educational Film Series screening).  “Interviews with educators, charter school proponents and opponents, and a review of respected academic studies,” the piece mentions, “show that some highly motivated students benefit from charters while others do worse; that the growth of charters places a huge financial burden on traditional public schools that send them into a tailspin and that charters may increase racial and economic segregation.  Furthermore, the percentage of total LAUSD charter school students with severe disabilities is less than one-third the percentage of students with disabilities in LAUSD public schools.”
 
TFA/ED WEEK Connection?
Is Teach for America getting some free, under the radar, public relations from EDUCATION WEEK?  That’s the contention of former TFAer, Gary Rubinstein, on his Gary Rubinstein’s blog.  He noticed a number of Tweets, which he reprint, from ED WEEK, promoting the “good” work TFA is doing.  He then discovered that they were really paid ads (check the fine print) touting the organization.  [Ed. note: Sounds like dirty pool to me.]  Rubinstein titles his exposé “TFA’s Latest PR Stunt.”  “The idea that Teach For America is actually paying money for these sorts of ads with their taxpayer grants is something I really find offensive,” he fumes.  “If TFA wants better PR, they need to earn it, not buy it.”
 
The Teaching Profession
Good news for the teachers in the La Cañada Unified School District.  They reached a tentative agreement with the district for a 4.25% pay increase retroactive to the start of this school year.  A brief item in last Friday’s L.A. Times describes the settlement.  If ratified by the school board at their next regularly scheduled meeting on June 14, the highest teacher salary would rise to $98,725 from the current $90,720.               Two members of the Education & Society Program at the Aspen Institute offer a commentary titled “Four Ways to Make Teacher Evaluations Meaningful.”   They offer some concrete suggestions for improving teacher evaluations.  Their piece appears in THE HECHINGER REPORT and features their full report (24 pages, link included) titled “Teacher Evaluation and Support Systems, A Roadmap for Improvement.”  “By refocusing on teacher growth and development — the driving purpose behind teacher evaluation — and taking stock of what works in their own state and in others around the country,” the authors conclude their article, “leaders can make their systems more responsive, more trustworthy, and more impactful on teacher learning and student achievement.”               The standardized testing season is pretty much over for this year but in all likelihood those assessments will be back 11 months from now.  As a teacher, it’s not too early to prepare for that eventuality.  Allison Riddle, is the 2014 Utah Teacher of the Year and a 5th grade teacher in North Salt Lake.  She offers “3 Ways to Make Testing Season Less Exhausting” and she knows of what she speaks.  Her suggestions come courtesy of the “Teacher-Leader Voices” column in EDUCATION WEEK.  “As educators,” she maintains, “we can improve our approach to standardized testing windows by viewing test prep as an integral part of the school experience all year.”
 
Election 2016
Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, fears K-12 education issues may get ignored by the Democratic Party as it attempts to unite behind presumptive candidate Hillary Clinton.  ” K-12 education has been largely ignored by progressives – even ‘bold’ ones,” he worries.  “Republicans regularly assail public education, promote vouchers and attack teacher unions.  But the Obama administration has been almost as bad, promoting charter schools, high stakes testing and Teach For America.  School closures have continued to ravage African American and Latino communities, and those responsible are just as likely to be Democrats as Republicans.  As a result, many ‘progressives”’ keep quiet about K12 education, because we need to preserve party unity.  Teacher unions have joined in this, by granting early endorsements to President Obama in spite of his policies, and an early endorsement of Clinton with little evidence of clear commitments on these issues.”
 
New LAUSD Supt.
Since assuming her position as LAUSD superintendent in January,Michelle King has been conducting a “listen and learn” tour at various campuses as she works to put together a plan for the nation’s second largest school district.  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times describes her latest effort at Nightingale Middle School.  “King addressed about 150 parents, community members and district staff shortly after 8:10 a.m.,” it mentions, “and talked about her priorities: giving decision-making power to schools and local districts, ensuring that parents and students can choose between schools, access to safe campuses, a rigorous curriculum, and making sure specialized programs are available from kindergarten through high school.”
 
Opt-Out Gaining Strength in California
Over 50% of junior at two Palo Alto high schools opted out of recent SBAC standardized tests last month according to the Palo Alto online website.  Those figures were similar to ones recorded at the same school last year.  “For the second year in a row, both Palo Alto and Gunn high schools,: it reports, “failed to meet the government’s required participation rates for the new standardized test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment, with about half of the junior classes choosing to opt out. . . .  California schools are required by federal law to meet a 95 percent participation rate.  Schools with federal Title I status, meaning they have high percentages of low-income students, could face losing federal funding if they don’t meet the participation threshold.  Paly and Gunn are not Title I schools.”
 
Parents Battle Over Control of 20th St. Elementary
Often parent-trigger battles over control of a particular campus can get messy.  Witness what’s taking place at 20th St. Elementary(LAUSD).  A piece in Sunday’s L.A. Times presents the different camps and what is at stake.  “About 30 mothers gathered in front of the Los Angeles campus [last] Friday morning with signs in English and Spanish,” it relates, “protesting a potential agreement that would give some control of school operations to the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit that specializes in improving low-performing schools, often in under-resourced neighborhoods.  A different group of parents threatened to sue the Los Angeles Unified School District in March, after the district rejected a petition that 58% of parents at the school signed to invoke the state’s ‘parent trigger law,’ which allows parents to take control of low-performing schools.”
 
Common Core
Is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, prime supporters of the Common Core State Standards, starting to get cold feet about them?  Recently Susan Desmond-Hellman, Gates Foundation CEO issued an open letter with future plans for the organization (see the May 24th edition of the “Ed News”) and Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, noticed a glaring omission–no new grants have been announced by the foundation so far this year.  “Not since CCSS was officially released in June 2010 has Bill Gates’ foundation gone five months without shoveling CCSS cash in some organization’s direction,” she points out.  “I don’t think he has the brass to say publicly that he has grown tired of CCSS, but when I see that his foundation has gone for five months without issuing a single new CCSS grant, I’m thinking that is the case no matter what his CEO officially broadcasts.”              An editorial in yesterday’s L.A. Times reacts to the policy statement issued by Gates Foundation CEO Susan Desmond-Hellman (see above) and recounts a number of failed education initiatives that emanated from the organization.  “Philanthropists are not generally education experts, and even if they hire scholars and experts, public officials shouldn’t be allowing them to set the policy agenda for the nation’s public schools.  The Gates experience,” it concludes, “teaches once again that educational silver bullets are in short supply and that some educational trends live only a little longer than mayflies.”  [Ed. note: Wow, is the L.A. Times finally getting religion?]  Diane Ravitch calls this “a remarkable editorial. . . .The headline tells a story we did not expect to read on this newspaper’s editorial page.”              NANCY BAILEY’S EDUCATION WEBSITE quickly reacts to the Times editorial (see above).  Her response can be summed up thusly: “Gee, what took them so long!”  She writes: “The LA Times Editorial criticizes the Gates Foundation for their poor philanthropic use of billions of dollars spent on school reforms. . . .  They just now figured this all out? . . . .  This article is right in what it prints, but it leaves a whole lot out.  It means nothing.  Most of us already know all it says.  It says nothing new.”  [Ed. note: Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence for forwarding it.]              Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, comments on both the original letter from Susan Desmond-Hellman and the L.A. Times editorial (see both above).  “This takes us back to Desmond-Hellmann’s new open letter, where she is, once again, saying that the foundation made mistakes and is learning from them.  Admitting mistakes and taking away real lessons is, of course, part of the stuff of life,” Strauss explains in conclusion.  “If that is what the foundation is doing, fine.  But it keeps jumping into education projects and driving education policy — whether or not it makes sense to educators — simply because it seems like it makes sense to the foundation.  Inevitably, it doesn’t work out as planned, and we hear somebody from the foundation confessing the work was harder than they thought.  How long will the foundation keep this cycle going?”
 
Graduation Rates Continue to Rise
And finally, EDUCATION WEEK features a new report from the U.S. Dept. of Education that shows nationwide graduation rates for the class of 2014 (latest figures) set a new record of 82%.  Iowa was top ranked at 91% followed by Nebraska at 90%.  The District of Columbia ranked lowest at 61%.  California?  81%.  “Graduation rates are on the rise in most states.  From 2013 to 2014,” the article indicates, “rates increased in 35 states, while holding steady in nine states and decreasing in six.”  Be sure to click on the “Interactive Map” sidebar for data by state and subgroup and/or the “PDF” button in the “Data Download” sidebar for a detailed table.

                                                                                                           http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://alumni.oxy.edu/s/956/images/editor/iModules%2520Tiger.jpg&imgrefurl=http://alumni.oxy.edu/s/956/index.aspx?pgid=254&h=535&w=589&tbnid=HpSKtombb69zFM:&zoom=1&docid=b__GuALUiVQjxM&hl=en&ei=eoUbVY37HJXhoASho4KgDg&tbm=isch&ved=0CCYQMygJMAk

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

               

 

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