Ed News, Tuesday, June 7, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                       This weekend is Alumni Weekend at Occidental College when class reunions will be held on campus.  It just so happens to be my 45th reunion.
                 Inline image 1
           “education is one thing and instruction, however worthy, necessary 
              and incidentally or monetarily educative, another.” 

― Kingsley AmisThe King’s English: A Guide to Modern Usage

State Chastises LAUSD for Improper Spending
State officials have directed he LAUSD to alter how it spends additional funds that are supposed to go to students with the highest needs.  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times chronicles thislatest problem for the district.  “The heart of the dispute is how to spend increased funding,” it explains, “meant to help students from low-income families, those learning English and students who are not living with their parents.  About 84% of L.A. students fall into this category, according to district documents submitted to the state. . . .  The district moved money into its general fund that should have been spent specifically on low-income students, English learners or foster children.  The district interpretation was based on how spending for disabled students should be accounted for.”
Teach for America
Teach for America is undergoing another makeover.  This one marks how many in the organization’s over 25-year existence?  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, takes a look at this latest iteration in a piece titled “The New Teach for America–Now With Less ‘Teach.'”  “TFA still pitches itself as the group that is going to close the achievement gap,” he complains, “(despite the utter absence of any evidence at all that they can do it, or that they even know how to do it).  But they have amped up what was always one of their avenues of appeal– those two years in a classroom make a super resume builder.  They are, of course, not lying.  The ed reform industry (as well as the test manufacturing business and the textbook company sales force) is just packed with people calling themselves ‘former teachers’ based on two years of TFAing it up in a charter somewhere.”
The Teaching Profession
“Burnout” is a serious problem in some professions including teaching.  Symptoms include, but are not limited to, things like chronic fatigue, disillusionment, stress and lack of motivation.  A former teacher and administrator and current member of the Connecticut State Department of Education offers an article titled “Rx for Teacher Burnout.”  He lists a number of symptoms in the form of a questionnaire that you can take and his prescription for teacher burnout has to do with self-actualization and assuming a leadership role.  His essay appears as part of the “Teacher in a Strange Land” column for EDUCATION WEEK.              “What Do Beginning Teachers Really Need?” is the title of a piece for the “CTQ Collaboratory” column in ED WEEK.  It’s penned by Cindi Rigsbee, a National Board Certified, 37-year veteran North Carolina educator who was selected in 2009 as North Carolina Teacher of the Year and who was also a finalist for National Teacher of the Year.  She is currently working as a Regional Education Facilitator for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction providing support for new teachers.  In that role Rigsbee sent out a questionnaire to 100 teachers who were in their first 3 years in the classroom asking them what information did they wish they had when they were first starting out in the profession.  She offers the results of that survey (the answers may or may not surprise you) and other insights for new teachers.  “Research shows it has the most impact on teacher retention, and it’s two simple words: administrative support,”Rigsbee maintains. “A quick internet search will provide numerous articles and dissertations on the subject of principal support for teachers, but I don’t need the written word to tell me what I’ve seen for myself through the years.  School administrators can impact the retention of their beginning teachers by offering support.”             The teaching technique called “personalized learning” seems to have acquired two separate, and vastly different, definitions.  One provided by the corporate “reformers” and the other by classroom teachers and veteran educators.  The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) solicited its over 70,000 members for their individual definitions of the concept.  The group reprinted a number of responses on their website.  Here’s just one example: “Personalized learning means I don’t tell my students what to think. I teach my students HOW to think and I allow them to form their own ideas.”  “If a picture is worth a thousand words,” be sure not to miss the two photos illustrating the two differentdefinitions of personalized learning at the very end of this item.
Charter Schools
Bill Koch, one of the billionaire Koch brothers, wanted to start his own school so in 2011 he poured some of his millions into creating the Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida.  Since then, everything has been just hunky-dory, right?  WRONG!  An extended exposé on the myPalmBeachPost website details problems with high turnover, sexism, waste, fraud and favoritism to name just a few.  “But curtained behind the wooded grounds and low-slung buildings at Military Trail and Community Drive say past and present employees,” it reveals, “exists a working environment led by President and CEO Robert C. Parsons that’s fraught with firings, high turnover, accusations of sexual harassment and an emphasis tilting from academics to athletics.”               Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of the signing into law of the very first charter bill in the U.S.  It happened in Minnesota and the “Charters & Choice” column in EDUCATION WEEK marks the milestone with an interview with the former Democratic state senator who authored that original bill.  “The charter movement has since expanded to include 43 states plus the District of Columbia,”  the reporter of the piece mentions by way of introduction, “and over 2.5 million students—or about 5 percent of the total K-12 public student population.”               From the charter school “scandal-of-the-day” file Part 1 comes this tale of woe courtesy of  the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  It chronicles the largest case of charter school theft in Georgia history.  Atlanta’s Latin Academy Charter School  was closed by its board at the end of this school year after charges of theft, fraud  and mismanagement to the tune of over $600,000 were leveled against the campus’ founder, Christopher Clemons.  “Latin Academy, with its all-star board and experienced leader, seemed on track to thrive.  But behind that facade of apparent success,”  the article relates, “the school spent millions of tax dollars with little public scrutiny and operated with a lack of public input foreign to many traditional public schools.”  The details of Latin Academy’s demise are tragic but all too common when the lack of oversight and transparency, characteristics the charter movement touts, are allowed to flourish.               Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, digs into thebackground of  Chis Clemons, the founder of Atlanta’s Latin Academy Charter (see scandal above).  While he was working on his MBA at MIT he was featured  in an article about his interest in running a multi-million dollar school organization.  Wonder why he was so interested in all that money?  “In September 2007, when Clemons was enrolled at MIT for his MBA,” Schneider writes, “and featured in [a] News@MITSloan article, entitled, ‘Back to School for Schools,’ no one would have guessed that less than a decade later, the same guy would be facing charges for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money entrusted to him for the education of hundreds of Georgia students.”               The charter school “scandal-of-the-day” file, Part 2, hits much closer to home (see part 1 above).  The L.A. Daily News uncovered the fact that the principal of the El Camino Real Charter High School (LAUSD), David Fehte, has a second job as a scout for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.  Nothing wrong with that.  Unfortunately, the paper also uncovered the fact that he was charging airfare, hotels and meals while performing that other job to the school’s credit card.  That’s a no-no!   “The Daily News obtained El Camino’s credit card statements and receipts for 2014 and 2015 under the California Public Records Act,” the story reveals.  “The school is run by a nonprofit organization and receives about $32 million in government funds annually, accounting for 94 percent of its revenue. Officials at the Los Angeles Unified School District, which oversees charters in its boundaries, notified El Camino last fall that its administrators had violated the school’s own financial policies. Without naming him, the district criticized Fehte’s use of the card for personal expenses, and said he only reimbursed El Camino a handful of times.”                 Here’s another point of contention between the LAUSD and one of its charter schools–district policy that requires random student searches for weapons with hand-held wands.  The Animo Jackie Robinson High School, a Green Dot charter in South Los Angeles, has resisted the district’s edict and is surprisingly joined by UTLA, the LAUSD’s teachers union.  A piece in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes the dispute.  “L.A. Unified officials say the district’s wanding policy has been in place since the early 1990s,”  it points out, “when a fatal shooting at Fairfax High School spurred then-Supt. Sid Thompson to start random searches as a pilot program at all middle and high schools.   In October, Los Angeles Unified administrators revised the district’s wanding policy to clearly state that charter schools on district property must conduct random daily searches, with metal detectors but they argue that the revision was simply reinforcing a requirement that had always existed.”               WOW!  How is this for a conflict-of-interest?  It seems the Walton Family Foundation helps fund the Illinois State Charter School Commission which has oversight over charters in the state.  Sounds OK, so far.  However, when the Chicago Public Schools recommended closing 2 failing charters in the district that were also funded by the Walton Foundation, the State Commission refused.  The Chicago Sun-Times provides the sordid details.  “Even in the complex history of public education in Chicago, the situation involving the two charters, the Chicago Public Schools, the charter commission and the Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation is unusual,” the article notes.  [Ed. note: It all sounds rather incestuous, no?]               Surprise!  Surprise!  Another story from the Sun-Times reveals that it’s the traditional neighborhood public schools that are boosting Chicago’s high school graduation rates, NOT the city’s charters.  The piece features the latest findings from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.  “Chicago’s open enrollment high schools were the driving force behind a steady rise in graduation rates citywide over the past 15 years,”  it reports.  “In fact, new findings by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research say graduation rates at schools that have to accept anyone have just about caught up to publicly funded, privately managed charter schools.”  You can read the Executive Summary (12 pages) of the full report titled “High School Graduation Rates Through Two Decades of District Change: The Influence of Policies, Data Records and Demographic Shifts” byclicking here.  [Ed. note: The full version of the report will be available online June 13th.]               
Election 2016
The NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION (NPE) has formulated a petition to the Democratic Party’s Platform Committee with a number of policy initiatives regarding education.  You can review the proposals and sign the petition, if you wish, by clicking here.  “The Democratic Party has the opportunity to lead a national discussion on the challenges our K-12 schools are facing and the roadblocks to that success,” it reads,  “It is imperative that the platform spell out a clear, well-supported, well-informed plan for K-12 education policy.  We expect that the Democratic Party will distinguish itself from the Republican Party and support a pro-public education agenda.”  [Ed. note: I added my name to the list.]              A VERY expensive battle over charter schools played out in the primary election race today for California’s 43rd Assembly District which covers Glendale,Burbank, La Cañada, La Crescenta, East Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silverlake and Atwater Village.  One pro-charter Democratic contender, Laura Friedman, is heavily backed by the California Charter School Association to the tune of over $1.2 million and another Democrat, who is an opponent of charters, Ardy Kassakhian, has the support of the California Teaches Association (almost $84,000).  The LA SCHOOL REPORT details the battle that’s splitting the Democratic party.               What happens when a 9-year old third grader wears a Donald Trump “Make American Great Again” hat to school?  Well, it certainly draws the attention of a few of the boy’s schoolmates and the school’s administration.  How both groups handled the situation is described in a story in today’s L.A. Times.  “According to the school district’s dress code,”  it relates, “hats can be worn only outside the classroom.  But if the hat causes ‘safety concerns, draws undue attention to the wearer or tends to detract from the educational process,’ it will be prohibited.” Since today is Presidential Primary Election day in California, the story makes for some most appropriate reading.  The article includes a short video (1:32 minutes) that has the young man explaining his position on the issue.
BATs Call For A  White House Conference to Address Key Education Issues
The Bad Ass Teachers Association (BATs) issued a press release calling for a White House conference on education and equity.  “Our organization stands firmly against the serious harm being perpetrated to public education by both corporate privatization and right wing fiscal starvation policies,”  it states.  “The current political rhetoric strengthens our resolve to reclaim the rights of all children to a free public education.”  They would like the President to organize a comprehensive gathering of teachers and other educational experts to publicize and seek solutions to the problems facing traditional public education today. The press release includes a formal proposal of what they’d like to see accomplished and a very interesting list of people and organizations they do NOT want  invited to participate, i.e., Teach for America, the Eli Broad Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, members of ALEC and Democrats for Education Reform and on and on.  The list is a who’s who of opponents of traditional public education and is worth reading just to see who is included.  
Corporate “Reform”
3 letters appear in Saturday’s L.A. Times reacting to the paper’s rather surprising editorial on Thursday chastising corporate philanthropists, especially Bill Gates, for meddling in education policy where they really don’t belong.  The first one comes from a veteran teacher who is getting ready to retire after 52 years (!) in the classroom.  “Nobody, including The Times, listens to the teachers, the professionals who know what is needed to improve education. . . .  Unfortunately, almost all change is mandated from top down,”he writes,  “by people who are threatened by the creativity of the teachers.  They don’t trust us.  Too many administrators and philanthropists like Bill Gates, who ‘are generally not education experts,’ seem to think that one size fits all and that they have the quick and easy solution to the problems of education.  They don’t have the answer, but there is one: Listen to the teachers — and get out of their way.”  After over half a century in the classroom, that is, as we all know, sound advice.  Are the powers-that-be listening?             Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, is a little taken aback at the L.A. Times editorial (see above and the June 3rd edition of the “Ed News) that takes Bill Gates and other philanthropists to task for imposing their millions of dollars and failed ideas on education reform.  Cody suggests the Times shares as much blame (kind of like the pot calling the kettle black) as the targets of their editorial and further questions the paper’s journalistic integrity.  “How can the LA Times chastise the Gates Foundation – and their disciple John Deasy, without acknowledging their own embrace of Gatesian reforms?   The LA Times did not just report on the issue – they created their very own VAM system,” Cody charges, “and criticized Los Angeles Unified for not using such a system to weed out ‘bad teachers’ and reward those identified as ‘effective.’  They were active advocates, instrumental in the war on teachers that has been so devastating to morale over the past decade.”              On his blog, Cody follows up the above article with an even more withering attack questioning the independent journalism of the L.A. Times.  He goes after the paper’s controversial decision in 2010 to publish individual teachers’ value-added scores BY NAME.  In addition, he “follows the money” to discover who, exactly, was funding the effort.  No surprise as he comes up with some of the usual corporate “reform” culprits.               Does it appear that many corporate “reformers” seem to ignore research as they push their agendas for choice, charters, vouchers and privatization?  A new study from the William T. Grant Foundation may bear that idea out.  An article on theLIVING in DIALOGUE blog features the study titled “The Push and Pull of Research: Lessons From a Multi-Site Study of Research Use in Education Policy,” and includes a link to it.
Interview With U.S. Sec. of Education John B. King Jr.
One of the authors of EDUCATION WEEK’S “Politics K-12” blog sat down for a Q & A with the Sec. of Education John King about the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and other topics.  In response to a question about teacher shortages, the author summarized King’s answer this way:“King said the reasons behind a potential teacher shortage varies. Some states just aren’t paying teachers very competitively and will need to raise salaries if they want to attract educators.  And there are specific subject-area shortages, including for educators who can work with English-language learners, or in STEM subjects.   King touted the president’s ‘Best Job in the World’ initiative to improve the teaching profession and help recruit and retain educators in high-needs schools.  (Again, King didn’t say this, but it’s really unlikely the proposal will be funded this year.)  He also noted that the department is beginning to do work on teacher diversity.  And he stressed retention. ‘There are decisions school districts can make around the supports that they put in place that can make a real difference,’ in that area, he said.”
School Funding
“How Little is Too Little Money for Schools?” is the question addressed in a story in THE HECHINGER REPORT.  It explores how draconian state budget cuts for schools in Kansas City, Kansas, are impacting learning and achievement.  Adequate school funding has been an issue for years and this piece brings the situation into the open.  “Teachers in financially strapped urban districts are used to saving money where they can,” the article suggests.  “In that respect, Kansas City, where in 2014 nearly 90 percent of the students were poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, is not unusual.  But since 2009, according to David Smith, the district’s chief of communications and government relations, the district has had to cut more than $50 million from its already tight budget because of state cutbacks, threatening progress in a district that had seen some significant and surprising gains for its students.”
Characteristics of Top Principals
And finally, the “District Dossier” column in EDUCATION WEEKconducts a conversation with Benjamin Fenton, co-founder and chief strategy officer of the New York based non-profit group New Leaders, which aims to recruit and train administrators to work in poor and minority schools.  The organization recently published their first book “Breakthrough Principals: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Stronger Schools” that is co-authored by Fenton.  In the interview he discusses some of the “Traits of Top Principals” which just so happens to be the title of the piece and describes the groups’ concept of a transformational leadership framework.  “The framework lays out five big areas of focus for any school leader: learning and teaching; school culture; talent management; planning and operations; and a personal leadership category,”Fenton explains.  “[It] gives them a sense of the key practices in each of those areas that we saw consistently in place in high-performing schools.  It also shows what those practices look like across the stages of the school’s development.  The framework lets a principal and her team identify where there is a need for focus…and then focus their time and energies in that place.”


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