Ed News, Friday, June 10, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

   “‎Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, 
let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, 
           and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: 
            To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; 
               and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.” 

― Barack Obama

New  Federal Report on Schools
The U.S. Dept. of Education’s (DoE) Civil Rights Data Collection survey released some new information about student suspension rates according to a story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times. The article focused on elevated suspension rates for Black children compared to other racial and ethnic groups.  The surprising aspect of the data, at least to the editor of the “Ed News” is that those disparities began as early as PRESCHOOL.  [Ed. note: As a long time secondary school teacher I wasn’t aware that suspensions even occurred at the pre-K level. Silly, uninformed me!]  The survey covered over 50 million students in over 95,000 schools.  “Across all grades, 2.8 million students were suspended once or more.  Black students,” the article notes, “were nearly four times as likely to be suspended and almost twice as likely to be expelled as white students.  Students with disabilities were also twice as likely to be suspended as general education students.”  In addition to the statistics this piece provides, it also features an interesting study conducted by a social psychologist at Stanford who attempts to answer the question why are there such major differences in school discipline?              EDUCATION WEEK delves deeper into the new federal report, going beyond just suspension rates (see above) to look at other aspects of how disadvantaged students fare in their school experience.  “Black and Latino students are still more likely to be suspended,” the article reports, “more likely to attend schools with high concentrations of inexperienced teachers, and less likely to have access to rigorous and advanced coursework than their white peers, according to the data released [Tuesday] by the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights.”               You can find the full report (13 pages) titled “2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection: A First Look” by clicking here.             Another piece fromED WEEK, this one in the “Rules for Engagement” column, highlights the new report from the federal DoE (see first item above) but focuses on the problem of chronic absenteeism(missing 15 days or more of school per year). “About 13 percent of all U.S. students—more than 6 million—missed at least 15 days of school in the 2013-14 school year,”  the article reveals, “according to data released this week as part of the Education Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection. The information comes from a new question added to a biennial survey of nearly every school and district in the country that covers a variety of factors, including discipline and access to rigorous academic courses.”  According to the data, Asian students had the lowest rate of chronic absenteeism at 6.9%, while Native American pupils were the highest at 22.2%.  The story lists some additional findings and offers some ways schools can address the issue.
Election 2016
Candidates backed by the California Charter School Association(CCSA) won a number of preliminary victories in Tuesday’s Presidential Primary Election in the Golden State.  The LA SCHOOL REPORT has the details along with some negative reactions to the results from LAUSD board Pres. Steve Zimmer.   In the 43rd Assembly race highlighted in Tuesday’s “Ed News,” pro-charter Democrat Laura Friedman finished first with 32% of the vote compared to second place finisher, fellow Democrat and charter opponent Ardy Kassakhian with 24%.  Under the state’s new top two primary system, she will face off against Kassakhian in the November general election.  “LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer railed Wednesday against the tactics used by the CCSA Advocates in the hotly contested 43rd Assembly District race,” the article points out, “and compared its spending in that race, at least $1.2 million, to special interest spending from oil and tobacco industries, which lobby for deregulation.”  At the end of this article is a list of other races that feature candidates backed by the CCSA.                 Diane Ravitch wrote back in March on theHUFFPOST POLITICS blog that she would not endorse a candidate for president during the primaries.  Now that both parties have their presumptive nominees, she indicates on her Diane Ravitch’s blog why she is going to support Hillary Clinton “Readers will say that she is too close to the people who are promoting charters, high-stakes testing, and the destructive policies of the Bush-Obama administrations. That is true.  I have fought with all my strength against these terrible policies.  I will continue to do so,” she argues, “with redoubled effort.  I will do my best to get a one-on-one meeting with Hillary Clinton and to convey what we are fighting for: the improvement of public schools, not their privatization or monetization.  The strengthening of the teaching profession, not its elimination.  We want for all children what we want for our own.”
Independent Education Journalism
Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, continues hisreview of independent education journalism in light of a recent editorial in the L.A. Times opposing the meddling of billionaire philanthropists in creating education policy (highlighted in the previous two editions of the “Ed News).  In this installment he wonders whether transparency and disclosure of journalistic funding sources is enough to protect against undue influence in reporters stories.  He raises a number of questions in the course of his latest article:: “But even if the funding source had been disclosed, would this be adequate protection from undue influence?  Can reporters and news outlets – and the Education Writers Association — be completely independent when they depend on donations from corporate philanthropies for their salaries and activities?  Does the fact that these donations are publicly disclosed dissolve these concerns?”  The discussion/debate is ongoing.
Corporate “Reform”
Diane Ravitch’s blog has a piece titled “The Attack on Public Education in California” in which she chronicles the corporate “reform” attempt to charterize and privatize the public school system in the state.  She traces the effort back to when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor in 2003-11.  “Public education in California,” she begins, “is under siege by people and organizations who want to privatize the schools, remove them from democratic control, and hand them over to the charter industry.”               “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  The charter industry in California is relying on that old adage to get its way.  Diane Ravitch’s blog describes how Rocketship Charterswanted to open a new campus in Northern California.  They were turned down by the local school board so they turned to the Contra Costa County board which also rejected their petition.  Did that deter them?  No, they appealed to the State Board of Education which overruled the previous decisions and granted the charter’s request.  VICTORY!  “Another illustration of California’s willingness to sacrifice public schools and local control for the sake of the charter industry,” Ravitch complains.  “Once again, the 1% get their way, regardless of the will of the local community and its elected board.”
Rating Schools Under ESSA
The Every Student Succeeds Act that was signed into law by Pres. Obama in December changes the way schools are rated.  Under the previous NCLB law, schools were ranked based on a single number.  ESSA abandons that approach and expands the number of criteria for rating a school.  An article in Tuesday’s L.A. Times (it was posted on the paper’s website on May 27) has the details and zeroes in on how California is handling the changes.  The State Board of Education recently “voted on the components of its school measurement system: They include graduation rates, suspension rates, scores on upcoming science tests, chronic absenteeism and the rate at which students who are still learning English are becoming proficient,” the story notes.  “Board members are also trying to make the system mesh with another school measurement and funding system, the Local Control Funding Formula.”
Common Core and Testing
More discouraging news for the Common Core State Standards.  A new study from ACT Inc. finds that the English Language Arts and math standards do NOT prepare students for college and career as they were touted to be.  Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog forThe Washington Post reports on the results described in the report.  “The 2016 ACT National Curriculum Survey® looks at educational practices and college and career expectations,” she writes, “with results taken from surveys completed by thousands of K-12 teachers and college instructors in English and writing, math, reading, and science.  This year, ACT asked workforce supervisors and employees to complete the survey too to see what specifically is being taught in these subjects at each grade level and what material is deemed to be important for college and career readiness.”              Diane Ravitch’s blog received an anonymous note from a highly-placed member of the Florida Dept. of Education who was concerned about some matters regarding standardized testing and the Common Core that the department is keeping from the public.  “The Florida Department of Education,”  the person writes, “is days away from releasing students test results in grades 3-10 and weeks away from grading schools based upon a battery of tests that lack transparency and alignment to the resources available to teachers in Florida schools.”  The information provided pertains specifically to Florida but one has to wonder just what other states it impacts.               A whistle-blower has emerged with some rather startling charges about the newly redesigned SAT.  Manuel Alfaro is a former executive director of the College Board which owns the SAT.  He was hired by David Coleman, President of the College Board, in 2013.  Starting in the middle of May Alfaro has been posting entries on Linkedin with some VERY enlightening insights into the creation and implementation of the recently revised SAT that debuted in March.  Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, reprints a number of his comments with some brief commentary appended.              In a column titled “The SAT–Worse Than You Think,” Peter Greene references the SAT whistle-blower (see above) and the Mercedes Schneider’s post about him.  Greene adds some additional items and his always trenchant comments.  “It looked like a shaky product was even shakier.  You never want to see them make the sausage, but apparently SAT sausage is being made with even worse parts of unspeakable animals than we suspected,” Greene bemoans.  “And now a whistle blower has stepped forward to add to the story, and what we’re learning is that as bad as things seemed with the SAT, they were actually much worse.”
School Funding Woefully Inadequate
Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK,plunges into the problem of terribly inadequate school funding.  His commentary is titled “Mindless Underfunding of Schools Continues, Doing Irreparable Harm to Kids.”  Bryant mentions situations in Chicago, Kansas, City, Philadelphia, Detroit and several other areas where funding shortfalls have reached critical levels.  “As states wrap up their budget seasons, many lawmakers are proving they simply aren’t up to the task of adequately funding schools.  State spending, which accounts for about half of most public school districts’ budgets,” he explains, “has been in steep decline for a number of years in most states, leaving most local taxing authorities, which provide about the other half, unable to keep up unless the populace is wealthy enough to withstand higher property taxes. (Federal spending accounts for less than 10 percent of school funding, historically.)”
The Teaching Profession
And finally, need a morale booster as this school year ends and everyone moves into summer break?  A non-educator husband writes a piece in praise of his teacher-wife who he describes as “A Very Good Teacher.”  His comments appear on the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) website.  “My wife gives much more of her time than she gets paid to give.  She can go home at 2:25 but usually stays until well past 6 PM,” he relates.  “Dinner is always late at our house.  On some evenings she will wolf down dinner and go back to be with her students at one of their dances.  She doesn’t get paid for the dances and no one ever says ‘Thank You’.  She doesn’t have to go.  She wants to go and be part of their lives.”             Does teacher experience have any correlation to student achievement?  If you listen to the corporate “reformers,” the answer is “no,” which is why they promote  programs like Teach for America, have such disdain for veteran educators and advocate against things like tenure and seniority in hiring.  neaTODAYfeatures a new study from The Learning Policy Institute that looks into the issue.  Put simply, “The verdict: experience matters – even in the second decade of teaching and beyond.”  You can read the full report (72 pages) titled “Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness?  A Review of the Research” by clicking here.               “What are the best types of grading practices?” is the topic of this week’s “Classroom Q & A With Larry Ferlazzo” forEDUCATION WEEK.  It includes an audio discussion (it runs 10:11 minutes despite showing it lasting 6:45 minutes) with a college professor from Virginia and a vice principal and teacher from British Columbia, Canada.  In addition, Ferlazzo solicits comments on the subject from several other experts.  


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




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