Ed News, Tuesday, June 14, 2016


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

    “Respect is not the equivalent to ‘liking’ a student or teacher; it is the ability to have 
      a high regard for the role of another. In order to receive respect, we should demonstrate it first…” 

― Tanya R. LivermanMemoirs of an Educarer: An Inspiration for Education

Who Owns the Public Schools?
Julie Vassilatos, is a public school parent and blogger in Chicago.  She writes the Chicago Public Fools (that’s not a misprint) blog and she’s fed up with politicians who impose drastic cuts on schools and who close community campuses and with billionaire philanthropists who drain the local schools of resources in order to open charters.  What has particularly gotten under her skin is the latest proposed Chicago Public School (CPS) budget put forward by Mayor Rahn Emmanuel.  After years of severe cuts the mayor has proposed an additional cut of 39% for the coming school year.  Vassilatos tries to “rally the troops” by reminding them that the parents own the local schools and shouldn’t have to put up with these constant financial assaults on what belongs to them.  “Friends, readers, CPS parents, public school parents of the nation, hear this.  Your school is yours.  Our schools belong to us,’ she concludes.  “Do not forget it.  We have some power we need to retake here.  We have a district to reclaim.”  Her words may be specific to Chicago but they relate to any public school system under attack from the powers-that-be.  Diane Ravitch calls this “one of the best posts ever.”               Parents in Kansas are apparently taking Julie Vassilatos’ battle cry to heart as they fight to get adequate funding for their schools after years of severe budget cuts needed to offset steep tax cuts championed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.  A story in The New York Times describes the conflict taking place in the Sunflower State.  The situation has gotten so toxic the state supreme court had to intervene to save the public schools from having to shut down.  “The ruling exacerbated tensions over budgets enacted by Mr. Brownback and the Legislature,”  the article notes, “that education officials say have led school districts to eliminate programs, lay off staff members or even shorten the school week. . . . As in other states, the effect of reduced funding varies from one district to another.  In poorer districts like Kansas City and Wichita, students are crammed into deteriorating buildings with bloated class sizes.  One district in southeast Kansas, facing a budget shortfall, recently pared its school week to four days.”
This bit of research could certainly put the kibosh to lots of people pushing technology in the classroom.  A recent study from MIT found that students who used computers and the internet in class did substantially worse on their exams.  Interestingly, the study was conducted among 726 cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the findings were featured in a story in the theguardian.  The article is titled “Students Who Use Digital Devices in Class ‘Perform Worse in Exams.”  It’s subtitled “Study finds use of computers by students in lectures and seminars has ‘substantial negative effect’ on performance.”  “But even for the cream of the US army’s future crop, the lure of the digital world appears to have been too much,” the article suggests, “and exam performance after a full course of studying economics was lower among those in classes allowed to use devices. . . .  The new research is distinctive because it analyzed the results of students in classroom conditions rather than as part of an artificial experiment.”  You can find the full report (44 pages) titled “The Impact of Computer Usage on Academic Performance: Evidence From a Randomized Trial at the United States Military Academy” by clicking here.
Whatever Happened to Arne Duncan?
Remember Pres. Obama’s long-serving Sec. of Education?  Ever wonder what became of him after working in that job for almost 7 years?  Well, look no further.  Peter Greene, on his always informative and entertaining CURMUDGUCATION website, has a piece titled “Thought Leader Duncan Has a New Job.”  Duncan recently became a member of the board of directors of a company called Pluralsign which began in 2004 as a classroom training business but quickly morphed into one that provides online training.  A press release issued upon Duncan’s appointment to the board of directors describes him as “one of the most notable and highly-regarded thought leaders of twenty-first century education.”  Greene was rather non-plussed by that description.  “Arne Duncan– Highly Regarded Thought Leader.  Holy smokes.  I mean, holy frickin’ smokes,” Greene sputters indignantly.  “Duncan was not even a particularly apt Thought Sayer, and I can’t remember a single time that Duncan stood up to speak and folks from all across the nation fell in behind him, excited by his vision and his leaderliness.  Not to be mean, but I’m not sure that Duncan ever proved to be a Thought Haver.  Is there a Duncan policy that didn’t come from somewhere else?  Anything?  Test-and-punish, charter schools, data mining, Common Core– pretty sure that someone else did the thinking on those.”
LGBT Students
A “Making the Grade” PBS NewsHour video segment (8:49 minutes) by an EDUCATION WEEK correspondent, that aired last week,  profiles the experiences of a transgender girl who works to bring changes to her Kentucky high school.  “The battle over bathroom access for transgender students is heating up” a very brief written introduction to the film explains.  “The U.S. departments of Justice and Education issued a directive last month for the nation’s schools to allow students access to the restrooms, locker rooms, and sex-segregated activities that match their gender identities.  Stuck in the middle of the legal battle are transgender students, who say that their needs at school extend well beyond bathrooms.”                In light of the horrific massacre at an Orlando gay night club over the weekend, how can schools be made safe for LGBTQ students?  A story from THE HECHINGER REPORT offers 3 concrete suggestions for reaching that goal.  “These safe spaces might be as informal as a supportive teacher or a group of close friends,” the item suggests.  “If they are lucky enough to have support from the school’s administration, some might form or join an inclusive and affirming student-led organization like a Gay-Straight Alliance. These are great places for a young person who is struggling to find comfort and support.  Unfortunately, this isn’t enough.  Every space should be a safe space for an LGBTQ young person.”
Is Paul Tough, a previous ALOED Book Club author for his 2012 volume “How Children Succeed” which details how schools could teach character qualities like “grit” to students, having second thoughts about all of it?  In an extended preview of his new book, “Helping Children Succeed” in the June issue of the The Atlantic, he seems to back off a bit from his earlier prescriptions.  “What is emerging is a new idea: that qualities like grit and resilience are not formed through the traditional mechanics of ‘teaching’; instead,” he now claims, “a growing number of researchers now believe, they are shaped by several specific environmental forces, both in the classroom and in the home, sometimes in subtle and intricate ways.”  Tough proceeds to detail some of the latest research on the topic and offers some new ways to approach it in the classroom.               John Thompson, writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, critiques Tough’s article (see above) and finds some positive things to take away from it but is still concerned that the corporate “reformers’ who were so quick to jump on Tough’s bandwagon before may not be so eager to do so this time. “I suspect that many accountability-driven reformers,”Thompson worries, “will respond as they have long been doing with Tough’s and others’ indictments of data-driven, competition-driven reform; they will quote Tough and continue – or even step up – the policies that Tough argues against.”
Common Core
A member of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) and a 17-year veteran of teaching levels a withering attack on the Common Core in a piece titled “Common Core is Destroying Our Children.”  Robyn Brydalski, elementary teacher and local union activist, claims that teaching and the fun of learning have been so altered by the standards that she doesn’t recognize what goes on in her classroom any more.  “It is a shame this is what has become of public education.  I confess I have snuffed the flame from my students this year,” she grumbles, “as I attempted to achieve the state and district curriculum expectations for meeting the demands of the common core.”
Charter Schools
A bill recently introduced in the California Assembly (AB1084) would prohibit online or virtual charter schools from being run by for-profit companies.  The legislation, if signed into law, would put companies like K12 Inc. out of business in the Golden State.  A recent two-part investigative series (links included) in the San Jose Mercury News (highlighted, BTW, in the “Ed News”) found most of the schools run by K12 to be seriously under-performing.  “The series highlighted research that shows online schools’ hands-off learning model isn’t appropriate for most children” it notes, “and found that accountability for student performance is sorely lacking.  In fact, the districts tasked with overseeing K12’s California schools have a strong financial incentive to turn a blind eye to problems because they receive a cut of California Virtual Academies’ revenue to oversee them.”               The concept of “charter” schools began back in 1991 when the first bill was approved by the Minnesota legislature.  This month marks the 25th anniversary of that event and to commemorate that milestoneEDUCATION WEEK has a trio of articles about the history of charters, a discussion of diversity in charters and a video (5:52 minutes) titled “A Tale of Two Charters” which visits one teacher-run campus in St. Paul and a high school which is part of the largest charter network in L.A. You can access all 3 pieces of the package, titled “Charters at 25,” by clicking here.               Teachers at 3 Cleveland area charters voted to unionize under the auspices of theaft (American Federation of Teachers).  The organization issued a Press Release announcing the action.  “The contract covers three high-performing charters that educate more than 900 students in the Cleveland metropolitan area,” it enumerates.  “The new contract creates a labor-management committee to increase teacher input, guarantees planning time, and rewards experienced teachers who make a commitment to the school and advance their own education.  This contract makes strides toward meeting teachers’ and the community’s goals of reducing teacher turnover and providing a voice for professional educators.”
Education Reform
Arthur Camins, former teacher and administrator in New York, Massachusetts and Kentucky and current director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey dissects the corporate “reform” narrative of a “crisis” in our public schools and says “yes” there are problems but the “reformers” answers will not solve them. He offers 3 solid suggestions for improving what ails public education today.  He titles his essay for the HUFFPOST EDUCATION column “Three Strategies Fair, Diverse and Broad Education’ and details how to achieve each of those important goals.  “The crisis we face in education is not about test scores.  Rather,”he wraps up, “it is that we cannot achieve satisfactory results amidst the far broader crisis of growing inequality, eroding democracy, and escalating divisiveness.  Widespread demands for an education system that is fair, diverse, and broad is one place to wage the struggle together.”               Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, interviews Diane Ravitch about the updated version of her 2010 bestseller “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.”  They spoke about the new edition of the book and education reform in general.  In answer to a question about what Ravitch might say to Pres. Obama if she got the chance to sit down and speak with him, she responded, “President Obama, I wish I could have talked to you back in 2008 or 2009.  I will never understand why you decided to align your education policy with that of George W. Bush.  I still remember the times you said the right things about teachers (respect them) and testing (there are too many and they take too much time away from learning), but your policies emphasized the very things that you denounced rhetorically.”  Be sure to read the rest of the Q & A.  Ravitch has some interesting things to say about Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  
School Climate
Peter DeWitt worries that the emphasis on test scores tends to ignore characteristics like school climate.  He is an author, presenter and former elementary school principal and writes the “Finding Common Ground” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  In this commentary he describes why a positive school climate is critical to student learning and may be a more important metric than those pesky test scores.  He presents 5 key components of school climate and how to achieve them if your school is lacking any one or all of them. “School climate is vitally important.  Visitors know within minutes,” he concludes, “whether a school has a positive climate or not.  And in these days of social media, parents are talking about whether you have a positive school climate or not.  We can’t possibly make everyone within our school happy, but we can certainly keep trying.  The bottom line is that if we don’t have a positive school climate, then we have a lot of students, parents and teachers who are not reaching their full potential.”               How’s this for improving school climate?  A group of high school students and grassroots community organizations banded together to successfully convince the LAUSD police to remove military grade weapons from their inventory.  ALTERNET has the remarkable details of what was accomplished over a sustained two-year campaign including the issuance of letters of apology from several LAUSD board members and the head of the school police.  “A coalition of Los Angeles high school students and grassroots organizers,” the piece begins, “just accomplished the unthinkable.  After nearly two years of sit-ins and protests, they forced the police department for the second-largest public school district in the United States to remove grenade launchers, M-16 rifles, a mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle and other military-grade weaponry from its arsenal.”
Did Administrators Ignore Lead Tainted Water in Portland Schools?
A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes how administrators acted extremely slowly in reaction to reports that high levels of lead were found in the water at schools in Portland, Oregon.  “Portland, Ore., recently discovered high levels of lead in its school drinking water, and the agonizing drip-drip-drip of additional revelations that has ensued has left the Rose City with a toxic hangover,” it relates.  “Public records, including newly released emails, have revealed that school officials not only knew the water was unsafe, but allowed students and teachers to drink it while officials decided on a course of action.  The district also failed to disclose all it knew, and the schools’ health officer was found to have misled the public.”  Members of the community are outraged by the tardy response and a campaign has begun to get rid of the school district’s superintendent.  Two officials involved in the situation have been placed on paid leave by the superintendent pending an investigation into their actions or lack thereof.
International Baccalaureate Program
You are probably aware of what AP (Advanced Placement) classes are.  What do you know about IB (Interntational Baccalaureate) classes?  Students who are successful in their IB classes can earn a special IB Diploma upon graduation from high school.  Some new research indicates that low-income students who participate in IB classes are helping to close the achievement gap.  THE HECHINGER REPORT features those findings.  “The IB Diploma is a rigorous two-year course of studies, typically taken by top high-achieving students during their junior and senior years of high school,” the article points out.  “The math is calculus.  The writing requires sophisticated analysis.  Succeeding in this program gives students entree to the most selective colleges in the country.  It’s a no brainer that kids who can accomplish that will do well and continue in school.”
The infant Every Student Succeeds Act turned 6 month old last week.  The long overdue re-write of the ESEA/NCLB promises some major changes to the federal role in education.  One of the authors of the “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEKinterviewed 4 key congressional figures who played a significant role in drafting the legislation.  John Kline (R-MN) is the chair of the House Education Committee and his Q & A leads off the quartet that also includes Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (rather aptly called the HELP) Committee.  The conversation with Rep. King includes links to the other 3.  
New Teacher Evaluations for the LAUSD
The LAUSD board is poised to formally endorse a new teacher evaluation system at their meeting today that relies more on observations than student test scores.  A story in today’s L.A. Times details the new process for grading teachers that was negotiated with UTLA as part of a contract revision.  “Notably missing in the latest system,” the piece notes, “is any direct reliance on student standardized test scores to determine whether teachers keep their jobs.  Test scores now are to be used instead for analyzing student needs, setting goals and reviewing progress toward achieving them.”
Chicago Public Schools in Serious Trouble
And finally, the Chicago Public School (CPS) district , the third-largest in the nation, is facing some serious challenges.  Whether its draconian cuts to school budgets proposed by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner or similar cuts offered by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, it all adds up to continuing massive budget reductions according to a commentary by Valerie Strauss in her column for The Washington Post.  She proceeds to details the political battles taking place in the Springfield, the state capital and in the city of Chicago where the schools are under the control of the mayor.  “The governor of Illinois is fighting with the mayor of Chicago over funding; the mayor is in a long-term fight with teachers over a controversial pension system, charter schools and other issues,”Strauss chronicles, “and many parents remain furious with the mayor for closing dozens of traditional public schools three years ago while promoting the expansion of charter schools.  Teachers are working under an expired contract and may soon stage their second strike since 2012, when their week-long walkout had public support.”  Other than those problems everything is fine!  [Ed. note: Not really, just kidding, unfortunately.]


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




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