Ed News, Friday, June 17, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

            “Congress and state legislatures should not tell teachers how to teach, 
             any more than they should tell surgeons how to perform operations.” 

― Diane RavitchThe Death and Life of the Great American School System: 

                      How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education
Charter Schools
The Recently formed non-profit organization, Great Public Schools Now (GPSN), which serves as a PR front for the Broad and Walton Foundations which heavily funds it, released its latest plan yesterday.  The 16-page document is basically an assault on the LAUSD.  The LA SCHOOL REPORT, which is now owned by Campbell Brown’s corporate “reform” group “The 74” details this latest effort to undermine public education in L.A. “The widening focus is a shift from an early plan leaked last year that was developed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation to expand charter schools in LA. . . . .The other notable change from the draft plan is the dearth of details,” the story explains.  “The new plan does not list a specific dollar amount the organization aims at raising, it does not give a timeframe for getting the 160,000 students at the struggling schools enrolled in successful ones, it does not list potential donors, and it does not name any specific school — charter, magnet or otherwise — as a model it wants to replicate.”               Howard Blume has a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times about GPSN’s plan for the future (see above).  “The newly released plan differs substantially from a draft obtained last year by The Times.  That draft,” he writes, “which was not intended for public release, harshly criticized L.A. Unified and identified charter schools as the path forward, with the goal of moving half of district students into charters over eight years.  The draft appeared to have been prepared to give to potential funders.  Critics probably will continue to view that draft as the real blueprint and the document released this week as public relations.”               Amid much fanfare and hoopla yesterday, the organization Great Public Schools Now (GPSN), the non-profit, pro-charter, Eli Broad front group (see above), announced the first three recipients of its grant program.  They went to an Equitas Academy Charter network ($2 million), an after-school and summer enrichment program ($500,000) and Teach for America ($2 million).  A story in today’s L.A. Times outlines GPSN’s initial largesse. “Great Public Schools Now  said Thursday that the TFA dollars exclusively will benefit L.A. Unified,” it mentions.  “But that is not precisely the case, said Lida R. Jennings, executive director of TFA-Los Angeles.  The grant money will go into the organization’s general budget.  Still, several dozen recruits are likely to work in L.A. Unified, which has asked TFA to provide as many as 50 teachers for mild to moderately disabled students, Jennings said.  That $2 million would be enough to cover most of TFA’s cost for the L.A. Unified contingent.”               Author and retired educator Edward F. Berger, on his EdwardFBerger(dot)com website, takes a critical look at the impact of charters and the “choice” movement on the traditional public schools of this country.  “‘Choice’ is a marketplace idea wrongly applied to education.  The assumption that most parents have the information they need to make intelligent decisions about the education their children need, and the education children need to be effective citizens, has been proven wrong,” he complains.  “School choice has failed to improve our schools.  In fact, choice has created a chaos of confusion for parents who have risked (gambled) on moving their children out of comprehensive education programs to place them in partial education programs.”              A major national charter school advocacy group is concerned that poor performing online, virtual charter schools may be giving all charters a bad name.  It wants those programs to be more carefully monitored and regulated according to a piece in THE HECHINGER REPORT.  “In a report released [yesterday], the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools called on state policy makers to rethink the way virtual charter schools are governed,” the story states, “and to move quickly to close those that perform poorly.  Further, the group argued it might be necessary for virtual (or online-only) charter schools to be separated from the charter designation completely.”  You can find the full report (16 pages), titled “A Call to Action–To Improve the Quality of Full-Time Virtual Charter Public Schools,” by clicking here.
A Progressive Agenda for the Public Schools
As the 2016 presidential election shifts focus from primary season to party conventions, a group of professors from 5 different universities propose taking education policy in a more progressive direction.  Many critics view the Obama administration’s positions on K-12 education as mirroring those neoliberal policies espoused by his predecessor George W. Bush.  The 5 authors are co-editors of a 4-volume series titled “Defending Public Schools.”  Their current comments appear on the LIVING in DIALOGUEblog.  “Progressives everywhere must begin doing more to demand that our institutions of public education foster critical citizenship skills to advance a more viable and vibrant democratic society. They must push for schools to become organized around preparing young people for active, democratic citizenship,” they suggest, “through engagement with real-world issues, problem-solving, and critical thinking, and through active participation in civic and political processes.  Informed citizenship in a broad-based, grassroots democracy must be based on principles of cooperation with others, non-violent conflict resolution, dialogue, inquiry and rational debate, environmental activism, and the preservation and expansion of human rights.  These skills, capacities, and dispositions need to be taught and practiced in our nation’s schools.  Progressives must also push harder to ensure that all schools are funded equally and fully,” the piece continues, “eliminating the dependence on private corporate funds and on the property tax, which creates a two-tiered educational system by distributing educational monies inequitably.  Promoting greater equality in educational opportunity must also include demands for universal pre-k and tuition-free higher education for all qualified students in state universities.”
The Teaching Profession
In light of a teacher shortage in Utah a person can now be hired in that state to teach certain subjects without a program in education.  The “Teaching Now” column in EDUCATION WEEK explains what is going on in the Beehive state.  “The Utah State Board of Education voted [last] Friday to create an alternative pathway to obtaining a teaching license.  School districts and charter schools can hire individuals with professional experience in certain content areas like computer science,”  it relates, “as long as they have a bachelor’s degree, submit college transcripts to education administrators, pass the state test required for teacher certification, complete an educator ethics review, and pass a background check.  After being hired, that individual will have to go through three years of supervision and mentoring from a ‘master teacher’ designated by the school before receiving licensure.”
Students and Sleep
If you are feeling a little drowsy, you may want to hold off reading this next item.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, explores some of the latest research on theamount of sleep young children and teens may require in order to maximize their efforts in the classroom.  “Anyone who has ever watched children get on a school bus before the sun is up in the morning,” she begins, “or teens walk into their first class clutching a jug of coffee knows that too many young people aren’t getting enough sleep.  In fact, experts say that more than a third of the U.S. population doesn’t.”   She also references a previous report that proposed having middle and high-schools not start classes before 8:30 am to accommodate teen sleep patterns and needs.  
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Blaming Public Schools
Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, has a simple request: “Stop Treating Public Schools as Society’s Whipping Boy.”  He chronicles all the ways certain politicians and corporate “reformers” blame the public schools for what are often society’s responsibilities.  “Public schools in general – and public school teachers specifically – have become our easy scapegoats, our whipping boys.  It’s about time we realized that such criticisms aren’t helping.  In fact,” he concludes, “they’re being used by the same people who are destroying our schools as an excuse to destroy them further.  The so-called failure of public schools has been used to justify massive school closures especially in neighborhoods of color.  It’s been used to create more privately run charter schools.  It’s been used to excuse cutting school funding, and making it even less palatable to be a teacher.  Too many of us believe these are good ideas.  Americans believe a lot of stupid things, but perhaps THESE are the dumbest of them all!”
High Test Scores and Success Later In Life
The corporate “reform” crowd likes to suggest that high student test scores lead to success later in life.  What proof do they offer?  Good question.  Jay Greene, endowed professor of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, writing on his Jay P. Greene’s Blog, has previously cited some other studies that refuted that claim and now offers another one from the group MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization based in New York City and Oakland, CA.  It followed students at the SEED charter boarding school in Washington, D.C.  “While the initial test score results are very encouraging, the later life outcomes are disappointing.  . . .  In fact, SEED may be doing a great job in a variety of ways,” Greene maintains, “but when we look at longer term outcomes for students on a variety of measures the evidence demonstrating SEED’s success disappears or even turns negative.”  This item includes a link to the full report (143 pages) titled “Going Away to School–An Evaluation of SEED DC.”
Corporate “Reform”
Corporate “reformers” like to point to Denver as an example of how their policies of charterization are working in an urban school district and are a justification for a future rapid expansion of charters in that city.  Wait just a minute, urges Jeff Bryant in a story for ALTERNET.  He suggests everyone take a closer look at how charters are actually performing in Denver and if they do, they may not be so quick to tout what’s taking place there.  “According to CPD[Center for Popular Democracy], based on the school performance framework Denver uses to evaluate its own schools, ‘Forty percent of Denver charter schools are performing below expectations.’  And of those schools, 38 percent are performing significantly below expectations.  Nevertheless, numerous articles and reports in mainstream media outlets and education policy sites,” Bryant worries, “enthusiastically tout Denver as the place to see the next important new ‘reform’ in education policy in action.”
Local Groups Criticize LAUSD Spending Priorities
Several local civil rights and civic groups are once again faulting the LAUSD for how it is prioritizing spending under Gov. Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula that mandates increased state dollars go to the most needy students according to an article in yesterday’sL.A. Times.  “The criticism, which echoes that of state officials, centers on hundreds of millions of dollars in increased state funding,”  it points out, “that is supposed to benefit students who are among the most challenging to educate and who have persistently lagged behind academically: low-income students, students learning English and those in the foster-care system.  Providing extra resources for these students is a centerpiece of funding reforms pushed through by Gov. Jerry Brown.”
Opt-Out Students Being Punished 
The opt-out movement has been growing by leaps and bounds.  As more and more families make the decision to have their children refuse to take standardized tests it seems that more and more districts are retaliating in various ways against the students.  Valerie Strauss turns her Washington Post blog over to Carol Burris who describes how some of the students are being punished.  “Nearly half a million families across the country made the decision to opt their children out of Common Core state exams in 2015,” Burris writes.  “As a result, most districts are scrambling to come up with ways to adjust their policies and processes when decisions about students are made on the basis of test scores.  Sadly, some refuse to adjust and seek to punish opt-out students instead.”  She proceeds to relate how districts in Florida, California and especially several in New York retaliated against students who opted out.
Election 2016
California conducted its Presidential Primary Election last Tuesday.  One important issue for voters in the Golden State and others around the country has to do with the vast amounts of money flowing to candidates of both major parties.  Jeff Bryant, on theEducation Opportunity NETWORK, looks at the impact ofcharter school money on down ticket races in California in a commentary titled “How Long Can Big Money Keep Democrats in the Charter School Camp?”  “In California and beyond, charter school advocates also team up with big finance to influence Democratic Party candidates in state and local elections,” the piece indicates.  Bryant reviews a number of articles that comment on the influence of charter money on election races.
Teacher Evaluations
A story in Tuesday’s L.A. Times (highlighted in the previous edition of the “Ed News”) described the new teacher evaluation system in the LAUSD.  The piece drew two letters-to-the-editor that appear in today’s paper.  “In order to evaluate any professional (doctor, lawyer, teacher, librarian and so on),” the first one begins, “other experienced and skilled professionals must be involved in the process.”               Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, on herVAMboozled! blog, cites another study that shoots down the use of value-added models (VAMs) for teacher evaluations.  This one is written by Steven Klees of the University of Maryland writing for the Educational Researcher.  Klees concludes rather unequivocally: “The bottom line is that regardless of technical sophistication, the use of VAM is never [and, perhaps never will be] ‘accurate, reliable, and valid’ and will never yield ‘rigorously supported inferences as expected and desired.”
Real School Reforms
And finally, Diane Ravitch’s blog features an essay from Joanne Yatvin, former teacher, principal and superintendent, now retired, who has some realistic reforms for the public schools as opposed to the agendas pushed by the corporate “reformers.”  Yatvin titles her piece “If I Were the Queen of Schools.”  “My version of school reform,” she prefaces her proposals, “is based on two premises: (1) poverty and its accoutrements are the major causes of students’ poor academic performance (2) the principals and teachers who live their professional lives in schools are the ones best qualified to make decisions for schools and to implement them.”  Wow!  Haven’t heard those kinds of ideas in a while but they certainly make sense.  Here’s just one of her down-to-earth proposals: “Evaluate teachers on their own performance, not those of students.”


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




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