A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

             [Ed. note: I forgot to remind everyone that Sunday was
            Father’s Day so, with sincere apologies, here’s a rather late wish:
                    Inline image 1
             And BTW, summer snuck up on me too, officially arriving yesterday at 3:34 pm PDT.]
 Inline image 1


And now to the news.

           “Those things for which the most money is demanded are never the things which the student most wants. 
Tuition, for instance, is an important item in the term bill, while for the far more valuable education 
which he gets by associating with the most cultivated of his contemporaries no charge is made.” 

― Henry David ThoreauWalden

Former Beverly Hills Superintendent’s Conviction Upheld
Former Beverly Hills Unified School District Superintendent Jeffrey Hubbard who was convicted in 2012 of misappropriating school funds had that decision confirmed by the California Supreme Court late last week.  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times reviews the case and explains the latest ruling and its implications.  “In January 2012, Hubbard was convicted in Los Angeles County Superior Court of two felony counts of misappropriating public funds,” it relates, “while superintendent from July 2003 to June 2006.  He joined Newport-Mesa Unified as superintendent after leaving Beverly Hills and was fired the day after he was convicted.  Hubbard appealed the trial court decision to the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal, and in 2014 a three-judge panel reversed his conviction.  Prosecutors then petitioned the state’s highest court to review the decision.”
New York’s Opt-Out Movement
Long Island has been a focal point of the opt-out movement for a couple of years now.  A story in the Long Island Press reviews how the movement started, how it has grown and what the future holds.  “It remains to be seen how this evolving protest movement,”it speculates, “will improve or replace the current education agenda.  According to local public education advocates, the answer is multi-tiered.  It includes elections: first at the state level and then at the local school board in an effort to tackle education policy from all sides.  The goal is a shift away from schools’ increasing test-prep focus almost exclusively on math and reading skills—eschewing the arts and play-based learning—to a comprehensive curriculum that addresses what some advocates call the ‘whole child.’”
If Second Graders Could Design Their Dream School
As part of an initiative in Boston to rally support of for the public schools, a 2nd-grade teacher in that city had her students work on a project to design their dream school.  She reports on what her students came up with on the DEY (Defending the Early Years)website.  What kinds of wild things did the consider?  Their “dream” school is pretty basic and how sad it is that they can’t have some of the things that others take for granted.  “My students, attending a chronically underfunded school, instead requested things like pencils, markers, and glue sticks.  One student,” the teacher relates, “asked me if he was allowed to simply say that his dream school would be ‘shiny and new.’  Another student asked if it was too big to dream of a school where kids who felt sad could have a room with soft things and people to talk to.  Many students dreamed of a better playground and some asked for a class pet and field trips to far-away places.  As they were working, a student came over to ask me if some schools have a whole library in them rather than just one in their classroom.  When I said yes, he changed his mind from a swing set to a library.”
Angela Duckworth was one of the earliest proponents of teaching the character trait she calls “grit” to low-performing students and to others. She has a new best-seller out titled “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” which is reviewed in an extended piece in Slate.  “Duckworth’s best-seller peddles a pair of big ideas: that grit—comprising a person’s perseverance and passion—is among the most important predictors of success,” the author of the article writes, “and that we all have the power to increase our inner grit. These two theses, she argues, apply not just to cadets but to kids in troubled elementary schools and undergrads at top-ranked universities and to scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs.”
Election 2016
Need a laugh?  Have 8:48 minutes to spare?  Check out thishilarious graduation speech by an 8th grader(!) at Thomas Middle School in suburban Chicago.  Jack Aiello turns the talk into a series of impersonations of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Pres. Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.  The NBC affiliate in the Windy CityWMAQ 5 has a video segment of the speech and a transcript with highlights.  “Aiello’s entire roughly 350-student graduating class was tasked with writing a graduation speech as part of an English assignment,” it notes.  “The speeches were then evaluated by teachers and staff before three finalists were selected. . . .  ‘He was hands down No. 1 because it was going to speak to the kids,’ principal Brian Kaye said.”
The Teaching Profession
Deborah Meier, writing on Diane Ravitch’s blog, comments on the concepts of tenure and seniority from Meier’s perspective as a former principal.  “Tenure and seniority are often attacked by people of good will,” she begins,  “As a former principal of several schools, I embrace it.”               The use of digital learning games is becoming more prevalent in the nation’s K-12 classrooms according to a new survey by Project Tomorrow, an Irving, Calif. nonprofit.  The findings are based on an online questionnaire completed by over 500,000 students, teachers, other educators and parents, a story in EDUCATION WEEK reports.  “The number of teachers in the United States using games in their classrooms—particularly with younger students—has doubled during the past six years, according to a large survey released this month that measures national ed-tech use,” the item mentions.  “In 2015, the survey found, 48 percent of K-12 teachers and almost two-thirds of K-5 teachers reported using game-based learning environments in their classes, up from 23 percent of all K-12 teachers in 2010.”  Be sure to click on the two sidebars for expanded graphics about the findings contained in the poll.  You can find the full report (16 pages) titled “From Print to Pixel: The Role of Videos, Games, Animations and Simulations Within K-12 Education” by clicking here or you can read the 3-page Press Release with a summary of the findings.                 A teacher who lasted only 6 months at one of Eva Moscowitz’s Success Academy schools in New York writes about her experiences on her personal SASHA GUIRINDONGO blog.  “I had heard horrors about SA prior to accepting the job: the long hours and pressure to perform, but coming from another charter school I had confidence that I could accept and overcome any difficulties; Besides I was coming from teaching in East New York and nothing toughens you up more than working in a school where someone is shot dead at the end of the school block during Parent-Teacher Night.  So was I intimidated by SA?  No.  But once I began teaching as a newly baptized SA teacher I quickly realized the toxic environment SA strived to create,” she confides, “and force feed educators who had real passion for teaching.  SA had managed to create an educational environment that disregarded the well-being of the teacher.  It promoted a cut-throat, monetarily incentivized corporate environment in which you prayed for the demise of your peers for an opportunity to inadvertently glorify yourself.  Is this what teaching is about?”                If you think teachers and their unions are being targeted for criticism in this country you should see what’s been happening in Mexico.  Since the current president of Mexico publicized his education reforms in 2013 (which were heavy on privatization and the testing of teachers) educators have been holding protests over the provisions.  Nothing wrong with that except at least 6 civilians were KILLED during clashes with police at protests on Sunday in Oaxaca.  A story in today’s L.A. Times has the frightening details.  “In the poor southern region where Oaxaca is located, teachers are tasked with the daily challenge of providing shelter and food for their students,” it points out, “along with the mandate to boost test scores and improve reading comprehension.  There teachers quite literally must build the schools in which they work and then find furniture to fill their classrooms.  Students arrive at school barefoot, ache with intestinal parasites, and learn native languages before Spanish.”               A co-director of theBadass Teachers Association (BATs) Action Team reacts to the violence in Mexico and identifies the 6 victims as teachers.  His piece is titled “They Are Killing Teachers in Mexico and We Will Not Be Silent!”   “We in the U.S. are no strangers to the oppression of corporate privatizers and anti union fascists,” he laments, “who target teachers for various reasons.  Chief among them are that teachers are now, and always have been, the voice for social change.  We educate and enlighten the next generation.  We lead by example. We encourage our students to strive to make a difference in the world.  That is a threat to the elites who refuse to relinquish their power.”                The NPE (The Network for Public Education) issued a statement calling for an end to the violence against teachers in Mexico.  “During the past few days,” it begins, “extreme violence has been used against teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico who were protesting governmental education ‘reforms.’  This has resulted in the deaths of at least eight people.  The Network for Public Education joins with those condemning this violence and calls for a dialogue to resolve the underlying issues.”             It may be summer break for most educators but not everything is hunky-dory when it comes to public perceptions of what teachers do during that time of the year.  We’ll leave it to Steven Singer and his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG to educate the public about what teachers experience during those supposedly relaxing and blissful months off during the summer.  His essay is titled “Summer Break–The Least Understood and Most Maligned Aspect of a Teacher’s Life.”  Sit back on your porch with a cool drink during these hot days and contemplate what he has to say.                 Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a story about how Utah was dealing with a teacher shortage by hiring educators who have no formal education training.  At least 4 other states (Alabama, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Kansas) are in the same predicament as Utah and are following in that state’s footsteps.  TheRuss on Reading blog, written by Russ Walsh, wants to know “Where is the Outrage?”  “The move to get unqualified people into the classroom gives the lie to the real goal of education reformers,”he notes.  “On the one hand we hear that ‘the teacher is the the most important single in-school factor in student achievement.’  This is generally followed with breathless treatises on how teachers suck and how we need to improve teacher performance in the classroom, get rid of bad teachers and measure that performance with standardized tests.”
Charter Schools
The long, drawn out battle between charters and traditional public schools continues.  However, a new front has opened.  The charter industry appears to be fighting among themselves as brick and mortar charters take on the virtual, online providers.  A recent report (highlighted in the “Ed News”) found that K12 Inc., the largest purveyor of online charter classes was not doing a very good job of boosting student achievement and the regular charters are worried that will sully the entire industry.  An article in theWASHINGTON Examiner scrutinizes the growing split between the two charter groups “There are 180,000 students in 135 full-time online charter schools across 23 states, as well as Washington, D.C.  About 70 percent of full-time virtual charter schools,” it points out, “are run by for-profit organizations, compared to only 15 percent of all public charter schools.”                Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog weighs in on thecharter vs charter conflict.  “The cyber-charter industry is not just going to knuckle under to their bricks-and-mortar brethren,” he predicts, “nor are they going to ‘fess up to their increasingly obvious failures.  But if they are going to just keep stinking up the charter school business, the bricks-and-mortar charters will just have to come after them with a bigger stick.  I would just settle back with my bag of popcorn, were it not for all the real, live students who will continue to be collateral damage in the cyber-battle to keep a bad business model afloat just so some rich guys can get richer.”               Thomas Ultican, on his TULTICAN blog, reviews the movement to privatize the public schools in California.  He’s a high school math and physics teacher out of San Diego.  He doesn’t hesitate to name the organizations and individuals behind this effort to dismantle public education in the Golden State and goes into chapter and verse about how they are going about it.  In conclusion he writes: “Public schools are important to both American democracy and a vibrant just culture. They are worth fighting to save from arrogance, ignorance and greed.”
Reform Battle Plays Out in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh may be the latest front in the reform battle between the corporate privatizers and those who follow a more traditional path to change.  For years the school board was under the control of the former who were able to select a kindred spirit for superintendent.  In recent years the pendulum has begun to swing back to control by parents and educators who were able to gain a majority on the elected school board and selected a new superintendent, Anthony Hamlet, when the previous one announced his intention to retire effective this July 1st.  Then the corporate “reform” comeback began with a savage hit on the prospective superintendent’s resumé over a petty issue of plagiarism.  I’ll let Steven Singer and hisGADDLYONETHEWALLBLOG pick up the rest of the story.  Warning: it’s not a pretty tale.  “[Hamlet] is set to takeover the district on July 1, but a well financed public smear campaign is trying to stop him before he even begins,” Singer notes.  “Big money interests oppose him. The public supports him.  Meanwhile the media helps fuel corporate attacks on the 47-year-old African American because of criticisms leveled by a Political Action Committee (PAC) formed to disband the duly-elected school board.”  Fights like this have already played out in various cities and are likely to continue in your city or one near you.
Quality of LAUSD’s Credit Recovery Courses Questioned
The LAUSD has been making steady progress at improving its high school graduation rate.  One reason for that trend has been the offering of online recovery classes as well as Saturday and after school classes for students who fall behind in their credits towards completion.  An extended editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times calls into question the content and quality of those courses.  How does credit recovery work?  “Students who flunk a course can make up the credit by taking classes either in computer-equipped rooms at school, or at home if they have the equipment and Internet access.  Teachers lecture on videos,” the piece explains, “the computer displays the readings or practice problems, and students take tests that are automatically graded.  Written work is supposed to be reviewed by a district teacher.  The courses have certain benefits: Students can replay a lecture for missed material, something that can’t happen in a regular classroom.  When they can’t concentrate any longer, they can put the course on hold and take a break.”  A Times editorial writer was able to take one of the online classes–first semester 11th grade English Language Arts–and a description of the content is included.  A number of questions are raised about the quality and content of the courses and the piece concludes with several suggestions for improving the oversight and accountability of them.
How are Vouchers Faring?
At least in Milwaukee, with the nation’s oldest (25 years) voucher program, the answer to the question in the headline is “abysmally.”  Michael R. Ford, a professor of public administration at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, writes on Diane Ravitch’s blogthat 41% of schools that have accepted vouchers have closed during the quarter century the program has been in existence. That’s pretty dismal by anybody’s reckoning!  You can get a brief overview of his and a colleagues research in this article.  Unfortunately, one has to purchase the full report.
Drawbacks of Ed Tech
Most educators are pushing education technology (see item in this edition about digital games under the headline “The Teaching Profession” above).  However, as the “Ed News” has chronicled in the past, there are certain obstacles that have to be overcome.  The author of the “Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK is a former social studies teacher and current consultant who warns of “3 Drawbacks of Bringing Tech to the Classroom.”  “Just as you as a teacher must do your research on how to best extract benefits from technology,” he concludes his brief piece, “you must also do your homework when it comes to being prepared to combat the negative impact technology can have.  Make sure you’re equipped to handle not just the best, but also the worst of what happens when the modern age comes to school.”
Turning Schools Around
“What Happens To A Turnaround High School When Transformative Principal Walks Away?” is the title of an appealing story in THE HECHINGER REPORT about Shabazz High School in Newark.  When Gemar Mills, the popular principal, left after a 4-year stint in which he transformed a violent, dangerous, low-achieving campus the students, teachers and community were concerned about what the future held.  [Damon] Holmes, 40, took over in September from Gemar Mills, the enormously popular and successful principal,” the article describes, “who abruptly left in the midst of a remarkable and widely hailed turnaround for this long-troubled Newark institution.  Mills had earned the moniker ‘The Turnaround Principal for changing the culture of a school that had been so violent the media dubbed it ‘Baghdad.”’. . .  The departure also illuminates one of the most vexing, crucial questions in the education landscape: When a talented, transformative principal leaves, can a school sustain success?”  They needn’t have worried as the item relates how seamlessly the new principal fit in and continued in his predecessors footsteps.                 Having a state step in and take over an under performing school is not always the best option for turning a campus around.  Not convinced of that?  Wait until you read what’s happened to 4 schools in Massachusetts after they were taken over by the state in 2014.  The tale, as related in an article in The Boston Globe, is a rather discouraging one.  “The promised turnaround,” it suggests, “has not happened — at least not yet — and the troubling picture raises questions about whether state education agencies can do a better job than local districts in lifting up schools stubbornly stuck at the bottom.” This item offers one case study and describes what has gone wrong.
Education Journalism and the L.A. Times
Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, has been questioning the journalistic ethics of the L.A. Times in conjunction with its controversial publishing of individual teachers’ value-added (VAM) scores in the paper in 2010.  He wondered where a mystery $15,000 grant came from that helped cover the cost of the analysis that the paper used to interpret the scores.  Cody has now uncovered the mystery.  “The VAM analysis used by the LA Times to rate the effectiveness of thousands of teachers,” he reveals, “was partly paid for by a conglomeration of corporate foundations that included the Gates Foundation, among others. The Hechinger Institute was interested in what the test score data would show, and provided the funding, but did not endorse the publication of teacher names their funding made possible.”  He then proceeds to wonder if all this was journalistically ethical.  Cody provides links to his previous columns on the topic.
Implementation of ESSA
Is the U.S. Dept. of Education (DoE) attempting to rewrite the new Every Student Succeeds Act rather than simply providing implementing regulations?  Valerie Strauss turns her column inThe Washington Post over to Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), who has been closely following what the DoE has been doing regarding key “accountability” provisions as it works to clarify how the new law is to be implemented.  “While the accountability provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) are superior to those of No Child Left Behind,”  he begins, “the Department of Education’s draft regulations intensify ESSA’s worst aspects and will have the effect of perpetuating some of NCLB’s most damaging practices.”  Neill offers a series of “recommendations” for the DoE to properly implement the letter and spirit of ESSA.
Chicago Teachers to Hold Mass Rally Tomorrow
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is calling for a mass rally tomorrow in downtown Chicago to protest a proposed 39% (!) budget cut for the 2016-17 school year.  Diane Ravitch’s blogreprints a brief announcement about the action and an agenda for the day’s activities.  “The Union, parents, students, education justice activists and others,”  it reports, “are calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago City Council and other lawmakers to fund public schools and implement a series of measures that will lead to long-term sustainability of the district,” it begins.
Common Core
And finally, we hear a lot about the Common Core English/Language Arts and math standards but not much about thewriting standards.  A study from Education Trust found that although the standards expect students to write a lot more and to create higher quality products those expectations are not, as yet, being met.  EDUCATION WEEK has a package of articles around the topic of student writing and the Common Core.  The lead-off piece is titled “As Teachers Tackle New Student-Writing Expectations, Support is Lacking.”  “A noticeable uptick of writing in schools has taken place,” it relates, “as most states have implemented the standards, said Tanya Baker, the director of national programs at the National Writing Project, citing anecdotal evidence since there isn’t a way to track the exact amount of writing occurring in classrooms.  Still, for the most part, educators say students aren’t writing as much as the standards require.”  Be sure to check out the sidebar titled “Next Draft: Changing Practices in Writing Instruction” for titles and links to 7 additional articles in the collection.


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


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