Ed News, Friday, June 24, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

            “American Education has a long history of infatuation with fads and ill-considered ideas. 
            The current obsession with making our schools work like a business may be the worst of them, 
            for it threatens to destroy public education. Who will Stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so?” 

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

                                             How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education
LAUSD Approves New Budget
The LAUSD board approved a $7.6 billion (that’s with a “b”) budgetat their regular meeting Tuesday evening.  That works out to over a 10% increase from the previous year’s spending plan.  That’s the good news.  An article in Wednesday’s L.A. Times provides the details but also reviews some of the controversy over how the extra funds should be allocated.  That’s the bad or not so good news.  “The vote comes at a time of financial uncertainty,” it notes, “as state officials and advocates argue with the nation’s second-largest school system over its spending priorities.  Under the state’s funding formula, most of the new dollars are supposed to help low-income students, students who are learning English and students in the foster-care system.  But L.A. Unified is spending a lower percentage of this money on these students than other school systems, say advocates who have sued the district and accuse it of violating state law.”
The Teaching Profession
How does U.S. teachers’ pay compare to their peers around the world?  In most cases the answer is “it is severely lacking” suggests a story on the BROOKINGS website.  Bottom line: “While American salaries aren’t the lowest, many other countries not only pay better, but the gap is really, really big.  The simple summary: Other countries make teaching a more financially attractive career for college graduates than we do.”  The piece makes use of several graphs to illustrate its points about “Teacher Pay Around the World.”
More on Grit
Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a review of Angela Duckworth’s new bestseller “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.”  David Denby, in THE NEW YORKER takes amore jaundiced and nuanced view of her book.  His review is titled “The Limits of ‘Grit.'”  “Duckworth’s work,” he notes, “has been playing very well with a second audience: a variety of education reformers who have seized on ‘grit’ as a quality that can be located and developed in children, especially in poor children.”  “I strongly recommend  that you read this review” Diane Ravitch writes on her blog.  “The popularity of ‘grit’ may be just one more of those ‘silver bullets’ that reformers grab onto,” she adds, “as a way to avoid the central problem of our society: growing inequality.”
Election 2016
Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic Party nominee for president, is a big supporter of Pres. Obama’s administration.  Does that mean she will follow a similar path to the one he did regarding education policy?  That’s the concern of Joseph Ricciotti, the author of an op-ed on the CT NEWS Junkie website, who is a retired educator from Connecticut.  “Sadly, [the] forces of privatization received major support from Arne Duncan, the former Secretary of Education appointed by President Barack Obama.  No other Education Secretary, especially Democratic,” he complains, “has done more to privatize and weaken public education than Arne Duncan who was also obsessed with standardized testing.  Under his regime, public schools across the nation experienced two failed programs with Race to the Top (RTTT) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  His so-called ‘testocracy’ grossly neglected the impact of childhood poverty on learning for children from impoverished homes.”  Ricciotti believes Clinton will signal the direction she plans to take on education policy by the person she selects to head the Dept. of Education, should she be elected president in November.  He offers a name that he’d like to see her consider and it may, or may not, surprise you.               The NPE (Network for Public Education) formulated 5 concrete proposals for education policy that it hopes the Democratic Party will include in its platform this year.  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints a press release from the group describing what they’d like the party to support regarding K-12 education issues “In response to the Democratic Party’s request for platform input,” it states, “forty-six national and local grassroots groups join the Network for Public Education Action in its petition that five pro-public education principles be included in the party platform.  The allied groups are united in their opposition to the privatization of public schools, which has been enabled by both political parties.”  Here’s item #1 from their proposals: “1. Eliminate High Stakes Testing.”  Ravitch’s piece includes links to the full statement (7 pages) sent to the Democratic Party and to the Republican Party (also 7 pages).               Does it seem to you that most, if not all, of the presidential candidates this year were woefully uninformed about education issues?  That’s the impression Dave Powell, a former high school teacher and associate professor of education at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, has and what he writes about In his “The K-12 Contrarian” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  His commentary is titled “Educating Our Low-Information Politicians About Education Policy.”  “Over the course of the recently-concluded presidential primary season much digital ink was spilled over the fact that the candidates just weren’t, to the eyes of many observers, saying enough about education,” Powell begins.  “Sure, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sparred over the particulars as they debated the best way to bring down the cost of college—should it be tuition free or debt free?—but a lot of what we heard was either factually incorrect, buried in platitudes, or simply unhelpful.  Especially on one side of the proverbial aisle.”  His solution?  It’s up to teachers and other educators not only to educate their students, as they do every day, but in addition, to inform our politicians, in various ways, about important education issues. 
Charter Schools
An editorial in Tuesday’s L.A. Times deals with the contentious issue of “co-location” between charter schools and the LAUSD, in this case.  Co-location has to do with the sharing of classroom space on district campuses with charter schools.  Sounds pretty straight forward but the devil is in the details.  The editorial defines the term, lays out the issues and offers some suggestions regarding a proposal before the LAUSD board as to how to deal with it.  “School districts are required by law to offer unused, surplus space to charters for a fee under a provision of Proposition 39, which was passed in 2000,” the piece explains.  “Though voters may have figured at the time that the proposition referred to schools that would otherwise be closed, in reality, the space is usually at a less-than-full campus.  A few sharing arrangements have worked smoothly, but most have not.  You’d be amazed how complicated it can be to define what an empty classroom is.”                 This is a pretty good gig if you can get it.  Start a charter school with taxpayer funds.  Makes lots of money through kick-backs and other shady deals.  Get caught by the Securities and Exchange Commission for securities fraud.  Be granted a huge severance package when you resign from the charter.  Get a minor slap on the wrist for your wrongdoing and a tiny fine.  Walk away from the whole episode a wealthy man.  Can’t/wouldn’t happen, you say? Check out, on theFRED KLONSKY blog, the story of Juan Rangel, leader of the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), one of the largest charter networks in Illinois and how he pulled off just such a scheme “Most of the money that Rangel was accused of scamming,” Klonsky writes, “came from a state grant greased by Governor Pat Quinn and Speaker Michael Madigan.  UNO received all but $15 million of the $98 million provided by the state.”              Three Teach for America educators were forced to resign from their Blackstone Valley Prep charter school in Rhode Island after they were caught texting very disparaging comments about some of their students.  The PROVIDENCE Journal has the dispiriting details.  “In the expletive-ridden messages,” it relates, “teachers spoke casually about students, calling them ‘idiots,’ and ‘dumb [expletives].'”  Kind of makes you wonder what TFA is teaching those candidates in their abbreviated 5-7 week training sessions.
Ed Tech            
An article in EDUCATION WEEK profiles 5 education schools that have integrated technology training into their teacher preparation programs.  The good news is, one of them is in California,; the bad (sad?) news is, it’s not Occidental.  “In December, the U.S. Department of Education released the fifth iteration of its National Education Technology Plan, a sweeping vision of how technology should be used in schools.  The plan criticizes the current state of teacher-preparation programs,” the ED WEEK article begins, “saying that across the board, they are failing to prepare teachers to use technology effectively.  Instead of a stand-alone course on educational technology, the report said, programs should incorporate educational technology in all courses.  New teachers should be ready from day one to select and use apps and tools that support their states’ learning standards, department officials decreed.”  [Ed. note: ALOED continues to harbor a hope that Oxy will re-institute its highly regarded credential program and bring it into the 21st century with a strong tech training component.  The time certainly seems right and the need it there for exactly that!  It would be great to see Oxy on that list the next time someone writes an article about teacher prep colleges and universities that include a stress on technology.]              Want a glimpse of a classroom where technology takes center stage?  You have to check out Nicholas Provenzano’s English class at Grosse Pointe South High School in Michigan.  The profile is courtesy of EDUCATION WEEK.  “Step into Nicholas Provenzano’s high school English classroom and you won’t see a dusty chalkboard or students scribbling in notebooks.  Instead,” it explains, “his classroom is mostly paperless.  He has a set of iPads, and most of his students have been taking notes with Evernote for four years now.  The app, which students can use to organize and access their notes, has been a game changer, he said.  Excitement creeps into Provenzano’s voice when he talks about new technology in the classroom.”
During standardized testing season this year and in years past, the “Ed News” highlighted some stories about states that had major technical and mechanical problems with the testing process.  Texas was one of those that experienced major snafus this year as it attempted to administer the assessments.  The Lone Star State had jettisoned Pearson as its testing vendor last year and ETS (Educational Testing Service) began a new four-year contract to provide testing services this year.  Problems solved?  Not even close!  An investigative piece in the TEXAS OBSERVER recounts the myriad difficulties faced this year regarding testing.  It’s a pretty bleak tale and reflects very poorly on the whole testing idea.  The article is titled “All the Ways STAAR Has Screwed  Texas Schools (So Far).”  “Texas’ standardized testing program wasn’t exactly popular before the 2015-2016 school year, but this year’s State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) has been an especially frustrating experience for Texas students, parents and school officials,” it gloomily relates.  “New testing contractor Educational Testing Service, in the first year of a four-year, $280 million contract to administer the STAAR, has seemed overwhelmed by the task: It misdelivered tests, lost records of test answers, and took weeks longer than promised to deliver test scores.”  And those are just some of the problems faced in Texas. The article lays out a number of additional ones.
LAUSD’s Credit Recovery Courses
A lengthy editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times (highlighted in the previous edition of the “Ed News”) raises some questions about the content and quality of some make-up classes the LAUSD is offering for seniors who fall behind in their credits for graduation.  It prompted two letters that appear in Wednesday’s edition of the paper.
ESSA Hearings
Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a story questioning whether the U.S. Dept. of Education was going beyond its mandate of writing rules for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and actually altering the law itself.  DoE Sec. John King appeared before the House Education Committee yesterday to quell fears that his department was making changes to the legislation.  EDUCATION WEEK details his testimony regarding accountability and spending plans.
Corporate “Reform”
And finally, corporate “reformers” are constantly demanding that the public schools operate more like a business.  Many real education experts have consistently pointed out why that doesn’t hold water.  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, reviews, once again, why turning schools into businesses , students into “products” and parents into”customers” just doesn’t make any sense.  He makes a strong argument for why we have to stop seeing schools as businesses.  He uses the for-profit college sector as a prime example.  [Ed. note: For another view of this topic please see the quote at the top of this edition from Diane Ravitch.]             Another thing the corporate “reformers” keep doing is repeating over and over that the traditional public school system is somehow broken or failing.  They repeat those terms so often that the uninformed public begins to believe them.  Once they buy into those ideas, the corporate “reformers” can offer all kinds of (money-making) “solutions” like charters, choice and privatization.  The author of this item in The Atlantic, titled “America’s Not-So-Broken Education System,” is an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts.  “Are the schools perfect?” he asks.  “No.  But they are slowly improving.  And they are certainly better today than at any point in the past.  So why the invented story about an unchanging and obsolete system?  Why the hysterical claims that everything has broken?”


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




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