Ed News, Tuesday, June 28, 2016 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

               Monday is the Independence Day holiday. 
            It marks the 240th birthday of the United States of America.
               Inline image 1
 [Ed. note:  The “Ed News” will be taking a short break for the holiday.  Look for the next edition on July 12th.]
                “Privatizing our public schools makes as much sense as privatizing 
                  the fire department or or the police department” 

― Diane Ravitch

And now to the news.

Charter Schools
Another legislative deal yields some big prizes for charter schools in New York.  Republicans in the state legislature in Albany  agreed to grant New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio one more year of control over his city’s schools in return for 2 major provisions that charter schools have been seeking.  A story in The New York Timesdiscusses the trade-offs.   One major victory for charters will now allow them to hire even more uncertified teachers than is currently allowed.                What happens when a school with a large number of high needs students is turned over to a private company for a makeover and a turnaround?  Great things, right?  NOT so fast, pardner!  Case in point?  Boston’s Paul S. Dever Elementary Schoolwas turned over to Blueprint Schools in 2014 and in the two years since, things have not gone so well.  The June 21st edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a story from the Boston Globe that detailed what took place at the school.  Jennifer Berkshire, on her EduShysterblog, takes a closer look at the Globe article and adds some analysis to what happened at the school and why in a piece titled “As the School Spins.”  Sub headline: “A Boston School Turnaround Spins Our of Control. . .”  “Today’s topic: what happens when state officials hand a school whose students are among the highest needs in Boston to a team of outside turner-arounders who have never before run a school?” she begins.  “The answer, as [the June 20th] Boston Globe report indicated, is nothing good.  But might there be more, by which I mean less, to this story than meets the eye?  Grab your handrails, reader, and steer clear of the fairground corn dogs. Things are about to get awfully spinny around here.”               An Alameda County, Calif., grand jury report found that charter schools in Oakland ” aren’t outperforming their district-run counterparts, and on average, performed worse last year in statewide results,” according to a story in The San Jose Mercury News.  In addition, the report called for better management of the schools and more oversight.  “The grand jury chose to examine Oakland’s charter schools because the district has the highest number of any city in the county,” the article notes.  “Nearly 25 percent of the city’s public school children attend charters, compared with the national average of 6 percent.”  You can find the full report (134 pages, see pages 85-94 for the charter school chapter) titled “2015-16, Alameda County Grand Jury Final Report” by clicking here.               Two education non-profits have merged.  5 years ago former LAUSD Supt. John Deasy announced an ambitious plan to raise $200 million through a partnership with wealthy philanthropist Megan Chernin to aid students in the LAUSD.  That organization, the Los Angeles Fund for Education, fell far short of its goal and this week announced a merger with LA’s Promise a group that currently manages 3 district schools.  The new group will be called the LA Promise Fund whose goal will be to help form and support charter schools (what else?).  An article in today’sL.A. Times has all the details.  “While L.A. Unified students are expected to derive some benefit,” the piece suggests, “the mega-district now is left without an outside foundation devoted to supporting the 550,000 students in district-operated schools.  By contrast, the target of the Beverly Hills Education Foundation is to raise an average of $1,000 per student, or about $4 million annually for its more than 4,000 students.”                What happens when the parents of some students at a cyber charter become suspicious of some financial chicanery and other monkey business and begin asking questions?  Why the founder of the school turns around and sues six of the parents for slander, libel and civil conspiracy!  You don’t believe that could happen?  Read what occurred to some parents of the Agoura Cyber Charter in Pennsylvania in a story in the Philadelphia Enquirer.   “The parents denied the allegations and said they had merely sought information about the taxpayer-funded school their children attended,” it explains.  “The parents – and several legal experts – said the case had all the marks of a suit aimed at quashing public debate or stopping criticism of officials known as a ‘strategic lawsuit against public participation’ (SLAPP).”  Diane Ravitch calls this “one of the strangest stories of the week or year.”
Teacher Training Programs

A coalition of alternative teacher training groups has written a letter to Congress and the U.S. Dept. of Education asking them to create a system for evaluating teacher preparation programs based on a number of metrics.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATIONblog was unable to hide his disdain for this idea.  “Yes, it’s one of the Top Ten Dumbest Reform Ideas Ever, back for another round of zombie policy debate.  The same VAM-soaked high stakes test scores that has been debunked by everyone from principals to statisticians to teachers, the same sort of system that was called ‘arbitrary and capricious’ by a New York judge, the same sort of system just thrown out by Houston– let’s use that not just to judge teachers, but to judge the colleges from which those teachers graduated.   Why would we do something so glaringly dumb? The signatories of the letter say that consumers need information.”  Greene includes a link to the group’s original letter (3 pages) with a list of some of the metric they’d like to see included, for your perusal.               The two authors of a story in THE HECHINGER REPORT are involved in the Seattle Teacher Residency program and make a case for projects like theirs as being the best way to train teachers.  Although residencies can be expensive, they claim that in the long run they are much more cost effective than traditional teacher training methods.  “The residency model is a better way,”they argue.  “It’s an investment, streamlining the costs of hiring and turnover in a district while mitigating the negative impact that chronic turnover has on a school culture and the education of a child.  Most importantly, this approach prepares teachers to deliver on the promise of public education for every child, preparing students for lasting success in the classroom and beyond.  So we ask again – can we afford not to train our teachers this way?”
Corporate “Reform”
Has it really become one of the goals of certain corporate “reformers” and privatizers to have kids fail more?  If you don’t believe that you need to be introduced to the concept of “productive failure.”  Yes, you read that right, “productive failure.”  Alfie Kohn, author of a number of books on education, parenting and human behavior, looks at the idea and finds it rather wanting.  This piece, from his Alfie Kohn website, is headlined “The Failure of Failure” and is adapted from his book “The Myth of the Spoiled Child” that was published in paperback in March of this year.  “We may wishthat students who do poorly at something,” he mentions, “will react by squaring their shoulders and redoubling their efforts until, gosh darn it, they turn things around.  But that result is more the exception than the rule.  When kids ‘learn from failure,’ what they’re likely to learn is that they’re failures.”               Does offering parents more choices of where to send their children to school mean better schools?  If you listen to the corporate “reformers,” the answer is “absolutely!”  The facts tell a different story.  Case in point–Detroit.  An extensive investigative item in The New York Times ,titled “For Detroit’s Children, More School Choice But Not Better Schools,” puts the lie to that corporate “reform” argument.  “While the idea was to foster academic competition, the unchecked growth of charters [in Detroit] has created a glut of schools,” it reveals, “competing for some of the nation’s poorest students, enticing them to enroll with cash bonuses, laptops, raffle tickets for iPads and bicycles.  Leaders of charter and traditional schools alike say they are being cannibalized, fighting so hard over students and the limited public dollars that follow them that no one thrives.”
School Funding
A few states, like California, are attempting to provide extra funds to schools with the highest needs students.  The Golden State’s Local Control Funding Formula has been accomplishing that now for a couple of years.  NOT New Jersey.  Republican Gov. Chris Christie has proposed a budget plan that would provide an equal number of dollars to all districts.  An editorial in The New York Times is rather astounded at Christie’s hubris.  “While it sounds reasonable, a flat amount would make it impossible for poor communities to provide a sound education,” it points out, “for disadvantaged children who need classrooms with more resources.  The state is required by law to send more money to those communities because they simply don’t have the tax base or property values to raise additional revenues on their own.”  Christie wants to amend the New Jersey constitution to do away with that provision in order to provide property tax cuts for the wealthy.  
Graduation Rates Questioned
An extended editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times raises some questions about those increases in graduation rates that many districts and states are reporting.  It is the second in a 2-part series on graduation rates.  A link to the first editorial is included in this one.  The first one, which was highlighted in last Tuesday’s “Ed News” was skeptical about LAUSD’s “recovery courses” for students to make-up credits towards graduation.  Part 2 outlines a number of ways the Times believes states and districts are artificially increasing those graduation rates, i.e., simplifying or doing away with exit exams, not counting all students and offering those “watered down” credit recovery  classes.  “The question, though, is whether schools will bring those [graduation rates] up the hard way, by improving the quality of education – or by falling back on shortcuts and gimmicks,” this editorial wonders.  “Early indications suggest that they’ll do a combination of both.  States and school districts, not just locally but across the nation, have already come up with a wide array of ways to make graduation rates look good on paper.”
Killing Teachers in Mexico
The June 21st edition of the “Ed News” highlighted several items about a rally in Mexico over proposed education reforms in whichseveral teachers were killed by police in a violent clash on June 20th.  Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG,  weighs in on the deaths in a piece titled “Killed For Being A Teacher–Mexico’s Corporate Education Reform.”  “Conflict between teachers and governments has become commonplace across the globe,” he suggests, “as austerity and neoliberalism have become the policies du jour.  Tax cuts for the rich lead to shrinking public services.  And investment in the next generation through public education becomes a thing of the past. . . . Though in America educators have been ignored, unjustly fired and even arrested for such protests, the Mexican government has resorted to all out murder.”
New LAUSD Budget
The LAUSD school board approved a $7.6 billion budget for the 2016-17 school year at their regular meeting last week.  The “Explainer” column in yesterday’s L.A. Times takes a look at 3 key issues regarding how the dollars will/should be spent.  
A Little History of School Desegregation in California
70 years ago, when Sylvia Mendez was 10 years old, her parents filed a lawsuit in California to allow her to attend a predominantly white school in her Orange County neighborhood.  Their case was the first to challenge segregated education in the country and after two court rulings in their favor legislation was signed making the Golden State the first to ban segregated neighborhood schools.  She was recently the graduation speaker at a school that bears her name, Mendez High in Boyle Heights that opened in 2009.  The “Education Watch” column in yesterday’s L.A. Times tells her story and profiles the now 80-year old pioneer for school integration.  “When Mendez entered elementary school during World War II,” it relates, “about 80% of Mexican American students in Orange County attended segregated schools where speaking Spanish was prohibited, boys trained for industrial jobs, and girls were taught how to cook and crochet.”
The Teaching Profession
In the past the “Ed News” has highlighted stories about student absenteeism.  Now comes a study about teacher absenteeism from the Education Week Research Center that dug deeper into data provided by the U.S. Dept. of Education.  It found that slightly more than 25% of teachers missed 10 or more days a year reports an article in EDUCATION WEEK. Hawaii (75%) and Nevada (49%) had the highest rates of teachers missing 10 days or more while Utah (16%), South Dakota (17%) and Idaho (18%) had the lowest figures. California?  24%.  Check out the interactive map with figures for all 50 states.  “Both Education Week’s analysis and a 2013 study by NCTQ found teacher absenteeism was virtually the same for schools with high and low concentrations of students in poverty,” the piece mentions.  “Schools with high concentrations of low-income students were about equally likely to have high rates of teacher absenteeism as other schools.  (The Education Week analysis did not include racial data.)”                Amazon is getting into the education materials business.  Yesterday, the company announced the launch of “Amazon Inspire” which will be a free service providing digital education resources for teachers and other educators.  Another Story in ED WEEK has a preview of the site.  According to the article the site will contain ” thousands of free lesson plans, activities, and other instructional materials for teachers.”  You can access the amazoninspire beta site by clicking here.
Co-Location in LAUSD
A recent edition of the “Ed News” highlighted the topic of “co-location,” the sharing of space on LAUSD campuses with charter schools and the battles being fought between the two sides.  Last week the school board voted to create a committee to deal with the contentious issue according to a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times “The school board directed the superintendent to form a group,” it explains, “that will suggest ways to make the process for giving charter schools space on district school campuses more transparent for all those it affects.  The group could include parents, district school principals, teachers and charter school leaders. . . .  In 2015-16, about 50 charter schools used space on campuses of L.A. Unified schools.”
Tenure and Seniority
In the initial ruling in the Vergara case in 2014 the judge tossed out teacher tenure and seniority rights claiming they violated the California constitution.  In April of this year a state appellate court overturned that decision and now the state supreme court is contemplating whether to take up the case.  In the interimAssemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) introduced legislation to deal with some of the issue raised in the original lawsuit.  George Skelton, in his “Capitol Journal” column in yesterday’s L.A. Timesdescribes her battles with the CTA (California Teachers Association), which he calls “ arguably the most powerful labor union in the state.”  Regrettably, he makes the union out to be the ogre in the fray. 
Election 2017 (That’s Not a Misprint) 
The charter movement continues making inroads into the world of politics.  If they’re not getting involved in school board races or state legislative contests they are looking for other offices to conquer, i.e., mayor of Los Angeles.  Steve Barr, founder of the Green Dot Charter chain in L.A., announced that he would challenge incumbent Eric Garcetti for mayor of L.A. in 2017.  A front-page story in today’sL.A. Times profiles Barr and his strategy for the race.  “Barr’s entry into the 2017 race,” it mentions, “comes amid a historic push by local activists to expand charter schools as an answer to problems in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and is likely to revive debate around a recurrent theme in L.A. government: the relationship between LAUSD and City Hall. L.A.’s mayor, unlike those in Chicago or New York City, has no formal authority over the school district.”
SOS Event July 8-10
And finally, the Save Our Schools “People’s March for Public Education and Social Justice” is taking place this year on July 8-10 in Washington, D.C.  For information about the event, a detailed schedule of activities and to register click here.  “The big news is that the march and rally will be at the Lincoln Memorial,” the publicity states, “and the SOS Activists Conference will be at Howard University!  Our coalition of grassroots groups, union organizations, and activists is growing, so join the mass gathering of children and adults who are rallying and marching in support of education and social justice this summer!”  ALOED member Larry Lawrence will once again be attending.


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



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