Ed News, Friday, July 29, 2016 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 “[Math] curriculum is obsessed with jargon and nomenclature seemingly for no other purpose than to     provide teachers with something to test the students on.” 
Corporate “Reform”
Many local district school boards have been targeted for takeover by the corporate “reformers” and privatizers who would like to implement their agenda of charter expansion, teacher evaluations based on student test scores and anti-union policies like the elimination of tenure and seniority, etc.  The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of those stories.  The latest target appears to be Nashville, Tennessee, according to a detailed story in theNASHVILLE SCENE, the alternative weekly in the Music City.  “Even in a city that hosts the state legislature every year,”  it explains, “the politics of education in Nashville have been the most hard-fought game in town since at least 2012, when money poured into campaign coffers in six-digit sums, producing the costliest school board races in Metro history.  The stakes then were high as ever, with charter school organizations looking to expand their footprint in Nashville and the hire of a new superintendent on the horizon.               The Nevada Supreme Court held two hearings today dealing with the state’s wide ranging voucher program(known as “education savings accounts”).  The plan allows Nevada parents to spent up to $5,100 of taxpayer funds on just about any public, private, charter or parochial school of their choice.  The Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews the details of the two cases and the impact they could have nationwide.  “Proponents,” it notes, “argue the voucher-style program grants families more options to meet the unique needs of their students; opponents claim SB302 will drain resources from an underfunded public education system and funnel taxpayer money into religious schools” and the law violates the Nevada Constitution’s prohibition on the spending of public money for sectarian purposes.          Want a peak at what corporate “reform” policies over the last decade and a half and almost 8 years of some Obama administration education initiatives have done to one large urban public school system?  Look no farther than Philadelphia where, apropos, the Democrats wrapped up their convention this week.  THE HECHINGER REPORT chronicles how charters and other “reforms” have decimated the Philadelphia Public Schools and the local union, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT).  The story is titled “Have Obama’s Education Policies Weakened the Democratic Party??”  Union membership has declined from 21,000 to 11,000 and “a third of Philadelphia’s public school students attend charter schools and the union has withered, in a state that will be a key battleground this November,”  it suggests.  “In Ohio, another key state, three in 10 public school students now attend charters in Dayton and in Cleveland.  As the Democratic Party gather[ed] in Philadelphia for its convention this week, an open question is whether Obama’s education policies weakened a key element of the party’s political machinery — and whether Hillary Clinton, the presidential nominee, will continue those policies.”
Charter and Virtual Charter Schools
A number of states, including California, Ohio and Georgia have cracked down on virtual (online) charter schools.  The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of these stories.  Add Oklahoma to that list according to the Oklahoma Watch website.  “Oklahoma education officials are taking their first action ever to shut down a virtual charter school, but the school is fighting the effort,”  it reports.  “The five-member Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the sole authorizer and sponsor of online charter schools, has moved to terminate its contract with ABLE Charter School for noncompliance with the law.  ABLE, whose offices are in Oklahoma City, is the newest and smallest of five virtual charter schools in Oklahoma.”
Election 2016
The Democrats wrapped up their national convention yesterday in Philadelphia.  Douglas Harris, Professor of Economics and the University Endowed Chair in Public Education at Tulane University in New Orleans, offers his commentary on the party’s platform as it relates to education.  His piece is titled “The Democratic Platform: More of a Victory for Reformers Than it Seems.”  It appears inEDUCATION WEEK and focuses on 4 key strands that he identifies.      What does the selection of Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as Hillary Clinton’s running mate mean for the ticket’s policies about education?  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, reviews what a number of other pundits have said about the topic and draws some of this own conclusions.  “There’s no guarantee Kaine will influence the education policy direction of a Clinton administration,” Bryant writes.  “Nor is this to say Kaine is perfect on education or even the most progressive of possible VP candidates Clinton could have picked.”               The pro-corporate “reform” group Democrats for Education Now, an affiliate of the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), met in Philadelphia on Monday at the start of the Democratic convention to discuss how they might influence the party even more towards their agenda of charters, choice, privatization and accountability.  The president of DFER had earlier found the party’s platform on education less that satisfactory.  truthout has a description of the gathering on Monday and what the organization hopes to accomplish.              Diane Ravitch’s blog invited Rachel Levy, a Bernie Sanders supporter, Virginia resident, former teacher, blogger and current PhD. student at the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University, to evaluate Hillary Clinton’s selection of Tim Kaine as her running mate.  [Kaine and his wife] have unapologetically and unwaveringly dedicated their lives to being public servants, to serving their country, state, and local communities,”  she concludes her analysis.  “Isn’t that at least in part what Bernie Sanders campaign was all about?  We rarely see someone like Tim Kaine in politics and now we have the chance to have him serve as Vice President of our country.  It’s time to stop working against him and start envisioning what can be done when he starts working with us.”               Wednesday’s session of the Democratic conventionincluded several speakers who mentioned K-12 policies, the need for expanded preschool programs and condemned gun violence on our nation’s campuses.  EDUCATION WEEK highlights some of the personalities and their comments on education.             Election campaigns offer teachers an excellent  opportunity for their students to learn about politics and government but also carry some risks according to an article in ED WEEK.  The author of the piece, David Cohen, is a veteran high school English teacher in Palo Alto, California.  “In an election year I see a particular benefit to considering our role in educating our youngest citizens regarding our government and politics,” he writes.  “Naturally, an election year also increases the stakes for teachers to handle this responsibility with the utmost planning and care.”              THE HECHINGER REPORT assesses a number of speakers at the just concluded Democratic Convention.  On the topic of education, several commented on preschool programs and solving the college student debt problem but otherwise there was little mention of other K-12 issues.  The critical topic of education, at least to us educators, seems to be a forgotten issue when it comes to our two main political parties.  “Absent [from both conventions] were specific policy proposals about the K-12 education system,” it points out.  “Almost no speaker, including Clinton, addressed such contentious issues as charter schools, excessive testing, the achievement gap, the technology-access gap, Common Core standards and the current racial segregation in so many of the nation’s schools.”
A Black Principal Chimes In
What’s it like to be a black principal in our current racial and political climate?  LeeAndra Khan is the mother of a son and the principal of an integrated middle school in Oak Park, a suburb west of Chicago.  She responds to that question and addresses some of the challenges she faces “leading (schools) while black.” Catalyst CHICAGO has her story.  “The struggle is real, but this is leadership on the ground and we must actively look for solutions to problems,” she relates.  “To start, leaders can’t be afraid to have tough conversations about race and inequality.  Districts need to invest time and money in developing school leaders and teacher-leaders on how to facilitate these conversations.  And leaders are best supported with data and with narratives from and about children.”
“What are the Schools Our Children Deserve?”
That’s the title of an audio program from a special edition on the Bust*ED Pencils website.  It features a number of interviews with such education luminaries as Alfie Kohn, Anthony Cody, Peter Greene, Julian Vasquez Heilig and several others.  The segment runs 20:55 minutes and centers on Kohn’s 1999 book “The Schools Our Children Deserve.”
The Teaching Profession
Here’s an intriguing question for both veteran teachers and newbies: “Does Teaching Get Easier With Time?”  It’s addressed by Starr Sackstein, a 14-year veteran writing and journalism teacher in New York City.  She has two interesting lists in her piece that appears in EDUCATION WEEK.  One with “some aspects of teaching [that] do get easier” over time and one with things that “will never get easier.”   Check out both her lists and see what you think. 
And finally, Finland is often held up as having an exemplary education system.  Their students continually rank among the highest scorers on various international assessments.  Peter DeWitt’s commentary on the Finding Common Ground” column forEDUCATION WEEK offers “3 Reasons We May Never Be Like Finland.”  “Sure, we want to be like Finland but we seem to want their results without putting in the work to get there.  That work involves working collaboratively in our school communities,” he maintains.  “We need less drill, kill and bubble fill, and  more of a focus on learning.  We need to have a more authentic understanding of what we want out of our education system.  Finland doesn’t get caught up in the test scores, as much as they focus on understanding what progress looks like, and creating a love for learning and a respect for education among their students and families.  That seems to be the thing we think of the least in the US.”


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




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