Ed News, Tuesday, August 2, 2016 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

        “It is the present living generation that gives character and spirit to the next. 
      Hence the paramount importance of accomplished and energetic teachers 
      in forming the taste the manners and the character of the coming age.” 

― Alexander Campbell

CalSTRS Reports Small Earnings Gain
Currently retired?  Retiring soon?  Retiring some day?  If you are a California teacher this news is for you.  CalSTRS, the California State Teaches Retirement System, reported a 1.4% increase in earnings for the past fiscal year.  That was well below the 7.5% target for the program.  A brief item in EDUCATION WEEKreports on the numbers and what they mean.  “CalSTRS lost money in global stock markets but made up for it with gains in its private equity, real estate and fixed income portfolios,”  it states.  “The CalSTRS investment fund had just under $190 billion when the fiscal year ended June 30.  The pension system serves 900,000 teachers and their families.”
John Deasy Resurfaces
John Deasy, the discredited former LAUSD superintendent who resigned under a cloud in Oct., 2014, has reappeared in public.  He is working towards starting a new nonprofit to open alternative juvenile prisons in hopes of reducing the recidivism rates of young offenders.  A story in Friday’s L.A. Times has the details of Deasy’s reemergence.  “Deasy’s embrace of helping troubled youth mirrors that of former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan,” it notes.  “Duncan, a Deasy ally, left the Obama administration in late 2015 and joined the nonprofit education organization, the Emerson Collective, launching an initiative to help dropouts avoid prison by returning to school or finding work.”
Corporate “Reform”
The July 29th edition  of the “Ed News” described the looming battle for control of the school board in Nashville between the corporate “reformers” and privatizers and supporters of traditional public schools.  T.C. Weber, a Nashville public school parent, who blogs under the title Dad Gone Wild, provides the details behind that battle as the Music City moves front and center in a fight that similar cities have experienced.  His piece is titled “Tell Me Again How it’s About the Kids.”  “Nashville has, for the last several years, been an under-the-radar playground for the education reform movement,” he begins.  “People may be familiar with the stories of New Orleans, Newark, Los Angeles, and lately, Denver, but the battles have been just as fierce in Nashville.”              Things are heating up again in Washington State.  After 3 unsuccessful attempts to get voters to approve charter schools, Bill Gates and his billionaire buddies finally succeeded by a razor-thin margin in 2012.  However, last year the state Supreme Court ruled that the way charter funding was set up was unconstitutional.  You would think that would be the end of the story, but no, the corporate “reformers’ and privatizers are not done.  They are bankrolling a candidate in today’s primary election to run against Barbara Madsen, the court’s chief justice, who wrote the opinion in the charter funding case.  The Seattle Times has the details about who is donating the dollars.  “The political arm of Stand for Children spent $116,000 this month on independent expenditures supporting Greg Zempel, Madsen’s chief opponent,” it explains, “in what constitutes the biggest infusion of outside cash in a Washington judicial race since 2010.  The group is funded by some of the same wealthy donors who supported the 2012 initiative to allow charter schools in Washington, which the court’s decision overturned.”             Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” atdeutsch29, has a profile of the pro-charter group Stand for Children and how they are attempting to defeat the judge in Washington who wrote an anti-charter opinion (see above).  “So,[Greg] Zempel [Chief Justice Madsen’s opponent] basically has three-quarters of a million dollars available for ads promoting his campaign,” Schneider uncovers, “and Madsen has $30,000.  One can see where this is going: Stand for Children WA PAC wants to coat the Washington public with a thick layer of Zempel ads so that there will be no more Madsen to, uh, interfere with the Washington taxpayer money flow to those unfortunate charter schools.”              Peter Greene, aka the author of the CURMUDGUCATION blog, also takes a close look at the group Stand for Children (SFC) (see above).  The organization began 2 decades ago as a social justice group and a strong advocate for poor and minority children but itsfocus changed drastically about 6 or 7 years ago into a supporter of pro-charter, pro-choice politicians and policies as chronicled by Greene in his commentary titled “$tand for Children: The Astroturfing of Advocacy.”  “By the time the current decade had rolled around,” Greene suggests, “all traces of the original group and its original priorities had vanished.  In 2011, Texas faced serious budget problems and the prospect of serious education budget cuts.  The old SFC would have advocated for protecting schools and children from those cuts; the new SFC was busy throwing its weight behind new teacher evaluation programs.”             Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, weighs in on the attempt by a group of corporate “reformers” to defeat the chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court (see 3 items above).  “It’s news, but the general practice isn’t exactly new. For years now,” she writes, “wealthy proponents of school choice and corporate school reform have spent a good deal of money to fund like-minded candidates and referendums wherever they happened to be across the country.”  Strauss references the article in the Seattle Times (see second story in this section) and cites several other places where gobs of money were contributed in support of pro-charter, pro-choice candidates including an expensive school board race in Los Angeles in 2013.
Picking a New Superintendent–Insider or Outsider?
When a school district is in the market for a new superintendent, should it stick with an insider or go with an outsider?  Larry Cuban on his School Reform and Classroom Practice blog uses the need for a new chief for the Washington, D.C., schools as his case study and offers some suggestions on how to make the selection.  Cuban was a former high school social studies teacher (14 years), district superintendent (7 years) and college professor (20 years).  He is currently Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University and a prolific author, researcher and blogger.  “On performance, 30 years of research have determined that neither outsider or insider school chiefs perform better because of where they come from,” he suggests.  “Sure, how one defines performance is important and will vary.  But on various measures of the district’s  student outcomes,  teacher and parental satisfaction, relationships with community and unions, there is no substantial differences between districts appointing insiders or outsiders.”
The Opt Out Movement
The State of New York, ground zero of the opt out movement for several years, increased its percentage of students skipping the standardized tests in 2016.  Peter Greene, on hisCURMUDGUCATION blog, has a brief item about the latest numbers and their significance.  “Despite various state attempts to pressure, brow-beat, threaten, cajole, and distribute a huge case of the PR-spin whirlies, the opt out numbers in NY actually went up,”he writes.  “The increase is marginal– in 2015, 20% did not test, and in 2016, 22% did not test.”
Charter Schools
Delegates to the national convention of the NAACP, meeting in Cincinnati last week. approved a resolution calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools nationwide.  The action will not become official policy until the National Board meeting in the fall according to a short piece by Julian Vasquez Heilig on hisCLOAKING INEQUITY blog.  By taking this position, he believes, “the NAACP, the nation’s vanguard of civil rights, has AGAIN demonstrated and articulated critical leadership sorely lacking from many other civil rights organizations on the issue of school choice.”             Steven Singer, on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, has a detailed analysis of the NAACP decision on charter schools (see above).  “Make no mistake, the tide is turning,” he concludes.  “It is becoming increasingly difficult for charter supporters to claim their products boost minority children’s civil rights.  Too many people have seen how they actually violate them.”             The nation’s first school to convert into a charter via the parent trigger law has won an arbitrator’s ruling to remain in its current building.  Desert Trails Preparatory Academy had a charter agreement with the Adelanto, California, Elementary School District through June 30, 2016.  The district refused to renew the charter contract earlier this year and the academy was threatened with the loss of its campus.  The “K-12 Parents and the Public” column in EDUCATION WEEK picks up the story.   “While the ‘parent trigger’ concept was popular a few years ago,” it points out, “the movement has waned recently as parents and advocates have struggled with the practicalities of taking over public schools.”               The long running battle between the LAUSD and the charter school movement MAY be easing.  A story in the “Education Watch” column of Sunday’s ” L.A. Times describes how Supt. Michelle King favors allowing charters to be part of the “enrollment menu” presented to parents as they attempt to decide where to enroll their children.  “There are about 10 types of public schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District,” it points out, “many with their own admissions processes and schedules.  To address that problem, the school district has discussed creating a ‘unified enrollment system,’ a one-stop-shopping experience for choosing between district schools.  Initially, the plan only included district schools and not independent charters — the publicly funded but privately run alternatives that are often accused of draining money and enrollment from L.A. Unified.”             A charter school up in the Bay area is closing despite recently winning a 5-year renewal of its charter.  The Silicon Valley Flex Academy in Morgan Hill served 240 students in grades 6 to 12 according to the SF BAY NEWSwebsite.  Last week “the academy’s board told the county the academy would close,” the article reports, “because of ‘fiscal unsustainability’ after its service provider, K12, cut their contract, county officials said.  Classes for the new school year were set to begin on Aug. 11, according to the school’s website.”  Just another example of a charter school leaving the kids behind!               A new report from the AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA finds that admission policies violate state law at over 1 in 5 of the 1,200 charter schools in California.  You can read a summary of the paper (1 page) by clicking here.  “Among the myriad violations cited in ‘Unequal Access: How Some California Charter Schools Illegally Restrict Enrollment ‘ are policies that establish admission requirements in violation of the California Charter Schools Act,” it describes, “which plainly requires charter schools to ‘admit all pupils who wish to attend,’ regardless of academic performance, English proficiency, immigration status or other factors.”  The summary includes a link to the full report (26 pages).             Charter schools often open and close at astonishing rates.  What happens when those campuses fail?  Lindsay Wagner, writing on the EdNC blog, takes a detailed look at the impact of those closures in North Carolina.  “10 charter schools in North Carolina have closed since 2012,” she writes, “displacing more than 1,100 students, according to the state Office of Charter Schools.  Four of them closed during their first year of operation.  Most closed because of financial problems, but some also closed because of academic failings or improper governance—or all three.  The closing of a charter school is a highly disruptive event for students and their families, and costly for taxpayers as well.  Charter schools that closed in their first year of operation spent altogether about $3.5 million in taxpayer funds with little to show for that investment.”
Election 2016
As both major political party conventions have concluded, will K-12 education issues fade further into the woodwork of the general election campaigns?  Critical topics like Common Core, testing, charter schools, teacher evaluations, unions, tenure and others were rarely discussed during the primary season by either Republicans or Democrats.  Will they be relegated even farther into the background as the November 8th election approaches (less then 100 days away)?  A story in EDUCATION WEEK grapples with that question.  “Based on the dynamics at the just-finished Democratic and Republican conventions—and the profiles of the two nominees—K-12,” it suggests, “is likely to lag behind other issues in a tumultuous election year dominated by national-security concerns, immigration, and sheer force of personality.”  Check out the interesting sidebar titled “Party Platform Highlights” for a comparison of some of the wording of the two party’s documents.             Prior to the 2 major party’s national conventions last month,ED WEEK put together an interactive graphic comparing the education policies of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  Now that those gatherings have concluded the publication has updated its offering to include material from party platforms and the candidates themselves.  If you’d like to peruse the K-12 positions of the candidates running for the Green, Libertarian and Constitution parties and the Socialist Party USA click here for a story from the same publication.
“Love Letter to My Dead Student”
[Ed. note: The following item is be a bit of a downer but it describes a situation that all too many teachers experience nowadays.]  A Chicago high school teacher pens a story with the title headlined above on the EduShyster blog.  She recounts what happened to a troubled student of hers who was gunned down on the street a couple of weeks ago.  “Darrell lived a short, furious, and I hope, frequently happy life.  I hope that he has found some peace, now that his murder, the one that he predicted and anticipated, has happened.  His is not the first death I have encountered as a teacher,”  she concludes, “and it will not be the last.  And that reality makes me sick.”
Common Core
Steven Singer begins the piece on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG titled “Why Is Common Core Still Here?” with a couple of jokes.  If parents, teachers and students are against the standards why are they still around?  “So why do we keep using Common Core? Why haven’t our schools thrown this bad idea on the trash heap of failed education policies?  In short – because industry is making a lot of money off it,” he responds matter of factly.  “Common Core was created by private industry.  It was not made by the states, nor was it written by the federal government.  It was created to sell a new generation of standardized tests and textbooks.  It’s raison d’etre is profit not education.  School children didn’t need a unified set of academic standards.  Big business needed them to sell more books and tests.”  Singer goes back to the beginning of the standards and how they came about and brings the issue right up to our current election for the next president.  He ends, as he began, with a little humor.
Lessons Learned from LAUSD Lockdown
And finally, how many of you remember waking up on Tuesday, Dec. 15, last year and suddenly discovering that the entire LAUSD was on lockdown due to an email threat received by the district late the prior evening?  Then outgoing Supt. Ramon Cortines received both praise and criticism for his decision to close the nations second largest school district.  Over the intervening 7+ months the district has learned a number of lessons from the episode which are recounted in a story in today’s L.A. Times.  “The shutdown was praised, but also mocked,” it relates.  “Some parents were thankful schools were taking no risks.  Others were critical of they way they were informed; New York City got the same email and knew it was a hoax — its schools stayed open.  Eight months later, the district and police are preparing an ‘After Action Report,’ and the state is trying to determine how much money the district should recoup in lost student funds.”


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



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