Ed News, Friday, August 5, 2016 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

  “We will continue to chase rainbows unless we recognize that they are rainbows 
  and there is no pot of gold at the end of them.” 

― Diane Ravitch

Charter Schools
Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a brand new report in EDUCATION WEEK from the ACLU Southern California that found that over 20% of the charters they studied in California followed illegal policies in their  admissions procedures.  Wednesday’s L.A. Times amplified on that study and offered some California details.  “In a written response to the report,” the Times piece mentions, “the California Charter Schools Assn. urged its member schools to revise their policies, saying, ‘charter schools must be open to any student interested in attending’.”            Andrea Gabor, on her eponymous Andrea Gabor website, writes about the disaster that befell Michigan when that state voted to expand the number of charters.  Her primary concern is her home state of Massachusetts which faces a ballot initiative in November to authorize a major expansion of charters.  Gabor’s analysis is certainly germane to other districts or states contemplating a similar action.  She takes a detailed look at a recent report (highlighted in the “Ed News”) about the serious financial impact charters have had on traditional public schools in Michigan.               Why is there a big push for charter expansion in Massachusetts (see above) which has one of the highest rated traditional public school systems in the country?  A partial answer: follow the (hidden) money.  The corporate “reformers” and privatizers who are pushing the initiative have invested millions of dollars into the campaignitself and have also helped fill the coffers of state and local politicians who are supporting the action, according to a story fromWGBH, the PBS affiliate in Boston.  The author is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.  “The privatization effort in Massachusetts is a construct of several wealthy families,” he concludes, “and the campaign has been going on longer than is generally realized.  Also, a good deal of the campaign is ‘off the books’– at least so far as campaign finance disclosure goes.  Tracing this money is no casual task and the interconnections are vast.  The privatization effort is much more expensive and hidden than we realize and there is no grassroots.”  Diane Ravitch describes this piece as “an appalling story of a wealthy elite using their money to undermine democracy and to steal public schools from the community that paid for them.”           Two researchers from Harvard and Princeton who are members of the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) studied charter schools in Texas and came away with some rather startling conclusions about test scores and future earnings.  “We find that, at the mean, charter schools have no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings.  No Excuses charter schools increase test scores and four-year college enrollment,”  the introductory Abstract points out, “but have a small and statistically insignificant impact on earnings, while other types of charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings.  Moving to school-level estimates, we find that charter schools that decrease test scores also tend to decrease earnings, while charter schools that increase test scores have no discernible impact on earnings.”  The full report (77 pages) is titled “Charter Schools and Labor Market Outcomes” and can be accessed by clicking here.  Diane Ravitch called this “an astonishing study.”              The Washington Supreme Court last year tossed out an initial charter school law in the state ruling its funding formula was unconstitutional.  The legislature went to work and created a revised law. Now a coalition of groups has brought suit challenging that effort according to an article in EDUCATION WEEK.  “In 2012, voters passed Initiative 1240,”  it reviews, “making Washington the 42nd state to approve charter schools.  The measure provided for the opening of as many as 40 charter schools within five years.  The first opened in the fall of 2014; there are now eight, in Spokane, Tacoma, Kent, Highline and Seattle.  Last year, the Washington Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to invalidate the initiative, finding charter schools were not eligible for public school funding because they are controlled by a charter school board — not by local voters.”               Here we go again!  Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, regales his readers with yet another example of financial funny business in nine Pennsylvania charter schools.  This time it has to do with several schools collecting taxpayer money, to the tune of $2.5 million, to pay for leases for properties they already own. That just so happens to be in direct contravention of Pennsylvania Dept. of Education guidelines.  “It’s shocking that so many charter school operators would consider themselves entitled to state money,” Singer complains, “for something that doesn’t cost them anything to provide.  They are supposed to be running public schools, but they continually flaunt their ability to disobey the law at state expense.  This money doesn’t do a thing to help students learn.  It goes directly into charter operators’ pockets.  For education advocates, this is one of the most pervasive problems with the charter industry.  Making profits is put before educating children.  At traditional public schools, surplus earnings are not allowed by law.  All taxpayer funding goes to provide services for the students.”
The Opt Out Movement
New York State and Long Island have continued to be ground zero in the opt out movement.  A story in POLITICO has specific numbers as to where in the Empire State the test refusal trend is focused.  Suffolk County, in eastern Long Island leads the way with 55% of its students refusing to take standardized tests; Clinton County, in the very northeastern corner of the state was second with 45%.   “In spite of the state’s efforts to quell the movement,” the piece spells out, “about 230,000 eligible third- through eighth-grade students (about 21 percent of the total) refused to take the state standardized, Common Core-aligned math and ELA exams this spring — a 1 percent increase from last year.  The state led the nation in 2015 with the highest number of students opting out.  More than 220,000 students refused to take the exam last year.”
Bill Honig Resurfaces
If you weren’t around in the 1980s and 90s you probably won’t recognize the name “Bill Honig.”  He was a long-time educator who was elected California Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1983 and served in that position for 10 years.  He recently created theBBS Building Better Schools website.  You can find his home page by clicking here.  From there you can read his autobiography and peruse some of his early efforts.  Bookmark the site if you wish.  “I urge you to read it,” Diane Ravitch suggests.  “Bill is a staunch friend of public education.”
Common Core and Testing
The author of this commentary on THE HECHINGER REPORTposes an interesting question: “Can Common Core Reading Tests Ever Be Fair?”  It focuses on the PARCC assessment for English and Language Arts as seen through the eyes of teachers, students and the principal of one low performing elementary school in Newark, New Jersey.              Are test scores being manipulated AGAIN in order to justify all that testing?  That’s the charge leveled by Leonie Haimson, founder of Class Size Matters and a member of the NPE (Network for Public Education) and NYSAPE (New York State Allies for Public Education), who believes the latest scores released in New York State are fishy, at best.  Writing on the NYC Public School Parents website, she identifies 4 ways to artificially increase scores on standardized assessments: “1. Make the tests shorter  2. Allow more time to take them  3. Make the questions easier  4.  Change the cut scores and/or translation from raw scores to performance levels.” Haimson thinks the state did numbers 1, 2 and 4.  She illustrates her well-argued piece with a number of graphs, charts and a telling cartoon.
Corporate “Reform”
How does a corporate “reform” funded improving teaching conference compare to one supported by actual teachers?  Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence we can all find out.  Lawrence invited Tom Ultican to attend the Bill Gates bankrolled and Common Core promoting “Better Together California Teacher’s Summit” in San Diego after both had taken part in the Network for Public Education’s gathering in Washington, D.C., last month.  Ultican, a high school math and physics teacher in San Diego compared the two conferences on his TULTICAN blog.  He offers some very enlightening insights.  “This is a real and present danger to the teaching profession, quality public education and democracy in America,” Ultican laments in conclusion.  “As enjoyable as lunch paid for by Bill Gates and conversations with fellow educators was, I feel the hidden purpose behind the Better Together California Teacher’s Summit was the end of the teaching profession and public education as we know it.  That is not a good thing!”              The Dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania charges that corporate “reformers” and their push to “disrupt” traditional public schools in order to promote their agenda of charters, choice and privatization are, in effect, “devastating” childrens’ educations.  Those are VERY strong words but Pam Grossman, writing on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blot in The Washington Post, makes an extremely convincing case.  “‘Disruption’ — the philosophy that’s worked its way through so many industries — has become a buzzword among education reformers,” Grossman begins.  “Tear up the systems.  Invent something new.  Iterate through the failures until you find success.  But in education, disruption that ignores research about what works can disrupt children’s lives and opportunities.  As we have seen in the cities where these experiment are being tried on the biggest scale — Detroit, New Orleans, Philadelphia — when disruption fails, the consequences for children are devastating.”  She suggests readers look at Detroit where “reform” has gone terribly wrong and concludes with some ideas of how education can be improved based on previous research and strategies that have proven successful in the past.                The previous two editions of the “Ed News” highlighted stories about the corporate “reformers'” attempt to take control of the school board in Nashville.  Guest what?  Their plans came a cropper.  The Nashville News Sentinel describes a major defeat in The Music City for the pro-charter, pro-choice privatizer crowd.  “More than $750,000 buys plenty of campaign mailers and advertisements,”  it begins.  “But it doesn’t necessarily buy election wins.  Stand For Children, an education advocacy organization, found that out the hard way Thursday night.  After spending a small fortune, all four candidates it backed in the Metro Nashville school board election and a handful of state GOP primary challengers lost their races.”               Stand for Children, the group that bankrolled the corporate “reform” attempt to take over the Nashville school board (see above) may have violated campaign finance laws according to a consumer rights group and a Nashville parent who both intend to file a petition seeking an investigation into improper coordinationbetween SFC and some pro-charter school candidates it supported according to a story in THE TENNESSEAN “The petition cites a recent story by The Tennessean,” it relates, “that details emails sent by the head of a prominent Nashville nonprofit showing she coordinated with Stand For Children to find campaign workers for the four school board candidates.”         Delaware has an interesting way of handling possible financial funny business in its charter schools.  Tom Wagner, the State Auditor, simply covers it up or at least that is what appears to be taking place.  When Kathleen Davies, an employee in the auditors office, was finalizing a report on some charter schools’ handling of petty cash she was abruptly placed on a “leave of absence” and her report was quietly deep-sixed.  You can read about all the dirty details on the Exceptional Delaware blog.  “So now we have an elected official voluntarily choosing to cover up information,” the author of the piece explains.  “This makes the very bizarre action against Davies’ look even more suspicious.  Who knows what other activity is being ‘stopped’ by Tom Wagner.  Lord only knows how much else she found.”
Douglas County, Colorado, Voucher Program Tossed Out AGAIN
A Denver District Judge ruled Wednesday that the reconfiguredvoucher program in Douglas County was still unconstitutional.  The same judge who tossed out Douglas County’s previous program decided that this latest iteration still did not meet constitutional muster.  The Denver Post has the details on this latest ruling.  “The district’s voucher program has been mired in various legal challenges since it was first introduced in 2011,” it explains.  “After the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling in 2015 that the state constitution banned the use of public funds for sectarian instruction, the district in March introduced a new version of the program that would allow taxpayer money to help cover a private school education, as long as those schools didn’t have a religious affiliation.”

The Teaching Profession
Dr. Mitchell Robinson, on his Keep Talking . . . blog, is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Music Education Department at Michigan State University.  In this edition he writes about the state of music education in our K-12 schools.  In some places it’s doing just fine and in others, he illustrates, it still faces a number of obstacles.  “Whenever I get a chance to hang with music folks we have the best conversations–and by that, I mean that I hear some absolutely jaw-dropping, eye-popping stuff about what is actually happening out in their schools with respect to educational policy and practice,” he explains.  “To be clear, in many school districts, things are going swimmingly: music programs are healthy and robust, performing ensembles are full and thriving, and schedules are constructed so as to make students’ learning comprehensive and teachers’ duties reasonable.  But in too many places, decisions are being made that just don’t make sense.”             A guest blogger on the EduShyster website has a critical review of Doug Lemov’s “Teach Like A Champion.”  The title of her commentary is “Teach Like It’s 1895” and she’s rather shocked at the techniques being espoused by the book that’s particularly popular in charter schools, especially those “no excuse” practitioners.  “The pedagogical model espoused by Lemov,” she charges, “is disturbingly similar to one that was established almost a century ago for the express purpose of maintaining racial hierarchy.  Like Teach Like a Champion, this initiative was implemented largely through teacher education and funded and directed entirely by wealthy white businessmen and industrial philanthropists.”              Everyone seems to be touting technology as a way to improve student learning and achievement.  Is possible the trend is going too far?  Giles Scott, a high school English teacher, explains why he no longer allows his students to bring laptops and tablets to his class.  His commentary appears on Valerie Strauss’ column in The Washington Post.  “I’m not convinced,” he argues, “that the best way to equip students with the ability to negotiate technology is to further attach them to it.”
Teacher Ed
And finally, charter schools continue to proliferate despite questions about how effective they are.  Is charterization now taking aim at college and university teacher preparation programs?  That’s the question addressed by an article in the LIVING in DIALOGUEblog.  It’s concerned with the entry of the Relay Graduate School of Education into Connecticut.  Relay, as you may remember from previous items in the “Ed News,” is an “alternative” method for earning a teaching credential as opposed to the traditional path of getting it through a college or university program.   The author of this piece is an associate professor of education at Connecticut College and she decries the entry of Relay into her state.  “These efforts to privatize and deregulate teacher education are being pushed in large part by charter school operators and their supporters,” she maintains, “who have stood to benefit from the charterization of teacher education.  For example, the first campus of the charter-school affiliated and charter-like Relay Graduate School was founded in New York City in 2007 by representatives from three of the most well known (and oft-critiqued) charter school chains (or as they tout themselves ‘public school networks’): KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and Achievement First.  In the years since, Relay has birthed 11 more campuses nationwide, backed by funding from the same bevy of philanthropists and corporations.”


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


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