Ed News, Friday, September 16, 2016 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

         “The walls of the school can’t stop the education.” 

― Tanmaya Guru

Charter Schools
California’s network of charter schools is increasing being scrutinized for its lack of transparency and accountability.  The results are not encouraging.  Joel Warner, author of an investigative piece for CAPITAL & MAIN, cites Carol Burris’ recent exposè of financial and management problems with many charters in the state (highlighted in the Sept. 9th “Ed News”) and places some of the blame on Gov. Jerry Brown’s pro-charter policies.  “Part of the problem, says Burris, is Governor Brown’s pro-charter stance; last year he vetoed a bill that would have banned for-profit charter schools in the state,” Warner writes, “a restriction that even many charter school advocates support.  Another factor, says Burris, is that the California Charter Schools Association, which did not respond to a request for comment for this article, has become a powerful lobbying force against many reforms, thanks to major funding from deep-pocketed charter advocates.”              Charles P. Pierce also cites what’s been uncovered about the charter industry in California (see above) in an article for Esquire, which he titles “The Charter School Movement is a Vehicle for Fraud and Corruption As it is Presently Constituted.”  He’s from Massachusetts and the voters there are facing Measure 2 in November which would lift the cap on charter expansion.  Pierce mentions what’s going on in California as a good reason why voters should reject Measure 2.  “There’s now a bill before Governor Jerry Brown that would tighten the public accountability standards for charter operators within the state,” he concludes.  “The evidence is now abundantly clear in a number of states: As it is presently constituted, the charter school movement is far better as an entry vehicle for fraud and corruption than it is for educating children. The fact that the charter industry is fighting to maintain its independent control over taxpayer funds is proof that the industry knows it, too.”               Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, compares the money spent to try and pass Measure 2 in Massachusetts (see above) with the dollars raised in opposition to it AND, maybe more importantly, where the money comes from.  The proponents, supported by heavy contributions from out of the state have easily out-raised the opponents whose funds come mostly from within the Bay State.  You can find lots of figures and analysis and what it all means by clicking here.             Here we go again!  An online Ohio charter is battling in court over millions of dollars of taxpayer funds and how students log-in for attendance purposes.  EDUCATION WEEK attempts to sort this conflict out for you.  “Ohio’s largest online charter school wants taxpayers to give it $106 million in annual funding regardless of whether students log in or regularly participate in classes,” it notes, “the state argued in court.  State attorney Douglas Cole’s remarks came as the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow and the Ohio Department of Education battle in court this week over the school’s request for a preliminary injunction barring a requirement to provide log-in durations.”  [Ed. note: The arguments offered by the charter are awfully disingenuous. I’ll ask my usual question again: Could a traditional public school get away with this BS?]               Despite having one of the worst charter networks in the country, the federal Dept. of Education (DoE) just released a $71 million charter school grant to Ohio.  They did attach some “high risk special conditions” to the aid which you can read all about, and much more, on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post.  “When asked,”she reveals, “federal officials admitted that they hadn’t quite realized just how scandal-ridden Ohio’s charter sector was, and decided that it would investigate.”  That inquiry uncovered an awful lot of financial malfeasance and mismanagement but, apparently, not enough to terminate or limit  the financial support.  The feds did add some tough restrictions to the grant and only time will tell if charters in the Buckeye State can get their house in order.  Strauss includes copies of a letter from the DoE to the Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction and one from Sen, Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to the DoE.             There is lots of room to debate the efficacy of attending charter schools versus traditional public ones.  You can now add another area of contention: whose graduates earn the most money during their careers?  The answer, based on research in Florida and Texas, is predictably mixed.  In the study from Florida, charter graduates did better than their non charter peers.  However, the findings in Texas report the opposite.  If this is confusing, check out a story in EDUCATION WEEK that attempts to make sense of it all.  “The reason there has been so little research on long-term outcomes of charter schooling—such as earnings—is because charter schools simply haven’t been around that long,” the article mentions.  “The first law creating charter schools was passed in Minnesota 25 years ago this summer.  Texas passed its law in 1995, and Florida in 1996.  In many states, charter graduates are just starting to enter the workforce in large enough numbers to study.  But other hurdles remain for researchers. . .  Many variables could account for the studies’ opposing findings, from small differences in methodological approaches to differences in student populations and even in schools.”  The item includes links to both studies, however the Texas one requires a subscription.
Corporate “Reform”
You can add Chris Christie’s name to the list of governors who seem bent of trying to destroy traditional public education in their states.  Eric Sheninger writes on his A Principal’s Reflections blog about all the things Christie has done or is doing to accomplish that aim.  “Instead of developing rational strategies based on sound research to support districts, schools, and educators who need the help the most, Christie has implemented a one-size-fits-all approach that goes against the tenets of good pedagogy,”  Sheninger contends.  “The NJDOE [New Jersey Dept. of Education] has done his bidding long enough and need to begin to push back against his destruction of public education in NJ.  It would also be wise of the NJ State Board of Education to take a hard look at how their rubber stamp on Christie’s education agenda has not a shred of supporting research or evidence of success.”
School Leaders
“Our Schools Need Leaders, Not Managers” is the provocative title of an op-ed in the “K-12 Contrarian” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  The author, Dave Powell, is a former high school teacher and currently an associate professor of education at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.  In discussing the qualities of an excellent leader he cites a recent incident in which the manager of the L.A. Dodgers pulled his starting pitcher after 7 innings Saturday night despite the hurler having a perfect game up to that point.  Powell uses this decision as an example of the important trait leaders possess of risk taking.  In Powell’s telling, the Dodger manager was sorely lacking that characteristic.  “So what makes a person a good leader?  We threw around a lot of the standard stuff: good leaders are purpose driven and goal oriented; they listen well; they understand that effective leaders are good collaborators; they’re emotionally intelligent,” Powell relates.  “Check, check, check, check.  But there’s another trait that I look for in good leaders: a willingness to take risks.  Now, I know this is not what most people look for in a leader—and the last thing many leaders want to do is take unnecessary risks.  I would agree that taking unnecessary risks is undesirable but I balk at the idea that careful, cautious leadership is what people in positions of authority should strive for, especially in schools.  In fact I wouldn’t call that leadership at all.  I’d call it stewardship.”
Students Serenade Teacher Battling Cancer
How about this for an uplifting story?  Several hundred high school students and faculty members at a parochial school in Nashvilleserenaded a popular teacher who is battling an aggressive form of cancer.  The amazing story appears on THE HUFFINGTON POST and includes a short video (58 seconds) posted by country music star Tim McGraw on his Facebook page.  
Election 2016
As of today (Friday) the Nov. 8th election is only 55 days away.  Teachers are finding it a little daunting to present such a bizarre campaign to their students. EDUCATION WEEK once again comes to the rescue.  Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted some suggestions, by grade level, as to how to deal with the personalities and issues of this election from the same publication.  This one also offers some specific ideas and provides a list or resources, with links, that educators may wish to make use of in a sidebar titled “Teaching Election 2016.”   “If Donald Trump were in school, many of his comments would earn him a trip to the principal’s office,” it begins (only partly in jest).  “That’s according to many educators across the country, who say they are struggling with how to teach an election cycle that has inflamed racial and ethnic tensions, sparked name-calling between the Republican presidential nominee and Democratic standard-bearer Hillary Clinton, and drawn stark lines between—and even within—the parties. . . .  Despite the myriad of challenges of teaching the 2016 election, however, many teachers also see it as a unique opportunity.”               Alan Singer, writing on THE HUFFINGTON POST, dissects Donald Trump’s policies for K-12 education that he unveiled at a Cleveland charter school last Thursday (covered extensively in Friday’s and Tuesdays editions of the “Ed News.”) You can tell from his title what Singer thinks of them: “Trump’s Plan to Destroy Public Education.”  He outlines the schools that Trump attended (all private and expensive) as well as where Trumps children went to school (also all private and expensive.)  “All of this makes The Donald as much an expert on public education as he is on the military, foreign policy, or life on the economic margins,” Singer replies disdainfully.  But that isn’t stopping Trump from promoting his education plan, one designed to destroy public education in the United States.  The basic Trump proposal is to divert $20 billion in federal grants from public school districts to charter, private, parochial, and online schools, effectively bleeding public school systems to death.”               Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, has a rather different take on Donald Trump’s education policies.  His piece asks “Is Donald Trump the Charter School Industry’s Worst Nightmare?”  Bryant believes that Trump’s speech has now made charter schools into a partisan issue.  The Democrats, under Hillary Clinton, may decide to move away from their lukewarm support of charters and oppose them outright because of their now identification as part of the right wing Republican agenda.  “Thanks to Trump’s proposed giveaway to these schools,” Bryant suggests, “the political left will quite probably regard conservative support for charters as an attempt to ‘gut public schools.’”             In November, Georgia voters will be asked to approve an amendment to the state constitution that would create an Opportunity School District.  It would allow the state to take over districts with low test scores, thus eliminating local control.  The measure is modeled after a system in Tennessee which has done little to turn around schools there.  Michigan and Louisiana also have programs that have produced little in the way of positive results.  Myra Blackmon is a columnist for the Athens Banner-Herald and her piece appears on the paper’s OnlineAthens website.  She writes about a number of local school boards that are opposed to the amendment and have drawn a great deal of flak for taking that position.  Blackmon believes the whole concept of a state takeover of certain districts is a very poor idea from the get-go and sees the proposal for what it really is.  “The so-called ‘Opportunity School District’ is among the worst,” she argues, “of a long string of dangerous ideas and policies forced on local school districts in Georgia.  It is a power grab, pure and simple, moving control of local schools from those closest to them to an unaccountable gubernatorial appointee who, from on high in Atlanta, will dictate local education policies and practices.  The language both on the ballot and in the enabling legislation sounds like a plan for everyone to hold hands and happily work to improve education.  But that’s a lie.  These self-styled rescuers of poor children want to turn education over to their buddies in the privatization movement.  They want accountability for everyone but themselves.”
How to Make (Lots of) Money From Public Education
The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has a little-know program called Pay for Success (PFS), aka Social Impact Bonds.  How does it work?  The federal government partners with the private sector to help fund successful community programs in many areas including schools.  That’s the theory.  However, the devil is in the details according to Kenneth J. Saltman, a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at UMass, Dartmouth.  Opining on the counterpunch website, he titles his extensive investigative piece “Wall Street’s Latest Public Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success.”  After discussing his “5 Myths,” Saltman concludes: “Pay for Success/Social Impact Bonds ought to be understood as simply one of the latest efforts of the private sector to exploit and to pillage the public sector for profit at a historical moment of uncertain economic growth and a crisis of capital accumulation.  New legislation and policy,” he calls for, “must be developed to limit the access of investment banks to determining, running, and profiting from social programs.”              Valerie Strauss also featured Saltman’s article (see above) on her website for The Washington Post and had this to say by way of introduction to it: “If it sounds as if [Pay for Success is] a way for the private sector to make money off investments in public education, that’s because it is.  Supporters say it is a great way to get private entities to invest in schools that need resources.  Critics say it is more likely to help the private entities earn a lot of money than do much for children.”
The Teaching Profession
Over the past several months the “Ed News” has highlighted a number of articles pointing out states with various degrees ofteacher shortages.  A new analysis by the Learning Policy Institute, led by Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond, looks at federal data and predicts the shortfall will continue nationally for several more years.  There are several reports in the package and they are featured in an article in EDUCATION WEEK.  “The shortages are being driven” it says, “by both an increase in demand and a decrease in supply: Schools are beginning to lower student-teacher ratios and reinstate classes that were reduced or eliminated in the 2008 recession.  But teacher attrition rates are high, and teacher-preparation program enrollments have fallen 35 percent nationwide in the last five years, the report says.”  Be sure to enlarge the chart in the sidebar titled “Teacher Supply and Demand Projections” for a graphic illustration of the problem.  The article includes a link to all the reports and you can find a very interesting 50-state interactive map with ratings of each state by various indicators that will help you understand why each state is facing a teacher shortage by clicking here.  There is also a link to it at the very end of the article.               Why is it so difficult for teachers who are licensed in one state to teach in another?  That question is addressed in a piece in ED WEEK. Some states have reciprocity with others but it still requires individuals to navigate what can be a circuitous route to obtain a credential in their new state.  “Most licensed professionals can move across state lines with little more than their licenses in hand,”the story begins.  “This is not the case for teachers, who discover that a license is often not worth the paper it’s written on.  For them, a move across state lines frequently entails red tape to be negotiated, new tests to be passed, new courses to be taken, and a new license to be obtained.”               Peter Greene is now writing forThe Progressive in addition to the regular work he pens for his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  In this entry he reflects on his thoughts as he prepares to go back to school after the summer break.  If you’ve taught for more than one year (he’s starting his 38th) I’m sure you will be able to relate to what he writes.  [Ed. note: I can especially relate to his “Teacher Nightmare” scenario. It afflicted me almost every time I went back to school.]  “All this means that every new year is exciting because my students are new and the work is new,” he explains, “even as certain foundational factors remain the same.  That is just one reason my job is so cool—the awesome mix of growth and stability.  Tomorrow is going to be a great day.  Curtain up.”
Texas Denies Special Ed Services to Eligible Students
 The Houston Chronicle has a shocking extended investigative article outlining how Texas has deliberately denied tens of thousands of students the special education services they need and deserve.  Why did state officials do this?  To save millions of dollars in order to keep taxes low, why else?  The state quietly set an arbitrary cap of 8.5% on the number of students who could receive special ed services.  This callous decision caused a number of students to be denied the services they need.  “Over a decade ago, the officials arbitrarily decided what percentage of students should get special education services — 8.5 percent — and since then,” the story reveals, “they have forced school districts to comply by strictly auditing those serving too many kids.  Their efforts, which started in 2004 but have never been publicly announced or explained, have saved the Texas Education Agency billions of dollars but denied vital supports to children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, traumatic brain injuries, even blindness and deafness. . . .  Texas is the only state that has ever set a target for special education enrollment, records show.  It has been remarkably effective.  In the years since its implementation, the rate of Texas kids receiving special education has plummeted from near the national average of 13 percent to the lowest in the country — by far.  In 2015, for the first time, it fell to exactly 8.5 percent.”  Shame on Texas for this heartless policy and all in the name of saving money!
Education Reform
Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a story about one particular philanthropy that was spending its money IN SUPPORT of traditional public schools. Diane Ravitch included a link to the original item on her blog.  She received some sharp criticism for promoting a company that her son had invested in.  Anthony Cody took umbrage at those critics and fired off a response on hisLIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  “This latest barrage fits into a pattern among some activists that is quite destructive to the movement,” Cody complains.  “A strong social movement is marked by respect among activists for one another.  We go out of our way to lend support to one another’s work.  Diane does this every day through her blog – where she brings to light the writing and events of many others – including some of those now attacking her.  If we have differences, we can highlight our views in our posts.  If we have serious concerns, we can communicate directly, and do our best to express them.  We save our fire for those trying to destroy public schools, those promoting segregation and busting our unions.  That is how we build solidarity and trust, the two things that are indispensable to any strong movement.”
High School Redesign Competition Winners Announced.
The “XQ Super School” contest to redesign the high school of the future announced 10 initial winners who will each get $10 million to implement their projects over the next 5 years.  3 of the winning teams were from California (Oakland, Vista and Los Angeles–see the next item below for more about the L.A. winner).  A story in the “High School & Beyond” column for EDUCATION WEEKdiscusses the contest and briefly summarizes the winning teams’ proposals.  “Each of the winners of XQ: The Super School Project,”the article relates, “will have $10 million over the next five years to undertake ambitious projects centered on innovative, engaging approaches to learning.  All projects serve student populations that are predominantly low-income and/or racial minority.”              A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times features the winning proposal submitted by two L.A. teachers who are profiled in the piece.  Their plan is called RISE (Revolutionary Individualized Student Experience) and they want to open a charter school that serves homeless and foster youth.  “XQ officials, in announcing the winners on Wednesday, described RISE as a ‘completely new’ model,” the piece reports.  “The idea is to have three to four physical sites sharing space with existing nonprofits as well as an online learning system.  A bus will also be turned into a ‘mobile resource center,’ to bring Wi-Fi, a washer/dryer and homework help to the neediest students.  That way, if a student suddenly moves or can’t get to school, he or she will have various options to get tutoring or the day’s lesson.”  The article includes a short video (1:23 minutes) in which the 2 teachers outline how RISE will work.
Teacher Preparation Programs
More and more criticism is being leveled at traditional college and university teacher preparation programs.  Some of it is deserved but most is unfounded and unsupported by any credible evidence.  A number of independent, alternative teacher training programs have sprung up recently with little evidence that they can provide a superior experience.  Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, invites Kenneth Zeichner, a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington, Seattle, to comment on the attacks on the traditional teacher training programs and the impact those other programs are having.  His remarks are from the Executive Summary of the full report that he authored.  “Teacher education provided by U.S. colleges and universities,” he begins, “has been routinely criticized since its inception in the early nineteenth century, sometimes deservedly.  These programs, like non-university programs, are uneven in quality and can be improved.  What makes today’s criticisms different is an aggressive effort by advocacy groups, and self-proclaimed educational entrepreneurs to deregulate the preparation of teachers, and to expand independent, alternative routes into teaching.  This effort to ‘disrupt’ the field of teacher preparation in the United States has gained considerable momentum and legitimacy, with venture capitalists, philanthropy, and the U.S. Department of Education all providing sponsorship and substantial funding.”  You can find Zeichner’s full report (29 pages), titled “Independent Teacher Education Programs–Apocryphal Claims, Illusory Evidence,” from the NEPC (National Education Policy Center) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, byclicking here.
Textbook Controversy in Glendale
A group of parents in Glendale has complained about the adoption of a Spanish language textbook because several passages reinforce negative stereotypes about Latinos.  The book is intended for middle and high school students who are studying Spanish as a foreign language according to a story in today’s L.A. Times. The Glendale USD board is reconsidering its decision to adopt the text.  “Officials are also looking to give parents a seat at the table during future textbook-adoption considerations,” the item points out.  “Their input would be considered before a book goes to a textbook committee or piloted in the classroom, and in advance of the school board weighing final consideration.”
Ethnic Studies Curriculum Becomes Law In California
And finally, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that makes California the first state to develop a curriculum guide for the teaching of ethnic studies according to an article in the “Curriculum Matters” column for EDUCATION WEEK.   “More than two dozen California schools and districts are already offering ethnic studies courses,” it explains.  “And a group of researchers at Stanford University found that ethnic studies courses were associated with improved academic outcomes and attendance for students in San Francisco.  . .  The California law does not require high schools to offer the class.  Once the model curriculum is finished, schools will be ‘encouraged’ to offer an ethnic studies course as an elective.”
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


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