Ed News, Tuesday, September 20, 2016


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

Fall officially begins at 7:21 a.m. on Thursday.

“If an education does not teach the person how to live right, 
then the fact is that it is also not teaching how to make the right living.” 

― Anuj Somany

Charter Schools
Ever wonder what happens when a charter abruptly closes it’s doorsin the middle of the school year and what becomes of the students and staff?  Well, wonder no more!  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times describes what happened in real life when the L.A. City Charter (LAUSD) suddenly went “out of business” on Friday, a month into the school year.  The unforeseen shutdown strands 116 high school students plus faculty, staff and administrators.  “L.A. Unified assembled a transition team for students,” the article reports, “after City High informed the district [last] Tuesday that the school was ceasing operations, spokeswoman Shannon Haber said in an email Thursday. . . . The closure also leaves teachers in the lurch.  They will receive severance through the end of October and school leaders are trying to help them find new jobs.”  [Ed. note: How often does this scenario play out with traditional public schools?  But I repeat myself!]       From the “charter-school-scandal-of-the-day” file comes this item:  A charter network with 3 campuses in Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona was sued in federal court for using taxpayer money to teach religion.  “Attorney Richard Katskee, legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that specifically includes teachings of founder, president and teacher Earl Taylor Jr.,”according to a story in the Arizona Capitol Times, that the Ten Commandments, including those that mandate the worship of God, must be obeyed to attain happiness.  Other teachings, he said, include that socialism violates God’s laws.  And Katskee said the school engages in a form of proselytizing by telling students ‘they are duty-bound to implement and instruct others about these religious and religiously based principles in order to restore the United States to freedom, prosperity and peace.’”              Why is it that charter schools suspend and expel many more students than the traditional public schools and a high percentage of those suspensions and expulsions are of African-American children?  Answers to that question are provided in an article in The Atlanticthat offers data and statistical analysis from New York, Washington, D.C. and Boston.  “The perceived harm that charter schools are disproportionately causing to black students through intense disciplinary practices has started to spark political pushback.  In late July,” it reports, “delegates attending the NAACP national convention passed a resolution supporting a moratorium on any further expansion of privately managed charter schools, citing their role in furthering segregation and ‘psychologically harmful environments.’”
The Teaching Profession
The working conditions in your classroom or office may leave much to be desired but they probably pale in comparison to what teachers and staff experienced after the devastating floods that hit Louisianalast month receded. In many districts the high water either delayed or interrupted the start of the new school year.  An article in The Washington Post describes the difficult situation faced by students, faculty and staff in the aftermath of the event as they faced damaged homes, classrooms and communities.  Some people in the hardest hit parishes literally lost everything. “Although some districts remain closed indefinitely — and the superintendent of one hard-hit district is living in an emergency shelter — the majority plan to welcome students back within the next two weeks, according to John White, the Louisiana state superintendent,” the item describes.  “But school leaders are far more worried about making sure they have enough teachers than they are about the physical condition of classrooms, White said. . . .He estimated that 4,000 teachers and other staff members who are critical to the schools’ operation — including bus drivers, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals and janitors — have been displaced by the flood.”
Corporate “Reform”
Megan Thompkins-Strange, writing on the Transformation blog, hits the nail on the head with a very simple question: “Why Should Bill Gates Decide How Our Children Should be Educated?”  She uses Gates as a stand-in for all those individual billionaires and wealthy foundations who throw their money around influencing politicians and dictating education policy as if they are experts.  Her essay is subtitled: “Billionaire philanthropists are imposing their views on the rest of society with little accountability for their actions.”  She explains how education is and needs to continue to be treated as a public good and not turned into a private commodity to be funded and controlled by the moneyed philanthropists and their foundations.  “The best way for foundations to contribute to society is by listening, learning and placing their resources at the service of the public,” Thompkins-Strange concludes, “not using them to pursue their own narrow views of what they think the public needs.  After all, it’s never too late to get an education, even for a billionaire like Bill Gates.”              Erik Mears is a military veteran and a teacher who lives in New York City.  Writing on theProvocations Blog, he finds that the corporate “reform’s” core beliefs are terribly elitist.  “America’s corporate education reform movement has been a marketing success.  Reformers,” he complains, “have popularized slogans that promote a radically new public school system; one where tenure and bargaining rights are abolished or severely degraded; where CEOs and administrators, who may have backgrounds in business, politics or public relations rather than education, make hiring and firing decisions; and where data-based accountability — necessarily driven by test scores — perpetually imperils schools, tenure- and union-less teachers, as well as students who must conform to onerous protocols and codes of conduct under charter school contracts.”  Mears proceeds to identify “3 unutterable beliefs” of the corporate education reform movement.  To illustrate, here is his Unutterable belief #1: Though we cannot destroy teachers’ and students’ rights through democracy, we can destroy them through charter school proliferation.”               Valerie Strauss, in her “Answer Sheet” column for The Washington Post, features a new book titled “Learning From the Federal Market Based Reforms–Lessons for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).”  It’s published by the NEPC (National Education Policy Center) out of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and co-edited by the managing director of the NEPC and an associate professor at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. “For years the United States has embarked on an effort to reform its public education system, a civic institution, that has been based on market principles and the belief that standardized testing is the best way to assess students, teachers, principals, schools, districts and states.  The results?  Not exactly what market reformers had hoped,” Strauss writes by way of introduction before turning her space over to the two editors.  “The promise of ‘market-based’ reforms just didn’t pan out,” they suggest matter-of-factly.  “The invisible hand of the market was to be the solution primarily through charters and privatizing schools.  Even if we gave full weight to the market-based claims, these efforts fell far below what we staked out as our goal.  A growing body of literature shows that charter schools do not perform better than traditional public schools and they segregate schools by race and by socio-economic status.”
“Why is the State of Florida Trying to Destroy its Own Public Schools?” is the title of an extended item from the FLORIDA VIEWPOINT blog.  The author is a member of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) from the Sunshine State and provides a litany of answers to the question posed.  Former Gov. Jeb Bush is identified as the “proud sire of ‘reform’ and ‘accountability” in Florida.”  “The legislative dismantling of public education in Florida accelerated about six years ago,” the author adds, “when the Florida legislature started enacting statutes designed to hasten the demise of Florida’s public schools, as well as the teaching profession itself.  By simply ignoring political opposition and public outcry, anti-public education lawmakers have accomplished what many would have considered impossible just a decade ago.”               Jennifer Berkshire interviews the two authors of a new study that looks into the growing phenomenon of the need for marketing and branding as the concept of “school choice” and competition expands rapidly.  The millions of dollars that are poured into convincing parents to send their children to this charter or that charter and the ramifications of all that salesmanship are covered in the course of the conversation. Berkshire’s Q & A appears on herEduShyster blog.  Marketing strategies and dollars are not only being used to attract students but, interestingly, also teachers as her piece indicates.  “If you’re doing, say, a national search for non-unionized teachers, who can potentially come from anywhere, marketing is going to be really important,” one of the authors of the study responds.   “If you look at some of the videos online you can find teachers talking about why teaching at one of these schools is so great.”  You can find a short overview of the study and/or the full paper (31 pages) which is titled “Perceptions of Prestige: A Comparative Analysis of School Online Media Marketing.” They are published by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education out of Teachers College, Columbia University
Texas Districts Spend Millions on High School Football Stadiums 
But Skimp on Special Ed Services
Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a shocking investigative piece from the Houston Chronicle about how the State of Texas deliberately and quietly put a cap on the number of special education students it would fund thus eliminating services for tens of thousands of special ed students in the Lone Star State and saving millions of dollars.  The “Ed News,” putting 2 and 2 together, can speculate about what those funds go for–MILLION DOLLAR HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL STADIUMS!!!  Saturday’s L.A. Times has an incredible piece about how one district spent $60 million on a brand new, state-of-the-art, HIGH SCHOOL football stadium which was, at the time, the most expensive in the state only to see a rival district, playing one-upmanship, fork over $70 million for a new stadium and earn bragging rights for having the biggest and most expansive one.  The arms race on building high school stadiums dates back at least 15 years.  “The trend appears to have taken root in 2001,” the article mentions, “when Carroll High School in Southlake built a stadium holding about 12,000 for $15.3 million.  A handful of high school stadiums seating about 10,000 or more have since sprung up, mostly around Dallas, though down south in Katy, a suburb of Houston, a $62.5-million stadium is under construction.” Apparently, in Texas, at least, size matters!  And anyway, what’s more important:  football stadiums or special ed services?  [Ed. note: Please excuse me, I’m going to be sick to my stomach.  This is UNBELIEVABLE!]               An item in Saturday’sTimes about a growing “rivalry” between high schools in Texas to build the biggest and most expensive football stadium possible (see above) drew the ire of 4 letters-to-the-editor in today’s paper.  Each one was incredulous at the choice to build such palaces instead of spending the money on more necessary and important things.
Election 2016
What is Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence’s record on education?  If his policies as governor of Indiana are any indication, you can see him being a strong advocate of privatization and charters despite their very poor results in the Hoosier State.  ALTERNET outlines Pence’s close relationship to ALEC and his penchant for vouchers and charters.  “A recent National Public Radio profile of Pence’s education record,” it explains, “noted that he has been one of the leading governors pushing K-12 privatization. ‘Under Gov. Pence, the growth in the number of charter schools and the use of private school vouchers have exploded,’ it said.  ‘After the voucher program survived a state Supreme Court challenge in 2013, it’s grown into one of the largest in the country.  Pence helped to do that by advocating to expand the program to include middle-income, not just low-income families, and also by removing the cap on how many students qualify.’  Yet this May, when WTHR, Indianapolis’ NBC-TV affiliate, looked at the charter school experiment, it found that ‘nearly half of the state’s 76 charter schools are doing poorly or failing.’ The scores were based on the state’s new accountability standards.”               In 2012, voters in California temporarily approved a measure to boost the state’s income tax rates on incomes over $250,000.  A portion of the increased revenue was earmarked for K-12 schools and community colleges in the Golden State.  Prop. 55 on the November 8th ballot would continue those increases until 2030.  A recent USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll shows the new measure being approved by 55% of voters with 35% apposed according to a story in Saturday’s L.A. Times. “Supporters of the initiative,”  it points out, “which include the California Teachers Assn., California Hospital Assn., Service Employees International Union and the California Medical Assn., have raised more than $45 million.  By contrast,opponents have not reported raising funds.  The quiet campaign for Proposition 55 is a stark contrast to the one in 2012, when the income tax hikes were first introduced and business groups spent heavily against it.”               Donald Trump has a new 60-second TV ad about education.  You can view the ad, courtesy of  YouTube, by clicking here.   Diane Ravitch’s blog briefly critiqued the spot.               Peter Greene, writing onThe Progressive, looks at the possible impact on education policywhen Donald Trump/Mike Pence or Hillary Clinton/Tim Kaine are elected and take office next January.  “We know that no matter who’s President,” he complains, “the policies will favor charter schools, testing, and rhetoric about saving the non-wealthy and non-white students—while simultaneously pursuing policies that cut their schools off at the financial knees.”  Greene suggests that the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will shift key battles over education policy to the state level so that’s where traditional public school proponents need to focus their attention, resources and effort.              As the Nov. 8th election approaches, both major party candidates for president are beginning to look beyond that event and plan for a possible transition to a Trump or Clinton administration.  Who they select for their transition teamscan give a big hint as to what types of education policies they will pursue.  An article in the “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK profiles two people Trump recently tabbed to be on his education transition team.  “The Trump campaign has been creating a decent amount of education-related news recently,” it mentions, “after several months in which Trump mostly made only cursory mentions of the topic.  On Sept. 8, Trump outlined his plan to create a $20 billion federal school choice program for students in poverty, and also backed merit pay for teachers.  And on Sept. 13, he unveiled a suite of child-care policies that include six weeks of paid maternity leave and tax credits for child-care costs, among others.”  Peter Greene discussed a couple of the folks on Clinton’s team (see item above).
LAUSD School Scrambles to Boost Enrollment as “Norm Day” Approaches
The Santee Education Complex (LAUSD), south of downtown, faced a problem as “norm day” approached on Friday, Sept. 16.  It was 3 students short of its target enrollment and the district would pay for more teachers if it could track down those 3 pupils.  A front-page story in Saturday’s L.A. Times describes how the school’s dean and other staff trekked across the campus’ attendance area in an attempt to enroll 3 more high school students.  “Santee’s enrollment stood at 1,779 students in the general education program.  (Students with special needs are counted separately.)  Although this was a significant improvement over past years, it still was shy of principal Martin Gomez’s goal of 1,782, and time was running out.  Like most L.A. district schools, Santee had until Sept. 16, “’norm day’ in education jargon, to increase its enrollment.  For the district to pay for more teaching positions, all the school needed was three more students.  A one-time head count taken on Friday would decide which schools got more teachers and funding, according to a predetermined ratio, and which had to face the unpleasant reality of losing staff and redistributing children.  Until then, a ritualistic scramble would take place, largely invisible to the public, but with real consequences.”  [Ed. note:  Sorry, but you’ll have to read the story to find out if Santee met their target.  I will say this: it’s a real cliffhanger.]
Starting School Later in the Day
An op-ed in Sunday’s L.A. Times makes the case for starting school later in the day for middle and high school students.  The “Ed News” has highlighted this issue several times in the past.  The author of the current piece, Lisa L. Lewis, is a freelance writer who specializes in education, parenting and public health issues.  She lives in Redlands where the local high school begins at 7:30 a.m.  “It’s well known that teens who don’t get at least eight hours of sleep a night,” she begins, “face a slew of problems.  That’s why both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control recommend shifting middle- and high-school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later.  Yet during the 2011-12 school year — the most recent statistics available — only 17.7 % of the nation’s public middle, high and combined schools met the 8:30 a.m. guideline, and nearly 40% started before 8 a.m.  In California, the average start time was 8:07 a.m.”  [Ed. note: Huntington Park High School (LAUSD) where I worked for 27 years before retiring in 2009, was on a year-round, extended day schedule.  Period 1 began at 7:25 a.m.]
Student Protests During Pledge of Allegiance
You may have read or heard about San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to the start of games as a protest against racial injustice.  A 14-year-old Native American teen in northern California has been conducting a similar action for a number of years.  She’s been refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in protest of how her ancestors were treated.  A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times features her and the actions of other students around the country.  It includes a video segment (2:41 minutes) from KPIX Channel 5, the CBS affiliate in San Francisco, featuring the young woman explaining why she’s protesting and what are the ramifications of her action.              As those national anthem protests spread from NFL sidelines to high schools (see above), how should districts respond?  The “Rules for Engagement” column forEDUCATION WEEK reviews some similar actions from the past and offers some suggestions for ways to make them “teachable moments” rather than handing out punitive responses.
Connecticut to Appeal Judge’s Ruling Ordering Sweeping 
Overhaul of State’s Education Funding System
Connecticut will appeal a Superior Court judge’s recent ruling that the state’s school funding system was arbitrary and irrational and particularly harmed low-income children.  A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times has the details.  The judge “gave lawmakers and Gov. Daniel P. Malloy’s administration 180 days to devise a new funding formula for public schools. . . .  He also directed the Legislature,” it mentions, “to devise a new way of evaluating and compensating teachers, principals and superintendents, as well as instituting a graduation test for high school seniors and revising the way special education services are delivered.”
LAUSD Board Considers Starting the School Year Later
And finally, as the new school year was kicking off last month, the “Ed News” highlighted an article in the L.A. Times about why most school districts in California had moved the traditional beginning of the school year up from some time after Labor day to mid-August.   A story in today’s paper describes how the LAUSD board is considering a motion to go back to a post-Labor Day start and why they are contemplating that action.  “Under the proposal, the school year would shift from a mid-August start to after the Labor Day holiday,” it points out, “which is the first Monday in September.  The year would end in the latter part of June rather than early in that month.
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s