Ed News, Friday, October 7, 2016 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

[Ed. note: The “Ed News” will be taking a short break.  
Look for the next edition on Tuesday, Oct. 18.]
“I have always been dismayed by the West’s failure—or unwillingness—
to recognize that establishing secular schools that offer children 
a balanced and nonextremist form of education is probably the cheapest 
and most effective way of combating this kind of indoctrination.” 
Teacher Training
The Relay Graduate School of Education offers a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree.  The program was created by charter proponents to mostly train educators for charter schools.  The course of study for the degree is rather questionable and for a number of reasons Pennsylvania rejected Relay’s application to offer it in the Keystone State.  Mercedes Schneider, on her “Edublog” at deutsch29, outlines the problems the Pennsylvania Dept. of Education (PDE) reported for turning down the request.  In should be noted that New York, for some reason, approved Relay’s request to offer its MAT in the Empire State.  “Based upon the detailed PDE criticisms levied against Relay for its sham of a masters, I cannot imagine it thinks it stands a chance on appeal in PA,” Schneider writes.  “However, I really would like to see how Relay would manage to pull together a grad-level research library in a charter school back yard.  New York should be embarrassed for its role in pseudo-legitimizing the Relay MAT in the first place.”  [Ed. note: For a more detailed look at the Relay program, see the Carol Burris story on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post by clicking here.]
Comparative School District Information
Have you ever tried to find detailed information about school districts much less tried to compare several districts?  It’s not an easy task. EDUCATION WEEK describes a new website that compiles data on 114 cities in 49 states and the District of Columbia compiled by the (gulp) George W. Bush Institute in Dallas.  “Website users, for example, can compare graduation rates, per-pupil spending, teacher salaries, and the availability of early-childhood-education programs in Chicago; Des Moines, Iowa; and San Francisco. . . . Among other measures,” it reports, “that users can see across cities: percentages of new teachers, chronic student-absenteeism rates, completion of federal financial-aid forms, performance on state tests in reading and math, and middle school algebra-completion rates.  Users can further compare cities using filters such as geography, population, race, child-poverty rates, median income, and charter school enrollment.”  The Bush Institute did not make any attempt to rank or grade any of the districts.  The article includes a link to the data base.  [Ed. note: I checked out average teacher salary adjusted for cost of living and came up with these figures: Los Angeles = $66, 167, New York City = $60, 587, Chicago = $56,580; spending per pupil yielded these numbers: Los Angeles, $12,807, New York City, $25,243, Chicago, $14,542.  If you are any kind of an education data nerd or just want to see some hard to find statistics, try it out.]
Charter Schools
John Thompson, writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, features some new research on charter schools and choice programs being pushed by the corporate “reformers.”  Proponents of those types of policies will not be pleased.  He reviews an anthology of articles in book form titled “Learning From the Federal Market-Based Reforms: Lessons for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)” from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) out of the University of Colorado, Boulder.  Thompson’s article is titled “Charters and Choice: Research Shows Negative Impact.”  [Ed. note: The “Ed News” highlighted this volume when it first came out earlier this year.              One of the biggest criticisms of charter schools is their lack of accountability and transparency.  Even in light of these issues, foundations, philanthropists and even the federal Dept. of Education continue to poor millions of dollars into charters.  Now the DoE’s own inspector general is blasting the department for a serious lack of oversight of the grants it awards under its own Charter Schools Program.  An audit conducted by the watchdog agency is featured in Valerie Strauss’ column for The Washington Post.  It “looked at the relationship that several dozen charter schools have had with their own charter management organizations (CMOs),” the piece mentions,  “It found, among other things that there were ‘internal control weaknesses’ related to the schools’ relationships to their CMOs that were so severe that the department’s own program objectives were at ‘significant risk.’” Strauss includes a link to the full report (67 pages) titled “National Assessment of Charter and Education Management Organizations.”  She cites another survey that found some major problems with charters in California: “A 2015 study reported that more than 200 charters have closed in California, nearly one out of every five that have opened, due to a range of issues including financial mismanagement, unsafe school conditions, and material violations of the law.”               U.S. News & World Report also features the audit from the Office of Inspector General (see item above) regarding the effectiveness of charters and the organizations that run them, claiming that they pose a risk to U.S. Dept. of Education (DoE) programs and goals. .  The article focuses on some different findings in the report which covers 33 campuses in 6 states which were audited between July, 2011 and March, 2013.  “Specifically, the report found instances of financial risk, including waste, fraud and abuse, lack of accountability over federal funds,” it notes, “and lack of assurances that the schools were implementing federal programs in accordance with federal requirements at 22 of the 33 schools they looked at, all of which were run by management organizations. . . . Moreover, the inspector general’s report found that the Education Department did not have effective internal controls to monitor, evaluate and mitigate those risks, nor did it ensure that state departments of education were overseeing charter schools and their management organizations.”  After findings like this, one has to wonder if the DoE will continue to pour millions of dollars into its Charter Schools Program.                Jeff Bryant, blogging on theEducation Opportunity NETWORK, weighs in on the audit conducted by the Office of Inspector General into charter school funding by the U.S. DoE (see two items above).  He reviews the findings of the report and chronicles a number of states (including California) that have major problems with their charter school sector. His commentary is titled “Federal Government Continues to Feed Charter School Beast Despite Auditor’s Warning.”  “The federal auditor’s report recommends the convening of a formal oversight group to look into charter school financial malfeasance, more rigorous review of charter school operations by federal agencies, and legislative changes in Congress to firm up government oversight,” Bryant concludes.  “Here’s another recommendation: Stop federal funding to expand these schools.”            Mercedes Schneider, on her blog at deutsch29, continues to monitor the millions of dollars, much of it from out of state, being channeled to the committees in support of Question 2 on the Massachusetts ballot in November.  The measure would lift the cap on the number of charters in the state.  “To date, the ballot committees in favor of Question 2,” she points out, “have raised just shy of $14.5 million in unique dollars to expand charters in MA– with $8.6 million of that amount (60 percent) coming from New York-based Families for Excellent Schools– and being dumped into the coffers of Great Schools Massachusetts.  In contrast, the single ballot committee opposing Question 2, Save Our Public Schools, has raised $7.2 million– just under half of the amount raised by the pro-charter-expansion camp.” Why is so much money being funneled into promoting Question 2 when a recently released poll of 403 “likely voters” in Massachusetts conducted between Sept. 27th and Oct. 3rd found 47% opposed, 34% in favor and 18% undecided?  I’ll let you answer that question.             Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a court decision that would force Ohio’s largest online charter, ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow), to refund over $60 million in taxpayer dollars it collected for what turned out to be inflated attendance figures.  A follow-up story in The Columbus Dispatchmentions 8 other cyber or online schools that could be forced to turn over to the State Dept. of Education about $23 million also for over reporting attendance numbers.  “In all, the eight schools reported 4,998 students, but the state verified 1,654 students, one third of the total,” it reveals.  “That includes Quaker Digital Academy and the Buckeye Online School for Success, which got credit for zero students.”               Have you ever attended a traditional public school district board meeting?  How about a charter school board meeting?  The “Teacher in a Strange Land” column in EDUCATION WEEK is titled “Seven Things I Learned From Attending a Charter School Board Meeting.”  It’s written by Nancy Flanagan, who describes herself as “a school board meeting veteran,” and who decided to attend the local charter school board meeting of the Grand Traverse Academy.  A K-12 campus in Traverse City, Michigan.  “I did this,” she writes, “because the charter in question had been ‘coopted by [an] unreliable and ethically challenged operator.’  This is no longer a secret, but the school operated for more than a decade before its founder and ‘curriculum’ creator was indicted for tax fraud.  Steve Ingersoll, an optometrist–the aforementioned ethically challenged operator –was charging the school $12,500/month for this so-called curriculum, Integrated Visual Learning, Ingersoll’s ‘intellectual property,’ an ‘extension of behavioral optometry into the field of education.’  Two years after his indictment, he was still collecting $12,500, monthly.”  Flanagan’s descriptions of the meeting and observations of the board are quite enlightening.               The troubled El Camino Real Charter High School announced amanagement shake-up yesterday in an attempt to stave off having their charter revoked by the LAUSD board for certain financial irregularities and questionable spending with a school credit card.  Several previous editions of the “Ed News” have highlighted problems at the campus.  A story in today’s L.A. Times details the latest developments.  “The moves were the latest efforts to prevent the Woodland Hills campus from being taken over by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which owns the property and ran the school until 2011.  L.A. Unified sent El Camino a ‘Notice of Violations’ in August, a possible precursor to shutting down the independently operated charter school. The district accused charter leaders of inappropriate spending, poor fiscal controls and open-meeting violations.  Charter supporters insist that the school has made great strides and that being run once again by the school system would be a step backward.”
National Anthem Protests

San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting police treatment of African-Americans by quietly kneeling during the playing of the national anthem at the start of games this season.  As some previous editions of the “Ed News” reported, that action soon spread to college, high school and even younger athletes.  EDUCATION WEEK offers a primer from Frank LoMonte, a First Amendment expert and Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, who explains how school officials should react to such protests if they occur at their schools.  LoMonte provides answers to some FAQs about the actions.  One key question he addresses: “Can schools discipline students for national-anthem protests?  I think you’ll find his responses most enlightening.
The Next Sec. of Education
Before it was Arne Duncan; now it’s John King.  What would you do if YOU were the next U.S. Secretary of Education?  Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, contemplates that scenario in a piece he titles “If I Were Secretary of Education–A Classroom Teacher’s Fantasy.”  Singer lists 5 things he would do as Sec. of Education.  I agree with everyone of his proposals but I’m especially enamored of this last one: “Do Everything I Can to Increase Teacher Autonomy, Respect, Pay and Training.” About that idea he writes: “Finally, I would use my position as Education Secretary to boost the greatest resource we have to help students learn – teachers.”  Hear, Hear!               C.M. Rubin has been conducting a series of interviews with possible candidates to be the next Secretary of Education under a Trump or Clinton administration beginning in January of next year.  The first 3 were featured on Valerie Strauss’ blog for The Washington Post and were highlighted in previous editions of the “Ed News.”  I found her fourth and most recent conversation on Rubin’s own CMRubin World blog and it’s with, none other than, Diane Ravitch.  In response to a question about the legacy of NCLB and Race to the Top, Ravitch answered this way: “In my view, historians will look on this era as a period of failed mandates, of willful and ignorant attacks on public education and the education profession and as a time in which entrepreneurs sought to turn education into a marketplace for profit.”
Testing and Assessment
Since NCLB took effect over 15 years ago the mantra that’s been repeated over and over is that standardized testing is the ONLY way to assess the educational achievement of American students.  Recently, through a number of scholarly research projects, the opt out movement and other things, that idea is being called into serious question.  Now the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, has issued a new report titled “Assessment Matters: Constructing Model States Systems to Replace Testing Overkill” that takes a detailed look at alternative assessments for measuring student academic progress.  Monty Neill, executive director of the organization, writes a guest column on Valerie Strauss’ blog for The Washington Post about his group’s latest report. “The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced NCLB,” he points out, “allows states to shift the thrust of accountability away from punishing schools and teachers.  Instead it allows them to focus on providing genuine help to improve educational quality and equity.  ESSA also includes an ‘Innovative Assessment’ pilot project, which opens the door to significantly better assessments.  The word ‘assess’ comes from the Latin term meaning ‘to sit beside.’ Assessing implies a direct and active relationship between or among people.  Assessing could involve an observation by a teacher, a conversation between teacher and student, or reviewing a student’s work.  It typically includes interaction to provide feedback or find out more about the student’s thinking or depth of knowledge.”

The Teaching Profession
Now that the new school year is in full swing, new teachers are getting their feet wet in the profession.  Cristie Watson, author of this piece for EDUCATION WEEK, is a National Board Certified teacher of 6th grade English Language Arts and social studies in North Carolina, offers advice in the form of 5 questions those new teachers should ask about their teaching assignment and the school where they are working.  One example: “What support can I expect to receive?”  “As everyone in education knows, it’s not just the students who feel nervous, excited, and hopeful about the beginning of the school year,” Watson concludes.  “Teachers of every experience level feel some anxiety, knowing it’s impossible to have all the answers when standing in front of students.  Schools can ease anxieties, though, by promoting honest conversation about expectations, culture, and community during those first few weeks.  And it benefits all teachers to remember this life lesson that we work so hard to impress upon our students—sometimes the key to meaningful learning and success is simply asking the right questions.”              Do things like merit pay and other performance based rewards work in education and other fields?  Alfie Kohn, on his eponymous Alfie Kohn website makes the case that they don’t.  Kohn is a widely read author and speaker on human behavior, education and parenting.  He reviews some of the latest research on handing out rewards and bonuses for certain types of behaviors.  “For nearly half a century, research has raised troubling questions about the practice of dangling rewards in front of people to get them to do what we want,” he begins.  “It doesn’t matter whether the people in question are male or female, children or adults.  It doesn’t matter whether the rewards are stickers, food, grades, or money.  It doesn’t matter whether the goal is to get them to work harder, learn better, act nicely, or lose weight.  What the studies keep telling us is that rewards, like punishments, tend not only to be ineffective — particularly over the long haul — but often to undermine the very thing we’re trying to promote.”              Even with a well documented teacher shortage plaguing a number of states, this member of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs), who happens to be a veteran teacher, is having trouble finding a job.  The author, wishes to remain anonymous but reveals that he/she is a veteran public school elementary teacher.  Writing on theundercoverBATS Blog the person offers “47 Reasons I Can’t Find a Teaching Job.”               Most educators and people in general are aware of bullying between students.  What they may be less aware of is workplace bullying between adults.  Cheryl Binkley, the author of the Third Millenium Teacher blog, a writer and former teacher who lives in Virginia, addresses the little known issue and fingers the corporate “reform” movement as a prime culprit for its existence.  Her essay is titled “Has Education Reform Turned the Schools of America into Hostile Workplaces?”  She looks at a Badass Teachers Association (BATs)/AFT Quality of Work Life Survey from 2015 for some surprising data on workplace bullying in schools and lists some of the behaviors experienced by adult victims of bullying.  “After 20 years of ever tightening Education Reform, it may be the single achievement of Corporate Reform that it has turned school, one of the most positive places in society,” Binkley maintains, “into possibly the most toxic hostile workplaces in the country.”               The financial services website Wallethub does an annual survey to rank the best and worst states for teachers based on 16 indicators of “teacher-friendliness.”  Can you guess which state came in at #1?  Check out the article for the answer (hint: it wasn’t California which rated 35th–ugh.  The worst state was Hawaii.)  Be sure to scroll through the entire article for the full rankings.  Clicking on a state on the map under “Main Findings” will yield it ranking and about 3/4 of the way down you’ll come to “Methodology” which describes the 16 indicators and how the rankings were arrived at.               Any idea what percentage of the U.S. teaching force is in their first or second year in the classroom?  Based on an EDUCATION WEEK Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Dept. of Education, the figure nationwide is 12%.  Some states have as much as 15%.  That’s a fairly high number, according to Ed Week, when you consider how difficult the first couple of years of teaching can be.  What do you think the figure is in California?  9%.  The state with the highest number of novice teachers is Florida with a whopping 29%  The lowest reported was 6% in Georgia.  “The data, while still under review, are consistent with other recent research pointing to a ‘greening’ trend in teaching over the past 20 years,” the item mentions.  “They also raise questions both about the overall stability of the teaching force and the ability of school systems to provide adequate support to so many novices. . . . However, the prevalence of inexperienced teachers varies significantly from state to state and district to district.  And experts caution that the problem is often pronounced in particular schools, so it may be, in effect, more of a local than a national issue.”  This piece includes an interactive map which you can click on to see individual state’s percentage of new teachers.
Election 2016
Both major party presidential candidates have offered little in the way of policy proposals regarding education.  Republican candidate Donald Trump recently presented some proposals regarding school choice and early-childhood education.  EDUCATION WEEKoffers an analysis of those plans.  It found the programs a refreshing change from the previous lack of initiatives on those subjects but was critical of Trump’s lack of detail.  The piece compares Trump’s ideas to those of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.  “Observers also expressed concern not only that the substance of Trump’s plans lack detail or leave many unanswered questions,” it suggests, “but also could cause problems down the road if he were to actually push them in a presidential administration.”
Clown Costumes Banned at Some Schools 
What is going on here?  With Halloween at the end of the month, a series of social media-based threats hinting at violent things people dressed as clowns may do has caused some school districts to ban clown costumes on campus.  No kidding!  This is not the first time certain types of costumes have been banned according to a column by Valerie Strauss in The Washington Post.  She focuses on the New Haven School District in Connecticut but mentions others with current bans and reviews previous proclamations against certain outfits including a mention of one California elementary school clamping down last year on any racially or ethnically themed garments.  Strauss references a news story in her paper about the rash of “clown threats” around the country.  You can find that article, titled “Scary Clown Rumors, Threats Feed Hysteria, Leading to School Lockdowns, Arrests,” by clicking here.  It describes a scary threat involving a clown at James Madison University.  “The James Madison University clown fright was just one of hundreds that have erupted this week at colleges, high schools and grade schools across the country,” the two reporters relate,” forcing learning institutions to respond seriously to a growing national hysteria that many had previously regarded as a laughing matter.”              Just how bad are things getting on the clown threats front?  The Modesto Bee reports a 16-year-old boy was arrested and booked into juvenile hall for making threats about killing all the students at his continuation high school.  That’s how bad!  “Using a clown-themed twitter handle,” the brief story reports, “the teen posted on Instagram on Wednesday night that he would go to Escalon High School on Thursday morning and ‘kill all you kids,’ according to police Chief Mike Borges.  He said it was accompanied by a photo of a blood-stained bed.”  The town of Escalon is about 80 miles due east of San Francisco in the Central Valley.             Another clown incident was reported in Lincoln, Nebraska and one in Oregon.

Negotiators in Chicago Trying to Avert Another Teachers’ Strike
4 years ago the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) walked out of their classrooms for 7 days.  Several weeks ago they set another strike deadline for Oct. 11.  Negotiations will continue through the upcoming Columbus Day weekend in an attempt to avert another strike.  EDUCATION WEEK has the latest details as the deadline rapidly approaches.  “With the uncertainty over the strike, the district has published contingency plans for students and parents.  While classes would be canceled,” it reports, “schools would be open, and students would be able to get free breakfast and lunches, take online classes, and participate in arts and crafts. The district was also planning to work with community programs to help coordinate child-care options for parents.”
“Walk-Ins” Take Place Around the Country
While Chicago teachers are preparing for a possible walk-out of their classrooms next week (see headline above), the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) organized a series of “walk-ins” yesterday in  200 cities involving 2,000 schools.  THE HECHINGER REPORT describes the day’s actions and what was hoped to be gained by the demonstrations.  “On their day of action, hundreds of affiliated parent, education and student groups,” it explains, “rallied to end what AROS called ‘the long-standing and systematic under-funding of their public schools.’”
Too Big to Jail
And finally, Valerie Strauss once again turns her column in The Washington Post over to a guest blogger.  This time it’s Larry Cuban, who was a high school social studies teacher for 14 years, a district superintendent in Virginia for 7 and is professor emeritus of education at Stanford University and the author of a number of books.  He raises an intriguing point about how banks and their  CEOs are treated quite differently from school personnel when both are involved in questionable activities.  No one has been jailed in the recent Wells Fargo Bank funny business regarding unwanted accounts;  not one bank CEO went to jail for events surrounding the Great Recession that began in 2008.  And yet 11 Atlanta educators were tried and convicted of involvement in a standardized test cheating scandal and are now serving from one to seven years in various Georgia prisons.  Cuban sees a serious double standard at play here.  The corporate “reformers” are constantly demanding accountability from the traditional public schools and their teachers to the point that educators are sent to jail for their involvement in a test cheating scandal.  Where’s the same type of accountability from banks and their CEOs when they lie, cheat and steal from the public?  Cuban goes into great detail about the wrongdoing by the banks and educators and attempts to explain why the two groups are treated so differently.  “Corporate leaders, backed by large sums of money, hired lobbyists to influence legislators to deregulate airlines, banks, pharmaceuticals, and other industries so that more money would flow to the already rich,” he concludes.  “To the rich, public institutions were  feeding at the tax-payer trough and were not as efficient and effective as private sector companies.  Accountability was needed, business leaders said, to hold public officials in schools, hospitals, and prisons to be responsible for student outcomes, curing illnesses, and punishing criminals.  And that is how I explain why no CEO of a company heavily involved in the chicanery of the Great Recession of 2008 has gotten convicted while some Atlanta school employees went to jail.”
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             



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