Ed News, Tuesday, October 18, 2016 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 “Education is the best weapon to fight against the adversity of life.” 

 ― Debasish Mridha

Charter Schools

The LAUSD reached an agreement to fund the retirement benefitsof 10 educators who worked for several years at the El Camino Real Charter High School before returning briefly to the LAUSD.  The details are a bit convoluted but are covered in a story in the Oct. 10, L.A. Times.  Several previous editions of the “Ed News” have highlighted the situation.  “Six months ago, when senior officials learned of the employees’ intentions,” the article explains, “L.A. Unified refused to provide the benefits, which will cost the district and taxpayers $2.5 million to $3 million over the life of the retirees, according to actuarial estimates.  Nearly 50 charter teachers had done the same in the past without opposition from L.A. Unified.  But this time, district officials came under scrutiny after The Times inquired about the practice.  And they disliked that El Camino paid bonuses as high as $30,000 apiece if the employees took their retirement costs away from El Camino.”              El Camino Real Charter High School is getting closer to having itscharter revoked despite some previous personnel changes made to deal with problems related to the misuse of a school credit card.  An article in Friday’s Times outlines the latest LAUSD board action aimed at retaking control of the Woodland Hills campus.  “The school district has accused the school of inappropriate spending,” it reports, “poor accounting and oversight, and violations of public meeting rules. . . . The latest Los Angeles Unified School District report acknowledges that the school has academic strengths but claims the charter has not done enough to fix its operations.”                3 Gülen-linked Magnolia Science Academy campuses in the LAUSD may lose their charters over the hiring of Turkish teachers and other infractions according to a story in Thursday’s Times.  The 3 are located in Van Nuys, Reseda and Carson and are part of a group of 10 campuses in the LAUSD with ties to reclusive Turkish imam Fethullah Gülen.  The district’s board received a report outlining the hiring practices and other financial irregularities last week and is scheduled to vote on applications to reauthorize the schools’ charters today.  The article indicates that district staff will recommend they be denied. “Magnolia’s schools have attracted increased attention in the wake of a failed coup in Turkey in July.  The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” the item notes, “has accused Turkish cleric Muhammed Fethullah Gülen of masterminding the revolt.  Erdogan claims American charter schools with Turkish ties supported — and even helped fund — Gülen’s alleged activities.”             The Turkish government has formally requested that the Obama administration extraditeFethullah Gülen in order to face charges that he helped plan and carry out a failed coup attempt in Turkey in July (also see above).  The U.S. government is not completely convinced that the evidence presented to them relating to the charges is compelling enough to comply with the request.  However, Turkey is a key NATO ally, partner in the fight against ISIS and hosts a major U.S. airbase.  Turning down the extradition application could cause a major rift in the alliance.  All of this is laid out in a piece in Saturday’sTimes.  “Gülen, now 75, has lived the last 17 years in self-imposed exile at the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, and rarely goes out,” it explains.  “He leads what he describes as a peaceful religious, educational and cultural organization.  He has acknowledged that some of his followers may have participated in the attempted government overthrow, but he said they were not acting on his orders and that he played no role. . . . To hear Turkish authorities tell it, Turks loyal to Gülen, and trained in what critics portray as a cult-like empire of schools and mosques, have steadily, over years, infiltrated Turkish institutions and moved into positions of power.  Gülen’s followers penetrated, this version contends, the top echelons of Turkey’s military; many levels of the judiciary, intelligence services and police; financial institutions; schools across the board; newspapers and other media.”               The NAACP’s national board endorsed the resolution passed at the organization’s annual convention that called for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools in this country.  You can find the News Release announcing the action on the NAACP’s website byclicking here.  “Historically the NAACP has been in strong support of public education,” it reads, “and has denounced movements toward privatization that divert public funds to support non-public school choices.”               Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” atdeutsch29, defends the NAACP for its action on charter schools(see above) and chastises a New York Times editorial for being critical of the civil rights group’s decision.  See also reprints the press release issued by the NAACP calling for the charter moratorium and includes a link to the Times’ editorial calling the action “misguided.”                You can probably imagine how charter proponents reacted to the NAACP decision to place a moratorium on charter expansion (see the two items above).  If you think they were not happy campers, you’re absolutely right!  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, reviews some of the flak the civil rights organization has been taking for its position and counters some of the charges leveled against the group.  Greene’s piece is titled “The NAACP: Ignorant Dupes?”               The corporate “reformers” love to complain about failing” public schools and why they should be closed.  They almost never mention the under-funding and the poor support those schools receive.  Those same “reformers” never talk about failing charter schools.  The (Raleigh)News & Observer describes the Hope Charter Leadership Academy in that city that serves 123 minority students and is threatened with losing its charter over low test scores and poor academic growth.  “With Hope’s charter set to expire after June 2016,” the story points out, “the State Board accepted the advisory board’s recommendation to give a three-year renewal.  But the renewal came with a stipulation that Hope had to meet annual growth targets on state exams.”           Award-winning high school principal (now retired) Carol Burris, who is currently executive director of the Network for Public Education (NPE), publishes the third of her four part series on charter schools in California.  In this installment, which appears on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, she investigates the very tangled web of for-profit and nonprofit charters in the Golden State.  Burris uses the Wise Academy located at a Girl Scout camp west of San Rafael as her case study.  The campus is a prime example of a bizarre aspect of the law that allows a charter school to be authorized by one school district even if it’s not physically located in that district.  Yes, you read that correctly!  “How many students attend Wise Academy and how well do they achieve?  For the taxpaying public, that is a mystery.  You cannot find this K-6 charter school, which has been in operation for three years, on the state’s Education Department website.  Rick Bagley, the superintendent of the Ross Valley School District in which Wise is located, was never informed of its presence as required by law.”   You’ll need to sit down and fasten your seat belt to follow the twist and turns of the Wise Academy story.  If you want to further understand the charter “mess” in California, it will be well worth the “drive.”  If you need or want a review you can catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 of Burris’ series.               Is the tide of charter expansion beginning to ebb?  Check out the next two items for a possible answer.  First, the LAUSD board could decide today at their meeting to revoke the charters of 6 district schools: 3 Magnolia Science Academies, 2 from the Celebrity Educational Group and the El Camino Real Charter High School.  The reasons for the actions are detailed in a story in today’s L.A. Times.  “All the schools do pretty well or better academically,” it explains, “which leads those who support charters to assert that the recommendations are unfair.  Critics of charters — and those who have issues with the six under review — are applauding L.A. Unified for holding these schools accountable for their entire operations, inside and outside the classroom.”               Second, the City of Huntington Park, located a little south and east of downtown L.A., may vote today to place a one year ban on new charters within the city limits.  City council members previously decided to ban them for 45 days and will be debating at their meeting whether to extend the moratorium.  “The small, densely populated city of Huntington Park is peppered with schools,” an article in today’sTimes notes, “about two dozen in 3 square miles.  At least 10 are charters, and city leaders contend they’re bringing in unwanted traffic.   Their solution is to try to ban new charter schools. . . . The city once was a cultural and shopping destination for Mexican and Central American immigrants in southeast Los Angeles County, but local businesses have struggled recently.”  [Ed. note: Full disclosure: I worked at Huntington Park High School for 26 years before retiring in 2009.  To my knowledge, there were just a couple of charters in the community during the last several years that I was there.]
Chicago Teachers Union Reaches Last-Minute Contract
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) was poised to hit the picket lines on Tuesday, Oct. 11, but a late-night tentative agreement was reached with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) on Monday and the strike was averted.  The contract still needs to be approved by the union’s House of Delegates and voted on by the rank-and-file members.  The Chicago Tribune has the down-to-the-wire, last-minute details. “Monday’s late night dramatics followed well over a year of negotiations to replace a contract reached after a seven day strike in 2012.  A key union demand,” it relates, “has been more money for schools, particularly from special taxing districts, and indications were [Chicago Mayor Rahm] Emanuel’s administration was coming through on that front.  Emanuel agreed to declare surplus from tax increment financing districts of $175 million, three sources told the Chicago Tribune.  CPS would get at least half of that amount, the sources said.”               A follow-up story in EDUCATION WEEK provides additional details of the contract agreement reached between the CTU and CPS last Monday (see above) but suggests it might be very temporary and could conceivably fall apart.  “Teachers in the nation’s third-largest school district,” it begins, “pulled back from a threatened strike after a tentative last-minute contract agreement that Chicago officials acknowledged Tuesday may amount to a temporary fix and parents worried would fall apart. . . .  But even as Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who fought bitterly with [CTU Pres. Karen] Lewis before and during the 2012 teachers’ strike, praised the union and the Chicago Public Schools in a speech in which he introduced his 2017 budget proposal, it still isn’t clear how the financially strapped city will pay for the four-year deal.”
The Teaching Profession
How would you describe the teacher-principal relationship at your school?  In an piece titled “Teacher-Principal Relationships: Are We Building Bridges or Burning Them?” Peter DeWitt, on the “Finding Common Ground” column for EDUCATION WEEK, looks carefully at that critical partnership.  He’s a former K-5 public school principal so he has some experience in that area.  DeWitt looks at the perceived relationship from both points of view and offers some suggestions for making it a bridge building partnership.  “Schools will only be a better place for learning when the adults learn how to work better together. This is not a huge surprise…no big secret here.  Yet, time and time again,” he maintains, “principals and teachers seem to be working from different sides and use language that helps create barriers instead of bridges.”                 Cartoon of the day:
 Frazz                                                                                 By Jeff Mallett
Inline image 1
Nationwide Rally in Support of Public Schools
Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, recaps the series of nationwide rallies held at over 2,000 schools in 20 cities on Oct. 6.  Organized by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), the “walk-ins” reportedly drew over 100,000 parents, teachers and community activists.  “The walk-ins, rather than tightly scripted affairs, were mostly an opportunity for citizens to voice their concerns about public education where they live,”Bryant writes, “and their support for their local schools and public education in general.  Despite the lack of coordinated messaging, crowds were surprisingly unified in expressing their exasperation with government leaders who continue to shirk their responsibilities to provide all children with the opportunity to get a high-quality education.”  Bryant attended one of the protests in Raleigh, North Carolina, where NEA Pres. Lily Eskelsen Garcia addressed the participants.  Events in a number of other cities are highlighted including mention of what took place at one school in Fresno.
LAUSD Magnets are VERY Popular
The “Education Matters” column in Friday’s L.A. Times describes how difficult it is to gain acceptance to the LAUSD’s more competitive magnet school programs.  Applications for the popular campuses are being accepted until Nov. 10.  “Fewer than half of students who applied to a magnet for the 2016-17 school year were accepted: There were approximately 44,000 applicants, about 21,000 of whom received an initial spot,” the item points out.  “And though it wasn’t so hard to get into many of the magnets, and the median magnet school acceptance rate for this school year was 83%, a small number of top schools got a large number of applicants.  The most popular magnet accepted just over 3% of those who applied.”  The article includes a graph illustrating the most competitive campuses and provides some tips for navigating the points-based lottery system for acceptance.
Corporate “Reform”
Diane Ravitch’s blog has been featuring, on occasion, the works of Some DamPoet who parodies famous verses in order to poke fun at different education policies and personalities.  This time the target of ridicule is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their string of failed attempts at corporate education “reform.”  Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” provides the basis for the parody.  [Ed. note: Full disclosure: This is one of my favorite poems since my dad introduced it to me when I was 11 or 12 years old.]   This effort is titled “The Charge of the Gates Brigade” and begins like this:

                                                                         Half a wit, half a wit

Half a wit onward,

                                                                        All in the Valley of Dumb

                                                                        Bill and Mel foundered

If you’d like to check out the original version of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” you can find it by clicking here.       If you’re not quite sure how to counter the corporate “reform” arguments for why public schools should be run like businesses, check out this handy graphic from Ben Orlin on his Math with Bad Drawingswebsite.  He’s a math teacher, currently residing in Birmingham, England, who previously taught in Oakland, CA.  His contribution to the cause is titled “Why ‘Competitive Marketplaces’ are an Awkward Fit for Education.”               Why do the billionaire philanthropists and their foundations continue to push for corporate “reforms” that are not research based?  John Thompson, on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, ponders that same question.  His commentary bears the alliterative title “Rich Reformers Reject Research.”   Thompson once again references the recently published volume “Learning From the Federal Market-based Reforms: Lessons for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)” from the NEPC (National Education Policy Center) out of the University of Colorado, Boulder, that the “Ed News” has highlighted on several occasions.


Election 2016
As of today (Tuesday) there are exactly 3 weeks remaining before the Nov. 8, election.  Besides the usual votes for President, U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, judges and other local offices and measures, California voters will be faced with a daunting 17 propositions.  3 of them involve education-related issues, Prop. 51, 55 and 58.  The latter two deal with extending a tax increase on the wealthy to help pay for schools (55) and reinstating bilingual education programs (58).  They were both highlighted in previous editions of the “Ed News.”  The very first statewide initiative on the ballot that voters will be faced with is Prop. 51,  a $9 billion bond issue for construction and modernization of schools.  An “Election Watch” feature in Saturday’s L.A. Times offers a Q & A with information about the measure.              EDUCATION WEEK joins the discussion over Prop. 58 (see above) that would return bilingual instruction to California.  “Nearly 20 years after voting to restrict bilingual education in a state with more than 1 million schoolchildren who don’t speak English as their first language,” it begins, “California voters appear poised to reverse that ban.  Next month, voters will decide the fate of a statewide ballot question that would bring an end to the restrictions of Proposition 227 and close out California’s official era of English-only instruction.”              Valerie Strauss, on her blog in The Washington Post asked both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to respond to a series of identical questions about their position’s on important K-12 education issues.  “Public education is one of the most important issues the country faces,” she writes by way of introduction, “but there has been little discussion about it during this campaign cycle.  The Post’s education team asked questions about a number of topics, including school funding, school choice, standardized testing, early-childhood education and the Common Core State Standards.  And we asked some personal questions, including whether they ever cheated in school.”  You can read their responses (or lack thereof) by clicking here.                Steven Singer, on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, notes the dearth of discussion about education policy at the second presidential debate last Sunday, so he creates a hypothetical give-and-take between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the topic.  Singer plays the part of the moderator and his scenario is humorous in parts, scary in parts and a bit uncouth in parts.  So sit back with your favorite beverage and enjoy it for what it is.  [Ed. note: Full disclosure: Singer was for Bernie Sanders.  His final comment makes it abundantly clear what he thinks about the two major candidates.]
New Federal Rules for Rating Teacher Prep Programs
The U.S. Dept. of Education (DoE) released final rules on how states will evaluate their teacher preparation programs.  The “Teacher Beat” column for EDUCATION WEEK has an overview.  The highly anticipated regulations were first proposed in 2014.  They “aim to hold teacher-training programs accountable for the performance of their graduates, and they make it mandatory for states to provide aspiring teachers a way of pre-evaluating programs.  Under the rules,” the item relates, “states will be required each year to rate all of its traditional, alternative and distance prep programs as either effective, at-risk, or low-performing. . . .  The annual ratings are to be based on several metrics, such as the number of graduates who get jobs in high-needs schools, how long these graduates stay in the teaching profession, and how effective they are as teachers, judging from classroom observations as well as their students’ academic performance.”  Student test scores do NOT have to be part of the evaluation although that determination is ultimately left up to the individual states.                An editorial in The New York Times describes teacher training in the U.S. as “abysmal” andsupports the new rules promulgated by the U.S. Dept. of Education (DoE) regarding how states can evaluate their teacher preparation programs (see above).    “The new rules represent a necessary first step in broader reforms of teacher preparation,” the piece concludes.  “Eventually, for example, schools of education will have to become more rigorous and selective if the country is to get the caliber of teacher that it clearly needs.”                John Merrow, on his THE MERROW REPORT, is critical of the rules published by the DoE for reforming teacher prep programs and, by extension, The New York Times editorial that supports them (see two items above).  Merrow concedes that teacher training in this country can be improved but believes the ideas laid out by the DoE are not the best way to proceed.  He proposes improving the teaching profession so that top quality candidates would be attracted to a career in education and wouldn’t be so quick to leave due to the fact“teaching has become a crummy job.”  This would cut down on the high rate of teacher turnover and contribute to the reduction in the number of teacher training programs.
Coaching Principals
Most experts would agree that coaching as a form of professional development can be very beneficial to new teachers as well as experienced ones who may be struggling.  What about providingcoaching assistance for principals?  Peter DeWitt, on the “Finding Common Ground” column for EDUCATION WEEK, argues “why not!”  His commentary is titled “If Coaching is So Powerful, Why Aren’t Principals Being Coached?”  “Building synergy among leaders and getting them to try new strategies to build collective efficacy among their staff,” DeWitt suggests, “is something coaches can help do, and they often offer an outside perspective because they have worked with many other leaders.”
Graduation Rates Reach New High
The national 4-year high school graduation rate hit a new high of 83.2% for the 2014-15 school year the Obama administration announced yesterday.  It was 82.3% the previous year.  Rates for specific groups also rose across the board.  California’s percentage moved from 81% to 82%.  Number 1 among the states was Iowa with 90.8%.  The District of Columbia was the lowest at 68.5%.  The “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK has the latest figures plus a link to the state-by-state numbers.  “Graduation rates have now risen for students overall from 79 percent in the 2010-11 school year–the first year all states used the same method to calculate graduation rates,” it reports.  “But over that same period graduation rates for black students rose even faster, by 7.6 percent.  And graduation rates for Hispanic students grew by 6.8 percent.  What’s more, the rates for English-language learners, students in special education, and disadvantaged students also grew faster than for students overall.”               Emily Richmond, writing on the ewa (EDUCATION WRITERS ASSOCIATION)website, believes the latest graduation rates touted by the Obama administration (see above) need to be taken with a grain of salt.  The overall gains are certainly reason to celebrate, she suggests, but digging deeper into the statistics raises some issues and indicates there is still much room for improvement. “To be sure, there still are significant gaps to overcome.  While the average graduation rate for black students rose to 74.6 percent from 67 percent in 2011,” she writes, “that’s still almost four full percentage points lower than where white students were four years ago.  In other words, struggling students might be making gains, but they are not improving fast enough to catch up to their more affluent and white classmates.”
Student Privacy Concerns
And finally, Leonie Haimson, writing on the NYC Public School Parents blog, raises some serious issues regarding student privacy over the use of the new Summit/Facebook software platform.  The program is being utilized in over 100 schools.  37 in California and several in L.A.  (You can find the full list of schools on the Summitwebsite by clicking here.  Scroll down about a third of the way to the state-by-state chart.)  She describes how the program is revealing/selling personal student data and not being at all open about it to parents, teachers and school officials. “The Summit platform has never been independently vetted for security protections – or shown to yield any educational benefits,” Haimson suggests, “and I believe is a very radical way to outsource instruction and student data to private companies.”  She prints a long list of questions addressed to Summit regarding their procedures, processes and motives.
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             

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