The ED NEWS
A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues
Boo! Monday is Halloween
“I call therefore a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform justly,
skilfully and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war.”
― John Milton,
The L.A. Times has not been a big fan of the LAUSD for quite some time now. If the paper is not critical of “failing” schools, “bad” teachers or overly powerful teachers unions it finds something else to blame the district for. What could it possibly be this time? How about chocolate milk? Last week the LAUSD board decided to bring back flavored milk (see last Friday’s “Ed News”) as a possible way to combat the huge waste of regular milk. So, of course, an editorial in Wednesday’s paper takes the district to task for that seemingly innocuous course of action. “L.A. Unified schools are in a tough position. The only drink they are allowed to offer students that meets federal school-lunch rules for high-nutrition foods is milk,” it mentions. “Under federal rules, that milk can be sweetened and flavored. But under a separate L.A. Unified rule, sugar-sweetened drinks are banned — including flavored milk. So in effect, the only drink schools can provide to students in their school lunches is plain milk.” The editorial makes some valid points but you have to wonder what the Times will disapprove of next. The editorial over the re-introduction of chocolate milk to the menus of LAUSD students (see above) prompted one letter-to-the-editorin the Times today. The author is a school food service director and is critical of the district’s decision.
The New Jersey State Board of Education recently decided to usescores on the PARCC standardized test as a graduation requirement. That didn’t go over very well with a number of education experts. Several civil rights organizations and parent advocacy groups have filed a legal challenge to that decision based on their belief that using the test in this way violates a New Jersey graduation statute and other applicable state laws. The ELC (EDUCATION LAW CENTER) website explains the law suit. “The decision to tie high school diplomas to specific test scores is a state policy decision, not a federal mandate. Currently, fewer than one-third of all states use high school exit tests,” it points out, “and several states have used the transition to new assessment systems to eliminate them. Many states continue to give tests for diagnostic and accountability purposes without using the scores to make graduation decisions for individual students. A bill now pending in the NJ Legislature (S2147/A3849) would allow for that alternative.” Steven Singer, on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, takes a critical look at the “racism of standardized testing.” His analysis goes back into the history of these types of assessments, beginning during World War I, and suggests some (racial) reasons why they were developed. “When you define a standard, an ideal, you make certain choices – you privilege some attributes and denigrate others. Since the people creating the tests are almost exclusively upper middle class white people, it should come as no surprise that that is the measure by which they assess success,” he argues. “Is it any wonder then that poor kids and children of color don’t score as well on these tests? Is it any wonder that upper middle class white kids score so well? . . . It doesn’t mean poor and/or black children are any less intelligent. It just means rich white kids have the things for which the test designers are looking. Some of this is due to economic factors like greater access to private tutoring, books in the home, parents with more time to read to their kids, coming to school healthy and more focused. However, a large portion is due to the very act of taking tests that are created to reflect white upper class values and norms.” The latest NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) test scores for science were released this week. Although California’s results were below the national average, some particular groups of students made gains. An article in yesterday’s L.A. Times has the latest science scores. The assessments were given to a random sample of 4th, 8th and 12th grade students in 2015. The last time the science exams were administered was in 2009. “Nationwide, the average score for fourth-graders rose from 150 to 154 out of 300,” the story notes. “For eighth-graders, scores rose from 152 to 154. In 2015, California’s fourth-graders scored 140 [up from 136 in 2009], on average, and eighth graders scored 143 [up from 140 in 2009].” The Golden State is in the process of implementing a new science framework, the story points out, known as the Next Generation Science Standards.
A Day-in-the-Life of a Public School Activist
The “Ed News” has reported on the activities of several public school activists. Leonie Haimson fights for smaller class size, better funding for schools, and student privacy. She is the founder of the groups Class Size Matters and Student Privacy Matters. On theNYC Public School Parents website she describes what a typical day for her is like as she constantly battles for the public schools. She titles her essay “A Busy Day: Protesting Billionaires Pushing Charter Schools & Then Winning Our Lawsuit vs the DOE on School Leadership Team Meetings.” If you think you have a full day, check out what Haimson is able to accomplish in one 24-hour period.
Many observers have noted a lack of substantive discussion of critical K-12 education issues in the current presidential campaign. The debates have certainly been short of questions on topics like charters, testing, Common Core and others. A commentary on the “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK makes the case that that may actually be a positive development. It’s titled “K-12 Education is Lucky to be Shut Out of this Election, Some Experts Say.” “When an issue gets dragged onto the presidential stage,”the item maintains, “it becomes politicized, giving candidates’ less room for what may end up being necessary compromise on sticky issues like charter school expansions, said Conor Williams, a senior researcher in the New America Foundation’s education policy program.”
The previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a story in Monday’s L.A. Times about increased LAUSD board scrutiny of its charter schools. That piece prompted 2 letters that appear in Wednesday’s paper. The first one was in favor of the increased oversight. “If citizens want charter schools, they should have them,” the author writes, “but these schools should be strictly accountable to the people who pay for them. Anyone who wants a school with total autonomy needs to raise his or her own money, because those schools are called private schools.” The second letter blames the teachers unions for the close attention. This must feel like a kick in the teeth to traditional public school teachers in Massachusetts. They pay into their pension fund only to find out that Wall Street companies are tapping into that account to help support Question 2 on the state’s November ballot that would lift the cap on charter school expansion. David Sirota writes about this situation in the “POLITICAL CAPITAL” column for theInternational Business Times in a piece he titles “Wall Street Firms Make Money From Teachers’ Pensions–And Fund Charter Schools Fight.” “Executives at eight financial firms with contracts to manage Massachusetts state pension assets have bypassed anti-corruption rules and funneled at least $778,000 to groups backing Question 2,” he reveals, “which would expand the number of charter schools in the state. Millions more dollars have flowed from the executives to nonprofit groups supporting the charter school movement in the lead-up to the November vote. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, himself a former financial executive, is leading the fight to increase the number of publicly funded, privately run charter schools in Massachusetts — and he appoints trustees to the board that directs state pension investments.” Former U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan is revealing his true colors about charters. Speaking in Boston recently, he came out in favor of Question 2 (see above) on the Massachusetts ballot in November that would lift the cap on charter expansion in that state. A story on the CommonWealth site explains his position on the measure and reviews arguments for and against it. “Wading into a battle that has become increasingly contentious and has divided Democrats like no other domestic policy issue, President Obama’s longtime education secretary, Arne Duncan, said allowing more charter schools in Massachusetts is the right thing to do,” it begins, “particularly for poorer black and Latino children who too often have no one fighting for them. . . . The charter school ballot question, which would allow up to 12 new charter schools or expansion of up to 12 existing schools each year beyond the current state cap, is drawing national attention, and millions of dollars of spending on both sides.” I wonder if Arne Duncan (see above) and the voters in Massachusetts have read this recent 32 page report by Michael Robinson titled “Massachusetts Charter School Special Education Performance: By the Numbers” which takes a detailed look at how charters in the Bay State deal with students with disabilities. Robinson’s findings are not favorable. Here are a few of the things he discovered: “25% of Massachusetts charter schools have zero full-time special educators, as compared to only 3% of public schools. Public schools report one special-education teacher for every 22 students with disabilities, charters report one special-education teacher for every 36 students with disabilities. 67% of the ‘districts’ with the lowest service to students with disabilities are charter schools. Students with disabilities enrolled in charter schools are three times as likely to be disciplined as students in public schools (14% vs. 5%). 91.3% of the districts with the highest rates of disciplinary actions for students with disabilities are charter schools. Students with disabilities are 2.4 times more likely to be suspended at charter schools than at public schools. 80% of the districts with the highest rates of suspension/expulsion of students with disabilities are charter schools.” Remember: Question 2 in Massachusetts wants to EXPAND the number of charters in the state. High school graduation rates increased in Nevada and nationwide. However, charter schools in the Silver State lagged behind traditional public schools in that metric according to a story in the Las Vegas Sun. “Nevada’s high school graduation rate is up slightly, according to data released by the state Department of Education. The statewide, four-year graduation rate is 72 percent this year,” it reports, “up nearly 2 percent from last year. It’s the third year in a row that the state graduation rate has seen a slight uptick. . . . The lowest graduation rate was posted by the state’s charter schools. One charter school, Silver State High School, posted a graduation rate of only 18 percent.” Here’s an interesting development regarding charter schools uncovered by Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29. The National Federation of Municipal Analysts (NFMA) is calling for more transparency and disclosure of financial information about how charters are run. Why is that group important? One of its goals is to promote “professionalism in municipal credit analysis” and late last month it published a draft report with best practices for analyzing the financial health of charter management organizations. Charters love to claim they are “public” schools so they can take taxpayer money, but demand they be treated like private entities when it comes to fiscal disclosure and other matters. You can’t have it both ways! “In short, NFMA wants comprehensive ‘sunlight’ on charter schools,” Schneider summarizes, “so that investors fully understand the charter school ‘nvestment’– including disclosing both federal as well as varied state charter regulations (or the lack thereof).” Many “no excuses” charters run their campuses in a strict, militaristic, toe-the-line style. Pedagogy can become so confining that some of the schools have introduced “joy” into their curricula to try to take some of the edge off. Joan Goodman, writing on the EDUSHYSTERblog, takes a dim view of this tactic. She’s a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and a psychologist. “[No excuses schools] stimulate ‘joy’ so that their students will greet the strict codes of discipline and daunting academic expectations at these schools with eagerness and excitement. But genuine joy cannot be canned or imposed. As C.S. Lewis described it, true joy is experienced as descending upon us, stabbing us unexpectedly; unlike pleasure, it is not in our power to procure. Real joy must come from within. While it is possible to set the stage for a joyous experience, it is inauthentic, even manipulative, to demand, regulate, and use ‘joy’ to improve a test score or make students pliant to authority figures.” Need a picture of how detrimental charter schools can be to a traditional public school district? Check out what’s taking place in Jackson, Mississippi, as charter expansion is seriously threatening the very existence of the public schools in that city. It’s a cautionary tale of what could happen in other districts around the country and urges proponents of public schools to be aware of the lessons that occurred in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The story appears on THE HECHINGER REPORT and is rather scary– even for this Halloween season. “I have some advice for the Mississippi Charter School Association: Don’t allow a financial storm to be your Hurricane Katrina,” the author suggests, “the disaster that led to dismantling the public school system in New Orleans. Don’t offer the trite language of ‘choice’ as a solution. . . . Jackson Public Schools must be given the chance — and the resources — to improve.”
John Thompson, on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, once again returns to a review of one of his favorite recent books: “Learning From the Federal Market-Based Reforms: Lessons for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).” The “Ed News” has highlighted several items about this book since it came out in July. This time Thompson focuses on several of the specific articles in the anthology to draw out some important lessons from the last 20 or 30 years of education “reform.” “The money and energy devoted to the test, sort, reward, and punish approach to school improvement precluded a serious commitment to holistic and humane science-based efforts,” he suggests. “The market-driven reform movement ignored decades of social science research. Often it has devolved into ‘magical thinking.’”
Obama’s Education Legacy
Pres. Obama has less than 3 months left in office. What will his education legacy be? Jeff Bryant, on his Education Opportunity NETWORK, reviews a speech Obama recently delivered (highlighted in the “Ed News”) in which the outgoing president chronicled the education accomplishments of his administration. “Every politician,” Bryant maintains, “wants to be able to point to statistical proof of how effective their policies have been – how many jobs were created, money saved, crimes reduced, etc. Obama is no different in this regard. But how good really are his education ‘numbers,’ and are Democrats talking about the education numbers that matter most?” Bryant proceeds to dissect some of the education numbers touted by Obama and he’s not totally impressed.
LAUSD Slow in Resolving Teacher Misconduct Cases
And finally, a newly released audit from the state of California finds the LAUSD takes an inordinate amount of time to resolve misconduct allegations against district teachers. The lengthy investigations cost the district millions of dollars every year even though the LAUSD is making strides in reducing the time it takes to resolve cases. A story in today’s L.A. Times provides the details of the audit and what the district is trying to do to improve. “In most situations, a teacher must be paid while an internal probe is under way, so the cost for paying inactive teachers relates directly to the length of investigations. In general,” it relates, “L.A. Unified was quick to remove a teacher after it determined that a plausible allegation was made, but in about half of the cases reviewed by auditors, it then missed internal deadlines for following up, often at multiple stages of the review process. These delays occurred despite the work of a special investigations team established after an earlier critical state audit.”