Ed News, Tuesday, November 1, 2016 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

[Upcoming program note: The ALOED Educational Film Series will be screening the timely and controversial new documentary “Killing Ed” about the largest charter chain in the U.S. that just so happens to be controlled by a reclusive Turkish cleric who lives in a compound in the Pocono Mountains in Western Pennsylvania.  The film will be shown in Choi Auditorium on the Occidental College campus on Thursday, Nov. 10.  Refreshments at 6:30 pm with the screening to begin at 7.  A lively discussion will follow so join us.  The program is free of charge–you can’t complain it’s too expensive.  For more information and to RSVP please click here.  To view the official trailer click here.]
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And now to the news.
 “A true education opens the mind and lets us see the world with wonder and joy. 
It teaches us to accept change with love, and it teaches us to be harmonious 
 with humanity and nature. If any education teaches us to close our minds, to accept dogma,
 and to violently inhibit questioning then that is not an education. That is a prison for the mind.”
New Strategy for ELLs
The San Diego Unified School District is pursuing a different strategy in dealing with its English Language Learners in middle and high school.  The program they have adopted is not without its critics according to a story in Saturday’s L.A. Times.  “For almost a decade, such students — many of them refugees — spent their first year in special classrooms the district called New Arrival Centers.  The students stayed with the same teacher most of the day,” it relates, “learning English and core subjects.  They joined other students for less academic classes such as physical education or art.  Starting this school year though, the approach has changed.  They are learning math, science and other core subjects in regular classes.  A language ‘coach’ goes with them to class to support them as well as their teachers.”
Pro-Charter Billionaires Attempt to Control Oakland School Board
When the corporate “reformers” are not able to control members of a local school board they simply pour millions of outside dollars into the next election to insure candidates who support their goals are elected.  It’s happened in many cities around the country in the past and now its taking place in Oakland, California.  An article in the EAST BAY EXPRESS points out that a typical school board race in Oakland usually required the expenditure of around $20,000.  No longer is that the case.  “In 2012, [current board member Shanti] Gonzales says the nonprofit organization Great Oakland[GO] Public Schools began raising and spending tens of thousands of dollars,” the item explains, “to support candidates who will advance its goals of growing the number of charters and providing them with greater access to publicly-funded resources.  As a result, GO Public Schools changed the calculus of school-board elections and unleashed an avalanche of money, which other groups haven’t matched, and that dwarfs the sums that candidates can raise by themselves.”
Vergara-style Lawsuit Dismissed in Minnesota
Remember Vergara v California, the lawsuit brought by a group of students that challenged the tenure and seniority rights of teachers in the Golden State? Quick review: The original trial court upheld the suit but a later appeals court decision threw that verdict out.  When the initial ruling was handed down many corporate “reformers” heralded it as the beginning of a number of cases to be brought in other states around the country that would result in similar conclusions. So far, that scenario has not quite come to pass.  A comparable case is making its way through the New York court system but a Minnesota judge tossed out an almost identical version last week.  The “Teacher Beat” column in EDUCATION WEEK has details about the latter action.  “Complaining that teachers’ unions have too much influence in state legislatures,” it notes, “national education reform groups have hoped that the courts would overturn tenure laws that they say make it all but impossible to dismiss low-performing educators.  The Minnesota judge, however, found that legislators should decide the matter.”
Charters Costing LAUSD Millions of Dollars
UTLA, the LAUSD teachers union, commissioned a report from an independent research company, MGT of America, to look into thefinancial impact charters are having on the district.  The shocking bottom line: $591 million this year alone!  A very brief overview of the study appears on TheCostofCharterSchools(dot)com.  It includes a link to the full paper (46 pages) titled “Fiscal Impact of Charter Schools on LAUSD” or you can find it by clicking here.  “Taken together,”  the summary reports, “the findings in the report paint a picture of a system that prioritizes the growth opportunities for charter school operators over the educational opportunities for all students.  MGT of America made a presentation to the LAUSD board about the report back in May, which you can see in a video segment (18:40 minutes).
Charter Schools
In case you haven’t noticed, the “Ed News” is not a big fan of charters.  The editor believes there are many media outlets promoting charters and touting their successes with the assistance of funding from the billionaire philanthropists, their foundations and certain federal, state and local politicians.  The “Ed News” tries to offer some “balance” to the discussion over charters and would like to remind readers that it has taken zero dollars in that pursuit.  The deck has been stacked for too long in favor of charters versus traditional public schools.  Along those lines is this story: Paul Buchheit, writing on the CommonDreams website offers more “dirt”  in the form of “4 Big Sins of Charter Schools.”  He is a college professor, social justice activist, blogger and author.  “Charter schools have turned our children into the products of businesspeople.  Americans need to know how important it is to get the profit motive out of education,” he concludes, “and to provide ALL our children the same educational opportunities.”  The “Ed News” is in full agreement with those ideas and shares Buchheit’s concern over the continued expansion of charters at the expense of our traditional public schools.               Popular former Chicago principal Troy LaRaviere spoke to a group of Boston teachers in opposition to Question 2 on the Massachusetts ballot that would lift the cap on charter expansion in that state.  His talk (62:23 minutes) it titled “What Makes Charter School Policy So Toxic?” can be viewed on YouTube by clicking here.  “Regardless of how you feel about ‘school choice’ the more important point,” LaRaviere explains, “is that government has no business subsidizing a model for schooling that produces poor options for parents to choose from.”  LaRaviere was fired by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel earlier this year for political reasons.  He supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries and was an outspoken critic of the mayor.  Despite his removal as principal, LaRaviere’s colleagues promptly elected  him president of the Chicago Principals’ and Administrators’ Association.                   Many charter schools like to tout studies that point out how successful they are and how well they are doing.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, isn’t buying all of them.  He’s rather skeptical of a new report on the Rocketship Academy charter chain and he painstakingly takes it apart point by point in a piece titled “More Bogus Research from Rocketship.”  “It’s more charter marketeering fluffed up with science-flavored PR filler,” Greene concludes about this latest study. “ It’s dishonest and not very useful in adding to a real conversation about meeting educational needs or evaluating the actual impact of charters in general and the Rocketship blended plunk-kids-in-front-of-computers model in particular.  I’m sure we’ll see this thing passed around in the weeks ahead.  Do not be fooled.”                UTLA, the LAUSD teachers union, challenged the California Charter School Association (CCSA) to a debate over the impact of charter schools in the district.  CCSA declined so the union put out an open letter to “Parents” with a list of “what CCSA Won’t Tell You.”  Here’s one of them: “2. Charter Schools are paid for by funds that would have gone to our neighborhood public schools, often hurting the schools most in need.”  UTLA’s letter appeared as a full-page paid advertisement in the L.A. Times last week, titled “What is CCSA Afraid of?”  You can find a copy of it on the WE ARE PUBLIC SCHOOLS website.              A reader of Diane Ravitch’s blog emailed Ravitch an open letter about her terrible experiences teaching for 5 weeks at a “no excuses” charter in Rochester, New York. The author of the letter wishes to remain anonymous.  “I am a newly-certified teacher who finds myself without a job in October of my first year of teaching,” she writes, “due to my HUGE mistake in taking a job at a no-excuses charter school.  I want this letter to be publicized in order that other young teachers do not make the same mistakes that I do, and that others can realize what an empty promise the no-excuse charter schools really are!”
LAT Criticizes LAUSD Goals
An editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times believes the newly adopted master plan by the LAUSD board is overly ambitious and doomed to failure.  The paper is particularly concerned with the district’s aim of a 100% graduation rate.  “L.A. Unified has followed the same pattern too many times.  Set a big goal, watch it fail, change the rules, define its way out of the problem,” it complains.  “What student needs is an ambitious goal that gives everyone something to reach for without feeling doomed from the start.”
The Teaching Profession
A former science teacher and department chair writes about “The Key to Good Science Teaching” in a commentary for EDUCATION WEEK.  She rightly believes that excellent science teaching is not easy and requires continuous learning on the part of educators.  “The 2015 National Academy of Sciences report concludes the most effective professional learning for science teachers,” she mentions, “focuses on content rather than just pedagogy; entails active learning; provides consistency across learning experiences and with school, district, and state policies; has sufficient duration to allow repeated practice and reflection on classroom experiences; and brings together teachers with similar experiences or needs.”
Election 2016
Yet another commentator complains about the lack of substantive discussion concerning K-12 education issues during the fall presidential campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  This time it’s Rebecca Mead writing in THE NEW YORKER.  She begins by passing along some interesting research on the grade level of the speeches delivered by the candidates and certain comments by various observers of their policies and proposals.  “The campaign in its closing weeks has . . . .also been remarkably devoid of any real discussion of educational issues.  In the three Presidential debates,” she points out, “not a single question was addressed to the candidates about their views on education.  And, apart from Hillary Clinton’s fleeting mentions of affordable child care and debt-free college tuition, neither candidate sought to raise the issue.”  If nothing else, check out the always entertaining illustration that accompanies the piece.  Is that a “wall” around Mr. Trump?              The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of education-related issues on next week’s ballot in California and several times mentioned Question 2 in Massachusetts, a key pro-charter measure that would lift the cap on charter expansion in that state.  Voters in Georgia are also facing a critical issue–Amendment 1–that would create an “opportunity school district” made up of “failing” campuses in the Peach State.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” column for The Washington Post, has a podcast featuring a discussion of the proposed amendment.  The conversation is between Jennifer Berkshire, author of the popular “EduShyster” blog and Aaron French on the “Have You Heard” program.  The audio segment (15:35 minutes) includes a full transcript.  An October poll by the Atlanta Journal Constitution found voters against the measure by a 2 to 1 margin.
School Segregation
John Oliver, on his popular HBO show “This Week Tonight,” is at it again.  He’s done some previous segments on standardized testing and charter schools and now focuses his razor-sharp wit on the problem of school segregation. He decries how our schools are becoming more and more segregated by race and class. This program (17:58 minutes) aired Sunday night and appears on You Tube.               What have Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton said on the campaign trail about school resegregation?  Most K-12 education issues have gotten short shrift during the run-up to the Nov. 8 election and that topic is no different.  However, there have been times over the past year-and-a-half when the candidates commented on the critical issue of integration.  The “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK reviews what little they had to sayand suggests what the next president may be able to do about it.  “The resegregation of the nation’s schools might be one of the hottest issues in education policy these days,” it begins.  “But it’s never really penetrated the presidential race.”  The piece also attempts to offer an explanation as to why that’s the case.
“Jeopardy” Comes to LAUSD School
A simulated version of the popular TV game show “Jeopardy” came to Van Nuys Middle School (LAUSD) recently.  The competition pitted the individual winners from the 6th, 7th and 8th grades who faced off in the campuses auditorium on Thursday.  A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times provides some highlights from the “show” with a sampling of a few of the questions and the students’ responses.  “PBS host Mark Walberg stood in for Alex Trebek.  He read the categories, culled from the school’s curriculum,” it explains, “including It Starts With A, Add 5 Numbers, Spanish Colors, It’s in Antiques and Duh.”  Check out the article and see who won and what her winning strategy was.
What Can Principals Learn?
4 Lessons Principals Can Learn From Their Staffs” is the provocative title of a commentary by Peter deWitt for the “Finding Common Ground” column in EDUCATION WEEK.  He’s an author and former K-5 public school principal.  “Many times leaders believe they should be the one teaching lessons, and not necessarily the ones learning them,” he writes.  “It’s interesting working with leaders because some of them have been a coach or assistant principal for a few years and think being the head honcho is a rite of passage after spending time in those other roles. The reality is that leaders should be chosen based on experience, insight or potential…not because they did the time.”
Underperforming School Saves Itself
The corporate “reformers” constantly want to close “failing” traditional public schools, reconstitute them or turn them into charters.  What if those types of campuses were given the resources and opportunity to fix themselves?  “Never happen,” you respond.  How about an example of one that did?  Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post has often written about a new project called Schools of Opportunity that began in 2014 as a pilot program in New York and Colorado.  I’ll let her explain what the project is all about: It “was launched a few years ago by educators who wanted to highlight public high schools that actively seek to close opportunity gaps through 11 research-proven practices and not standardized test scores (which are more a measure of socioeconomic status than anything else).  The project,” she continues, “assesses how well schools provide health and psychological support for students, judicious and fair discipline policies, high-quality teacher mentoring programs, outreach to the community, effective student and faculty support systems, and broad and enriched curriculum.  Schools submit applications explaining why they believe their school should be recognized.”  Strauss turns her blog over to the two co-founders of the project who describe one campus in Seattle, Rainier Beach High School, that was able to turn itself around with the help of the community, a committed  faculty and staff and a supportive district.  Their story is most uplifting and should serve as a clear roadmap for others in the same situation to follow.
Common Core and Testing
And finally, a reader of Diane Ravitch’s blog has some words to the wise about how parents can resist the Common Core State Standards and standardized testing.  He describes the power that parents inherently have.  “The greatest fear of the reform mob is parents,” he makes clear.  ” Parents own infinite passion when it comes to their children.  And if lots and lots of parents glue themselves together, well, this reform morphs into mighty.  That’s not the sort of muscle educrats, politicians, and local board members want to confront.  Remember that … they fear you.”               What is the current status of the Common Core nationally and here in California?  EDUCATION WEEK has a nifty interactive map providing answers to just those kinds of questions.  Were you aware that 4 states never adopted them?  Can you name them? 
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


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