Ed News, Friday, November 4, 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 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.  Join us.  The program is free of charge–so you can’t complain it’s too expensive.  For more information and to RSVP please click here.  To view the official trailer click here.
Important reminder: Daylight saving time ends officially at 2 am Sunday.  Turn your clocks BACK one hour.
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Another important reminder: Tuesday is Election Day, as if you needed a reminder.  Polls are open from 7 am to 8 pm.  Vote if you haven’t already.
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And now to the news.

 “A deep commitment to general education is impossible in a context in which faculty and students 
 prize above all their ability to teach and study what they want.”

Pro-Charter Billionaires Attempt to Control San Diego County School Board, Washington Supreme Court & New York State Senate

The San Diego Free Press titles its story “Who’s Behind The Big Money Takeover of San Diego County Schools?”  Doe that sound familiar?  It should.  The previous edition of the “Ed News” carried a very similar headline about an attempted takeover of the Oakland School Board via thousands of dollars of contributions funneled to pro-charter candidates  for seats on the board from the usual billionaires and their foundations.  That piece mentioned that other cities have experienced the same sort of tactics.  “This election is an obscure race that few even know exists, yet it has become the focal point of a high-stakes political shoot-out.  The total cost of this race,” the Free Press article mentions, “is likely to run into the millions of dollars this season, while in the past, those costs were unlikely to pass a few thousand dollars.  This puts this minor election on track to be the most expensive race for a county office of education seat in the history of San Diego. . . .This is truly a big conflict in a very small place.  And one where people have the chance to say no to millionaires and billionaires trying to buy an election to serve their interests—rather than the interests of the children, who shouldn’t be pawns in this kind of game.”             Now it turns out those pro-charter billionaires and their foundations are not just interested in influencing local school board races (see above), but they also want to buy control of Washington State’s highest court.  Why? Because that Supreme Court ruled last year against the charter law in that state and judges on that court are elected by the voters.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, uncovers this latest intrusion into the electoral process.  “Washington State has been a disappointment to many of its tech billionaires.  Bill Gates and his friends had to spend several million dollars on several different tries to get a charter school law passed,” he writes, “and then the state court turned right around and declared that law unconstitutional (something about spending public monies on a private education-flavored business).  There was some agitated freaking out and an attempt to do an end run around the ruling.   But there is of course a simpler solution.  Pack the court with judges who are more agreeable.  And so  three judges in the Washington Supreme Court face challenges this year (the first such challenge since the 90s).”              If it’s not attempting to influence local school boards or state court elections (see two items above), 17 wealthy pro-charter financiers are turning their attention to buying control of several seats in the New York State Senate.  “Not possible,” you say.  Check out a piece on Diane Ravitch’s blog that cites findings from a new report.  “The report from the activist group Hedge Clippers,” Ravitch suggests, “showed that the bulk of the money – about $10.6 million – went to New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, a super PAC created by the pro-charter school group StudentsFirstNY.  Three other education reform PACs were also recipients of donations from the group of 17, the report found.”
Voucher Programs are Failing Students
Mark Pocan is a member of Congress from Wisconsin and a former member of that state’s legislature.  From those two posts he’s had a bird’s-eye-view of Wisconsin’s voucher program and from his perch, he doesn’t like what he’s been seeing.  The Badger State has the nation’s first and largest taxpayer-funded voucher program.  His commentary, appearing on The Progressive website, is titled “The Privatization of Public Education is Failing Our Kids” and analyzes a number of school “choice” plans around the country.  “The GAO [Government Accountability Office] found that participation in taxpayer-funded voucher programs has more than doubled in the last five years, from 70,000 to 147,000 students,” he notes.  “The bill to taxpayers has grown from $400 million five years ago to $859 million today.  It seems to me that before you dramatically expand a program the way vouchers have ballooned, you might first want to know if they are somewhat effective at teaching our kids.  That hadn’t happened.  And the anecdotal evidence is not good.”
The Teaching Profession
How would you feel if your pay was tied to your teaching evaluation?  The good news: that’s not being proposed in California; the bad news: the Utah State Board of Education is contemplating just such a course of action.  Diane Ravitch’s blog passes along a note from a reader about this idea.  The reader says “This will be a DISASTER.”                Are teachers still underestimating the math abilities of their female students?  That’s the finding of a new report conducted by researchers from New York University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and West Chester University featured in the “Teaching Now” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  “Throughout the last two decades,” it points out, “gender gaps in math achievement continued to persist, and teachers continued to rate the math performance of girls lower than that of similarly performing and engaged boys.  The study was published last week in AERA (American Educational Research Association) OPEN.  You can find the full paper (19 pages) titled “Have Gender Gaps in Math Closed? Achievement, Teacher Perceptions, and Learning Behaviors Across Two ECLS-K Cohorts” by clicking here.               Steven Singer titles this commentary on his CURMUDGUCATION blog “Why Teaching to the Test is Educational Malpractice.”  If that doesn’t grab your attention, nothing will!  “Malpractice is defined as ‘careless, wrong, or illegal actions by someone (such as a doctor) who is performing a professional duty.’  In some fields it can get you arrested.  In most it’s at least frowned upon.
In education, however, it’s encouraged.  In fact,”
he declares, “as a teacher, you can be singled out, written up or even fired for refusing to engage in malpractice.  You are bullied, cajoled and threatened into going along with practices that have been debunked by decades of research and innumerable case studies.  Take the all-too-common practice of teaching to the test.”  Singer proceeds to offer 5 main reasons why teaching to the test is not only harmful but flies in the face of most educational research on best practices and winds up with some “Recommendations and Conclusions.”              This is about the time of year when many brand new teachers begin to “hit the wall,” if they haven’t already.  They begin to realize this “teaching biz” is really difficult and challenging and they begin to look around for some guidance and assistance.  Roxanna Elden is an 11-year veteran of the classroom and pens an essay titled “Helping New Teachers Through Their Hardest Days” for EDUCATION WEEK.  She’s a National Board Certified teacher and wrote a popular book, “See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers,” which has helped thousands of neophyte educators become veterans of the profession.  She has also created a series of one-month emails aimed to help newbies survive that first year.  At the end of her article are informational links to both those items.  If you are a brand new teacher, I hope you find this item helpful and if you know of a brand new one, please share it with him or her.  [Ed. note: I, as most of you, can relate to how difficult that first year in front of students can be.  I have been forever grateful to the chair of my department who took me under his wing.  Without that help I probably wouldn’t have made it to year number 2.  As a result of his direction and caring, I’ve tried to dedicate a goodly portion of my time each year I was teaching–I’m now retired–to looking out for those first-timers and offering any kind of guidance and assistance that was needed.  I have never regretted that effort and truly found it most gratifying and time well spent.]              This next item may be of help to both beginners and vets.  It’s written by a middle school Language Arts teacher, Ariel Sacks.  Her piece, also for ED WEEK, is titled “Five Questions to Ask When Conflict Arises With a Student.”  If you teach for more than 5 minutes you are apt to have some type of run-in with a student and she offers a technique of conflict resolution for dealing with those always uncomfortable moments. “Developmentally, adolescents are hardwired to resist authority, because they are working to establish their independence.  At the same time,” Sacks points out, “they’re still building critical thinking skills and need guidance to be able to responsibly handle the independence they want.  Navigating my role as an adult and teacher of students has gotten easier with experience, but no less complex.”
Charter Schools
A new analysis of schools in Chicago finds that traditional public schools are outperforming charters on a number of metrics.  epaa (The Education Policy Analysis Archives) conducted the study and you can read the brief Abstract by clicking here.  “This study uses comprehensive data for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years to show that, after controlling for the mix of students and challenges faced by individual schools,” it states, “Chicago’s charter schools underperform their traditional counterparts in most measurable ways.”  The Abstract includes a link to the full report (40 pages) titled “An Analysis of Student Performance in Chicago’s Charter Schools.”               EDUCATION WEEK has a new exposé on the troubled cyber charter industry titled “Rewarding Failure: An Education Week Investigation of the Cyber Charter Industry.”  It includes 4 separate article (links included).  “With growing evidence that the nation’s cyber charter schools are plagued by serious academic and management problems,” the introductory item explains, “Education Week conducted a months-long investigation into what is happening in this niche sector of K-12 schooling.  The result is a deep-dive account of what’s wrong with cyber charters.”   The introduction has a short video (1:09 minutes) overview of the series.                Last month the city council of Huntington Park voted to extend a temporary 45-day ban on charter expansion in the city into a 1-year moratorium.  At the time, there were questions raised about whether that action was legal.  This week the California Charter Schools Association filed suit in L.A. County Superior Court against the city for its decision.  A story in today’s L.A. Times describes the litigation.  “City leaders approved the moratorium during a contentious meeting last month,” it explains.  Charter supporters pointed out local charters’ comparatively high test scores, cited individual success stories and criticized city leaders for standing in the way of a top-flight education for other families.  Charter critics argued that charters undermine traditional schools by attracting students who are easier and less expensive to educate.”               Some charter schools like to tout their long waiting lists as proof of their popularity among parents.  A reporter for WGBH, the NPR affiliate in Boston, raises some questions about the truth of that oft-repeated contention.  He digs into the numbers and looks at what it means to be on a “waiting list.”  “Data from the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education analyzed by WGBH News,” he discovers, “would seem to cast doubt on every part of that assertion: While many students appearing on those lists may indeed be ‘stuck’ in schools of lesser preference, charter school wait list numbers provide little, if any reliable indication of how many.”
Chicago Teachers Ratify Contract
A majority of the members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Tuesday voted to ratify the recently negotiated 4-year contract with Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s administration.  A story in the Chicago Tribune has the latest details.  “In addition to financial provisions, the contract includes changes to district policies sought by the union.  Among those,” it describes, “are an agreement to cap the city’s number of independently operated charter schools and restrict their enrollment to just above their current capacity.  The district also agreed to obtain outside funding to pay for as many as 55 ‘community schools’— at an annual cost of at least $500,000 per school — while creating a task force to select those buildings and determine how they could include community health care, after-school activities and support for homeless or chronically truant students.”  The Chicago Public Schools board is scheduled to vote on the contract on Dec. 7.
School Accountability System Debated
The California State Board of Education has been working out the details of a new school accountability system.  This week they debated over how to utilize student test scores but were unable to reach a consensus so the decision was put off.  An article in yesterday’s L.A. Times discusses the details of the discourse on the topic along with some other items on the board’s agenda.  “In a previous meeting, the group voted to move toward a color-coded system: red for schools that need extra help, green for schools doing well,” it points out.  “But it’s been harder to agree on details.  On Wednesday, the board delayed a vote on a proposal to define those test scores that would have given a school a green rating for academics.  The initial cutoffs were at least 51% of students proficient in math and 60% in English/language arts, with that performance maintained from year to year, on state standardized tests.”
Group of L.A. Teachers Rejects Corporate “Reform” Money
Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints a press release from UTLA reporting that a group of educators at 4 LAUSD schools voted to reject grant money from 2 billionaires representing the organization “Great Public Schools Now.”  “Educators say that this is a PR stunt, not a genuine effort to fund schools in need,” the announcement states, “and are calling on the District to uphold the vote by not accepting the grant money from GPSN, in any way.  The vote was 98% in favor of rejecting the money; ballot counts at Drew Middle School, Pacoima Middle School, San Fernando High School, and Gompers Middle School were, respectively, 35 to 1, 58 to 0, 72 to 0, and 22 to 3.”
Next U.S. Sec. of Education?
Valerie Strauss joins the speculation on who might be the next U.S. Sec. of Education on her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post.  She offers a number of names for both a possible Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton presidency.  One name being bandied around to head the U.S. Dept. of Education under the former is Ben Carson.  In a Pres. Clinton administration the two top names include Linda Darling-Hammond and Randi Weingarten.  “With the election just days away,” Strauss maintains, “many in the education world are wondering who might take over the Education Department in the new administration. Education was a subject pretty much overlooked during the campaign, but the positions the candidates took on some education issues suggest vastly different education secretary picks. ”  Check out her blog for some other names being mentioned.             The BATs (Badass Teachers Association) issued a press release offering a number of possible candidates to be the next U.S. Sec. of Education.  It’s a generic list that is not broken down by candidate.  It contains some familiar names to readers of the “Ed News” like Diane Ravitch, Linda Darling-Hammond, Carol Burris and Julian Vasquez-Heilig.  “The Badass Teachers Association, a network of over 80,000 teachers and education activists throughout the United States, demand the next Secretary of Education be someone who has a clear vision of support for public education,” it begins, “understands clearly the importance of equity, and will set the education of our children back on the right track.”  See who else they recommend.
State Board Approves New Science Framework
California is one of a number of states that has adopted the Next General Science Standards, a series of goals that promise to present science instruction in the Golden State in a more hands-on way for students according to an article in today’s L.A. Times.  “State education staffers gathered groups of science teachers and over 3,000 public comments about how to translate those goals into lessons,” it mentions.  “[Yesterday] the state education board approved a science ‘curriculum framework’  that came out of that field research.  While the standards state key principles and what students should know by the end of each grade, the framework, officials say, is the ‘how.’  The document is supposed to guide publishers to develop new textbooks for use in the state’s public schools.”
Election 2016
As of the date of this issue of the “Ed News” (Friday) the election is only 4 days away.  Many previous editions have highlighted different aspects of the presidential contest, other federal, state and local races, as well as state and local ballot measures related to education issues.  I hope you have found my coverage both informative and interesting.  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, takes one last chance to lay out the stakes in this campaign at all levels.  His commentary is titled “This Election is About School Funding, Democratic Control of Education.”  Bryant reviews a number of races with key education issues playing a role and discusses some of the critical ballot questions facing voters in certain states.  “If you’re discouraged about the lack of substance in this year’s presidential race,” he suggests, “there are ample opportunities to support candidates and measures down ballot that will determine the course of education policy, and thus affect the well being of children and the future of our nation.  So go vote,” he concludes emphatically.
Oxy Professor Named Editor of Teacher Education Quarterly
And finally, some exciting news.  Mary Christianakis,  associate professor of Critical Theory and Social Justice at Occidental College has been named the new editor of the prestigious Teacher Education Quarterly.  She’ll assume that post on Jan. 1.  A press release from the Occidental website has news of the appointment.  “During her three-year term as editor,” it reports, “Christianakis plans to expand the treatment of such issues as teacher education for English Language Learners in STEM fields; exploring the links between the latest brain research and teacher knowledge; and critical social justice issues as they pertain to teacher education.”  Thanks to ALOED member Nancy Kuechle for forwarding this item.
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


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