Ed News, Friday, November 11, 2016 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“I can see education is everywhere, and many people were educated. 
 But I realize that common sense is not that common.”
School Accountability
The California State Board of Education has been considering a new school accountability system.  The old API (Academic Performance Index) which assigned a single number to every school has been tossed on the ash heap of history and a new multi-criteria, color-coded system is now on the table..  An editorial in Tuesday’s L.A. Times is not convinced that’s the best route to follow.  “Despite complaints from school reformers and others,” it begins, “the State Board of Education appears intent on going ahead with an overly complicated, color-coded system for judging public school performance and progress.  It’s vague and confusing, larded with too many factors.  Using it to compare one school with another is pretty much impossible.”
Election 2016 Aftermath
Here are some education related election results that may have gotten passed over in the media rush to report and explain what happened in the more glamorous races.  Voters in California passed 3 K-12 education measures on Tuesday’s ballot.  Prop 51 authorizes new bonds for school construction. It passed 54% to 46%.  Prop 55, which extends taxes on the wealthy to raise revenue for schools and other programs, passed 62% to 38% and Prop. 58, which repeals the bilingual education ban, was approved 72% to 28%.  Closely watched Question 2 on the ballot in Massachusetts that would have lifted the cap on charter expansion was defeated, 38% in favor and 62% opposed.  Voters in Georgia turned down Amendment 1 (40% in favor, 60% against) that would have authorized the Governor to take over “low-performing” schools and place them in an “Opportunity School District.”  The state Supreme Court judges in Washington who ruled that funding for charter schools was unconstitutional were returned to the bench despite a concerted effort by charter proponents, corporate “reform” billionaires and privatizers to unseat them.             Diane Ravitch’s blog reacts to the stunning upset by Donald Trump and what it might mean for education.  Full disclosure: Ravitch was an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton.  “The Republican Party is committed to school choice,” she indicates.  “Trump rarely spoke about education but this is the little we know.  He pledged to take $20 billion from existing federal programs, probably Title I, and give it to the states to be used for charters and vouchers.  It will be up to the states to protect what they can of public education.”              With the White House now under Republican control and GOP majorities retained in both houses of Congress, Donald Trump will have pretty much free reign over federal education policy.  What does this bode for the future?  An article in EDUCATION WEEK takes a peek.  It looks at how a new Trump administration will interpret and implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and what types of issues will be on Congress’ agenda when it convenes in early January.  “The real worry for many observers and advocates,” the story speculates, “is that education will be sucked into any broader and more-divisive partisan dynamics that prevent Congress from getting much work done.  Fierce debates about how the department should regulate ESSA also show that education hasn’t been totally immune from the more-typical Washington bickering that can impede legislation or regulations.”               What has been the impact on our children and students of the long, divisive and too often uncivil campaign that came to an end on Tuesday?  A guest commentary on ED WEEK addresses that issue.  “Sadly, we have spent the last year and a half,” the co-authors of the piece begin, “showing our children the worst of human behavior.  In the public squares, in our dens and in our coffee shops, they have witnessed adults as liars, tattle-tellers, bullies, racists, and hate mongers.  In other circumstances, we are the first to argue that these behaviors are unacceptable. In light of this election, however, that is like telling them not to smoke while a lit cigarette dangles from our lips.”               A high school history teacher from New York offers some suggestions about how to answer those questions your students will have about our new president.  His essay appears on THE HECHINGER REPORT.  “My role,” he explains, “is to help them feel better as a matter of trying to alleviate despair, anxiety or indignation, but also to feel better in the sense of thinking more clearly, to bring their hearts and their heads into greater alignment (or, at least, greater consciousness of each other).”               Jennifer Berkshire, who blogs at EduShyster, offers some analysis on why Question 2 went down to defeat in Massachusetts (see the first item in this section).  She reports that the opponents of the measure were able to assemble a broad coalition of groups and came up with a simple message to counter the 3-pronged strategy put together by proponents.  “I could give you a long list of reasons why Question 2 went down in flames,” she mentions.  “It was a complicated policy question that should never have made it onto the ballot.  Yes on 2, despite outspending the ‘no’ camp 2-1 couldn’t find a message that worked, and was never able to counter the single argument that most resonated with voters against charter schools: they take money away from public schools and the kids who attend them.”               Peter Greene is trying to grapple with what he will tell his students about the new president and what might be in store for them.  He teachers 11th grade English and has many black, brown, female and gay students who are feeling very anxious about the future.  Greene writes on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  “I don’t know how to teach my students about us,” he worries.  “I don’t know how to prepare them to go out into this new, uglier America.  The next days are going to be awful, ugly, just plain bad.  Keep your heads down, brothers and sisters. Watch out for each other, and cast an eye toward the future.  I don’t know who we are any more, but we have to be better than this.”               There’s lots of speculation and punditry about what a Trump administration will mean for public education.  Here are 3 examples.  The first is from Liz Dwyer on the takepart blog who suggests one of the first actions taken by Pres. Trump will be to eliminate or seriously curtail the Department of Education.  Dwyer proceeds to offer several other possible Trump policies related to education.  “Despite his campaign rhetoric, [Pres.] Reagan found that slashing the Department of Education could produce disastrous results for students,”she points out, “teachers, and the economy.  Similarly, an analysis this September from the left-leaning Center for American Progress Action Fund found that if the Department of Education were dissolved, roughly 8 million low-income students would lose the Pell Grants they depend on to afford college, and ‘5 million children and students with disabilities would lose $12.7 billion used every year to ensure that they receive a quality education.’”                The second is from Emily Deruy of The Atlantic.  She doesn’t think Trump will try to do away with the DoE and offers some possible candidates for the next Sec. of Education.  In addition, she believes he will promote an increased emphasis on school “choice” and other initiatives. “One area where the Trump administration could make changes, and where officials might use the muscle of the Education Department,” Deruy guesses, “is in expanding the use of vouchers that would let students use federal money to attend the schools of their choice, be they charters, private or parochial schools, magnet programs, or traditional public schools.  Trump has proposed $20 billion to move that idea forward.  Whether it becomes a reality is obviously unclear, but with Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate, there’s a good chance some sort of federally backed voucher program could move forward.”               Number 3 is from EDUCATION WEEK which was quick to jump into the fray in trying to predict what a Trump administration will attempt to accomplish in regards to education.  “But uncertainty prevails, both in terms of what Trump will take an interest in,” it indicates, “and how much he will push to get education bills and initiatives over the finish line.”               As indicated in several stories above, Pres. Trump may try to dismantle the U.S. Dept. of Education.  Just what would that entail?  Another piece in ED WEEKtackles that fraught topic.  “Slimming down—or getting rid of—the department won’t necessarily be a slam dunk.  Past attempts to eliminate it,” it maintains,” including one in the early 1980s, when Reagan took office, and another in the mid-1990s, when Congress flipped to Republican control, haven’t gotten very far.  Both times though, the administration and Congress were from different parties, which won’t be the case next year.  But even in the current Republican-dominated political landscape, abolishing the department would cost Trump and his allies political capital that they might rather spend elsewhere.”  If the department should survive, the article concludes with several suggested candidates to fill the post of Sec. of Education.               In the aftermath of the surprising Trump victory on Tuesday, several schools districts around the country were providing counseling support to students and staff.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, reprints letters from various superintendents, principals and college presidents offering assistance and urging calm.  “Parents dropping their students off at schools in different areas,” she writes, “reported seeing teachers crying, and teachers said non-white students expressed fears that they and their families would be negatively affected by a Trump administration.”               Despite Donald Trump’s stunning upset of Hillary Clinton and the Democrat’s failure to gain control of the Senate, Jeff Bryant finds some glimmer of hope in a couple of education-related victories around the country.  On the Education Opportunity NETWORK he cites the defeat of Question 2 in Massachusetts, Amendment 1 in Georgia, the retention of several Supreme Court judges in Washington State and a couple of other state and local wins.  Despite the bitter GOP victories at the federal level, the election was not all doom and gloom for advocates of traditional public schools.  If you are feeling depressed, read what he has to say.  It may not make you feel better but at least it won’t make you feel any worse.  “Sorting through this week’s humiliating defeat by Donald Trump at the polls, Democrats are having a hard time finding any bright spots in all the darkness.  But Trump’s victory was a very close one (he lost the popular vote [60,467,601 to 60,072,551 as of the latest count at the time of publication]) and may be easy to reverse in 2020 with a better campaign.  So amidst the dead ashes of defeat,” he begins, “where are the red-hot coals that may spark new fire in the populist rebellion that represents the party’s only hope?”
TFA’s Finances
Teach for America may be facing a little bit of a financial crunch according to Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29.  She obtained the organization’s latest tax return and discovered some interesting figures.  TFA’s recruitment has fallen by 35% over the past 3 years and because it generates revenue based on teacher placements, it’s assets fell over that time frame.  “TFA’s total end-of-year assets for 2014-15 were $445 million, down from $494 million at the beginning of the tax year,” Schneider reveals.  “In both 2014-15 and 2013-14, TFA’s expenses exceeded its revenue (by $26 million in 2013-14 and $75 million in 2014-15).  According to TFA’s 2014 tax form, it spent $1 million on ‘direct contact with legislators, their staffs, government officials, or a legislative body.’  Of course, that million was spent in TFA’s lobbying for itself.”
Charter Schools
Jeff Bryant, this time writing on The Progressive, offers “5 Truths About Charter Schools.  He writes in response to several critical editorials aimed at the NAACP’s decision to demand a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools.  Here’s one example from his list: “There’s no research consensus that charter schools outperform public schools.”  Bryant continues: “Often the loudest proponents for charters—hedge fund CEOs, real estate moguls, and wealthy individuals in the tech industry—never attended public schools themselves and don’t send their children to them.  Although they promote charters because of their supposed success with low-income students of color,” he concludes, “these wealthy individuals are the very same people who take advantage of loopholes in the tax code that enable them to avoid paying tens of millions in personal income taxes.  And those taxes could go to support the public schools the students they purport to care so much already attend.”
“Killing Ed” Screens at Oxy
And finally, ALOED and the Occidental College Education Dept. co-sponsored a screening of the timely and controversial documentary “Killing Ed” last evening on the Oxy campus.  The film begins with a review of the rapid expansion of charter schools around the U.S. The second part reports on the reclusive Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gülen, who has connections to a large charter school network in this country.  Gülen lives in a guarded compound in the Pocono Mountains in western Pennsylvania.  The final part of the movie chronicles the political influence Gülen allegedly has over his native country.  A sparse crowd (the event was up against the after affects of Tuesday’s election, the national telecast of Thursday Night Football, the start of the 3-day Veterans Day Holiday and probably, worst of all, “beer night” on the Eagle Rock Campus) gathered in Johnson Hall for refreshments provided by the Ed. Dept.  Attendees were treated to another informative presentation on the Global Media Board about the film while munching on those always delectable Oxy chocolate chip cookies.  Everyone repaired upstairs to the spectacular Choi Auditorium for the screening followed by an engaging and provocative discussion led by event co-chairs Larry Lawrence and Dave Alpert.  The numbers may have been small but, other than that, it was a very successful evening. 
   Enjoy the rest of this Veterans
Day Holiday weekend. 
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             

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