Ed News, Tuesday, December 6, 2016 Edition


  A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

     “School will bring you more success than marriage.” 

― Nnedi OkoraforLagoon

Big Money Now Being Directed Into School Board Races!
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision was handed down in 2010 there has been major complaints about the influence of money on political races at the federal and state level.  More recently, concerns have been raised about theinflux of major dollars into even local school board races.  An article on THE CONVERSATION website asks “Are Wealthy Donors Influencing the Public School Agenda?”  It looks at how massive amounts of money are flowing from both in-state and out-of-state donors to individual candidates for school board races and how this phenomenon is impacting local education policy.  “It is no surprise then that school board elections have mostly been known as being sleepy affairs.  Most candidates in the past,” it points out, “have been known to spend less than US$1,000 toward campaign expenses such as campaign literature and name recognition efforts.  In 2010, for example, less than 3 percent of candidates reported spending more than $25,000. . . .  Recent school board elections in places such as Denver, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New Orleans have seen candidates routinely raising at least 50 times as much money as the 2010 national average.”
Are Schools a “Government-Run Monopoly?”
Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted an item about how conservative Republicans like to rail at how the public school system is really a “government-run monopoly.” Their small (anti-) government rhetoric leads them to proclaim the need to introduce choice and privatize the schools in order to “save” our “failing” public schools.  As the author of a commentary from the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) website likes to point out, all this talk is mostly hogwash.  She likes to note that our education system is one of the last surviving examples of a venture that is “locally owned and operated.”  “Schools are not a monopoly!  In fact, they are the last vestige of the old Mom-and-Pop local democracy holding out against Corporate driven Federal takeover!  They are not managed by a single entity,” she explains.  “There are well over 14,000 different local school districts across the country, and 80% of them are managed by locally elected school boards, providing every parent in the district with a direct conduit of someone to meet with, complain to, and fire through the next election if they don’t like the service they are getting.  Each school system is directly responsible to the people who own it– the people in that district.”
Trump Picks Betsy DeVos to Head U.S. Dept. of Education
President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of billionaire Betsy DeVos to the post of Sec. of Education has certainly sparked widespread reaction, at least from the education cognoscenti.  The previous edition of the “Ed News” had a huge section on the topic.  Continuing in that vein, ALOED member Ron Oswald forwards an item that references an op-ed in the New York Daily News by AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten titled “Donald Trump vs. Public Schools: Betsy DeVos is a Radical Choice.”   “It’s not surprising that Trump and DeVos, both billionaires who never attended or sent their children to public schools,” she writes, “fail to understand the importance of public education in fostering pluralism and opportunity.  But it is deeply troubling.  Eight-five percent of American children attend public schools.  They deserve leaders who will strengthen them, not destabilize or defund them.”               How much do DeVos’ religious beliefs drive her education philosophies?  Possibly more than is healthy according to a piece from POLITICO.  The author unearthed some remarks she delivered to a Christian group 15 years ago.  “Her comments came during a 2001 meeting of ‘The Gathering,’ an annual conference of some of the country’s wealthiest Christians,” the item reveals.  “DeVos and her husband, Dick, were interviewed a year after voters rejected a Michigan ballot initiative to change the state’s constitution to allow public money to be spent on private and religious schools, which the DeVoses had backed.  In the interview, an audio recording, which was obtained by POLITICO, the couple is candid about how their Christian faith drives their efforts to reform American education.”              The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) post a piece on their website titled “A Cry of Disgust Over the Appointment of Betsy DeVos” that includes a large dollop of satire along with the commentary.  “I could no more oversee public health care than the likes of DeVos can oversee public education.  This is the ever loving truth that no one sees,” the author frets.  “Self-serving career politicians with their hidden agendas is what has ruined the public school system.  Tell me, would you go to a school teacher for treatment for heart disease?  I think not.  The question that begs an answer is why would you rejoice to see a career politician run your local public school systems?”               The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of items about Betsy DeVos and her appointment to be Donald Trump’s Sec. of Education.  The Center for Media and Democracy’s “PR Watch” blog checks in with a piece titled “5 Things to Know About Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Trump Education Choice” that may go beyond some of the typical things you’ve heard and read about her.  Here’s one example from the list: 4. Theocracy: She Has Pushed for Vouchers and More to Get Tax Money to Support Christian Schools.”  The author proceeds to explain, in detail, each of the items on the enumeration.             The DeVos family got their start privatizing schools in their home state of Michigan.  Now that Betsy has been nominated to become the U.S. Sec. of Education she can set her sights on possibly doing the same nationally.  Want a review of what she and husband Dick have done to the public schools of Michigan which could give you a preview of what’s in store for the country?  Mitchell Robinson, writing on the eclectablog, titles his essay “Privatize, Monetize, Weaponize: How the DeVos Family Devoured Michigan’s Schools.”  It offers an extensive narrative in the form of a timeline of what the DeVoses have fashioned in their home state.  Parental warning: It’s pretty scary and worrisome and even more so when you contemplate what she, as head of the DoE, could accomplish on a much wider platform.  “There is a term for a person brought in to an organization to perform underhanded, controversial, or unscrupulous tasks, like mass firings and company closings: this person is known as a ‘hatchet man’.  Betsy DeVos is nothing more than Donald Trump’s ‘hatchet man,’ tapped for no other purpose than to destroy our public schools, de-professionalize the teaching profession, and privatize what’s left. . . .  But tapping a person whose long public record of words and actions betrays an obvious anti-public education mindset to lead the nation’s public education system is an act of clear hostility and aggression that must be forcefully resisted.  Betsy DeVos has been wrong for Michigan’s schools,” Robinson emphatically concludes,” “and is wrong for Secretary of Education.”               Jennifer Berkshire, aka the EduShyster, offers a similar analysis as Mitchell Robinson (see above).  She suggests that if you want some idea of what direction a Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos is headed, take a look at what she’s done in the past “There is a queasy, racialized undertone to much of the education reform debate, with its constant implication that students of color fare best in schools over which their communities have little say.  In Michigan, though, that argument has been taken by reform advocates, Betsy DeVos chief among them, to its extreme conclusion.  The official message of DeVos’ organization,” Berkshire maintains, “the Great Lakes Education Project, during last summer’s legislative battle was that dissolving the Detroit Public Schools would ‘protect kids and empower parents,’ a cause that came with its own hashtag: #EndDPS.  But what GLEP really meant was hard to miss.  Detroit is a tax-hoovering abyss whose residents are too corrupt and incompetent to oversee their own schools.”              It looks like it will be up to the badly shaken Democratic Party to offer any resistance to the Trump/DeVos policies regarding education.  That’s the gist of a story from the NEW REPUBLIC  titled “Can Democrats Save Public Schools from Trump and DeVos?”  “Hobbled as they are in the minority, Democrats must gear up to fight the coming assault on schooling as a public good.  In the process,”  it recommends, “they will have to do something arguably more difficult: Acknowledge that the Democratic Party has lost its way in recent years on education policy, with many buying into the bad ideas and faulty assumptions that led Obama to double-down on Bush’s failings.”
Cartoon of the Day
Diane Ravitch’s blog is promoting a new webcomic strip about education called “Teaching Ted.”  It’s created by Michael Desing who writes this about himself on his website“I’m a husband, father, Christian, teacher, cartoonist, game designer and random stuff creator who lives in Western New York.  I’ve been teaching for fifteen years, and have been creating comics and writing games for about twice that long.  Teaching Ted is where it all comes together: my love of all things geek, my passion for public education, and the lessons I’ve learned about writing and storytelling.”   Be sure to click on the arrows underneath each cartoon on his website to view his offer offerings.
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New Chair of House Education Committee Selected
Rep. John Kline (R-MN), the current chair of the House Education Committee will be retiring at the end of the current Congressional term and will be replaced by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC).  The “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK has some brief details about the announcement.
Kindergartners Trying to Catch Up After Skipping Preschool
A story in the Nov. 27th L.A. Times about kindergartners who skipped preschool and found themselves behind their peers in reading and other skills (highlighted in Friday’s “Ed News”) prompted 2 letters-to-the-editor that appear in Saturday’s paper.  The first is from Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus of education at USC.  “Forcing young children to study flashcards in the car in order to ‘master’ 100 words is turning kindergarten into kindergrind,” he suggests.  “Children who develop a love of reading will master thousands of words, without suffering.”
Book Banning is Still With Us
Many people probably believe that the banning of books in this country ended in the 50s or the 60s or the 70s or the 80s . . . .  They would probably be surprised to learn that the practice is still going strong in 2016.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post talks about the tradition in history and provides a list of “the top 10 most challenged books in 2015.”  She includes an interesting graph showing the reasons why people object to certain titles and heavily references a column by Peter Greene on his CURMUDGUCATION blog (click here for his full essay) about how often “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is included on banned book lists. “A book challenge is nothing new at libraries and schools,” Strauss points out, “according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which for more than 20 years has collected reports on formal, written book challenges — at least the ones it is made aware of; the ALA said it believes that most such challenges go unreported.”
Commercial Billboards on Campus
Thursday’s L.A. Times contained an editorial and Friday’s paper a story about the LAUSD board possibly approving the placement of a commercial billboard on the campus of Hollywood High School (both were highlighted in the previous edition of the “Ed News:).  The former drew 3 letters that appear in Sunday’s Times, all of which were opposed to having the billboards on campus.  “These [billboard] companies have a voracious and insidious appetite,” the author of the first one insists, “for profit and could not care less about blight or any the of the other issues raised by The Times. They will shamelessly promote themselves as benefactors so long as they get any opportunity to expand the distribution of billboards. I can guarantee that if one company gets a toehold on one school campus, the other companies will expect the same treatment on other campuses.”
California Teacher Shortage (redux)
[Ed. note: Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted an article that was posted on the L.A. Times’ website Wednesday evening that featured a new report about the growing teacher shortage in California.  That story showed up in the print edition of yesterday’s paper.  If you missed it the first time around, you can find it by clicking here.]
Schools of Opportunity
Valerie Strauss, on her blog in The Washington Post, has been featuring schools that have been named 2015-16 winners of the Schools of Opportunity project.  This is the sixth in her series (links to articles about the previous five are included in her piece) and it profiles South Side High School in Rockville Centre, New York.  The authors who describe the success of the school are the co-founders of the Schools of Opportunity program, Kevin Welner and Carol Burris.  “Teacher-led professional development is an important contributor to the success at South Side. Teachers create their own portfolio of professional development workshops,” the authors indicate, “and they assume leadership positions for building-wide initiatives.”
LA Charter School Ties to Turkish Coup?
Last month the ALOED Educational Film Series screened, on the campus of Occidental College, the timely and controversial documentary “Killing Ed” about unsavory ties between a reclusive Turkish imam Fethullah Gülen, who lives in seclusion in the Pocono Mountains in western Pennsylvania, and a worldwide network of charter schools including some 160 campuses in the U.S. and eight in the L.A. area.  After an unsuccessful coup in Turkey in July, the surviving government requested that the U.S. extradite the cleric for his alleged role in the attempted takeover.  The latest edition (Dec. 2-8) of the LA WEEKLY has an exhaustive investigative cover story titled “The Turkish Connection–Is a Southern California Charter School Group Funneling Money to an Effort to Overthrow a Government Half a World Away?”  It goes into extensive detail about the ties between Gülen and the charter chain and links to the attempted coup.  “The unrest in Turkey has drawn attention to the worldwide network of more than 1,000 schools that Gülen has established in more than 100 countries, the largest number of which, outside Turkey, is in the United States.  These schools are believed to fund Gülen’s operation — and they are alleged to have helped fund the coup attempt,” the article reports.  “Within days of the foiled coup, the government of Turkey asked education officials in Texas, California and Ohio to investigate publicly funded charter schools in those states, alleging that they misused public funds and funneled money to Gülen’s movement.”   The piece reviews, in detail, supposed ties between the Magnolia Charter School chain here in L.A. with Gülen and his movement in Turkey.
Latest PISA Results Disappointing for U.S. Students
And finally, the latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) test results were released today and America’s 15-year-olds were unable to improve since 2009 in science and reading and their scores in math actually declined during that time frame.  The “Inside School Research” column for EDUCATION WEEK has the latest disappointing results. “PISA,” it explains, “focuses on measuring the math, science, and reading critical-thinking and problem-solving skills of 15-year-olds in 77 countries and education systems.”       Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints an article from politico that reports on the latest PISA results (see above) and Ravitch adds her own comments about the scores and what they mean for programs like Race to the Top.  “Now the latest international test scores are out, and the U.S. has made no gains.  We are not racing to the top.  We are standing still.  Why? Because Race to the Top did not address the root causes of academic failure: poverty and racial segregation,” Ravitch complains.  “Charter schools have produced marginal gains at best, with some far worse than public schools.  Evaluating teachers by test scores has been an abject failure, criticized by the nation’s leading scholarly organizations, including the American Statistical Association, which is not an arm of reformer-dreaded teachers’ unions or the ‘status quo.’”               THE HECHINGER REPORT suggests there’s much for U.S. educators to learn from the latest PISA results.  “The idea is not to import other countries’ practices wholesale and drop them into the system here — school systems couldn’t do that even if they wanted to.  But seeing how those practices work,” it submits, “and seeing how they can be adapted to local contexts is a valuable exercise. Educators could see, for example, how Finland has put in place a powerful program to prepare educators; how Singapore has created a career ladder to enable teachers to develop their skills continually; how Estonia has committed to equitable access to high-quality education. And more. Demography is not necessarily destiny. ”              Valerie Strauss takes a much different tack then the item above in her column for The Washington Post.  She advises American educators not to react too negatively to these latest test results.  She explains how testing experts have determined that many of these assessment are flawed and shouldn’t be relied on as any type of predictive indicators.  Strauss turns her space over to Yong Zhao, a former ALOED Book Club author and current professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Kansas, who points out a number of weaknesses in the international exams.  Strauss headlines her column “Why Americans Should Not Panic About International Test Results.”  “U.S. students have never done well — not in the history of international tests,” she points out, “including when the American public education system wasn’t under attack by reformers as it is now. That won’t stop people from saying the sky is falling over the results of a standardized test, especially one that many critics say is flawed.”
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


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