Ed News, Friday, December 9, 2016 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 “True education is more powerful than money or weapons. 
 It is the key to a magical land where nothing is impossible.” 

― Debasish Mridha

Teacher Shortages
Last Friday’s “Ed News” highlighted an article on the California teacher shortage that appeared on the L.A. Times’swebsite on Wednesday (it appeared in the print edition on Monday). The item prompted 2-letters that materialize in Wednesday’s paper.             The teacher shortage has become so acute in Arkansas that some districts are resorting to hiring untrained people to fill classroom positions according to Arkansas Public Media the local affiliate of NPR.  You can listen to the audio segment (4:10 minutes, Part 1; 3:07, Part 2) on the topic and/or read a transcript by clicking here.  “Starting this year in Arkansas,” Part 1 relates, “anyone with a bachelor’s degree can become a teacher in districts that have requested a waiver of teacher certification.  Licensure, or certification, requires passing coursework and a series of state level subject area exams.  It is just one of a slate of waivers approved by lawmakers, including class size, teacher preparation time, hiring and firing rules, and others, allowing traditional public schools to operate with the same educational requirements as their area charter schools.  The licensure waivers are in part a response to a dramatic drop in the number of Arkansans interested in becoming teachers through existing pathways.  In the last three years,” it continues, “the total number of aspiring teachers enrolled in any kind of preparatory program in the state has dropped by half.  In 2013, 7,758 were enrolled, and in 2016 that number fell to 3,944.”             When teacher shortages occur it’s often schools in poor, minority and disadvantaged communities that suffer the most.  They are often the hardest to staff so students face high teacher turnover and often classrooms taught by a rotating stream of unqualified substitutes.  An article in The Washington Post chronicles those problems as it focuses on the difficult situations in several districts around the country.  “Every U.S. classroom needs a sub from time to time,” it reminds readers.  “But in the troubled schools that serve some of the nation’s neediest children, it is not uncommon for classrooms to churn with substitutes as teachers leave in large numbers each June, or quit midyear, and principals struggle to fill the positions.  The disruption of teachers coming and going and the frequent use of substitutes with varying levels of skill and commitment effectively steal learning time from students who can least afford it, experts say.”
New Chair of House Education Committee
Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a brief item about the selection of the next chair of the House Education and the Workforce committee.  She’s Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and POLITICO provides a much more comprehensive profile of her in a piece titled “Meet the Congresswoman Poised to Tear Up Obama’s Education Legacy.”  “Foxx’s small-government views are rooted in the Blue Ridge Mountains,” it reveals, “in a slice of Appalachia where she grew up without power and running water and began working as a weaver at age 12 to help support her family — experiences that convinced her it’s an individual’s hard work, and not federal programs, that lead to success.”
Charter Schools
The EPI (Economic Policy Institute) is promoting a new paper by Bruce D. Baker, professor of education at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University , that takes a detailed look at the impact of charter school expansion on their host districts.  The study is titled “Exploring the Consequences of Charter School Expansion in U.S. Cities” and you can read the full report (73 pages) by clicking here.  Baker analyzes how charters influence things like enrollment and district revenue among other factors.  [This paper] shows that charter expansion may increase inequity, introduce inefficiencies and redundancies, compromise financial stability, and introduce other objectionable distortions to the system that impede delivery of an equitable distribution of excellent or at least adequate education to all children.  By shedding light on the risks of charter expansion,” Baker writes by way of introduction, “it provides elements for a decisionmaking process that weighs the costs against expected benefits.”
The Teaching Profession
Larry Ferlazzo opens his column in EDUCATION WEEK to a group of 6 educators who answer his question: “What is your favorite web tool or app for helping students learn?” “There are so many online tools and apps that have learning potential,” he offers, “but how are teachers supposed to separate the wheat from the chaff?  This series will offer some suggestions on how we educators can navigate through the ed tech jungle.”  What follows is an annotated list of items (with links) you could use in your classroom tomorrow (if it isn’t Saturday or Sunday).  Ferlazzo mentions this is the first of a 3-part series on the topic, so stay tuned for future columns.  One contributor works at a pre-K-6th grade school in Culver City and he suggests primary grade teachers use a tool called “Scratch.”  Check it out (I provided the link for you) and the others that are mentioned, if they are appropriate.
Betsy DeVos Nominated to be Next Sec. of Education
President-elect Trump’s selection of Michigan native Betsy DeVos to head the federal Dept. of Education continues to elicit numerous responses.  A scathing editorial appears in the Detroit Free Press authored by the paper’s Editorial Page Editor.  He’s unsparing in his criticism of her to become the next Sec. of Education.  “President-elect Donald Trump has made a number of controversial cabinet nominations already.  But none seems more inappropriate, or more contrary to reason,” the author states unequivocally, “than his choice of DeVos to lead the Department of Education.  DeVos isn’t an educator, or an education leader.  She’s not an expert in pedagogy or curriculum or school governance.  In fact, she has no relevant credentials or experience for a job setting standards and guiding dollars for the nation’s public schools.  She is, in essence, a lobbyist — someone who has used her extraordinary wealth to influence the conversation about education reform, and to bend that conversation to her ideological convictions despite the dearth of evidence supporting them.”               DeVos had a major hand in the creation of the charter sector in her home state of Michigan and her state was one of the first to jump on the charter bandwagon.  So how are those schools doing?  The “Charters & Choice” column in EDUCATION WEEK provides some answers to that question in the form of a Q & A.  “Michigan allows both for-profit and non-profit groups to run charter schools.  A significant majority of Michigan’s charter schools are run by local for-profit operators,”  it notes, “and it has more schools run by for-profit operators than any other state, according to a 2013 report by the National Education Policy Center.”               POLITICO also takes a close look at what Betsy DeVos did to the traditional public schools in Michigan with her promotion of charters and choice.  The result, so far, is not a pretty one.  The item is titled “DeVos’ Michigan Schools Experiment Gets Poor Grades–Despite Two Decades of Charter-School Growth, the State’s Overall Academic Progress Has Failed to Keep Pace With Other States.”  ” The state’s charter schools scored worse on [the NAEP] test than their traditional public-school counterparts,” the authors point out, “according to an analysis of federal data.  Critics say Michigan’s laissez-faire attitude about charter-school regulation has led to marginal and, in some cases, terrible schools in the state’s poorest communities as part of a system dominated by for-profit operators. . . .  The results in Michigan are so disappointing that even some supporters of school choice are critical of the state’s policies. . . .  All of which raises the question: As Trump’s education secretary, would DeVos learn from the Michigan experience, or simply push for the same policies on a national scale?”               The author of this commentary for THE HECHINGER REPORT, William Doyle, is a scholar-in-residence at the University of Eastern Finland whose son has attended Finnish schools.  He has a novel suggestion for Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos.  The former should arrange to have the latter fly to Finland to see how that country’s highly rated public school system works.  “Just ranked by the World Economic Forum as the No. 1 primary school system globally Finland shows us, that true educational choice means holding politicians accountable,” Doyle contends, “to provide families the choice between safe, well-resourced, high-quality local schools, especially in high-poverty areas, schools run by teachers trained at the highest levels of professionalism and supported by a national culture of teacher and school collaboration and respect for families and teachers. . . .  The classroom scene in Finland is strikingly different from prevailing atmosphere reported in many classrooms in America, the U.K. and elsewhere,” he continues, “where teachers are routinely under-trained, micro-managed, surveilled, data-shamed, punished, overworked, disrespected and stressed to the breaking point by politicians, bureaucrats and non-educators.”               If a trip to Finland for Betsy DeVos is too expensive (see previous item) maybe she should  visit Massachusetts, instead.  This essay in the “Finding Common Ground” column for EDUCATION WEEKis titled “Maybe Instead of Finland, We Should Be More Like Massachusetts?”   “Instead of making the trek over to Finland there is somewhere much closer and within the U.S. we can visit.  Educators, researchers and leaders could make a pilgrimage to the great state of Massachusetts” the author suggests, “because they ranked as highly as Finland in the current PISA results.  More than 70 countries take part in PISA, and Massachusetts ranks among the top.”  The article goes on to explain how students in the Bay State are doing and why they are doing so well.
Mike Pence and Education
If Betsy DeVos appears to be a disaster for the traditional public school system, what about the policies and philosophies in regards to education of incoming Vice Pres. Mike Pence?  Not a whole lot better according to an analysis  in Mother Jones of Pence’s voucher program which he championed and shepherd into existence as governor of Indiana.  “One of Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s pet projects as governor of Indiana was expanding school choice vouchers, which allow public money to pay for private school tuition. President-elect Donald Trump has said he’d like to expand such vouchers in the rest of the country, but what happened in Indiana should serve as a cautionary tale for Trump and his administration,” the piece warns.  “Pence’s voucher program ballooned into a $135 million annual bonanza almost exclusively benefiting private religious schools—ranging from those teaching the Koran to Christian schools teaching creationism and the Bible as literal truth—at the expense of regular and usually better-performing public schools.  Indeed, one of the schools was a madrasa, an Islamic religious school, briefly attended by a young man arrested this summer for trying to join ISIS—just the kind of place Trump’s coalition would find abhorrent.”  Halloween is now long past, but what Pence did in the Hoosier State with his voucher program is VERY scary and should serve as a cautionary tale for future such policies nationwide.  Diane Ravitch, in commenting on this article, concluded: “This is what is in store for the nation in the Trump-Pence era.” Chilling stuff, indeed!
Diane Ravitch Leads Fight Against Corporate “Reform”
The editor of the “Ed News” and many other proponents of our traditional public school system are “YUGE” fans of Diane Ravitch.  We rely on her Diane Ravitch’s blog for timely and informative material about the latest in ed policy and even more her voice speaking out against the depredations of the corporate “reformers” and privatizers.  Several ALOED members have had the pleasure of hearing her speak in person twice in L.A. in the last couple of years, including one on the Occidental College campus, and the ALOED Book Club featured her “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” as part of our discussion group.  Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, puts into words our appreciation for all that Ravitch does in support of public schools, teachers, unions and the many pundits, columnists and bloggers who rely on her work and her constant and determined efforts.  He titles his tribute “What Diane Ravitch Means to Me” and I would add what she means to all of us.  “I can’t say enough good things about her.  I can’t put into words,”Singer confesses, “how important Diane Ravitch is to my life.  Her ideas changed me.  Her ethics invigorated me.  Her friendship humbles me.”  This weekend the NPE (Network for Public Education) is honoring Ravitch at a  dinner on Long Island for all that she does.  May she continue for many years to come!               How influential is Diane Ravitch’s voice?  Her Diane Ravitch’s blog hit 29 million page views on Wednesday.  She comments on the milestone and reiterates her mission for the future.  “The next four years will be challenging, to say the least,” she warns, “for those of us who believe in the ideal of universal public education, open to all, and to our hopes for making all schools far better than they are today.  In a better world, billionaires would be helping to strengthen our public schools, not trying to make them compete in a marketplace, not contributing to the growth of a dual system of schools.  In a better world, the government would prohibit for-profit organizations from operating schools; the only profit in schooling should be the satisfaction of learning and mastering new ideas, new skills, new appreciations for what is good, beautiful, and just.”  
LAUSD Attempts to Allay Student Fears Following the Election
In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, students of various racial, ethnic and religious groups have been particularly feeling the brunt of bullying and other actions directed at them over the president-elect’s immigration and other policies.  Teachers, in particular, have been reporting expressions of fear and unease from their students.  Previous editions of the “Ed News” have chronicled these reactions.  The nation’s second largest school district, the LAUSD, is attempting to proactively deal with these emotions.  It made robocalls, in English and Spanish, to parents and teachers on Monday announcing the creation of a hotline with referrals to various support services that can deal with these issues.  The recorded calls featured the voice of district Supt. Michelle King according to a story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times.  “L.A. Unified officials took a stand right after the election,” it explains, “to say they would protect students from deportation and hate incidents. . . .  Trump campaigned on the promise that he would build a wall to keep out immigrants from Mexico and deport those who had come to the U.S. illegally.  Los Angeles Unified is 74% Latino, and the threats hit home for many students.  Teachers districtwide spent class time reassuring young people that they would be safe at school.”               The above story was the topic of a column by Valerie Strauss on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post.  It’s titled “For Students Worried About Trump, Los Angeles School District Opens Hotline, Support Sites.”  “The Los Angeles Unified School District — the nation’s second largest public school system — is about 75 percent Latino.  That helps explain why a month after Donald Trump won the presidential election,” she begins, “many students are still frightened by the incendiary statements he made about illegal immigration and Hispanics during the campaign — and why district officials are taking steps to help them.”
Trump and Education 
The U.S. Dept. of Education’s (DoE) Office of Civil Rights (OCR)could be eliminated under an Trump administration according to an analysis in the “Morning Education” column for POLITICO.  “The office has cracked down on colleges that mishandle sexual assault allegations and used Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex, to protect the right of transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice — an issue now headed to the Supreme Court.”  The OCR also has responsibilities over a number of other issues regarding education and civil rights.  [Ed. note: There are several other education-related items in this POLITICO piece which you are welcome to peruse.  The first one is about the OCR.]               Why is the DoE’s OCR (see item above) so important?  The number of complaints to the OCR has more than doubled since Pres. Obama was elected in 2008 according to a new report from the Office.  It details a number of problems on a variety of issues that it has handled.  An article in the “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK reviews the new paper and demonstrates the iimportant work the OCR does and will probably need to keep doing in the future.  “Not everyone will be sorry to see the department’s office for civil rights get new management,” the piece predicts, “once President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month.  Republican members of Congress and others have been highly critical of the department’s guidance to school districts regarding the rights of transgender students.  And some have also criticized the office’s approach to racial disparities in school discipline, saying it it intrudes too much on classroom and school operations.”   You can find the full OCR annual report (44 pages) titled “Securing Equal Educational Opportunity: Report to the President and Sec. of Education” by clicking here.          One of Donald Trumps few education policy statements during the fall campaign had to do with diverting $20 billion dollars in federal funds into block grants to the states for school vouchers.  How successful have those types of programs been around the country?  For one example, see the section above headlined “Mike Pence and Education.”  For another take a look at how vouchers fared in Louisiana under Gov. Bobby Jindal.  The News Orleans Time-Picayune provides a story that does just that titled “Thanks to Bobby Jindal, We Know How Disastrous Trump’s Education Policies Could Be.”  “Thanks to Jindal’s poorly conceived and badly executed program,” the author submits, “we now know that Trump’s voucher plan is not a cure for what ails our schools but, rather, little more than educational snake oil.”               Amy Moore, a doctoral student and elementary school teacher in Iowa, has some words of “encouragement” and “advice” for Donald Trump as he looks forward to taking his new “public service” job as president of the United States.  She compares Trump’s new position to that of a school teacher in her commentary for The Des Moines Register.  “How can you tell if you’re doing a good job?  Well, unfortunately for schoolteachers, the trend has been to find something measurable, such as student test scores, and attribute those to the skill, or lack thereof, of the teacher.  These scores may not really be representative of the quality of the teacher, but it’s pretty easy to label teachers either good or bad that way.  So let’s try to use that same approach with your job,” she suggests.  “What can we measure?  How about family income?  I’d say that you’re doing your job if you can raise the income of families each year to show growth.  Yes, everyone must get a raise each year.  There must be no family left behind.”
LAUSD Board Opts Out of Vote on Superintendent’s Strategic Plan
It’s a little complicated and a bit convoluted, but the LAUSD board on Tuesday decided not to vote on Supt. Michelle King’s strategic plan for the district.  A key hangup for board members is her goal to achieve a 100% graduation rate by an unspecified future date.  By not taking a vote, the board avoids providing its imprimatur to her plan.  The how and the why of this are explained in a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  “The board’s action — or lack of action — deflated what was supposed to be a dramatic, pivotal and unifying process: creating a blueprint for school success in perilous times.  The district,” it mentions, ” faces many challenges: financial uncertainty, declining enrollment and trepidation about what a Trump administration might mean for its large immigrant student population.” 
2017 L.A. Municipal Election
And finally, yeah, I know, the last election was just over a month ago and the next one is only 3 months away.  It’s a local L.A. municipal primary election scheduled for March 7 (the general election will take place May 16) and voters in L.A. will be voting for mayor, city council, city attorney, the LAUSD school board, and a few additional offices and local measures.  Some other county communities may also be casting ballots.  An article in today’s L.A. Times discusses the candidates running for 3 seats on the LAUSD school board. Two have incumbents running, Monica Garcia in District 2 and current board President Steve Zimmer in District 4, and one is an open seat being vacated by Monica Ratliff in District 6 as she makes a run for the L.A. City Council. “The election could prove pivotal because the seven-member board is divided on key issues, including the growth and monitoring of independently operated charter schools,” the piece points out.  “L.A. has become a widely watched battleground for competing special interests and conflicting visions of reform, so campaign spending is expected to be in the millions of dollars.  Wednesday was the deadline for turning in petitions that are part of the process for getting on the ballot, and 15 of the 19 who had signed up to run followed through.  Signatures on some petitions still need to be verified, so it’s possible that the final list of candidates will shrink. . . .  Candidates needed at least 1,000 signatures from registered voters in their districts, unless they paid a $300 filing fee, which cut the required number of signatures in half.”

Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


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