Ed News, Tuesday, December 13, 2016 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

[Upcoming ALOED Winter Book Club Event.]  The next book discussion will feature Fareed Zakaria’s “In Defense of a Liberal Education.”  The bad news is you only have a little over 5 weeks to read it; the good news is the hardcover edition is only 169 pages of relatively large text so you have NO EXCUSES.  The gathering takes place on Thursday, Jan. 19, 6-8 pm, at the South Pasadena home of Jill Asbjornsen and includes dinner (provided by ALOED).  For good food and stimulating conversation (you don’t even have to read the book to join us) click here for all the details and to RSVP.]

Inline image 1          Inline image 3
                                                                Fareed Zakaria

And now to the news.

 “Education helps you to create a new world which is uniquely yours to live and enjoy.”

― Debasish Mridha

LAUSD Billboard Plan Hits a Roadblock
The LAUSD plan to place a commercial, digital billboard on the campus of Hollywood High School (see Dec. 2 and Dec. 6 editions of the “Ed News”) may have hit a serious roadblock.  City Attorney Mike Feuer issued a statement saying the idea would contravene city law.  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times explains what might put the kibosh on the whole idea.  “The principal of Hollywood High, meanwhile, has withdrawn the proposal and it’s off the table, school district officials said.  Los Angeles currently bans new signs, such as billboards” the article notes, “that don’t advertise a service or product available on the immediate property, according to a letter from the city.”
Big Data vs Small Data
Many of the corporate ‘reformers” and privatizers want schools to collect and use more data like businesses do.  Their argument rests on the idea that you can’t improve your “product” if you don’t have detailed information about it.  Of course they also assume that “students” = “products” and most education experts don’t buy that premise.  Finnish education expert and author Pasi Sahlberg discusses the differences between “big” data and “small” data in a conversation with C.M. Rubin on her “Global Search for Education” series on her CMRubinWorld website. 
The Obama Education Legacy
Alan Singer, a social studies teacher for 14 years who is now a teacher educator at Hofstra University, has a lot of nice things to say about many of the policies of the Obama administration over the past 8 years.  However, he can’t find much to commend the outgoing president when it comes to education.  His critique appears on THE HUFFINGTON POST.  “In a recent interview for Education News, Michael Shaughnessy asked me what I thought were the top educational reforms during the last eight years.  I was hard-pressed to come up with any,” Singer relates.  “Instead I answered with the worst educational ‘deforms.’  I don’t hold President Obama directly responsible for these ‘reforms’, but they either started or accelerated during his time in office.”  Singer proceeds to chronicle 4 education “deforms” under Pres. Obama.
Testing, Vouchers & Choice
The Obama administration last week made public its final regulations regarding testing under the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act).  The “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK has the details and an analysis.  “President Barack Obama’s thinking on testing has gone through twists and turns through his eight years in office,” it mentions.  “The administration initially enticed states to tie teacher evaluations to test scores through the $4 billion Race to the Top program and later through waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act.  But, last year, the president acknowledged that there was too much testing in schools, and put together a ‘testing action plan’ to address the problem.  The White House says these new testing regulations build on that plan, but there isn’t much in them to cut back on assessments that isn’t in the underlying law.  What’s more, it’s unclear if the incoming Trump administration will keep these regulations on the books, decide to hit the pause button on them, or not go out of their way to enforce them.”             A group of pastors in Texas has come out strongly against a proposal in that state to create education vouchers that could be used to pay for private school tuition.  In addition, the organization, Pastors for Texas Children, is a strong proponent of the public school system in the Lone Star State according to an article on the Reporting Texas website.  “The organization’s mission is twofold: To advocate for public education with state lawmakers and to mobilize individual churches to support public schools by providing services such as student mentoring and teacher appreciation events.  Members have linked dozens of churches with public schools,” it explains, “met with more than 100 lawmakers since the organization’s inception in 2013, and published dozens of anti-school voucher editorials in newspapers across Texas.  The group is getting national attention: In recent months, it has been mentioned in Politico, the Washington Post and the widely read blog of Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education under President George W. Bush and a leader of the grassroots movement against school privatization.”                Want some up-to-date figures on school choice enrollment, costs and some definitions of key terms?  EDUCATION WEEK has a couple of statistical graphics and some definitions for your edification.               The following graphic, pertaining to school choice, appears on the website of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs):
Inline image 1

One of the few education initiatives Donald Trump mentioned on the campaign trail had to do with diverting $20 billion from federal programs and offer them to states in the form of block grants to be used for vouchers.  How would all that play out, particularly in rural areas where there are less brick-and-mortar options for students and their families to choose from?  Keep in mind that it was a high percentage of rural voters who contributed to Trump’s upset victory.  An item on the “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK explores some of the dilemmas Trump’s plan could face.  “Most people have taken President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to tap billionaire GOP donor and school choice champion Betsy DeVos as his education secretary,” it begins, “as a sign that he wants to make good on his campaign promise to create a massive new school choice program.  One problem? School choice, at least in the form of vouchers or brick-and-mortar charter schools, isn’t easy to do in the rural states and communities that played such a large part in Trump’s victory in the electoral College.”                The L.A. Times is running a little behind on the news.  Last week the “Ed News” highlighted several items about the disappointing results, particularly in math,  from the PISA tests that were recently released.  It wasn’t until today that the Times has a story about those poor math results earned by U.S. students.  “PISA tests 15-year-old students in 72 countries and school systems.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD,” the article explains, “gives the two-hour test to try to measure whether students can apply what they’ve learned in school to real-world problems.  About 540,000 students were tested worldwide, 5,700 in the U.S. Students mostly took the tests on computers.”

More Fallout Over DeVos Choice to Head DoE
Were you aware that Betsy DeVos, selected to be the next Sec. of Education, and her family donated $1.8 million to the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign?  An investigative piece in The Washington Post reveals that President-elect Donald Trump has rewarded at least 6 of his biggest donors with positions in his new administration. DeVos’ largesse wasn’t even the biggest among those nominees.  That honor, so far, goes to Linda McMahon, co-founder of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.) who gave $7.5 million to pro-Trump super PACs, the RNC and the Trump campaign.  She was rewarded by being selected to head the Small Business Administration.  I’m not kidding.  You can’t make this stuff up!  “The president-elect’s decision to put his major political backers in senior Cabinet positions is a jarring contrast with Trump’s rhetoric through this year’s campaign,” the item reports.  “He repeatedly declared himself independent of wealthy donors and predicted Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s benefactors would ‘have total control over everything she does.’”               DeVos was a little unclear about her position on the Common Core until she tweeted that she was emphatically against the standards shortly after she was nominated to head the DoE.  She reiterated that position when she made a joint appearance with Trump at a “Thank You” rally in Grand Rapids, MI, on Friday.  Valerie Strauss, in her “Answer Sheet” column for The Washington Post, writes about what DeVos said regarding the Common Core and her apparent misconception, along with Donald Trump’s, that the federal government has the power to eliminate the standards.  “Ultimately, only state legislatures can eliminate the Core.  Could the soon-to-be Trump administration decide to use federal funds to coerce states to drop the Core,” Strauss asks, “just as Obama’s Education Department did to get states to adopt it? Theoretically it could.  But someone should explain to the future president and his education secretary what is real and not real about the Common Core.”               An Iowa educator composes an open letter to Betsy DeVos on behalf of “America’s Teachers.”  It’s written by Patrick J. Kearney, Facilitator for Teacher Leadership in the Johnston Community School District and appears on THE HUFFINGTON POST.  “I suppose we also need to address the elephant in the room.  We are a little freaked out by your nomination to be Secretary of Education.  You aren’t an educator.  You haven’t ever attended or sent your children to a public school,” he points out, “yet you seem to have some pretty strong opinions about them.  You don’t seem to have been involved in the study of curriculum or school standards.  What you have done is lobby (and spend millions of dollars of your own money in advocacy) for taxpayer dollars to go to unregulated for-profit charter schools.  As teachers we like to look at data.  Interestingly, the data from Michigan (where you have been able to use your wealth to influence a lot of education policy) would suggest that the charter schools you lobby for aren’t really achieving any better than their public counterparts.”                Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, literally makes up a “speech” that Betsy DeVos might deliver to her hometown constituents in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He describes all the things she’s planning to do to their traditional public schools in the name of charters and choice–her two favorite education policies.  Here’s an excerpt from her “talk:”  “We will also do our best to crush both teacher unions and all those other unions, too.  Unions are unnatural, a terrible attempt to interfere with the natural order of things.  People who want to control working conditions and wages should not choose to be the kind of people who work at those jobs.  It is their place to simply do their jobs and let those of us who Know Better make the important decisions.”  Scary stuff.  It might even be humorous if it wasn’t so close to reality.                The New York Times has a damning story describing how Betsy DeVos contributed to the current chaotic situation in the Detroit Pubic Schools because of her strong support for charters in the troubled district.  It’s titled “How Trump’s Education Nominee Bent Detroit to Her Will on Charter Schools.”  “Even charter school supporters now criticize Detroit as one of the most unregulated markets in the country,” the author points out and adds, “About 80 percent of the state’s charters are operated for profit, far higher than anywhere else.”     Diane Ravitch’s blogcommented caustically on the above article.  [DeVos] “is the Darth Vader of school reform. She is Public Enemy #1 of public education.”                 Katherine Stewart, author of the book “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children,” writes a blunt assessment of DeVos’ religious views and how they impact her education policies.  Stewart’s essay appears in an op-ed in The New York Times and is titled “Betsy DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools.”  “At a 2001 gathering of conservative Christian philanthropists,” Steward details, [DeVos] “singled out education reform as a way to ‘advance God’s kingdom.’  In an interview, she and her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., said that school choice would lead to ‘greater kingdom gain.’”
Charter Schools
Two Anaheim school districts are suing the Orange County Board of Education over its decision to approve a K-12 virtual charter school run by EPIC while the network is being investigated for fraud in Oklahoma.  In addition, the complaint points out that the OCBE’s own staff recommended against granting the charter.  The details of the case are provided by a story on the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) website.  “Based in Oklahoma—where it operates as a for-profit business—EPIC is under criminal investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation,” it explains, “for allegedly falsifying records to receive payments from the Oklahoma Department of Education. The fraud investigation was under way when OCBE conditionally approved the EPIC application in November 2015.”                Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter Network in New York City is often lauded by the corporate “reformers” and privatizers for its results on standardized tests.  That’s what makes the case of the missing Regents’ Exam scores so confounding. That mystery also perplexes Gary Rubinstein who made a persistent attempt to discover what the results were and why they were missing.  His report, on his Gary Rubinstein’s Blog, reads like a popular thriller.  Can you solve the enigma of the missing test scores?  “I’m inclined to believe that the state is not part of a conspiracy to cover up embarrassing test scores for Success Academy.  But the state does not seem overly concerned with the fact that they are not getting the Regents scores from them.  Another possibility,” he considers, “and this would be a pretty big scandal, I think, if this is the case, perhaps students at Success Academy don’t even take Regents exams.  Maybe part of their flexibility in their charter does not require it.”

Rigging Test Scores in DC
Remember when Michelle Rhee was the darling of the corporate “reformers” and privatizers when she was the chancellor of the Washington, D.C., Public Schools?  They couldn’t congratulate her enough (and themselves) for the way she, and her successor Kaya Henderson, boosted test scores and got rid of “lazy, do-nothing” teachers.  Well, apparently the bloom is off the rose according the Mercedes Schneider and her “EduBlog” at deutsch29.  Schneider, with the help of some key information unearthed by an retired D.C., public school teacher, has uncovered some “inconsistencies” in the way the DCPS reported their NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) test scores.  Rhee, who has been dogged by charges of test cheating, served as chancellor from June, 2007 to 2010.  Henderson, whose claim to fame is that she made the DCPS “the fastest improving urban school district in the country” succeeded Rhee until she stepped down effective Oct. 1, this year.  “One major issue with the sale of DC as ‘the fastest improving school district in the country’ is that the 2015 NAEP results reported on DC Public Schools (DCPS) website,” Schneider suggests, “have been misreported in a manner that makes two of the four 2007 scores appear lower than they actually were.  Thus, the 2015 scores falsely show ‘improvements’ that are not real.  The genius in this inaccurate reporting is that it alters the older, 2007 scores, which readers are less likely to take the effort to verify.  Instead, most reader attention is on the recently-released, 2015 scores.”
More Praise for Diane Ravitch
On Sunday the NPE (Network for Public Education) honored Diane Ravitch at a dinner on Long Island for all that she has done and continues to do in support of teachers, unions and traditional public schools.  The previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted an item from Steven Singer and his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG in praise of Ravitch and what she’s meant to him and his career.  In that same vein, Peter Greene, author of the CURMUDGUCATION blog, wrote a similar piece that he titles “Why Honor Diane Ravitch?”  He answers the question and suggests a concrete way that people can support her and what she does.  “Ravitch has been a fighter, a scholar, a connector, a sharp writer, and a vocal advocate for public education.  I have never seen her be anything but kind and generous, and she feeds my belief that I still have at least a few good decades left in me.  She is an invaluable leader in a hugely important movement,” he declares, “who has stepped up when it would have been easy to sit back.  Those, to me, are all qualities well worth honoring, particularly when that helps support a group that does work I believe in.”
The Teaching Profession
What types of challenges will teachers likely face during the Donald Trump presidency?  Valerie Strauss turns her blog in The Washington Post over to Mica Pollock, professor of education at UCSD, who identifies 3 specific steps classroom educators need to adopt.  Here’s her first example: “Step one is to firmly denounce each incident of hate and intimidation on campuses.  As, educators, we can’t let hate speech run wild.  While freedom of speech laws crucially protect students’ right to speak opinions in schools, our civil rights laws also require educators to protect students from harassment and intimidation when in schools.”  See what you think of her other 2 proposals.
The Dec. 6th issue of the “Ed News” highlighted an lengthy investigative cover story that appeared in the LA WEEKLY regarding possible connections between Fethullah Gülen, his extensive charter network and the failed coup in Turkey in July.  Diane Ravitch’s blog featured the story on Sunday.  Score one for the “Ed News.”  “The article describes the multiple investigations of the Magnolia charter schools and recent decisions to deny their requests to open more charter schools,” Ravitch reviews.  “There is so much mystery surrounding the Gulen schools that some investigative agency–the FBI?–should look into their origins, their ties (if any) to Fethullah Gulen, and their finances.  Why in the world should we outsource public schools?”
Congress Faces Some Key Education Issues
The next Congress will be sworn in and commence its new session on Jan. 3.  With the House and Senate and the White House in Republican hands the prospects for education legislation should be quite fascinating.  In anticipation of that situation, EDUCATION WEEK takes a look at what might be in store in 2017 in a piece titled “Congress Faces Range of Issues in Next Session.”  “The Republican majority in Congress will have the opportunity to tackle a host of education issues when its next session begins in 2017,” it relates, “from funding for disadvantaged and special education students and college access and affordability issues, to student-data privacy and career and technical education. . . .  But what’s probably at the top of the list for leading GOP lawmakers is deciding which regulations from President Barack Obama’s administration pertaining to the Every Student Succeeds Act they may wish to overturn through the Congressional Review Act.”
LAUSD Superintendent’s Strategic Plan
LAUSD Supt. Michelle King’s strategic plan for the district received a cool reception from the school board.  Previous editions of the “Ed News” have highlighted items about it including one in Friday’s edition that described how the board decided not to even take a vote on it, thus withholding their approval.  And editorial in today’s L.A. Times is dismissive of the plan, complaining that it’s full of educational jargon and “short on specifics.”   “It’s hard to imagine how a strategic plan for the nation’s second-largest school district could be much more uninspiring than the one presented by Supt. Michelle King.  In fact,” it begins, “the blueprint for Los Angeles Unified she has offered left the school board so unimpressed that it is unclear whether the members will even bother to reject it at their meeting [today].  They may just ignore it entirely.”
Gun Controls and School Shootings
And finally, an article in the “Science File” feature in today’s L.A. Times posits an intriguing correlation between states with background checks for the purchase of guns and ammunition and a decrease in school shootings according to a new study conducted by a team of researchers from 3 U.S. universities.  Their findings were published in the journal “Injury Prevention.”  “States that required background checks for gun buyers were about half as likely to experience a school shooting compared with states with no such requirement, a new study reports. In addition,” the piece suggests, “the handful of states that forced people to submit to background checks before purchasing ammunition had dramatically lower odds of a school shooting.”
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s