Ed News, Friday, December 16, 2016 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

  “Our education system often teaches us how to conform
  more than how to wonder and venture.”

― Debasish Mridha

New Science Tests Delayed for California
The U.S. Dept. of Education has once again thrown a wrench into California’s plan to roll-out new standardized Science exams aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.  The recently introduced assessments would replace ones used in the Golden State since 1998.  The “Education Matters” column in Wednesday’s L.A. Times sorts out the details of this latest setback.  “California education officials had planned to administer a pilot test this year to students in grades 5, 8, 10, 11 and 12, and then do a field test the following year before fully switching to the new test the year after that.  Field tests and pilot tests are different methods for trying out new tests and fixing their flaws before they count.  The officials requested a waiver from federal testing requirements, in part,” it explains, “so students wouldn’t have to take both the pilot tests and the old standardized tests in the same year.   But on Tuesday, Ann Whalen, senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education John King Jr., wrote that the waiver had been denied.”  The story proceeds to describe what Whalen and the DoE objected to.
DeVos Tapped for Sec. of Education
A number of varied education groups and organizations have chimed in on the selection of Betsy DeVos to head the U.S. Dept. of Education.  A coalition of civil rights groups has joined the bandwagon criticizing her choice.  In a piece titled “Civil Rights Groups Blast Betsy DeVos’ ‘Lack of Respect’ for Student Diversity” the “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK lays out their concerns over her nomination.  “In a Dec. 12 statement, the 33 groups argue that DeVos’ record of support for groups opposed to LGBTQ rights,” it points out, “and her criticism of affirmative action policies, ‘demonstrate a lack of respect and appreciation for the diversity of our nation’s classrooms and fail to recognize a long and pernicious history of discrimination against groups of students.’  And more broadly, they say her support for vouchers and opposition to ‘appropriate oversight’ for charter schools, among other things, indicate a disregard for concerns about school segregation and raise questions about her commitment to fairness in education.”                Talk about flip-flopping.  Betsy DeVos was first in favor of the Common Core and then she was against it when President-elect Trump nominated her to head the DoE.  However, Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG maintains she’s still (secretly) in favor of the standards.  He points out, unsparingly, all the groups and organizations she belongs to/supports that favor the Common Core.  Singer headlines his essay “Don’t Be Fooled: Betsy DeVos Still Loves Common Core.”               THE NEW YORKER has a profile of Betsy DeVos that takes the form of trying to predict how she might proceed if, and when, she’s confirmed to become the next Sec. of Education.  It’s titled “Betsy DeVos and the Plan to Break Public Schools.”  “Through her past actions, and her previously published statements,”  it maintains, “it is clear that DeVos, like the President-elect who has chosen her, is comfortable applying the logic of the marketplace to schoolyard precincts.”
Is It Time to Do Away With Class Ranks?
Alfie Kohn, on his eponymous Alfie Kohn blog makes a compelling case for eliminating those ubiquitous class rankingsbased on student GPAs.  He is the offer of 14 books on parenting, education and human behavior,  and a lecturer on those topics at college and university conferences.  Kohn offers “6 responses” to anyone who attempts to defend the practice.  “Judged by meaningful criteria, getting rid of class rank is an obvious first step – but only a first step – toward restoring sanity, supporting a culture of learning, and promoting intellectual excellence (as opposed to an emphasis on academic rewards).  Ideally,” he proposes, “it should be followed by moving away from grades altogether, which some schools have already proved is not only possible but enormously beneficial.”
Schools of Opportunity
Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, continues her series on the campuses that have been selected as winners of the 2015-16 Schools of Opportunity project.  This one is number seven and she includes links to the previous six at both the top and bottom of her column.  The current school being featured is the Crater Renaissance Academy of Arts and Sciences in Central Point, Oregon.  It’s being singled out because of its emphasis on both the social and emotional development of its students–not just their academics.  The article is written by Kevin Welner, one of the co-founders of the Schools of Opportunity program.  “Keeping student health needs front and center, providing a healthy culture based on acceptance, respect, care, kindness, and creating a challenging and supporting learning environment,”he sums up, “are three of the reasons that Crater Renaissance Academy is a Gold School of Opportunity.”
Mystery Solved
The Friday edition of the “Ed News” had a curious piece by Gary Rubinstein, on his Gary Rubinstein’s Blog, in which he discovered that Eva Moscowitz’s Success Academy high school students in New York City had no required Regents’ exam results.  He attempted to find out why and ran into a series of roadblocks which led to all kinds of wild speculation. Well, mystery solved!  In his latest post Rubinstein reports that upon further digging he found that the students don’t take the exams.  That led him to the next logical question which is WHY?  since Success Academy Students are always paraded front and center as earning exemplary results on other standardized assessments.  Rubinstein proposes 3 interesting “theories” in answer to his query.  “For Success Academy, the champions of the standardized tests, to evade ‘accountability’ by not having their own students take the Regents exams is one of the more ironic things I have ever seen in my years following the modern education ‘reform’ movement.  Who would have ever guessed that the highest profile ed reformer of them all, Eva Moskowitz,” he playfully concludes, “would be such a fierce proponent of the opt-out movement?”
Foreign Students Comment on American Schools
The “Ed News” has often highlighted stories about how U.S. students fare compared to their foreign counterparts.  When international teenagers attend school in America what are their impressions of that experience?  The “Making the Grade” series for the “News Hour” on PBS has an interesting segment on that topic.  You can watch the segment (8:20 minutes), listen to the audio and/or read the transcript by clicking here.
Teacher Training
How important is student teaching and other classroom time to the training of future educators?  When some alternative training programs don’t include things like student teaching the question becomes even more pivotal especially when they substitute classroom simulations as a tool rather than time in front of real students.  THE HECHINGER REPORTidentifies “four reasons” why simulations are not an ideal means for training teachers.  “Many teacher preparation programs have lengthened required student teaching from a few months to a full school year, recognizing the value to teacher candidates of extended immersion in a classroom under the supervision of a skillful mentor teacher.  As teacher preparation programs turn their focus to measuring demonstrated competency rather than time on task,” it notes, “simulations have begun to supplement, even surpass clinical hours as opportunities for structured, supervised practice. In many cases, these simulations — which can replicate a range of familiar situations as well as interactions with students, colleagues, and parents — are remarkably realistic.”
Charter Schools
Proponents of traditional public schools have obviously been some of the biggest critics of the charter school movement but even a few supporters of charters are beginning to realize the need for more accountability and transparency.  Now, even stockholders are joining the parade.  K12 Inc., which operates the largest network of for-profit virtual charters around the country, is facing a shareholder revolt on just those issues according to Valerie Strauss on her column in The Washington Post.  “The company, based in Herndon, [Virginia], has long been a target of critics who have questioned the quality of its schools,” she writes, “as well as its spending and lobbying practices — and now, the company will face new questions, this time from stockholders.  At a meeting scheduled for Thursday, shareholders are going to ask for a vote on whether the company should be required to publicly disclose details about its lobbying efforts in various states.”  The item mentions the problems K12, Inc., online charters are experiencing in California.               Steven Ingersoll,the founder of a small charter campus in Traverse City, Michigan, was sentenced to 41 months in prison for tax evasion involving his school, the Grand Traverse Academy (GTA).  A brief item from the Grand Traverse Record-Eaglenewspaper has the details.  “Authorities contended Ingersoll broke tax law and detailed a series of financial transactions,”  it points out, “in which he shifted money between GTA, Bay City Academy, his companies and a construction project in Bay City.”                The number of charter campuses in Rhode Island, will be expanding after a decision by state Education Commissioner Ken Wagner to allow the Achievement First network to triple its enrollment over the next 10 years.  Strong opposition to the ruling was registered by the city council, the American Federation of Teachers and the mayor of Providence according to a story in the Providence Journal.  “Critics say if the charter school grows to 3,112 children, it will have a devastating impact on the traditional public schools and effectively create a parallel school system.  By state law,”  it mentions, “Wagner must consider the financial impact of a charter school expansion on the sending school districts, in this case, Providence, Cranston, North Providence and Warwick.  But 86 percent of the charter’s students come from Providence, so the impact will be greatest there.”
LAUSD Board Pulls Switcheroo on School Calendar
It’s on.  It’s off.  It’s on. . . .  It’s hard to tell what’s going on with the LAUSD board ‘s decisions on adopting a school calendar for next year.  This year the schools had an early start (Aug. 16, rather than a more traditional post-Labor Day kick-off) but the board decided to phase in later starts over the next couple of years due to complaints from parents and others.  So what does the board do at its meeting on Tuesday? It votes to stay with the early start.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times attempts to sort all this out for you.  “The lengthy debate over the schedule has hardly been scintillating — but it matters to students and parents, who say it affects not only vacation plans and child-care arrangements but summer camps, summer jobs, enrichment programs and even college applications. . . .  Many families prefer a traditional post-Labor Day school start,” it mentions, “because it lets them schedule escapes and keep their kids out of classrooms and physical-education classes during the most intense heat of late summer.  Some in the school system have pointed out that it also reduces air-conditioning costs.  Such views prevailed in September, when the Board of Education voted to shift away gradually from the earlier, August start.”
Dirty Pool in North Carolina
When an election doesn’t go your way, what do some groups do?  Change the rules.  That’s what’s happening in North Carolina where voters recently turned out the incumbent Republican governor and replaced him with a Democrat.  They also voted in a new Republican State Superintendent of Public Instruction while ousting the Democratic incumbent from that post. So, the GOP-controlled legislature decided to change the rules.  In order to water down the new governor’s decision-making power over education policy they quickly put together a bill, HR17, that would shift a number of areas of control over education from the State Board of Education to the new Republican State Superintendent.  Dirty Pool?  You decide.  WRAL-TV5, the NBC affiliate in Raleigh, has a story on their website about all these eleventh hour anticsincluding a list of changes in the proposed legislation.  Here’s just one example: “The state superintendent will be the head of the Department of Public Instruction.  In the current law, the State Board of Education is the head of the department.”
Feds End Inquiry Into Burbank USD
The parent of a student with disabilities in the Burbank Unified School District complained to the U.S. Dept. of Education that her child was being excluded from certain science labs and not receiving services he was entitled to among other things.  Officials investigated the allegations, ordered some corrective measures which the district mostly complied with and ended the inquiry to the satisfaction of all parties involved.  An item in yesterday’s “School Matters” feature in the L.A. Times reviews the situation.
The Teaching Profession
And finally, a sizable number of teachers need to take second jobs in order to make ends meet.  Ever wonder why that’s the case?  Valerie Strauss turns her column in The Washington Post over to guest blogger Nínive Calegari, a former classroom instructor and founder of The Teacher Salary Project, which attempts to inform the public about how woefully underpaid and under appreciated teachers are.  “Nationally the situation is bleak.  While other professions have seen compensation growth,” Calegari writes on Strauss’ blog, “teachers’ salaries have stagnated for four decades.  In fact, over the last decade in 30 of 50 states, teacher pay has actually not kept pace with the cost of living.  Forty-seven states face teacher shortages, and there has been a 30 percent decrease in enrollment in teacher credentialing programs in recent years.  Why the decline in such a crucial profession?  In most cities, the average teacher’s salary cannot compete with the cost of living, and teachers are priced out of homes in all urban areas.”  The Teacher Salary Project website indicates that the average teacher salary in California has declined by 1.2% over the past 10 years.  Check out their interactive salary map to see how the Golden State and others are faring.
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             

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