Ed News, Tuesday, December 20, 2016 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 Winter officially arrives at
2:44 am Wednesday morning.
              Inline image 1

And now to the news.

“Choose a leader who will invest in building bridges, not walls.
Books, not weapons.  Morality, not corruption.
Intellectualism and wisdom, not ignorance.” 

― Suzy KassemRise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

LAUSD Shutdown Last Year Based on False Threat
The email threat that led to the shutdown of the entire LAUSD on Dec. 15, last year was based on a fake terrorist threat according to an internal district report obtained by the L.A. Times. A front page story in Saturday’s paper details the events that led up to and followed the reception of the email sent to board Pres. Steve Zimmer at 10 pm the night before.  The same correspondence was sent to the New York City schools and officials there reacted much differently than ones in L.A. “The report, released in response to a Los Angeles Times public records request, affirms that law enforcement and district officials acted quickly to confront the threat,” the article reveals, “bringing impressive resources to bear.  But outside law enforcement agencies also stepped aside over the question of whether schools should be closed, leaving the decision to school officials who lacked any training to evaluate the danger.”
Dirty Pool in North Carolina Confirmed
Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted an item about some serious political shenanigans in North Carolina that some pundits likened to a coup.  At the Nov. election, voters turned out a controversial Republican governor in an extremely tight race and replaced him with the Democratic state attorney general.  In addition, they replaced the long serving (40 year) Superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction with a young former Teach for America educator who served less than one term as a local school board member.  After those results things got nasty.  The GOP controlled legislature met in a quickly called emergency session and promptly passed a law that strips much of the authority over education matters from the state Board of Education and hands it to the new superintendent.  The outgoing governor couldn’t sign the legislation fast enough.  Friday’s item in the “Ed News” referred to all this as “dirty pool.”  A veteran public school teacher and parent in North Carolina, Stuart Egan, pens an open letter to the new superintendent-elect, Mark Johnson, questioning what he plans to do with his newly authorized powers over educational policy.  Egan’s missive appears on his CAFFEINATED RAGE blog.  “And now with the impending effects of House Bill 17 from the surreptitious special session of this past week, you will be the most enabled incoming state superintendent in state history,” it warns.  “You will have powers that even your predecessor did not possess one-tenth the magnitude of.”               WRAL-TV5, the NBC affiliate in Raleigh, has a feature on both the ousted 40-year veteran state superintendent in North Carolina, June Atkinson, and her 33-year old replacement, Mark Johnson (see item above).  “Atkinson is the longest-serving state superintendent in the nation and the first woman in North Carolina to hold the job,” it mentions.  “She lost to Republican Mark Johnson, the second-youngest statewide elected official in the country.  Johnson is a lawyer and school board member in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.  He received 50.6 percent of the vote in the Nov. 8 election. . . .  The two have not spoken about the election outcome, Atkinson said, and she doesn’t know what she’ll say when the time comes.  She promises a smooth transition when Johnson takes over in January, but it’s clear the transition will be tough.”               If you find all the twists and turns in North Carolina since the Nov. election rather bewildering, Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post does an admirable job of clearing up the fog.  Her piece is titled “North Carolina’s Assault on Public Education Just Got Worse.”  “One of the bills transfers a great deal of power from the State Board of Education — whose members are mostly selected by the governor — to the state superintendent of public instruction, an elected official,” she points out.  “The new state superintendent will be Republican Mark Johnson, who defeated the Democratic incumbent, June Atkinson, in November.  The legislation has been sent to outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory — who narrowly lost reelection to Democrat Roy Cooper — and he has already signed one of the newly passed bills that would effectively give Republicans control of the state Board of Elections during election years.”
Helping Students Recognize Fake News
The just concluded election helped to bring the concept of “fake news” to the fore.  How many adults read these kinds of items and believed them and, maybe even worse, made decisions on who or what to vote for based on them?  It’s hard enough to get adults to evaluate what they read.  What about students?  Patrick Larkin, author of a story in EDUCATION WEEK, is an assistant superintendent for learning in a district in Massachusetts and a former high school administrator.  His timely commentary is titled “Three Great Resources to Help Students Fight Off Fake News.”  Briefly he discusses how to recognize fake news stories and offers some specific resources that can aid educators in how to accomplish that task.  In his introduction, Larkin references a previous article he wrote about fake news which you can access by clicking here.
DeVos Tapped for Sec. of Education
Carol Burris, the award  winning Long Island high school principal (now retired) and co-founder of the NPE (Network for Pubic Education) sent an email to her members about things they can do to help defeat the nomination of Betsy DeVos to head the Department of Education.  Diane Ravitch’s blot reprints the note along with very brief introductory comments.  “We will probably not be able to stop her confirmation, but we can make it a big deal.   We can work to ensure that no Democrat votes for her,” Burris urges in her email.  “We can raise public awareness.  We can send a warning shot across the bow.   And who knows, maybe, just maybe, a few Republicans will vote against her as well.”     What has the corporate “reform” and privatization movement done to the Detroit schools and what role did Betsy DeVos play in aiding and abetting those actions?  The author of a detailed analysis for VICE News looks at the historical record and offers some speculation about the future.  The piece is titled “Out of Options: School Choice Gutted Detroit’s Public Schools.  The Rest of the County is Next.”  “The gutting of Detroit’s public schools is the result of an experiment started 23 years ago,” the reporter notes, “when education reformers including Betsy DeVos, now Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department, got Michigan to bet big on charters and school choice.  The Obama administration has promoted competition, but DeVos looks set to take free-market education policy to new heights.  She has made clear her goal is to use charters to eventually get public dollars to private and religious schools, but the consequences of her school choice policy in Detroit leave gaping questions about how she will also care for America’s public schools.”               Opposition to Betsy DeVos’ nomination to head the Dept. of Education is taking various paths.  A school board in New York passed a resolution opposing Trump’s selection.  The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) reprints the declaration from the Patchogue-Medford School District on Long Island.  It states in conclusion: “Resolved, that the Patchogue-Medford Board of Education hereby, based on this record, opposes the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, and until such time as the incoming Trump administration presents a formal vision for the future of public education in the United States of America and will continue to oppose such a nomination, and calls upon the incoming United States Senate to stand firm by opposing this nominee and affirming this serious need.”
Charter Schools
The corporate “reformers” and privatizers have pretty much owned the messaging when it comes to promoting charter schools.  More and more education experts are fighting back and beginning to turn the tide.  Wendy Lecker, columnist for the Stamford (Connecticut) Advocate and senior attorney for the Education Law Center, interviews Robert Cotto, Jr. Cotto is a member of the Hartford, Conn., board of education, a doctoral student at the University of Connecticut’s NEAG School of Education and a researcher of charter schools in his state.  He offers some myths and untruths about charter schools in Connecticut and, by extension, other states as well.  His purpose is to set the record straight and counter those distortions promoted by the pro-charter crowd.  In response to a question about why charters are rarely closed, Cotto answered: “The state almost never closes charter schools because of poor academic performance or financial mismanagement.  According to State Department of Education reports, only five charter schools closed their doors since 1999.  Three closed because of insufficient funds, one charter school was closed for health/safety violations, and one charter school closed because of lack of academic progress.  Between 2010-2013, all 17 charter schools in the state were renewed by the state,” he continues, “despite very low overall test results for some. . . .  On the other hand, many public schools in Connecticut have closed and been reconstituted for not meeting test score targets.  At least a dozen schools in Hartford have been closed and reconstituted in the last decade.”               Diane Ravitch’s blog features some new research from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) “that supports investment in public schools as a better alternative than the privatization of education” according to a press release from SCOPE that Ravitch reprints on her blog.  She includes a number of links to various pieces of the research.  “This is a project that should interest all readers of the blog as well as state and local school boards and elected officials at every level,” Ravitch writes by way of introduction to the materials.  “It includes a book that reviews education issues around the globe and resources that you may access by clicking the link.  The bottom line of a vast amount of research is that privatization is a failed policy, not an innovation.  The most effective way to invest public dollars is in improving public schools.”               Add Indiana to the list of states whose online charter schools are performing poorly.   Chalkbeat Indiana has the disconcerting details in a story titled “The Broken Promise of Indiana’s Online Schools.”  “When Indiana education officials released school A-F grades this week, only three schools had received F grades for six years in a row.  Two were traditional public schools in Gary and Marion County,” the item points out, “and the other was Hoosier Academy Virtual Charter school, which does all its teaching and learning online.  For the traditional public schools, the sixth straight F marks the first time the state can potentially close the school.  But for charter schools, the limit is set at four, a milestone Hoosier Virtual surpassed almost two years ago.  Despite its poor performance, the state has not taken steps to close the school or restrict state funding to its charter authorizer, Ball State University.”  In addition, Hoosier Academy was advised by state education officials in March, 2015, to provide a plan to show improvement.  Not only did it ignore that instruction but it notified the officials it was OPENING ANOTHER virtual campus and transferring a number of students to it from the original school.  Now that’s chutzpah!  (You may want to read the story that follows the Chalkbeat one which describes how Hoosier Academy moved students to its new campus.  It’s titled “In Danger of Closure, Virtual Charter Surprises State Board By Transferring Students to Sister School.)  To make matters even worse, all online charters in Indiana received an “F” grade from the state this year.                Maryland, which has been slow to embrace charters and vouchers may be headed in that direction under Republican Gov. Larry Hogan who was elected 2 years ago.  Valerie Strauss, in her blog for The Washington Post describes how the Old Line State is sadly taking up the corporate “reform” and privatization agenda.  “Anybody paying attention to public education in Maryland could see this coming: The state’s Board of Education,” she writes, “is beginning conversations about how to help chronically low-performing schools — and some of the solutions include expanding charter schools and vouchers.”               No wonder charter schools fight so hard against accountability and transparency–they have a LOT to hide.  Eva Moscowitz and her Success Academy Charter network in New York City is held up by the corporate “reformers” and privatizers as the poster child for successful charters.  Apparently, that’s because only one side of the story ever sees the light of day.  The negative stuff is kept carefully hidden away.  The New York City Controller, Scott Stringer, released an audit of one of Moscowitz’s schools and the findings were not very complimentary.  A story in the New York Daily News is headlined “Success Academy Charter Network Should Pay the City $50G For Sloppy Financial Practices, Scott Stringer Charges.”  “Stringer’s long-awaited financial probe of the city’s largest charter school network shows the network billed the city for special education services it can’t prove it provided at Harlem Success 3, the school that is the focus of the audit. . . .  Stringer’s audit,” it reveals, “also shows that Success Academy falsely identified some funds as being used in the classroom, when in fact the money went to pay management fees.  Stringer also found that Success Academy double-billed some of its schools for some management services.”  Well, the bloom seems to be off the rose.  You have to wonder what else might come to light if charters allowed more accountability and transparency.  It also should be noted that Success Academy sued to stop an audit by the state Comptroller back in 2013.  I wonder why they would do that?  To be fair, the article notes that the recently concluded audit by the Controller’s Office found no criminal activity at any of the network’s campuses.  Hooray for that!
Trump’s Cabinet Picks Blasted  
This item does not relate totally to education (it does make brief mention of Betsy DeVos) but it does have an Occidental College connection.  Peter Dreier, professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Oxy has a highly critical view of the people Donald Trump has selected for his cabinet and some other key positions mostly based on the numerous conflicts-of-interest they potentially have when taking over policy making jobs in the government.  Dreier’s commentary appears on THE HUFFINGTON POST.  “Donald Trump, America’s Pathological Liar-in-Chief and First Bully, has nominated a cabinet of billionaires, corporate raiders, right-wing conspiracy theorists, and war hawks.  In many cases,” Dreier colorfully begins, “they oppose the mission of the agencies they’ve been picked to run.  As a group, their web of affiliations and disdain for the common good should disqualify them from any policy-making position.  As a group, they should be called the Conflict of Interest Network (COIN).”  Dreier proceeds to list 16 people Trump has nominated so far ( DeVos is #2) and what he sees as potential problems.
Education Predictions for 2017
As 2016 rapidly draws to a conclusion, you will see more and more “best and worst of 2016” lists from various pundits, journalists, bloggers, columnists, etc.  Larry Ferlazzo, who teaches English and Social Studies at a high school in Sacramento, has written 8 books and pens an advice column for educators at EDUCATION WEEK.  He provides his annual look ahead in the field of education with 8 predictions, both positive and negative, for 2017.  His list appears on Valerie Strauss’ blog for The Washington Post who includes links to his previous lineups for 2011, 12, 14, 15 and 16 at the end of her column.  Here’s his first offering for next year: “Donald Trump and his new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, will attempt to replicate her disastrous efforts in Detroit throughout the United States.  They will ram a $20 billion voucher program through Congress that will allow states to apply for funds to let parents use them for private or religious schools, and promote charter schools with no attention to their quality, as DeVos did in Michigan.”  The rest are not all bad.
More $$ for School Counselors & Teachers
As the U.S. continues to move away from the Great Recession that struck in 2008, more and more states are seeing the need to invest some of their education funding in increasing the ranks of school counselors.  An article in EDUCATION WEEK specifically chronicles what Minnesota, Tennessee and Colorado are doing in this regard.  “Several states are making investments to build their corps of school counselors,” it relates, “in the wake of mounting, quantifiable evidence that counseling support can be a powerful weapon in the battle to get more students through high school and into college. . . .  The counseling initiatives are far from the biggest-ticket items in states’ budgets.  But they’re a significant sign of a renewed commitment to school counseling, which took particularly heavy hits in layoffs driven by the Great Recession eight years ago.”               Here’s a novel idea–raise taxes in order to increase teacher pay!  That’s exactly what the governor of Washington State is proposing according to a story for the “Teacher Beat” column in ED WEEK.  “Much of the funds would come from new taxes on carbon emissions and on capital gains from the sale of property or investments, with the exception of homes and retirement accounts, reports the Seattle Times.  . . .  The governor’s plan,”  it explains, “also includes a $250 million a year property tax cut that would benefit more than 100 school districts.  What’s more, a starting teacher’s salary would increase from $35,700 to $54,587 by the plan’s second year.  Republicans, many of whom fought and won against similar tax proposals by [Gov. Jay] Inslee in 2015, are not happy with the governor’s proposal.” 
Just when you may have thought the trend was beginning to move away from more and more standardized testing comes a new twist on the phenomenon.  Valerie Strauss turns her blog for The Washington Post over to Lisa Guisbond, a testing reform analyst at FairTest, aka The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, who describes what one 5th grade parent in New York discovered was taking place in her son’s classroom around a new product called “i-Ready.”  “FairTest has investigated how these computer-based curriculum-plus-testing packages threaten teaching and learning in new ways,” Guisbond notes.  “Though couched in humanistic language about ‘personalized learning,’ this trend is resulting in even more standardized testing.”
Trump’s Education Policies
Besides his campaign trail proposal to divert $20 billion of federal education funds into grants that states could use for vouchers, what other ways might the Trump administration promote private school “choice?”  The “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK tackles that question by outlining several other avenues that could be explored.  Tax-credit scholarships are one example.  “Tax-credit scholarships,” the piece explains, “allow individuals and corporations to claim a tax credit of some kind, in exchange for a donation to an organization that provides scholarships to children.  So, unlike vouchers, they don’t involve the government directly providing financial support to parents for school choice.”
L.A. Students Score Poorly on Physical Fitness Tests
Students in the LAUSD in grades 5, 7 and 9 did poorly on physical fitness tests according to a story in today’s L.A. Times.  Two of those grades scored lower on the series of assessments than they did last year.  “Students in fifth, seventh and ninth grades are required by state law to have their fitness assessed.  The fitness test includes a variety of measures of physical health.  To look at  flexibility, for example, it has students sit and extend one leg out in front of them and then bend their trunks,” the item spells out, “arms extended, as far as they can toward it.  Students also do push-ups, trunk lifts, runs and walks, and their body mass is measured.”
Whither After-School Programs in a Trump Administration?
And finally, what might be the fate of after-school programs in a Trump administration?  We know about his plan to divert up to $20 billion dollars of federal funds to grants to states for vouchers.  If that comes into being will there be dollars for other programs and what will they look like?  THE HECHINGER REPORT offers some guidance on that important topic.  “According to an Afterschool Alliance study, 10.2 million children (18 percent) participated in an after-school program in 2014.  But if the after-school sector can’t get a seat at the table in this next administration, they may be on the menu,” the author rather graphically explains.
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


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