Ed News, Friday, December 23, 2016 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

   The 8-day Jewish holiday of Chanukah 
    begins at sundown tomorrow (Saturday) 
   and, of course, Christmas arrives on Sunday.
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[The “Ed News” will be taking a short break for the holidays.  Look for the next edition on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017.]
And now to the news.
  “For in this Case, we are not to give Credit to the Many, who say, 
  that none ought to be educated but the Free; but rather to the Philosophers, 
  who say, that the Well-educated alone are free.”

The Teacher Shortage

The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of items about the teacher shortage plaguing a number of states since the phenomenon came to light.  A comprehensive article from truthout reviews the causes of the problem, why it could persist and some policies that could end it.  ” The reasons why teachers are leaving — or not going into teaching in the first place — are not difficult to discern,” it notes.  “Teachers unions, as well as activist groups like the Badass Teachers Association and research entities like the Learning Policy Institute agree: Micromanagement of teachers; disorganized school administration; a lack of voice in matters affecting school functioning; too few chances to teach collaboratively; excessive attention to test prep; chronic underfunding; and a perceived lack of respect from parents and the overall community lead to demoralization and push educators into less emotionally exhausting, and often better paying, occupations.”
The Value of School Secretaries
Who really runs a school?  The principal? Teachers? What about the school secretary?  The “Finding Common Ground” column for EDUCATION WEEK titles a commentary “8 Reasons Why School Secretaries Deserve More Credit.”  The author, Peter DeWitt, is a former K-5 public school principal.  Check out his list.  “I hope you don’t mind a blog post that is a bit different than the others.  It’s just that I don’t believe that secretaries get the credit they deserve as often as they deserve it.  In the end,” he concludes, “a good school secretary helps build relationships, and is an integral part of the school climate.”  The next time you visit the main office of a school show some appreciation for those undervalued (and woefully underpaid) school secretaries.
The Obama Education Legacy and What’s Ahead

Dana Goldstein, a previous ALOED Book Club author, looks back at the last 8 years of education policy under the Obama administration.  Her analysis appears in THE Nation and is aptly titled “The Education of Barack Obama.  Only Recently has the President Focused on Progressive Issues Like School Funding and Desegregation.  Don’t Expect Trump to do the Same.”  “Only since 2014 has there been a détente in what many, myself included, termed the ‘teacher wars.’ [Ed. note: That’s the title of her book that we discussed.]   Grassroots activism from the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as from tens of thousands of parents who opted their children out of standardized testing,” she suggests, “helped shift the terms of the debate.  We now talk almost as much about school discipline, unequal school funding, and school segregation as we do about low test scores and teacher tenure.  It’s a profound change in rhetoric.”  Goldstein is not optimistic that those progressive topics will be of much concern as the Trump/DeVos team takes over education policy.               Jeff Bryant, on The Education Opportunity NETWORK, also dives into the speculation game of what’s to come in regards to education issues under a Trump administration.  Bryant cites a number of sources (and includes links) that attempt to make guesses as to what to expect in the future.  He references Dana Goldstein’s article (see above) at the very end of his piece.  “Education marketers have rebranded ‘public schools’ to mean any institution that gets tax dollars.  And the phrase ‘doing what’s best for kids’ has been turned into an empty PR slogan.  The operative political term of the day,” he worries, “is ‘what parents choose for their children,’ which has become a de facto argument to justify any kind of education option – even if parents are being suckered into bad choices or are being forced into situations where high quality education options are practically unobtainable.”               Online or virtual charter schools, which have not received good marks of late, are chomping at the bit at the prospects of a Trump administration that appears to be a big booster of charter schools of any type.  Even some segments of the charter industry are raising alarms about their online brethren. BuzzFeedNEWS describes how Wall Street is reacting to the investment possibilities.  “Online charter schools are widely regarded as among the country’s worst-performing, plagued by abysmal test scores and sky-high student turnover rates,” it relates.  “They’re also gearing up for a boom during the Trump administration, judging by where investors are placing their bets.  K12 Inc., the online charter school industry’s largest and most controversial player, has risen in value by more than 50% since November 8. The shares hit a 2-year high last week.”               In the face of a future Trump/DeVos threat to dismantle the traditional public school system, what types of strategies can supporters adopt to resist such an onslaught?  Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, offers some moral support and, more importantly, some ideas of how to fight back against Trump’s cabinet selections and other office picks.  “Buck up, Education Activists.  I see that hopeless look on your faces. I see it because it’s the same look reflected back at me in the mirror every morning,” he confesses.”  Singer concludes his piece with a powerful and appropriate quote from an unknown source: 

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[Ed. ironic note: As I peek outside my window at this very moment, it’s dark and rainy.]
Common Core & Testing
Diane Ravitch’s blog reviews why she is, and has been, against the Common Core State Standards since their inception.  Ravitch lists the specific reasons she opposes the Common Core and provides links to a number of previous columns and stories in that regard.  “I oppose the mandated use of the Common Core standards.  If teachers like them and want to use them, they should.  I have no problem with that,” she writes.  “It should be up to the teachers, not to a committee that was funded by Bill Gates, promoted by Arne Duncan, and marketed as a ‘state-led initiative,’ which it was not.”               Results recently came out from two major international standardized tests, the TIMSS and PISA (both were highlighted individually by the “Ed News”).  If you missed them, EDUCATION WEEK has a recap and some additional analysis of the what the scores signify.  It includes several graphs and charts comparing the results and what it all means to the big picture.               The Dec. 16th edition of the “Ed News” highlighted an article in the L.A. Times about a conflict between the U.S. Dept. of Education and California over new science tests.  The state wants to introduce assessments that are tied to the new Next Generation Science Standards and eliminate old exams and not hold schools and districts accountable until everything has been implemented and checked-out thoroughly.  The DoE, on the other hand, wants California to administer both tests and issue results so that district and school scores can be compared.  An editorial in yesterday’s Times sides with the state and mentions a couple of other times officials in the Golden State defied federal directives.  “The state wants to give the new science tests, dump the old ones and not hold schools responsible for the results until everyone gets used to the new curriculum and exams.  The U.S. Department of Education rejected the proposal, saying if California won’t report scores for the new tests, it has to give the old tests as well.  Once again,” the piece argues, “the state is right: It shouldn’t test something it isn’t teaching anymore.  And it shouldn’t be pushed to double-test; schools are supposed to be eliminating duplicative tests.”
Sleuthing Out Deceptive Websites
“Fake news” reports became a critical issue this year as witnessed by the just concluded election.  The Tuesday edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a couple of items on the topic.  In the same vein, the “Tech Smart” column in THE HECHINGER REPORT has a story titled “What These Teens Learned About the Internet May Shock You!  Can Digital Media Literacy Contend With Bogus News?”  It leads off with a group of AP U.S. History students in California studying a seemingly authoritative website about the minimum wage only to quickly discover, under the guidance of their teacher, that it was really a front for an industry organization.  How the students proceeded from that revelation is the focus of the piece. “The exercise was part of ‘Civic Online Reasoning,’ a series of news-literacy lessons being developed by Stanford researchers,” it details, “and piloted by teachers at a few dozen schools.  The Stanford initiative launched in 2015, joining a handful of recent efforts to help students contend with misinformation and fake news online—a problem as old as dial-up modems, but now supercharged by social media and partisan news bubbles.  The backers of these efforts warn that despite young people’s reputation as ‘digital natives,’ they are woefully unprepared to sort online fact from fiction, and the danger isn’t just to scholarship but to citizenship.”
Dirty Pool in North Carolina Challenged
Several key REPUBLICANS, including the chair of the North Carolina State Board of Education, are threatening possible legal action against what the outgoing GOP governor and Republican legislators did in stripping certain powers from the Board of Education and handing them to the newly elected GOP Superintendent of Public Instruction.  All of this was accomplished in a hastily called special session after the governor was defeated by a razor thin margin in the Nov. 8th election.  The previous two editions of the “Ed News” tried to sort all this out for you.  “The Progressive Pulse” feature of the NC POLICY WATCH discusses the latest developments in this ongoing saga which some observers have referred to as a “coup.”  “Minutes after Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday,” it begins, “signed a controversial bill mandating stiff new limits on the powers of Gov.-elect Roy Cooper and the State Board of Education—a panel composed of gubernatorial appointees—state board Chairman Bill Cobey vowed his board would meet with their attorneys to consider their response.”  The article points out, interestingly, that most of the members of the North Carolina Board of Education are members of the GOP.  So why are Republicans doing such nasty things to fellow Republicans?  Good question.                Things have become so dysfunctional in North Carolina governance that one expert believes his Tar Heel State no longer qualifies as a democracy.  Andrew Reynolds is a professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an author, and a consultant on democratic institutions for over 20 countries around the world.   His op-ed for the Charlotte News & Observer is bluntly titled “North Carolina is No Longer Classified as a Democracy.”  He and a colleague designed their Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) that measures the quality of elections around the world.  By their own measure, North Carolina doesn’t meet the criteria to be called “a fully functioning democracy.”  That’s really sad, sad indeed.  “In the just released EIP report,” Reynolds makes known,  “North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone.  If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table – a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.”
2016, The Year in Review
It’s that time of year again for those ubiquitous “best and worst of 2016” lists.  The “Ed News” has already highlighted a couple of them that got the jump on what are surely more to come.  The “Digital Education” column for EDUCATION WEEK checks in with a piece headlined “Ed-Tech Research That Mattered in 2016″ that rehashes “the 10 most popular and impactful stories” from the column from the past year.  Here’s one example: “5. Students in Online Credit Recovery Fare Worse Than Peers, Research Finds     A major study from the American Institutes for Research found that Chicago 9th graders who took a face-to-face version of an Algebra I credit-recovery course had better short-term outcomes than those who took the course online, raising questions about the rapidly growing online credit recovery market. (April)”               ED WEEK is out with its Top 10 Most-Viewed Education Stories of 2016 with links to each.  [Ed. note: We’re pleased to note that many of them were highlighted in the “Ed News” over the past year.]  Here’s just one example that was covered in the “Ed News:”  “#7  1 in 4 Teachers Miss 10 or More School Days, Analysis Finds”
DeVos Pick to Head DoE
Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, reprints a speech Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s pick to head the Department of Education, delivered in 2015 about her vision for education.  You can read the full text of it by clicking here.  It contains “6 Inconvenient Truths” about the state of education in the U.S. today as identified by DeVos.  Strauss then proceeds to analyze the talk in great detail in two additional columns because she believes it is quite indicative of what’s in store for education under a Trump/DeVos team.  Strauss’ first column of analysis is titled “To Trump’s Education Pick, the U.S. Public School System is a ‘Dead End'”  and her follow-up column is headlined “‘Government Really Sucks and Five Other Principles Promoted by Trump’s Education Nominee.”  “The thrust of her speech is that traditional public schools are simply not as good as charters or privates,” Strauss suggests in the former.  “And that’s why many public school advocates are concerned about the nomination of the woman who called the traditional public education system in the United States a ‘dead end.’”                Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, credits Valerie Strauss for uncovering the speech Betsy DeVos delivered in  2015 in which she discusses her “6 inconvenient truths” about education (see above).  He couldn’t resist adding his point-by-point critique of her talk.  “I don’t know if DeVos is a hypocrite or not,” he concludes dismissively.  “This is one more aspect in which she resembles her predecessors Arne Duncan and John “Duncan Lite” King– it’s not always clear whether she is using devious political spin or she just doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about.  If we don’t have the good fortune to see her appointment thwarted, I guess I’ll just wait and see which inconvenient truth we are dealing with.”              Will Betsy DeVos have an advantage (read conflict-of-interest) when she faces her upcoming confirmation hearing and Senate vote?  That’s an issue raised by an article from POLITICO that points out rather brazenly that she and her husband have donated large sums of money to a number of senators including some who will be voting on her nomination in committee.  “Education committee members Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) have all accepted money — collectively, $50,000 — from DeVos and her husband since 2010. In that same time period,” it points out, “the couple contributed a total of more than $160,000 to senators who will consider Betsy DeVos’ nomination, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).” Hmm.  As Marcellus says in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:” “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”                Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, weighs in on the appointment of Betsy DeVos on THE INDYPENDENT website [Ed. note: That IS how it’s spelled.]  She titles her essay “Meet Trump’s Public Ed Wrecking Ball.”  With both houses in Congress in Republican hands,” she warns, “we will have a fierce battle on our hands to withstand the destructive impulses of Trump and DeVos.  Aiding them will be a flood of money poured into lobbying campaigns by billionaires, Wall Street financiers, edu-entrepreneurs, and religious institutions, all eager to divert taxpayer funds into private hands and dismantle our public schools.  Public school parents, teachers, and advocates must be smart and work together to withstand this assault.”  Be sure to check out the caricature of DeVos at the start of the piece.
Finalists for Superintendent of the Year
The AASA, the School Superintendents Association, announced the 4 finalists for its Superintendent of the Year Award for 2017.  One was from Orange County, but it’s not THAT Orange County.  This one was in Florida.  The other 3 candidates are from Alaska, North Carolina and Oregon.  The “District Dossier” column for EDUCATION WEEK has a very brief thumbnail description and picture of each of the finalists.  [They] were selected as winners in their individual states’ contests for superintendent of the year,” it points out.  “The national winner will be announced at AASA’s annual conference in March in New Orleans.”
Cartoon of the Day
It has nothing to do with education but since reading this comic in yesterday’s L.A. Times, I can’t stop laughing, chuckling or smiling every time I think of it.  Any way.  Please enjoy it and I hope it brightens your day, even a little.
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The Teaching Profession
Why do certain segments of the education community continue to pursue “standardized” tests and “standardized” learning when we know, or should know full well, that every student is different and unique.  That’s the issue addressed by Lily Howard Scott on Valerie Strauss’ blog for The Washington Post.  Scott has taught elementary school in California and currently teaches third grade in Brooklyn.  Her composition is headlined “A One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Instruction is Stifling Our Classrooms.”  As Scott writes: “The current trend toward standardized learning — scripted curricula and prescribed classroom-management routines — is shackling educators around the country and discouraging talented individuals from joining the field.”

L.A. County Board of Ed Saves 3 Charters

“If at first you don’t succeed . . .” may be the watchword for the Magnolia Public Schools charter network in Los Angeles.  After the LAUSD board voted unanimously  in October to close 3 charters in the district the network appealed to the L.A. County Board of Education.   It won a reprieve there this week from the LAUSD’s action according to a story in today’s L.A. Times.  The County Board’s decision actually went against what its staff had recommended.  “The county staff report echoed the school district’s concerns, concluding, among other things, that Magnolia failed to provide investigators, auditors and financial overseers with requested documents in a timely fashion after years of poor fiscal management.  The county review team,” the article mentions, “also contended that the charter was top heavy in management, had a high student attrition rate and scheduled board meetings that were difficult for the public to participate in or see.”
Charter Schools & Choice
How easy is it to start a charter school?  Check out this ad on Craig’s List for opening a charter in the Washington, D.C., area and possibly nationwide.  Sounds like a breeze.  Just about anybody might qualify.  What does this say to you about the quality of a school/business that makes it this easy to get started?   Diane Ravitch reacted to this ad in this manner:  “Just anybody at all can put their heads together, write (or copy) a proposal, and get public funds to start a charter school.  No experience necessary.”               Charters are the leading edge of the corporate “reform” and privatization movement according to Carol Burris, the award winning New York high school principal (now retired) and current executive director of the NPE (Network for Public Education).  She once again guest blogs on Valerie Strauss’ column for The Washington Post.  “Opening a charter is akin to opening your own business — but the cost and risk are fully funded by the taxpayers,” Burris explains.  “In most states, taxpayer dollars provide the initial ‘investment.’  This is an odd business model in which the corporation gets income for every customer who walks through the door, regardless of the individual ability to pay.  And if the business fails, ‘owners’ are not out a dime, but the customers, who are in this case children, are stranded.  It is remarkable that the American public has allowed such risk-free, taxpayer-funded entrepreneurship to occur,” she continues.  “If you think that publicly funded, largely unregulated businesses [Ed. note: See above]would be ripe for shady deals, oversized compensation and outright fraud, you would be right.”  Check out Burris’ fairly long section on Gülen-linked charters.               What does the phrase “school choice” mean precisely? Ariana Prothero, author of the “Charters & Choice” column for EDUCATION WEEK has created a short video (3:11 minutes) explaining the different types of public and private school choice that are out there.  
Public Schools in California Urged to Continue to be “Safe Havens”
And finally, Tom Torlakson, California Superintendent of Public Instruction, issued a letter to district superintendents in the state Wednesday urging them to declare their status as “safe havens” and to clarify and publicize their policies regarding the protection of immigrant students.  An item in today’s L.A. Times describes the school chief’s action.  “The letter comes in light of concerns about President-elect Donald Trump’s promises during and after the campaign,” it reports, “to deport immigrants who are in the country illegally.  In his letter, Torlakson included a link to a ‘safe haven’ resolution passed by the Sacramento City Unified School District as an example that other districts might follow.  The Los Angeles Unified School District has already passed a similar measure and set up a hotline and support sites to counsel parents and students who are worried.”

 As we wrap up this most eventful year, 2016, 
the editor of the “Ed News” would like to wish each and every one of you a Happy New Year and a BIG thanks for reading.
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Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             



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