Ed News, Friday, January 6, 2017 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

      Happy New Year Everyone!
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[ALOED Book Club Reminder:] How about one more New Years’ resolution?  Resolve to attend the next ALOED Book discussion featuring Fareed Zakaria’s “In Defense of a Liberal Education.”  The event 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.]  This resolution is easy to keep and you’ll enjoy yourself at the same time.

And now to the news.

“Education, from Addams’ perspective, must not merely make us more adept at defending ourselves 
 against those with different agendas. Education should increase our powers of empathy 
 and our ability to act in concert with others.” 
[Ed. note: Please notice the deliberate tie-in of the above quote to the reading selection for the next ALOED Book Club (see the reminder at the top of this edition)].  😉
LAUSD Partners With 2 Local Universities
UCLA and LMU have partnered with the LAUSD to provide faculty, curriculum guidance and other services to several low performing district schools according to a story in the Dec. 26th L.A. Times.  It focuses on how the association is working at Horace Mann Middle School in South L.A.  “UCLA’s partnership with Mann in South L.A. is the university’s second foray into the school district.  The first UCLA Community School opened in 2009,” it notes, “on the site of the old Ambassador Hotel in Koreatown, on the campus of Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools.”  [Ed. note: Several years ago a group of ALOED members had the opportunity to tour the RFK Community Schools campus.]
School for LGBTQ Students Only Opens in Atlanta
The Pride School Atlanta is the first campus in the southern part of the U.S. to enroll LGBTQ students exclusively.  An article from telesur has the details about the non-profit private school that opened its doors in September.  “Even opponents of transgender bathroom access see benefits in the Pride School model,” it reports, “which is serving a small group of full- and part-time students in a multi-age classroom.”
Cyber Charters Explained
Not exactly sure what  cyber or virtual charter schools are, how they operate and the threat they pose not only to traditional public schools but also to brick and mortar charters?  A primer on the subject appears on THE CONVERSATION website.  It addresses those issues and more in a piece titled “What Cyber Charter Schools Are, and Why Their Growth Should Worry Us.”  One of the co-authors is a Ph.D. candidate and the other is a Professor of Sociology, Education and Demography.  Both are at Penn State University.  “Unlike the usual charter school, the cyber version is typically delivered to students online wherever they may live, so long as they are residents of the state in which the cyber charter school operates,” they write.  “Cyber charter schools have been growing in states that have school choice policy.  Our research, along with a body of academic work, suggests that the public should be concerned about an expansion of the cyber charter schooling model.”  Their big worry is that Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos are all proponents of school “choice” and charters.  How much that includes cyber charters is unknown at this point in time.
The Future of Public Education Under a Trump Administration
Want some inkling of what education policy might look like under a Trump Administration?  Here are 2 articles that focus on how Betsy DeVos impacted schools in Detroit and how Mike Pence effected education in Indiana.  The first is from truthout and is titled “The Great Unwinding of Public Education: Detroit and DeVos” which looks at how her advocacy and political donations in support of “choice” and charters pretty much devastated the traditional public schools in the Motor City.  “Michigan has its own charter school prophet, Betsy DeVos, who, like John the Baptist, has been kicked up from a local ministry to the big time.  Her role in delivering public education in Michigan to the hedge fund managers by way of vouchers is noteworthy,” it relates, “even in a state that has wandered far from its union origins.  According to The New York Times, A 2015 federal review of charter schools in Michigan found that an ‘unreasonably high’ percentage of charter schools were considered underperforming.  In 2015 Ms. DeVos and a group she backed, successfully defeated Michigan legislation that would have prevented failing charter schools from expanding or replicating.”               The second item describes how the voucher program in Indiana, which began under a previous governor, was expanded by Gov. Mike Pence.  It appears in The Washington Post and is headlined “How Indiana’s School Voucher Program Soared, and What is Says About Education in the Trump Era.”  “Indiana’s legislature first approved a limited voucher program in 2011, capping it at 7,500 students in the first year and restricting it to children who had attended public schools for at least a year. . . .  Two years later, Pence entered the governor’s office with a pledge to extend vouchers to more children. . . .  Within months,” the story explains, “Indiana lawmakers eliminated the requirement that children attend public school before receiving vouchers and lifted the cap on the number of recipients.  The income cutoff was raised, and more middle-class families became eligible.  When those changes took effect, an estimated 60 percent of all Indiana children were eligible for vouchers, and the number of recipients jumped from 9,000 to more than 19,000 in one year.  The proportion of children who had never previously attended Indiana public schools also rose quickly: By 2016, more than half of voucher recipients — 52 percent — had never been in the state’s public school system.”              UTLA (United Teachers Los Angeles), the LAUSD teachers union, has come up with a novel way to protest against the upcoming takeover of federal education policy under the Trump/DeVos/and others team–a “Tweetstorm.”  You can find out what that is and read all about the event planned for Jan. 19th, the day before the Trump inauguration on the UTLA webiste.  “The morning action will take place at hundreds of schools across LAUSD.  Demonstrators will tweet @realDonaldTrump as we defend access to quality public education for ALL students.  During the action, participants will march to the street holding up symbolic shields to protect our schools, students, and communities from privatization, attacks on immigrants, union-busting, and more.”               The “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK has a preview story titled “Donald Trump and K-12 Education: Five Things to Watch in 2017.” “The presidential transition means an especially busy start to the year.  President-elect Donald Trump may not have talked much about education on the campaign trail, but the first part of the year,” the reporter predicts, “will tell us a lot about the direction he wants to go and how much of a priority he places on the issue.  What’s more, we’ll get a glimpse of how well he’s able to work with Congress on K-12, not to mention early and higher education.”   The author identifies 5 things to keep your eyes on in the realm of education policy as the new year unfolds, leading off with “Betsy DeVos’s confirmation process.”
Know What “Planking” Is?
Have you ever heard of the disciplinary technique referred to as “planking?”   I hadn’t.  It’s a form of student punishment that requires the offending pupil to assume a push-up position and hold it for a certain period of time.  An incident occurred at Horton Elementary School (San Diego Unified School District) in mid-October and planking and other physical calisthenics were ordered for third and fourth-graders in lieu of recess for 3 days.  A complaint was filed and the district responded that the discipline was appropriate, did not constitute corporal punishment and was within district guidelines.  All this is sorted out for you in an article in the Dec. 30th L.A. Times.  
Houston, Texas, District Deliberately Denies Special Ed Services to Eligible Students
An extensive investigative piece in the Houston Chronicle details how the Houston Independent School District (HISD) willfully denies special ed services to disabled students.  The goal was to reduce the percentage of pupils receiving those services and the practice was fairly widespread throughout Texas.  “A Houston Chronicle investigation has found that HISD achieved its low special education rate.” it somberly points out, “by deliberately discouraging and delaying evaluations in pursuit of goals that have clearly denied critical services to thousands of children with disabilities.  Records show the largest school district in Texas enthusiastically embraced a controversial state policy that has driven special education enrollments to the lowest in the United States.”
The Year Ahead
Peter Greene writes the entertaining and informative CURMUDGUCATION blog but at his core he’s still a high school English teacher.  In that role, he offers “2017: 9 Wishes” with a list of things he’s really like to see take place over the next 12 months.  “I should note that this is an ideal wish list, and I recognize that it’s a really long journey to get from where we are to these goals,” he muses.  “But even if we can’t get there, these are the stars we should steer by, the harbor we should navigate toward.”  Here are 2 examples from his wish list: “2) Fair and equitable funding” and “4) Teachers installed as authorities in the education field.”  Check out his other seven
Rating Schools and Teachers
It’s a new year and time once again to remind the corporate “reformers” and privatizers about why using student test scores is a poor way to rate schools and evaluate teachers.  This time I’ll let Bruce D. Baker, Professor at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, do the convincing on his School Finance 101 blog (he’s much more qualified than I am).  His scholarly piece is titled “Thoughts on Junk Indicators, School Rating Systems & Accountability.”  It’s a lengthy and thoughtful review and should be at the top of your reading list as schools return after the holidays.  “It blows my mind, however, that states and local school districts continue to use the most absurdly inappropriate measures,” Baker complains, “to determine which schools stay open, or close, and as a result which school employees are targeted for dismissal/replacement or at the very least disruption and displacement.  Policymakers continue to use measures, indicators, matrices, and other total bu!!$#!+ distortions of measures they don’t comprehend, to disproportionately disrupt the schools and lives of low income and minority children, and the disproportionately minority teachers who serve those children.  THIS HAS TO STOP!”
California is Looking for Bilingual Teachers
When California voters approved Prop. 58 by an overwhelming margin in November, it restored bilingual programs in the state and instantly created a demand for bilingual teachers who have always been hard to come by.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK looks at the issue and how districts in the Golden State are trying to staff their new programs. “Educators say growing interest in bilingual programs will boost already high demand for teachers trained and credentialed to teach the classes,” it relates.  “Schools that already have such programs in California — and in other states, including Utah and Oregon — have brought teachers on visas from overseas to meet the need.”
Betsy DeVos
A group of 7 educators from the Westminster College School of Education, a small, private, liberal arts campus in Salt Lake City with an undergraduate enrollment of 2,100 students [Ed. note: a lot like Occidental College], penned an op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune, protesting the appointment of Betsy DeVos to head the U.S. Dept.of Education.  They perceive her as a serious threat to the future of public education.  “President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos as the next secretary of education delivers a severe blow to the future of public education.  While her statements indicate a desire to provide all parents the opportunity to choose the best schools for their children,” they write, “a deep look into her promotion of unregulated, for-profit charters and vouchers indicates a very different agenda.”                When Betsy DeVos was nominated to be President-elect Trump’s Sec. of Education she filled out a questionnaire with information that the Senate Education Committee requested.  You can read her responses by clicking here.  What’s quite interesting is the LONGGGGGGGG list of political contributions she’s made over the past 4 or 5 years.  The full form covers 23 pages; the list of her contributions takes up 10 of those pages.  Her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is scheduled to begin on Jan. 11.  Is it a problem that she’s made contributions to 4 members of that committee who will voting on her confirmation?  Just asking!               The newly elected members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate were officially sworn in on Tuesday.  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK has an item discussing the new members of the Senate Education Committee and a list of the continuing members.  One of the 3 new additions: Tim Kaine (D-VA) who was Hillary Clinton’s running mate.  This is the committee that will be holding hearings on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos (see above).               If you believe that Betsy DeVos is a dangerous choice to head the Dept. of Education, the NPE (NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION) has assembled a “toolkit” that people can use to protest her selection.  You can access it by clicking here.  It includes 3 specific actions you can take with detailed instructions and materials to make known your unease with her pick.  “Present and future generations of children are depending on us to act now,” the NPE website urges.  “We now know that some Senators have grave doubts [regarding her choice].  It is our job to make those doubts grow into active resistance to DeVos.”               It is not just progressive Democrats who are concerned about the DeVos nomination.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, points out that some conservative Republicans are also expressing qualms about her, particularly in regards to her position on the Common Core.  Greene headlines his commentary “The Conservative Argument Against DeVos.”  “Bottom line: Senators should be hearing objections to DeVos from across the perspective,” he recommends, “and when you are calling your senator (there is no if– you should be doing it, and soon, and often), you can take into account what sort of Senator you are calling.  Your GOP senator needs to hear that DeVos’s nomination breaks Trump’s promise to attack Common Core and to get local control back to school districts. Your GOP senator needs to hear that you are not fooled by DeVos’s attempt to pretend she’s not a long-time Common Core supporter.”               Jeff Bryant, writing on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, notes that Democrats in the U.S. Senate have decided to fight at least 8 of President-elect Trump’s cabinet nominees including Betsy DeVos.  He reviews a number of articles and commentaries that oppose her selection and suggests the Democrats have nothing to lose by attempting to derail her choice.  “There are Democratic party insiders who believe they’ve been backing the cause of education reform for idealistic reasons. They may choose to go along to get along,” Bryant concludes, “with the new Republican regime to see where that gets them despite having zero leverage in the policy debate.  But for those Democrats who’ve remained largely silent or on the fence on charter schools, vouchers, and other features of the reform movement, now is indeed a good time to express opposition. They have nothing to lose.”
U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Case Regarding IEPs
The SCOTUSblog reports on a U.S. Supreme Court case involving what types of services must be provided to a student based on his/her IEP.  Oral arguments are scheduled for next week.  The case is Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District and the article provides background and a preview of anticipated arguments in the case.
Running Schools Like Businesses
The corporate “reformers” and privatizers would love for our traditional public schools to be run like businesses [Ed. note: That seems to be all they know].  The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of critics of that approach.  You can add Steven Singer to that long list.  He matter-of-factly titles the piece,on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, “Why Schools Should NOT Be Run Like Businesses.”  “Public schools are run by democratically elected school boards.  Privately run charter and voucher schools often are run by appointees.  They aren’t beholden to the public who provide the tax dollars they need to operate.  They are beholden to the limited group of people who would profit from them economically.  This is a terrible model for public schools,” he concludes.  “It gives very little back to the taxpayer.  It gives less value to the student.   Should we run our schools like businesses?  Not if we value students and taxpayers more than the handful of investors looking to profit off our dime.”
This is one you really need to read to be believed.  The big standardized test in Texas (the STAAR) includes two poems that appear on the Grade 7 and Grade 8 assessments.  The poems are both written by Sara Holbrook who decided to tackle the questions that accompanied her two works.  As she startlingly writes in the HUFFPOST “I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems.”  Holbrook includes one of her poems and the questions that go with it.  She explains how she would possibly answer them and notes how difficult that is.  “When I realized I couldn’t answer the questions posed about two of my own poems on the Texas state assessment tests (STAAR Test),” she begins her composition, “I had a flash of panic – oh, no!  Not smart enough.  Such a dunce.  My eyes glazed over.  I checked to see if anyone was looking.  The questions began to swim on the page.  Waves of insecurity.  My brain in full spin.”              Diane Ravitch’s blog has been featuring a resident poet who, upon reading the above article, composed a short rhyme of his/her own to explain the situation.  Here’s the first of 3 stanzas titled “Understanding Poetry:”
To understand a poem
You shouldn’t ask the poet
Cuz poets all are dumb
And, worst of all, don’t know it.
Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to Monty Neill, executive director of the Center for Fair and Open Testing, aka FairTest, who argues “How Testing Practices Have to Change in U.S. Public Schools.”  He proposes some concrete reforms to make testing more fair and effective.  “Last year was a good one for testing reformers,” he states by way of introduction.  “More states dropped graduation exams.  Many districts cut back testing time.  The grassroots assessment reform movement grew stronger and more diverse. This new year can be even better if assessment reformers take advantage of opportunities under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).”
Principals and the 4 C’s
And finally, Peter DeWitt, on the “Finding Common Ground” commentary for EDUCATION WEEK, asked teachers to evaluate their principals based on the 4 C’s (he explains what they are and includes a fifth at the end of his column) and add any comments about their administrator and his/her leadership style.  “So often leaders believe teachers have blind spots that they can’t see in the classroom.  However, if this is true for teachers it must be true for leaders.  What are your blind spots?” he asks principals.  “Does the feedback from below resonate with you?  Do teachers feel comfortable giving you the feedback face-to-face, and not to a blog that you may never read?”
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


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