Ed News, Tuesday, January 10, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 “Education is a weapon that doesn’t create destruction, that creates peace” 

― Kip Keino

The Teaching Profession
What did the teaching profession look like in 2016?  The “Teaching Now” column in EDUCATION WEEK provides a snapshot of teacher attitudes and statistics on a number of typical issues through a series of charts.  Here’s one example (out of 10 total): Chart #9: There Are a Lot of New Teachers”  It indicates that 12% of teachers in the U.S. are in their first or second year.  California is at 9% and among the lowest while Florida (the highest) registers an astonishing 29%!  Check out the rest of the items for an interesting glimpse of the profession you are currently in, retired from or are aspiring to join.               Peter DeWitt, on the “Finding Common Ground” column in ED WEEK provides “3 ‘Simple’ Ideas Every Educator Should Work on for 2017.”  His list includes things that will improve techniques and communication both personally and in the classroom.  “Just like with any new year we have our resolutions.  Instead of all of those resolutions that may not last very long,” he suggests, “we should look at a few that can have a powerful impact in 2017, and also happen to be a few that we believe we do already.  That impact can be reciprocal because we will get what we give in 2017.  Our learning and growing should never be one-sided.”
Betsy DeVos
The “Ed News” is NOT picking on Betsy DeVos, despite what you might think by my coverage of her nomination to be the next U.S. Sec. of Education.  There appear to be some serious issues with her selection to be the top federal official overseeing out public school system.  Friday’s edition provided a copy of her answers to a Senate Education Committee questionnaire that included a long list of her political contributions.  Five of those Republican Senators will be voting on her confirmation in the committee and a total of 20 in the full Senate.  Does that raise some questions in your mind?  It certainly does in mine.  For more information on this issue check out a story in The Washington Post titled “Trump’s Education Nominee and Her Family Members are Major Donors to the Senators Who Will Vote on Her Confirmation.”  “Democrats have singled out DeVos as one of eight Trump Cabinet picks deserving of extra scrutiny and skepticism,” it points out, “arguing that she has no experience as an educator or elected official and has a record of undermining U.S. public schools.  They are likely to bring up her political donations during her confirmation as evidence of her efforts to influence Congress, according to staffers.”                 The Post has another article reporting that Senate Democrats are seeking to delay that hearing until the federal ethics office completes its review of her.  “In a letter to Senate Democrats on Saturday,” it mentions, “the head of the ethics office said that Trump and Republican leaders are breaking with decades of precedent by pressing for Cabinet confirmation hearings to take place before ethics reviews are completed.  Walter M. Shaub Jr., the director of the ethics office, wrote that it would be ’cause for alarm’ if the Senate were to go forward with hearings on nominees who have not been fully vetted because of the potential for ‘unknown or unresolved’ ethics issues.”                BREAKING NEWS: According to the “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK, the Senate Education Committee has postponed the confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos from Jan. 11, at 10 a.m. to Jan. 17, at 5 p.m. (see item above).  “The move comes just days after [Sen. Patty] Murray [D-WA] and other Democrats had requested that the committee delay DeVos’ hearing,” it reports, “until after she is cleared by the Office of Government Ethics.  DeVos, a billionaire GOP donor and school choice advocate, is one of several Trump nominees who have not yet received a sign-off from the OGE.               “It’s been widely reported that 4 or 5 GOP members of the Senate Education Committee have collected campaign contributions from Betsy DeVos or her family (see first item in this section).  However, according to Darcie Cimarusti of New Jersey, aka the author of the Mother Crusader blog, that number may be under stated.  Her deep investigation reveals the number may be closer to EIGHT (out of 12)!  And remember, they are going to vote on whether to confirm her appointment to become the Sec. of Education.  “At the top of [my] post,” she explains, “I listed the 12 Republican members on the HELP [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] Committee, and I have been able to connect 8 of them to DeVos money, either directly or through PACs the DeVos family has contributed to.  I would be remiss if I didn’t add that this is just what I was able to find combing though FEC [Federal Election Commission] filings.  In no way are these totals exhaustive.  There well could be more money and other PACs I simply wasn’t able to uncover with my somewhat limited Nancy Drew style sleuthing abilities.”               A number of local pro-public education organizations in Ohio have signed on to a letter to be sent to the state’s 2 U.S. Senators opposing the nomination of Betsy DeVos to head the federal Dept. of Education.  The janresseger blog describes her group’s efforts to draft the letter, circulate it to as many organizations as possible and deliver it to Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman (D-OH) yesterday.  Resseger, a long-time public school activist, was surprised at the extent of opposition to DeVos in the Buckeye State.  “We discovered [last] week that a mass of people from across our community, across Greater Cleveland, in surrounding counties, and across Ohio,” she indicates, “were delighted their organization had been given an opportunity to weigh in on this important matter that will affect our public schools, our communities, our state, and our society.” Resseger includes a copy of the letter on her post and a list of the various groups who signed it.             As the Senate Education Committee hearing for Betsy DeVos is set to kick off tomorrow, Russ Walsh, on his Russ on Reading blog, pens an open letter to Sen. Robert P. Casey, Jr., (D-PA and one of Walsh’s home state Senators) one of the minority party members of the committee, with a list of 10 questions he’d like Casey or anyone else on the panel to address to DeVos.  Here’s one example from his list: “3.  In your home state of Michigan, you and the foundations you support have fought hard to make sure that governmental oversight of charter schools is extremely limited despite indications of widespread fiscal mismanagement and poor academic performance.  Should charter schools be subject to the same financial and academic scrutiny as traditional public schools?  If not, why not?”               Diane Ravitch issued a press release via the IPA (INSTITUTE for PUBLIC ACCURACY) website officially opposing the nomination of Betsy DeVos to head the Dept. of Education.  You can read her statement by clicking here “Betsy DeVos should not be approved by the Senate committee or confirmed by the Senate as U.S. Secretary of Education.  She has no experience or qualifications for the job,” Ravitch writes in part.  “She is a lobbyist for alternatives to public schools.  Eighty-five percent of the students in the U.S. attend  public schools.  Her only plan is to weaken and destroy them by diverting public money to charter schools and vouchers for religious schools.”               An editorial in The New York Times is headlined “Big Worries About Betsy DeVos.”  It raises some serious questions about the rush to confirm her despite warnings from the Office of Government Ethics regarding incomplete paper work plus the Times worries about her detrimental impact on the public schools in her home state of Michigan.                Apparently the “group” “Friends of Betsy DeVos” consists solely of a paid public relations person.  Investigative reporter extraordinaire, Mercedes Schneider describes what she discovered on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29.  “I have been doing a lot of reading about Trump’s nominee for US secretary of education, Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos,’ she reveals, “and I have noticed a recurring defender of DeVos, Ed Patru, ‘spokesman for Friends of Betsy DeVos, a group of supporters.’ . . .  I searched for any formally organized group calling itself Friends of Betsy DeVos, and I found no record.  In fact, the only hits I did find always seem to be some quote by Ed Patru, spokesman for Friends of Betsy DeVos.  There is just Ed Patru.”                Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” column for The Washington Post, characterizes the growing opposition to the DeVos nomination from individuals and organizations.  “Public education was not much of an issue during the 2016 presidential campaign — but it sure is now,” Strauss points out, “as opposition grows to the Senate confirmation of Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s education secretary  nominee, who once called the U.S. traditional public school system a ‘dead end.’ . . .  DeVos, a leader in the movement to privatize the U.S. public-education system, has quickly become a lightning rod in the education world since her nomination by Trump in November.”
Next Friedrichs Case Already in the Pipeline
The Friedrichs v California Teachers Association U.S. Supreme case, which would have eliminated unions’ abilities to collect even agency fees, was on the verge of being decided against the unions when the unexpected death of Justice Scalia caused the case to end up in a 4-4 tie.  That left the lower appellate court ruling in effect which favored the unions. However, anti-labor forces are salivating at the chance to bring up the issue again after a Pres. Trump nominee takes Scalia’s place and a case is already wending its way through the courts.  It’s referred to as Janus v AFSCME and is described in an article from IN THESE TIMES.  “As Democrats and the labor movement prepare for a possible fight over Trump’s imminent appointment to the Supreme Court,” it suggests, “they should recognize that several major labor cases, brought by some of labor’s most persistent enemies, are waiting in the wings.”
Education Under Obama/Duncan
As of today (Jan. 10) the Obama presidency has 10 days left.  As it winds down many people in his administration are concerned about their legacy.  Arne Duncan (remember him?) served as Sec. of Education for the first 7 years of Obama’s tenure in office.  Peter Greene, this time writing in The Progressive, was never a big fan of Duncan’s and his piece on Duncan’s education legacy is no different.  It’s titled “Hasta La Vista Arne!  Duncan’s Failed Education Legacy.”  That’s pretty blunt!  Duncan recently wrote about his “accomplishments” while leading the Dept. of Education (Greene includes a link) and Greene takes a scalpel to what he describes as Duncan’s “self-proclaimed achievements.”  “At this point I can feel a little bad for Duncan—he didn’t really accomplish any of his major goals, and the next administration is not even going to pay lip service to his efforts,” Greene envisions.  “It must be tough to feel like you really know a lot about how something works, but the people in power won’t even listen to you.  It feels, in fact, a lot like being a teacher during Duncan’s tenure at the U.S. Department of Education.”               Pres. Obama delivered his farewell address this evening at McCormick Place in his home town of Chicago.  EDUCATION WEEK has three items about his impact on K-12 education which you can find here , titled “Obama’s Legacy on K-12 One of Bold Achievements and Fierce Blowback,” here, headlined “The Obama Administration’s Imprint on K-12 Policy: A Roundup” and here, “How Obama Wielded the Presidential Megaphone.”
Running Schools Like Businesses?
Are the hiring practices of U.S. school districts in need of an overhaul?  A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive public policy research and advocacy organization, answers “yes.”  The group’s research is featured in a story in the “Teacher Beat” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  It lists some ways those practices can be updated and made more effective so the best candidates can be selected.  “The report’s authors conclude that recruiting top talent is a crucial goal for businesses and schools alike.  If school districts want to attract and keep the best teachers, according to the authors,” the article concludes, “they must take a page out of the business-recruiting playbook and revamp their hiring practices at once.”  [Ed. note: This may be one way that schools do want to emulate business methods.]  The ED WEEK item includes a link to the full report from CAP titled “To Attract Great Teachers, School Districts Must Improve Their Human Capital Systems.”               The corporate “reformers” and privatizers like to promote the idea that schools would be more successful if they were run to a greater degree like businesses.  The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of articles that make the case that students are not products that come off assembly lines and should not be run as a franchise like McDonald’s.  However, there may be a FEW business practices that schools could emulate (see above).  Samuel E. Abrams, the author of an op-ed in Sunday’s L.A. Times, makes just that argument.  He’s the director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University and he identifies 5 business concepts that SHOULD be adopted by schools.  “Donald Trump never tires of reminding us that he is a businessman,” Abrams begins, “and in Betsy DeVos, he has nominated a secretary of Education who endorses a business model for improving elementary and secondary schooling.  The problem is, it’s the wrong model.  DeVos’ prescriptions include for-profit school management, taxpayer-funded vouchers to cover private school tuition and parental choice as the primary vehicle for regulation.  Yet where such free-market remedies have been tried, they have yielded disappointing results.”               Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG turns the idea of running schools like businesses into a story about baby sea turtles.  It’s titled “School Privatization Turns Business Into Predator and Students Into Prey.”  “Schools should be run like a business,” he postulates.  “Parents and students should choose between educational institutions, which would then compete for their budget allotments.  Some schools would thrive but most would fail – just like in business, athletics or other competitive pursuits.  And while these fledgling schools struggle to make ends meet, predators will be waiting in the wings to benefit from their failure and perfidy.”
Public Schools Under Assault on Many Fronts
Whether it be charters, vouchers, Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump or Mike Pence the traditional public school system in this country is under attack.  A feature in THE AMERICAN PROSPECT is headlined: “The War on Public Schools”  and it doesn’t mince words!  It chronicles the many fronts that are under attack including school choice, the Dept. of Education, Common Core, Teachers Unions, the Every Student Succeeds Act and Higher Education.  It concludes with some strategies that progressives can adopt to fight back and they are certainly going to need them.  ““To say education conservatives are ecstatic about their new political opportunities,” it warns, “would be an understatement.  With Republicans controlling the House and Senate, a politically savvy conservative ideologue leading the federal education department, a vice president who earned notoriety in his home state for expanding vouchers, charters, and battling teacher unions, not to mention a president-elect who initially asked creationist Jerry Falwell Jr. to head up his Department of Education, the stars have aligned for market-driven education advocates.”
New State Report Cards
The New “Quality Counts 2017: State Report Cards” are out from EDUCATION WEEK.  Overall, based on the criteria used, schools in the U.S. earned a “C” grade (score of 74.2 out of a possible 100).  No state garnered an “A.”  Massachusetts came out on top with a “B” (86.5) followed by New Jersey with the same grade and a score of 85.6.  California checked in with a “C-” (69.9) while Nevada was at the bottom with a “D” (65.0).  You can access an overview and summary of the report with links to all the various other stories related to it by clicking here.  For a quick view of how individual states did click on the sidebar titled “Interactive Map: State Report Cards” about a third of the way down the above item.  For a detailed report on California’s score click here.
Charter Schools & Vouchers
The school board in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, in mid-December passed unanimously a resolution calling for opposition to charters in the Bluegrass State.  Matt Wyatt, the chair of the district’s board, pens an op-ed explaining his body’s action and why the state should instead provide adequate support for the public schools of Kentucky.  His piece appears in the Louisville Courier-Journal.  “You will be hearing a lot of talk about charter schools over the course of the next two months when our General Assembly convenes.  Governor Matt Bevin and the new Republican majority in the House have indicated that they are going to do everything that they can to pass charter school legislation.  Kentucky remains one of seven states,” Wyatt points out, “which does not permit the privatization of public education (i.e., charter schools). . . .  We were the first Board of Education in Kentucky to pass such a resolution. Our opposition is based on 25 years’ worth of data which confirms that when the privatization of public education is allowed in a state, public schools suffer, taxpayers are swindled and students are often left worse off.”               The corporate “reformers” and privatizers are constantly pushing things like charters and vouchers as ways to provide parents with more “choices” in the way they select schools for their children.  What they don’t champion is any sort of accountability and transparency related to those ideas.  Traditional public schools lay all of their cards on the table for parents and the community to see and compare.  That dichotomy is explored by Lindsay Wagner, on the NC POLICY WATCH, as it pertains to the quickly expanding voucher program in North Carolina.  “There is one very big difference,” she relates,  “between choosing between a local public school and a local private school, publicly funded or not: the degree to which you can know in advance what you’re signing up for.”      Charter schools are often offered as an option (choice) for parents who are trying to select the best school for their child.  “Choice” may not be the best term, however.  How about “threat?”  The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of items demonstrating how charters operate on a different playing field than traditional public schools and that fact is posing a serious challenge to the students, parents and teachers who attend, support and work on public campuses.  Carol Burris once again guest-blogs on Valerie Strauss’ column for The Washington Post.  This time she describes how charters are menacing the very existence of the public school system in Bethlehem, PA.  “What I learned in Bethlehem is both simple and clear.  Pennsylvania’s politicians, like those in so many states,” Burris complains, “have neither the stomach nor the will to curb the abuses of charter schools as they drain the public school coffers.  America must choose either a patchwork of online schools and charters with profiteers on the prowl, or a transparent community public school system run by citizens elected by their neighbors.  A dual school system with the private taking funding from the public, simply cannot survive.”
Eliminate the DoE?
When Republicans are in office one of the first things they propose is to eliminate the Dept. of Education.  With Pres. Trump taking office in 10 days, that issue is sure to come up rather early in his term.  An op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times makes the case for doing away with the department that came into existence under Pres. Carter.  The GOP under presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush were never able to accomplish their goal of getting rid of the DoE.  The co-authors of the piece argue that the department has become too politicized and schools would improve if it disappeared.  “It’s time for the department to be dismantled.  It has done some good, especially in pointing out education inequity.  But more often it has served political, not educational, interests. . . .  After 40 years of top-down, politically tinged intrusion,” they maintain, “it’s possible to imagine a more collaborative, less rigid relationship between our schools and the national government.  Abolishing the Education Department is a good place to start.”
Whither School Reform
And finally, Stephen Mucher, Director of the Bard College Master of Arts in Teaching program here in Los Angeles and friend of Occidental College, has a thoughtful commentary on the M (Medium) website offering some suggestions regarding how positive and effective school reform should proceed in the age of Trump/DeVos/Pence.  He begins by dividing those who wish to improve education into 2 groups: the “reformers” and the “inclusionists.”  He details what each one hopes to achieve and how they plan to do it and notes that the former is certainly in the ascendancy in Washington, D.C., as the Trump administration takes over.  [Ed. note: Which of Mucher’s 2 groups would you identify with?]
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


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