Ed News, Tuesday, January 17, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                  Monday is the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Holiday.
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 “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.
 Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
 -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Betsy DeVos

[Ed. note: Please remember the DeVos confirmation hearing that was originally scheduled for Jan. 10th was postponed until Jan. 17th at 5 p.m.]  OK.  I’ll admit it.  The “Ed News” IS picking on the Betsy DeVos nomination to be the next Sec. of Education.  But she deserves it and is getting the negative reception from many different sources!  Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has joined the bandwagon of critics [Ed. note: I’m honored to be in such august company] of Trump’s selection to head the Dept. of Education.  Warren, who’s a member of the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee that will be taking up DeVos’ confirmation hearing on Tuesday, sent a letter to DeVos last week that’s the focus of an article in the Boston Globe.  It includes a copy of the letter Warren sent (16 pages) that includes 41 questions she’d like the billionaire philanthropist to answer.  “DeVos’ nomination has prompted angst from the left because of her record of donating millions of dollars to support conservative candidates and causes,” the story mentions.  “She married into the Amway fortune, and she and her family have donated more than $20 million on the federal level in the last three decades, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  DeVos earned the ire of campaign finance crusaders for a 1997 op-ed she penned in a Capitol Hill newspaper where she bragged about being the largest GOP donor and asserted that her family expected a ‘return on our investment.’”              Diane Ravitch has written pieces for several different publications opposing DeVos.  She has another one appearing on the pages of IN THESE TIMES.  “DeVos is a billionaire who grew up in the Christian Reformed Church,” Ravitch writes, “and would like to see religious schools supported by public funding.  She once described education reform as a way to ‘advance God’s kingdom.’”  Whatever happened to the significant concept of the “separation of church and state?”               The CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS (CAP), a progressive public policy research and  advocacy group, is also concerned about the vast amount of campaign donations DeVos, her family and associated PACs have doled out to Senators (see Tuesday’s “Ed News”) on the HELP Committee and in the full Senate all of whom will be voting on her confirmation.  The story is titled “Conflicts of DeVos–Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, And A Pay-to-Play Nomination.”  “To uphold the ethical standards of the Senate—and avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest—senators who have received donations from DeVos and her family should recuse themselves from considering her nomination,” the 3 co-authors suggest.  “Unfortunately, no member of the Senate has indicated that they might step aside. Put differently, Republicans under Trump are showing that they can be bought and sold.”               This comic strip may help illustrate the above item:

Even the Massachusetts Charter Association has some serious doubts about DeVos taking over the Dept. of Education even though she’s a champion of choice, vouchers and charters.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, describes how they and a few other charter proponents are beginning to feel a little queasy about her.  “It will be interesting to see if opposition to DeVos continues to appear on her reformy flank. Our first few months in Trumpistan,” he concludes, “will undoubtedly give rise to much political shifting and re-alignment; only time will tell how that will shake out in the education biz.”               Are the “education wars” about to resume under the Trump/Pence/DeVos team?  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, explains what the “wars” are about and why they may be returning based on a recent speech by AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten.  “Education, which was hardly ever mentioned in the recent presidential election,” Bryant begins, “has suddenly been thrust to the frontline in the increasingly heated conflict over President-Elect Donald Trump’s proposed cabinet appointees.  The reason for that turn of events is his choice of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.  Her nomination risks ‘reigniting the education wars,’ according to Randi Weingarten, the leader of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union.”   Weingarten contends that the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in late 2015, had pretty much tamped down the partisan conflict over education but that the emergence of DeVos as Sec. of Education quite probably will reignite the partisan battles from the past over education policy.               Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints Weingarten’s full speech that she delivered on Monday before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.                Diane Ravitch calls this next item “a must read” and a “brilliant” article.  Jennifer Berkshire, aka the EduShyster, has discovered the real intent of Betsy DeVos’ agenda.  Check out her provocative piece, titled “The Red Queen,” and see what you think.  Berkshire wanted to get an upfront and personal view of what impact DeVos’ policies have had on the public schools in Michigan so she spent a week travelling around the Great Lakes State, talking and listening to all types of people involved.  “The radical experiment that’s playing out [in Michigan] has little to do with education, and even less to do with kids.  The real goal of the DeVos family,” she suspects, “is to crush the state’s teachers unions as a means of undermining the Democratic party, weakening Michigan’s democratic structures along the way.  And on this front, our likely next Secretary of Education has enjoyed measurable, even dazzling success.”  What follows is detailed and compelling.  
Student Behavior
Can student misbehavior be improved through detentions, suspensions and expulsions?  It’s a discussion that schools have been having for eons.  A piece from THE HECHINGER REPORT suggests that these types of punitive solutions are not productive.  The author proceeds to offer some much more positive and humanistic approaches after she reviews some interesting statistics regarding student behavior.  “The first step is understanding the nature of student behavior in schools.  Several decades of research reveal a depiction of problem behavior among a school’s student body.  In nearly every school studied,”  the author, a professor of special education at Lehigh University writes, “the majority of students (about 80 percent) rarely, if ever, exhibit behavior problems (such as code of conduct violations resulting in a disciplinary referral) at school.  The majority of students receive no, or only one, disciplinary referral during a school year.”
Education Policies for the New Year
NEW AMERICA, a non-partisan think tank, offers a 10-point agenda “to help reform the country’s education system.”  You can read an overview of the group’s proposals on their website by clicking here.  You can also access a list of the items (1 page) or the full guide (15 pages) titled “EDUCATION AGENDA 2017, Top Priorities for State Leaders, the Next Administration, and Congress.”  Here are 2 examples from the 10-point agenda:“1. Expand access to quality early learning.  4. Align research and development to educational practice.”               Peter DeWitt goes even farther on the “Finding Common Ground” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  He offers “17 Critical Issues Facing Education in 2017.”  “Education has been a battleground of rhetoric over the years,”  he suggests, “and 2017 will certainly bring in some changes given, not only the campaign and ultimate election decision, but because of so many issues bubbling up to the top that need our attention.  Some of the items may surprise you, while others seem like common sense.”  Here are 2 examples from his list: “15. Pre-service Teacher Programs,  17. School Climate.”
Charter Schools
Andre Agassi, former U.S. pro tennis star, went into the charter business in his home town of Las Vegas and in other cities around the country upon his retirement from the pro tennis circuit.  He was held up as a shining example of celebrity support for charter schools.  Unfortunately, he’s just been aced.  His flagship campus in Las Vegas, Agassi College Preparatory Academy,  was among the poorest performing schools in Nevada and will be taken over by another charter operator next school year according to a story in the LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL.  Agassi Prep’s secondary school was placed on this year’s underperforming list,” it points out, “among the bottom 5 percent of middle schools in the state.  The elementary school escaped the underperforming list, but received two stars out of the state’s five-star rating system.  Board members also cited persistent financial problems that board members expected to worsen if action wasn’t taken.”               Louisiana this week joined Washington State where courts ruled that charter school funding formulas violated state constitutions.  Mississippi has a similar lawsuit pending that was filed in July according to a short item in the “Charters & Choice” column at EDUCATION WEEK.  “In Louisiana, local K-12 officials as well as the Louisiana Association of Educators, a state teachers’ union,” it explains, “argued it was unconstitutional to fund schools run outside local school systems with money meant to go to local parishes.  That argument was initially rejected by a Louisiana district judge in 2015, before being overturned Monday by the state appeals court.  At stake is about $80 million in funding for over 30 charter schools statewide.”  This latest decision in Louisiana is expected to be appealed to the state supreme court.  
Running Schools Like Businesses
Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted an op-ed in Sunday’s L.A. Times that suggested 5 ways schools should be run like businesses.  It prompted 2 letters that appear in Wednesday’s paper.  The second was written by Stephen Krashen an emeritus professor of Education at USC.  
The Teaching Profession
Linda Yaron is a National Board Certified educator in Los Angeles and an expert on teacher coaching  She offers “The 10 Key Elements of Transformational Coaching” on the “CTQ Collaboratory” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  “Whether serving as a full-time coach,” she writes, “or as a teacher with a hybrid position who splits the school day between coaching and teaching, coaches are uniquely situated to be supportive partners in the classroom.  The depth in which coaches can thrive in their roles depends on some key foundations of coaching.”  Here is one example of an idea Yaron borrowed from veteran coaches over the years: 9. Connecting with resources.”               The 4 finalists for 2017 National Teacher of the Year were announced Monday by the Council of Chief State School Officers.  One of them is a special education teacher at a San Diego high school.  The other 3 hail from Massachusetts, Maryland and Wisconsin and teach varied subjects according to a brief story on the “Teaching Now” column at EDUCATION WEEK.  “The four finalists, along with the ultimate winner,” it indicates, “are chosen by a national selection committee that represents 18 education and community organizations. . . .  The National Teacher of the Year will be honored by the president at a White House ceremony this spring.”
Supporting Public Education
House Democrats have formed a caucus to support traditional public education.  The new group’s existence is announced in a story on THE HUFFINGTON POST and was trumpeted [Ed. note: That was not intended to be a pun] by several members of the caucus and the national presidents of the NEA and AFT.  So far, no Republicans have signed on.  “Members of Congress have formed a new caucus to support the goals of public education under Donald Trump’s presidency. Although the caucus has been in the works for over a year,” it begins, “Trump’s election and his nomination of Betsy DeVos as education secretary has given the group heightened urgency, according to those involved with the effort.”               Not convinced that our public schools are underfunded and poorly supported?  Check out Philadelphia where only 8 full-time, certified librarians service 220 schools and 134,000 students.  THAT’S A CRIME and one of many reasons why those schools are “failing.”  Those discouraging numbers come courtesy of a piece in The Philadelphia Inquirer.  “As Philadelphia school budgets have shrunk,”it discouragingly notes, “librarians have grown rarer, almost to the point of extinction.  In 1991, the school system employed 176 certified librarians.  Now, the librarians are only at Anderson, Elkin, Greenberg, Penn Alexander, Roosevelt, and Sullivan elementaries and Central and South Philadelphia High Schools.”               Despite a predicted decline in state revenue for the 2018 fiscal year, California Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a boost of more than $1 billion in education spending.  The “State EdWatch” column in EDUCATION WEEK has the encouraging details.  “Of the state’s proposed $122.5 billion spending plan next year,” it mentions, “Brown proposes that the state increase K-12 spending from $71.9 billion to $73.5 billion.  Per-pupil spending would increase from $14,822 to $15,216.”  That’s some good news.
The LAUSD board is contemplating changing the district’s school year calendar AGAIN.  It voted on Tuesday to continue the mid-August start, a full week off at Thanksgiving with a 3-week winter break for only 1 additional year as it considers other options beyond that time.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times outlines the reasons for that action and what choices the board is considering.  “In the past, schools across the country routinely started fall classes  after Labor Day.  In recent years, though, L.A. Unified has joined other districts in starting the school year earlier,” it reports.  “Some families prefer a traditional post-Labor Day school start because it lets them schedule vacations and keeps their kids out of classrooms during the most intense heat of late summer. Some in the Los Angeles school system have pointed out that a later start also reduces air conditioning costs. Such views prevailed in September, when the Board of Education voted to shift away gradually from the earlier start.”               Three of the seven LAUSD board seats are up for election in 2017.  The primary will take place March 7 and a run-off, if no candidate receives 50% + 1 vote, occurs on May 9.  2 of the 3 positions have incumbents running including board Pres. Steve Zimmer’s 4th district which runs from the Westside  to the San Fernando Valley.  [Ed. note: Full disclosure: I’m in Zimmer’s district.]  The 4 candidates vying for the job engaged in a spirited forum on Jan. 9, that was covered in the current edition (Jan. 13-19) of the JEWISH JOURNAL (both Zimmer and challenger Nickolas Melvoin are Jewish).  The forum/debate covered a wide range of issues including charter schools, teacher tenure, pension obligations and other district finances.               LAUSD Supt. Michelle King has been in office for a year.  A front-page article in yesterday’s L.A. Times reviews some of the things she’s done and where she’s fallen short.  It includes several charts with information about overall district enrollment (declining), charter enrollment (increasing), finances (uncertain) and graduation rates (increasing).  King put together a strategic plan for the district that the board has been slow to endorse.  “A year has passed since board members unanimously chose King to lead the Los Angeles Unified School District, citing her lifetime of experience in the district and deep familiarity with its problems.  In King,” the piece relates, “they saw a competent soldier, a respected former classroom teacher and high school principal who had served as deputy superintendent under two previous superintendents, John Deasy and Ramon C. Cortines.  That competent soldier is, in many respects, what they got.”     
And finally, could attending even one year of preschool predict future success on standardized math tests?  The latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) math scores offer a tantalizing possibility of that.  EDUCATION WEEK features those intriguing findings in an item titled “Preschool Linked to Success on Global Math Test.”  “The 2015 international-benchmarking test—as in previous PISA iterations—showed stronger math results,” it indicates, “for students who had participated in at least a few years of education between ages 3 and 5, before the start of formal primary school.”
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


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