Ed News, Friday, January 20, 2017 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“The best teacher teaches by inspiring students to learn 
by showing them the ultimate purpose of learning.” 
Betsy DeVos
I am going to lead off this edition of the “Ed News” with Betsy DeVos (who else?).  I probably could have renamed the blog for this edition “The Betsy DeVos News.”               Kristina Rizga, author of the book “Mission High’ [Ed. note: A future ALOED Book Club selection] is a senior reporter at Mother Jones, focusing on education issues.  She’s written an extended, heavily researched profile for that publication titled “Betsy DeVos Wants to Use America’s Schools to Build ‘God’s Kingdom.”  It’s subtitled “Trump’s Education Secretary Pick Has Spent a Lifetime Working to End Public Education as We Know It.”  Rizga details the religious underpinnings of the DeVos family and how that guides their political philosophies and philanthropy.  “Betsy and Dick DeVos have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she relates, “to organizations seeking to privatize education and blur the separation of church and state in public schools. “              The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held their confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos’ nomination to become the next Sec. of Education in the Trump administration.  It began at 2 pm (PST) on Tuesday  and lasted three and a half hours.  The previous edition of the “Ed News” had some early reports.  Reaction to the hearing since then has been substantial as the position carries a lot of weight in the field of education.  Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) quickly announced that he would be voting “no” on her nomination.  Diane Ravitch’s blog prints his press release explaining his position.  “A bedrock principle of America’s public educational system is investing public money in schools meant to serve everyone, not siphoning off scarce taxpayer dollars to private or religious education.  Unfortunately,” he points out, “the president-elect’s choice for Education Secretary has indicated she supports an approach that flies in the face of America’s long-time, commonsense investment in public education opportunities that recognizes education is an essential rung to climb the economic ladder.”  Wyden listed some other reasons for his opposition.               The 1A program on Wednesday morning on WAMU 88.5 in Washington, D.C., an NPR station, has a discussion about Betsy DeVos and her background and testimony before the committee.  It features Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank based in the nation’s capital, and Diane Ravitch.  You can listen to the audio segment (22:13 minutes) on the program’s website.  Click on the red “Listen” button in the upper left hand corner to access it.                 The PBS NEWSHOUR series “Making the Grade” devotes a segment to the impact of Betsy DeVos’ support for school “choice” on  traditional public education.  It solicits comments about the DeVos nomination from Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, and Frederick Hess of the AEI (see item above).  You can view the video (9:30 minutes), listen to a podcast and/or read the transcript of the program by clicking here.  In response to a questions about what concerns her most about DeVos as a possible Sec. of Education, Weingarten answered like this: “Her record speaks volumes.  And what we’re concerned about is that record, because, in Michigan . . .  for the last 25 years, she has worked to dismantle, destabilize and defund public schools at the very same time as she’s worked to shield for-profit charters from any kind of accountability.  And those schools have done very badly,” Weingarten continues.  “And the public schools, particularly for black and brown children, have been very destabilized in places like Flint, Detroit . . . and other places.”                   Diane Ravitch also appears on the public radio station WNYC “The Takeaway” program (13 minutes) with James Goenner, president and chief executive of the National Charter Schools Institute. You can probably guess that they took diametrically opposite positions on whether DeVos is qualified and should be confirmed to head the Dept. of Education. Ravitch and Goenner are heard in separate segments.                Ravitch was very busy on the airwaves after the DeVos confirmation hearing on Tuesday.  She was one of the guests on the “To The Point” program (33:53 minutes) hosted by Warren Olney on Los Angeles’ NPR station KCRW 89.9 along with Emma Brown, education reporter for The Washington Post, AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten and Matt Frendewey of Betsy DeVos’ American Federation of Children.  The topic of the rather “heated debate,” as Ravitch described it, is “Washington’s Role in Public Education.”                Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, points out a major stumble during Betsy DeVos testimony when the nominee appeared puzzled about federal law pertaining to students with disabilities.  Strauss provides some of the back-and-forth on the topic between Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and DeVos.  The piece includes a short video (3:38 minutes) with “6 Head-Scratching Moments From Betsy DeVos’s Confirmation Hearing.”  Diane Ravitch had this response to Strauss’ article and DeVos’ committee testimony: “On subject after subject, DeVos dodged the question, evaded the question, said that it was ‘worth a discussion,”’and found other artful (and not so artful) ways to avoid answering.  Clearly, she is ill-prepared for the job of Secretary of Education.  Nothing in her testimony suggested that she had even been briefed.”             One quizzical issue that arose during the DeVos hearing had to do with guns, schools and grizzly bears.  CNN has the details about how the nominee responded to a question about whether guns have “any place in and around schools.”  You can read about DeVos’ answer and/or view a brief video (45 seconds) with her response. “Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s education secretary nominee, said it should be up to states whether guns are allowed in schools,” the article mentions, “citing grizzly bear protection as part of her answer.  She also said she would support Trump if he moved to ban gun-free schools zones, a position he advocated on the campaign trail.”                  A story in the NEW REPUBLIC weighted in rather cheekily with this headline: “Betsy DeVos Got Schooled in Her Confirmation Hearing.”  It’s subtitled: “Democrats Repeatedly Stumped Trump’s Pick For Education Secretary.”  “With Republicans in control of the Senate,” it maintains, “DeVos’s confirmation is all but a foregone conclusion.  But her grilling Tuesday night yielded more than a few exchanges that could prove politically problematic.”              Daniel Katz, on his Daniel Katz, Ph.D. blog, reacts to DeVos’ opening statement before the HELP Committee.  He refers to it as full of “Smoke and Mirrors.”  “The remarks follow what you would typically expect from a controversial nominee trying to tip toe around her record of zealously advocating tearing down traditional public education even in the face of evidence of failure,” he mentions.  “It would be unrealistic to expect DeVos to acknowledge the wreckage that her policies have wrought upon Detroit Public Schools or to note that even philanthropists and foundations interested in charter schools and vouchers routinely pass over Detroit because the situation on the ground is too wild west for their tastes.”                 The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK has a detailed review of DeVos’ comments on a number of issues including federalism, the ESSA, Michigan’s record with charters and several others.  “Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education,” it begins, “sought to use her confirmation hearing to beat back the notion that she would undermine public education as head of the department, as Democrats pressed her on everything from her views on the civil rights of gay and lesbian students, to states’ responsibilities for students in special education, and guns in schools.”                Another story in the “K-12 Column” in ED WEEK, catalogs six critical education policies where DeVos appeared rather fuzzy in her knowledge and understanding.  2 examples: “ESSA Accountability Rules” and the concept of “Proficiency vs Growth.”               Of course the BATs (Badass Teachers Association) weighed in on the DeVos hearing.  Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director of the group, headlined her item “UnBEARable: Reflections of the DeVos Hearing.”  She offers a pretty extensive review of the questions asked and the responses DeVos provided, few of which impressed Kilfoyle.  “My takeaway is that she knows very little about education,” Kilfoyle complains, “because she doesn’t need to.  The GOP senators on that committee don’t know or don’t care about all the things she doesn’t know.  Her lack of knowledge, experience and expertise is not important to them because education is not important to them.  That’s my takeaway.”              [Ed. note: Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a story about Betsy DeVos from the L.A. Times that had only appeared on their website as of the deadline for that “Ed News.”  That item appears in the “Education Matters” column in yesterday’s Times.                A scathing editorial about the DeVos confirmation also came out in yesterday’s paper.  In the print edition it carries the title “A Failing Grade for DeVos,” while on the website it’s headlined “Betsy DeVos Embarrassed Herself and Should Be Rejected by the Senate.”  “Betsy DeVos’ love of private school vouchers didn’t disqualify her for the role of U.S. Education secretary, even though vouchers are a bad idea.  Nor did her lack of experience in public schools. What did render her unacceptable was her abysmal performance at her confirmation hearing Tuesday,” the editorial board harshly, but incisively points out, “during which she displayed an astonishing ignorance about basic education issues, an extraordinary lack of thoughtfulness about ongoing debates in the field and an unwillingness to respond to important questions.”  The piece gets even more biting after that introduction.  Thanks to “Ed News” reader Donald Hagen for sending this along.                Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” (formerly hosted by Jon Stewart) has a segment on DeVos’s appearance before the Senate HELP Committee.  You can view it on THE DAILY SHOW website.  Noah sums up by saying DeVos failed every subject she was asked about but will probably be confirmed anyway because she handily passed “Donations 101.” Hear, Hear!  How true!  How sadly true!               The reporter for The New York Times headlines her piece on the Senate hearing for the next Sec. of Education “Nominee Betsy DeVos’s Knowledge of Education Basics is Open to Criticism.”  That’s being rather kind!  “In questioning by senators, [DeVos] seemed either unaware or unsupportive,” the article explains, “of the longstanding policies and functions of the department she is in line to lead, from special education rules to to the policing of for-profit universities.”                Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, does his usual thorough job of summarizing the reactions to Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing this week.  He raises some questions about her commitment to racial equity and integration and concludes, dishearteningly, that the senators didn’t ever confront her on those topics so no one knows what her positions are.  You have to go back to some of her previous actions to get some inkling of what she believes.  “So what are DeVos’ views on racial equity in education?  Does she support racial integration?  What would she do to assert the federal government’s historic role in ensuring racial equity in schools?  Unfortunately,” Bryant complains, “much of what DeVos has worked for in her state of Michigan – the ‘schools of choice program,’ vouchers, and the proliferation of charters – is taking the state’s schools back to a segregationist past.”
The Teaching Profession
For a while there was a trend in K-12 education to do away with foreign language instruction.  Thankfully those in the know realized that was a faulty policy and those classes are making a comeback, especially in the form of dual-language or immersion programs.  The “Global Learning” column in EDUCATION WEEK offers 8 specific tips on “How to Increase the Number and Quality of Language Immersion Programs” from a pair of guest bloggers who are part of the Asia Society’s Chinese Early Language and Immersion Network (CELIN).  “Students in the United States need to be able to learn languages in addition to English, in the home and throughout their education,” they conclude, “in order to develop global competence and live productive lives.  This need is real, and the urgency of the matter has propelled us to shift from asking ‘why’ language learning might be important to ‘how’ we will move forward effectively, together.  The strategies described above are a good start.”               The “Ed News” has recently chronicled how teacher shortages have been plaguing a number of states including California.  With that the case, it would make sense that states are also having a hard time filling substitute teacher positions.  An item in ED WEEK mentions how various states and districts are using some creative and time-honored methods to attract applicants.  It uses Elk Grove Unified in Sacramento County as one example along with Michigan, Baltimore and Pennsylvania. “Elk Grove, the fifth-largest district in the state,” the item details,“has a plan to keep substitutes from roaming to other districts. The district raised salaries and offered health benefits.  A little more than a year ago, its school board voted to increase substitute pay from $125 a day to $135, making it more competitive with surrounding districts.  Elk Grove also sent an email to parents, inviting them to think about becoming a substitute or persuading a friend or family member to apply.”                 Can one be both a classroom teacher and a teacher leader?  The responsibilities of both can be quite taxing but the author of this item from the CTQ Collaboratory” column for ED WEEK believes that being a successful classroom teacher means you are already exhibiting characteristics of a leader. She offers 3 ideas for balancing the obligations and duties of both.  “There are moments when we wonder how we manage to get it all accomplished, moments where our to-do lists seem overwhelming.  Keeping passion and priorities in focus makes a critical difference,” she concludes, “by helping us reframe our thinking.  The reward of leading within the classroom and within the profession is well worth the investment.”                Starr Sackstein, a National Board Certified educator who teaches English and Journalism in New York City, answers the fundamental question “Why Do I Teach?” in a commentary for ED WEEK.  She offers 8 reasons why.  Here are 2 of them: “-I’m challenged on every level, sometimes to my breaking point.  -Did I mention I’m always learning.”
School Choice and Racial Segregation
The headline on The Christian Science Monitor story asks “Does Greater School Choice Lead to Less Segregation?”  The subtitle provides an answer: “Statistics Suggest That Charter Schools and Vouchers Aren’t a Solution to Segregated Schools.  In Some Cases, They Can Actually Make it Worse.”  So why do the corporate “reformers” and privatizers keep pushing those policies?  Perhaps they don’t want to see schools integrated.  “What both charter schools and vouchers have in common, say critics, is that they perpetuate the racial segregation of US schools,” the author suggests, “even as the nation’s school-age population grows ever more diverse.  While minority parents are being given more choices about where to enroll their children, these choices rarely extend to schools that are more integrated by race or ethnicity, critics say.  Instead, the choices for families in low-income, minority-dominated school districts are often between low-performing public schools and alternatives such as charters or voucher-dependent private schools with similar student bodies.”
LAUSD School Board Race Draws $1 Million Campaign Contribution
Those previously largely ignored, unimportant elections for school board seats are no more.  The “Ed News” has highlighted several races that drew millions of dollars in campaign donations as various groups attempt to influence the outcomes.  Another of those battles is shaping up here in L.A.  Incumbent board Pres. Steve Zimmer is facing reelection and apparently there are certain forces out there who don’t want him to be successful.  Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan just channeled $1 million (!) into an independent campaign to defeat Zimmer according to a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  Zimmer’s Distrcit 4 race, which stretches from the Westside to the San Fernando Valley, drew 3 opponents for the March 7th primary.  “Riordan has endorsed [challenger Nick] Melvoin,” it explains, “and also contributed directly to his campaign.  But the limit for direct contributions is $1,100 while there are no donation limits for campaigns not under the control of a candidate.  In his previous campaign, four years ago, Zimmer and his supporters framed billionaires’ large donations to defeat him as an arguing point in favor of his reelection.  The teachers union, with some assistance from other unions, spent enough on his behalf to get that message out.”
President Trump
Donald Trump officially became the 45th president of the United States at noon today.  There were a series of protests in Los Angeles yesterday by teachers, students, parents and union leaders worried about the course of the country under Trump.  An article in today’s L.A. Times describes the various actions around the city.  “Events at schools across L.A. were part of a broad action led by the country’s two largest teachers unions.  The president of the National Education Assn., Lily Eskelsen García,” it reports, “took part before school at Grand View Boulevard Elementary in Mar Vista, where several hundred participants gathered.”               Trump’s inaugural address touched briefly on education.  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK reviews what he said and includes some reactions to it.  “‘”Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves,’ Trump said in his address from the U.S. Capitol to a packed crowd of onlookers. ‘But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. … An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.'”               Valerie Strauss’ column for The Washington Post briefly reacted to Trump’s inaugural comments regarding schools and education (see above).  She was rather aghast at his “deprived of all knowledge” remark. 
Big Changes on the Way at Dept. of Education
And finally, EDUCATION WEEK points out what could be a major cultural shift at the U.S. Dept. of Education (DoE) as Obama administration appointees are replaced by Pres. Trump’s nominees.  “Politicization of federal agencies tends to ramp up when Congress and the White House are controlled by the same party,” it explains, “and after a big, recent turnover in power, as is the case now, said Elizabeth Mann, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy, who has studied how federal-state relations shape K-12 policy.”  The item suggests how that culture might change if Betsy DeVos is ultimately confirmed (a pretty safe bet) to head the department.  
Have a great weekend and stay dry!
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


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