Ed News, Tuesday, January 24, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 “Education is the best weapon to fight against the adversity of life.” 
Betsy DeVos
Yep!  She’s even leading off this edition.  Are Democrats being a bit hypocritical regrading DeVos’ nomination to head the Dept. of Education (DoE)?  That’s the thesis of a piece by Valerie Strauss on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post titled “Democrats Reject Her, But They Helped Pave the Road to Education Nominee DeVos.”  “Democrats have in recent years sounded — and acted — a lot like Republicans in advancing corporate education reform,” she writes, “which seeks to operate public schools as if they were businesses, not civic institutions. . . .  By embracing many of the tenets of corporate reform — including the notion of ‘school choice’ and the targeting of teachers and their unions as being blind to the needs of children — they helped make DeVos’s education views, once seen as extreme, seem less so.  Historically, Democrats and Republicans have looked at public schools differently.”               Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate HELP Committee, announced a delay in the vote for Betsy DeVos from today until Jan. 31, at 10 a.m., according to POLITICO.  “The delay comes as Democrats have argued that they haven’t had enough time to examine DeVos’ complicated financial holdings,” it reports, “or ask her questions.  Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the committee, has said she’s concerned that the committee was moving too fast with DeVos’ nomination.”       DeVos completed her required financial disclosure form and ethics letter on Thursday of last week.  In the latter she indicated she would divest herself of any education assets that could create a conflict of interest if she’s confirmed to head the DoE.  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK has the details.  “DeVos and her husband, Dick DeVos, whose father co-founded Amway, are part of a family whose fortune is estimated by Forbes magazine at $5.2 billion,” it mentions.  “DeVos’s financial disclosure shows her investments to be vast and diverse, including many separate investment and venture funds.  Her ethics letter identifies the assets that apparently have stakes in education-related companies or might otherwise create conflicts of interest if she were confirmed.”               The Bald Piano Guy is BAAAACK.  This time he has a tune (1:49 minutes) about his “favorite” Sec. of Education nominee, Betsy DeVos.  His latest contribution is titled “It’s DeVossy!” and is sung to the tune of Cole Porter’s “It’s DeLovely.”  YouTube has the video. Be sure to check out the Bald Piano Guy’s skill at the keyboard and this time he throws in a short soft-shoe routine.  The guy can compose, sing, play the piano AND now, it’s revealed, DANCE.  YouTube has a version of Porter’s original song (3:06 minutes) which you can listen to by clicking here.               Michael Moore, progressive Democrat and filmmaker, attended the Womens’ March in Washington D.C., on Saturday and addressed the massive crowd.  He called specifically for a pervasive opposition to the confirmation of Betsy DeVos and detailed what steps each and every person needs to follow.  Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, describes Moore’s presentation and reviews why a growing list of groups is opposed to her becoming the next Sec. of Education.  Strauss even references an editorial in Thursday’s L.A. Times that called for the Senate to deny her the post.  The Post piece includes a short video (1:45 minutes) of Moore’s appearance.  “After a highly contentious Senate confirmation hearing [last] Tuesday,” Strauss explains, “during which she displayed a lack of understanding of basic education issues, DeVos is facing growing opposition to her nomination as President Trump’s education secretary — including from groups that largely support the same issues she does.”                Diane Ravitch, on her Diane Ravitch’s blog, composes an open letter to Senate HELP Chair Lamar Alexander about why she’s against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos and why Alexander’s committee should reject her.  “You are in the position of selecting a new Secretary of Education.  I watched the hearings,” she writes, “and it was evident to all but the most extreme partisans that Ms. DeVos is uninformed, unqualified, unprepared, and unfit for the responsibility of running this important agency.”  The rest of her letter lists the many reasons why Ravitch believes that DeVos should not be the next Sec. of Education.                Betsy DeVos might actually be the perfect person to hold down the job of Sec. of Education in the era of Donald Trump, “fake news” and “alternate facts.”  Former Trump campaign manager and current senior advisor Kellyanne Conway invented the term “alternate facts” during a contentious appearance on “Meet the Press” Sunday.  Jennifer Berkshire, aka the EduShyster, did some digging into DeVos’ background and record and creates a piece titled “Betsy DeVos’ Alternate Facts.”  Berkshire delves into a bizarre business franchise that DeVos has invested in called “Neurocore” that claims to be able to reprogram your brain through biofeedback.  DeVos has stated unequivocally that she will not divest herself of this investment if and when she’s confirmed to head the Dept. of Education.  As Trump might tweet “Strange, Sad!”               For more on the DeVos/Neurocore connection, the company’s radical Christian roots and the non-medical “doctor” who promotes the service, check out a story by Anita Senkowski, aka “Miss Fortune,” a Northern Michigan blogger, on her Glistening, Quivering Underbelly (that’s what it’s titled) website.                  Neurocore, the biofeedback company heavily bankrolled by DeVos, makes some rather astonishing claims about its ability to “fix” students with autism according to a “Digital Education” column in EDUCATION WEEK.  “On its website, Neurocore makes a number of claims about how its technology can help individuals, including children,” it points out, “with conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, anxiety, depression, memory loss, migraines, and sleeplessness. . . .   Neurocore also claims that users of its neurofeedback training improve their IQ by an average of 12 points.”        Want to read the U.S. Office of Government Ethics official report on Betsy DeVos?  If so, you’re in luck.  It’s appended to the end of an article about the report in The Washington Post.  It also mentions the delay in the Senate committee vote on her confirmation from today to next Tuesday.  “Though Democrats bristled at having just five minutes each to question DeVos — during which they used some of their time complaining about it and asking for another round of questioning — Alexander limited them to the single round,” it makes clear.  ” [DeVos’]  opponents say Alexander is rushing what should be a careful examination of someone they say is unqualified to lead the nation’s education department.  Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the committee, said the senator is concerned that members will not have a chance to have their ethics concerns and questions answered before the vote.”              Democrats on the Senate HELP Committee requested more hearings on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos but were turned down by committee chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) according to a story on the “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK.  [Yesterday] the Democrats wrote to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the committee chairman,” it reports, “saying they had unresolved concerns about DeVos’ financial investments and potential conflicts of interest, and that during the first hearing last week, they were not given enough time to ask DeVos questions.”  Another update to the story stated: “An aide to Alexander said there will be no additional hearing days for DeVos.”  The plot thickens!                 Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the HELP Committee, borrows Valerie Strauss’ blog in The Washington Post to offer a vigorous defense of Betsy DeVos and why he believes she should be confirmed by his panel and the full Senate to become the next Sec. of Education.  “Democrats desperately are searching for a valid reason to oppose Betsy DeVos for U.S. education secretary,” he commences, “because they don’t want Americans to know the real reason for their opposition.”                This next one is a little surprising, or maybe not.  Hundreds of students and alumni from Calvin College, the Christian school that is Betsy DeVos’s alma mater, have signed a letter OPPOSING her nomination.  Details of this extraordinary development appear in the school’s student newspaper Chimes.  “The letter was drafted and circulated by Sara Moslener, ’96, on Saturday, Jan. 21.  As of 11 p.m. Monday night,” it indicates, “it had over 700 signatures.  Moslener said that, beginning Tuesday morning, signatures would be open for another 24 hours.  She will then make the letter available for alumni to send to their senators.”  The story reprints a full copy of the letter at the end of the piece.  
The Trump Inauguration/Administration 
Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, is distressed by the Trump administration’s tiff over the size of the inaugural crowd and how it compares to Obama’s in 2009. Greene is worried what kind of message it will send to students about telling the truth and treatment of the press.  “As a teacher, I am left wondering exactly how I handle this with students.  In a journalism class, how do we interpret the new role of journalists, who must now be attacked and criticized by the President of the United States for daring to print facts.  Do we have to re-write the old rules of research, which generally told students that a .gov domain name was trustworthy and fair game for a research source.  What are we to make of a President who tells pointless bald-faced lies,” he ponders, “and uses the federal government to spread them, and then to attack and further damage the conduit of free press through which we are supposed to get our information? How do we navigate a world like this, and how do we teach our students to do so?”                 Friday’s “Ed News” highlighted Pres. Trump’s brief remarks about education in his inaugural address.  Steven Singer, aka the author of the GADFLYONTHEWALL blog, zeroes in on the comment about “an education system flush with cash.”  Singer is skeptical of that phrase and provides both words and pictures to refute it including a short reference to the LAUSD.  “Donald Trump lies,” he begins curtly.  “If you haven’t learned that yet, America, you’ve got four more cringe-inducing years to do so.  Even in his inaugural address, he couldn’t help but let loose a whooper about US public schools.”                Cheryl Gibbs Binkley, a member of the BATs (Badass Teachers Association), couldn’t countenance the comments Pres. Trump made in his speech on Friday (see above).  She wants everyone to remember the schools they attended and teachers they had and remember if they were all “flush with cash.”              Mitchell Robinson gets a little graphic in his reaction to Trump’s comments about education.  His commentary in the eclecta blog is colorfully titled “Flush This, Mr. President” and he leads off with quite a photo.  He believes Trump’s characterization of our education system is “mean-spirited” and “belittling.”  “These comments are ignorant, hurtful, and divisive,” he concludes testily.  “The President had a chance to use his inaugural address to unite a fractured nation and appeal to our better selves, but chose to insult and disparage a profession of which he knows nothing.  It’s not our education system that is flush with cash, yet knows nothing.  It’s you, Mr. President.”         Peter Dreier, professor of Politics and Chair of the Urban and Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College has two commentaries about the Trump inauguration.  The first, from THE HUFFINGTON POST, complains about the singing of America the Beautiful.” Dreier analyzes the words of the song and predicts that the author, Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929), would roll over in her grave if she knew it was performed at Trump’s ceremony because of its emphasis on social justice and condemnation of overseas adventures and corporate greed.  The second, from the same publication, compares the words of Trump’s speech to what fascists might have voiced in the 1920s and 30s.  “I have watched, listened to, and read many commentaries on the inaugural address,” he points out, “but so far none of the mainstream pundits have used the one word that best describes Donald Trump: fascist.”             The BATs issue a “Teacher-Activist Calendar” of 100 things you can do in the first 100 days of the Trump administration.  “Many of these items take only a few minutes.  Some take a bit more, use the ideas either as an idea bank,” they suggest, “or move them around to suit your schedule.  Any time you schedule an activist date, such as a meeting or call, move that day’s activist suggestion.  Even if you miss a day or week, come back and pick something from the list.  Share with Friends!  Use Liberally!” EDUCATION WEEK outlines “6 Key Federal Policy Areas to Watch Under Trump.”  “President Donald Trump said less about education on the campaign trail than almost any major-party nominee in recent history,” it begins, “except for a high-profile proposal on single issue: school vouchers.  But his ascendance to the White House could upend K-12 education in ways that are felt from the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington to urban schools that serve big numbers of immigrant students.”  Here are 2 items from the list: “School Choice” and “Immigration.”                One of the first actions of the Trump administration, taken Friday evening, is to delay the implementation of Obama’s ESSA regulations regarding states’ developing new accountability systems.  The “K-12 Politics” column for ED WEEK describes the action announced.  “The delay in the accountability regulations, which would seem to last until late March,” it explains, “could throw a monkey wrench into states’ efforts to submit their accountability plans by April 3, the first of two deadlines set by the administration.  The regulations outline the process for submitting plans, and flesh out details that aren’t included in the law.”
Ed Issues Facing State Legislatures
Legislatures will be meeting in all 50 states this year.  What types of issues will they face regarding education?  Chief among them are school funding and how to implement the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act).  EDUCATION WEEK discusses a number of topics to be dealt with in specific states.  California gets a very brief mention related to new school accountability systems as the ESSA goes into effect replacing NCLB.  “Skyrocketing K-12 education costs continue to dominate states’ budget debates,” it mentions, “and conservative lawmakers in many states have long been itching to make dramatic changes to how much money they provide to school districts and how districts spend that money.”               Two Republicans in the Arizona State House of Representatives have introduced a bill that would prohibit the teaching of “social justice.”  Yes, you read that correctly.  I hope this isn’t another trend of the Trump era.  The sorry details are briefly provided by Gene V. Glass, lecturer in the College of Education at San Jose State University and emeritus Regents’ Professor at Arizona State University, on his Education in Two Worlds blog.  “It’s hard to see such bills as anything other than raw meat thrown to the base; but in the case of Arizona,” he complains, “stupider things than passing such bills have happened.”
A Peek Inside the Dept. of Education
With the confirmation process still playing out for Betsy DeVos to become the next Sec. of Education, the importance of what the agency does sometimes gets lost when the focus is often solely on the personalities that lead it.  THE HECHINGER REPORT has an interesting item that lifts the veil, somewhat, on how the DoE works.  It takes you behind the scenes for a peek at the department’s “rulemaking process.”  First, the article defines exactly what that is and proceeds to detail how it all works.  If you’ve ever been inquisitive about how federal agencies go about their business, this article will start to fulfill your curiosity.  “Although the rulemaking process is rarely front-and-center in the eye of the general public,” the item indicates, “it is a process that gives the executive branch substantial power.  For this reason, the process has been quite controversial, and the so-called ‘iron triangle’ of legislators, interest groups, and agency personnel stay well-versed in the process so they can exert their influence when it touches their interests.”
Schools of Opportunity
And finally, Kevin Welner identifies 4 more schools that have been selected as winners of the prestigious Schools of Opportunity award.  This is the eight in his series and he describes each of the 4 again on Valerie Strauss’ blog for The Washington Post.  12 campuses were awarded gold medals and these 4 are the silver medal winners.  They were picked for having a broad and enriched curriculum.  They are located in Boston, East Rockaway, N.Y., Athens, Georgia and Stillman Valley, Illinois and Welner includes a brief description of each campus and why they won.  “The four Silver Schools of Opportunity all are exemplars,” he points out, “illustrating different ways that universally engaging curriculum can be provided, closing opportunity gaps.”
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s