Ed News, Tuesday, January 31, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

  “Learning is easy; misunderstanding makes it complex!” 

― Ernest Agyemang Yeboah

BREAKING NEWS:  DeVos Approved by Senate Committee
It took two 12-11 straight party line votes this morning but the Senate HELP Committee approved Betsy DeVos’s nomination to head the Dept. of Education.  Her selection now goes before the full Senate for a final up or down vote.  CNN has the latest details along with a new controversy over possibly plagiarized answers she provided to a series of questions by ranking member Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).  “Despite clearing a key procedural hurdle,” it explains, “DeVos’ eventual confirmation by the full Senate remained an open question as members of her own party told CNN they wouldn’t commit to voting for her.  Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she had been inundated with calls from Alaskans raising concerns about DeVos, but said she would support her in the committee vote out of deference to the president.”  The article includes a short video (1:46 minutes) about this latest controversy.               The NPE (Network for Public Education) quickly announced it would continue the fight to defeat DeVos on the Senate floor.  You can read their Press Release, issued today, about their future plans by clicking here.  “Although disappointed by the decision of the HELP committee to send the vote on Betsy DeVos to the Senate floor,” it begins, “The Network for Public Education (NPE) was pleased by the strong opposition to DeVos.  All Democrats voted against DeVos.  Senators Collins of Maine and Murkowski of Alaska while voting to move her nomination forward, would not commit to voting for her when the vote comes to the full Senate.”
Betsy DeVos
Diane Ravitch’s blog hosts another offering from SomeDam Poet.  This time he/she comments on the prediction by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) that no Democrats would vote to confirm DeVos to head the Dept. of Education (see Friday’s edition of the “Ed News”).  The verse is titled “No Democrat Will Vote” and includes these lines:

No Democrat would vote
For closing public schools
No Democrat would vote
For Arne Duncan rules

New York Times op-ed columnist Gail Collins has a piece urging the rejection of DeVos to become the next Sec. of Education.  It’s titled “The Trump War on Public Education.” “DeVos is stupendously rich, and a longtime crusader for charters, vouchers and using federal funds for religious education,” Collins writes.  “She was once the Michigan Republican state chairwoman, a fact completely unconnected to the $200 million or so her family has donated to the party.  She’s used all that clout to make Michigan a model of how not to improve public education.”               Mercedes Schneider, author, teacher and creator of her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, was born and raised in Louisiana.  She’s been receiving a number of flyers in the mail promoting charters, vouchers and school “choice” from an organization called the Alliance for School Choice (AFSC).  Guess who is chair of the AFSC?  If you guessed “Betsy DeVos,” YOU ARE RIGHT!  “If DeVos becomes US secretary of education, based on her established affinity for sending public money to private schools via vouchers coupled with Trump’s newfound love of vouchers,” she predicts, “states will surely be lured into creating and expanding voucher programs– which could well mean state leaders’, uh, fixing those broken state constitutions to guarantee a ready public education fund stream into private school coffers.”  In conclusion, Schneider suggests that if DeVos does become the head the of the Dept. of Education her title should be changed to “US Secretary of Private School Funding.”               Betsy DeVos is a strong proponent of school “choice.”  How effective has that program been over the many years it has existed?  Good question.  Answer: ” Betsy DeVos’ Big Education Idea Doesn’t Work” is the title of a piece from SLATE.  “Although DeVos’ exhortations on behalf of parental school choice are familiar to anyone who follows education reform,” the reporter notes, “today she is wildly out of touch with a large part of the movement she purports to represent. The nearly 30-year history of school vouchers and charters in America has shown that parental choice—in the absence of government intervention—will not improve the quality of education in America and could inflict significant damage on the poorest communities.  Indeed, even many of the staunchest early supporters of unchecked parental choice have moderated that stance over the past 15 years. By all appearances, DeVos hasn’t faced a similar moment of reckoning.”               One of the more problematic issues DeVos faced during her Jan. 17th confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee was a troubling lack of knowledge and understanding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  In an attempt to clarify her testimony on that topic, DeVos sent a letter to committee member Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, reviews DeVos’ distressing responses regarding IDEA and discusses the contents of the letter she sent.  “DeVos wrote a letter to Isakson trying to explain her position on IDEA,” it explains.  “The letter raises new questions about her priorities. . . .  She said she wants to provide students with disabilities more educational opportunities — and praised a voucher program that helps students with disabilities attend private school funded with taxpayer dollars.”  Apparently, DeVos’ answer to every education issue  and question is CHOICE and VOUCHERS!  [Ed. note: Someone needs to send her the item above from SLATE.]  Strauss includes a copy of the letter DeVos sent to Sen. Isakson at the end of her column.                Hundreds of California teachers protested the nomination of Betsy DeVos on Saturday in downtown L.A.  The action was organized by the California Teachers Association according to a short item in Saturday’s L.A. Times.  “DeVos, a Republican fundraiser from Michigan, has supported the growth of for-profit charter schools and the use of public money to subsidize tuition at private schools.  Although Trump said little about education on the campaign trail,” it reminds readers, “he did at one point suggest that legislation to create a major school voucher program would be one of his priorities for his first 100 days.”  The Times piece includes a short video (2:58 minutes) with highlights of CTA Pres. Eric Heins’ remarks at the rally.               Do Democrats on the Senate HELP Committee or in the full Senate have any chance of blocking DeVos’ nomination? With the Republicans holding a slim majority (12-11 on the committee and 52-46 plus 2 Independents who vote with the Democrats in the full Senate) the answer is basically “no.” They will have to get at least one Republican on the committee or 3 GOP members in the full body to oppose her or the selection will be approved.  So far, there have been NO signs that any Republican Senators plan to break ranks with their party on her choice to become the Sec. of Education.  Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, reviews the Democrats’ slim prospects of defeating DeVos.  Not that there hasn’t been a strong backlash to her nomination.  “Senate offices have been swamped with calls, emails and letters; the National Education Association said more than a million emails opposing DeVos went to senators through a recent campaign, Strauss indicates.  “There are petitions and there have been protests, including Sunday on Capitol Hill.  Hundreds of alumni and students from her alma mater, Calvin College, wrote a letter to legislators saying she is unqualified to be education secretary. . . . But Democratic and Republican sources in the Senate, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of negotiations about the vote, say that DeVos is expected to win approval by the education committee when it votes [today], and that she will prevail on the floor of the Senate whenever that vote happens.”               Here’s the “Ed News” picture of the day:
Inline image 1

Sen Tim Kaine (D-VA) is a member of the Senate HELP Committee that voted on Betsy DeVos’ confirmation this morning.  Prior to that action he wrote a letter to people who contacted him about the DeVos nomination.  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints that letter with the reasons why Sen. Kaine is opposing her selection.  “As a member of the HELP Committee, I asked Mrs. DeVos questions regarding her education, experience, and policy positions.  While I appreciate Mrs. DeVos’s willingness to serve,” he reveals, “I have decided to oppose her nomination.  Mrs. DeVos failed to show that she was a strong advocate for public schools, accountability, and civil rights. Commitment to these principles is essential to serving as Secretary of Education and carrying out the duties of this position in a manner that will benefit all of our nation’s students.”               The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK discusses the probability of DeVos being confirmed by the Senate HELP Committee and the full chamber.  For a hint of what they are predicting just look at the title: “Here’s Why Betsy DeVos Will Likely Be Confirmed, Despite Pushback.”  The silver lining for Democrats: DeVos as education secretary may not be all bad for her opponents.  She has become so controversial,” the item concludes, “that Democrats are now fundraising off of her nomination.  In an email circulated this weekend, the re-election campaign of Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin—a state Trump unexpectedly won—asked for contributions of $5 or $10 to ‘strengthen opposition to [DeVos’] confirmation.’  Baldwin is expected to face a tough re-election bid in 2018.”               How broad and deep is the opposition to DeVos?  Another article from the same column in ED WEEK claims that “Nearly 250 Education-Related Groups Urge Senators to Reject Betsy DeVos.”  The story includes a letter sent to senators urging them to deny her confirmation.  It lists all the groups, national, state and local, that support that position and signed the letter.  “On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the 247 organizations listed below,” the letter begins, “we urge you to oppose the confirmation of Betsy DeVos to be the next U.S. Secretary of Education.  All parents and students in this country – a majority of whom are of color or are low-income – want the best education, support and dignity for their own children.  We stand with them and cannot support a nominee who has demonstrated that she seeks to undermine bedrock American principles of equal opportunity, nondiscrimination and public education itself.”               Sen Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate HELP Committee, submitted a list of 139 follow-up questions to Betsy DeVos that Murray believes were not addressed by the nominee during the formal hearing held by the committee on Jan. 17.  For her column in The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss has 2 separate articles relating to DeVos’ responses to the queries.  The first item is an overview of some of the answers that DeVos provides and is titled “Democrats: DeVos Didn’t Provide ‘Anywhere Close to Satisfaction’ on Our Questions.”  “Murray’s questions covered a wide range of education issues,” Strauss writes in that one, “from civil rights to for-profit colleges to virtual schools and enforcement of the Every Student Success Act — the successor law to No Child Left Behind.  She was also asked questions about her finances.  DeVos and her family are large donors to the Republican Party, including to five members of the committee that is voting on her nomination.”  The second item reprints the questions submitted by Murray and includes DeVos’ answers.  

The Teaching Profession
Teachers face their students every day and bad news can intrude on that relationship all too often.  How should teaches handle those stories and events that are on pupils’ minds and interfere with lesson plans?  A commentary on the “Teacher Leader Voices” column for EDUCATION WEEK is aptly titled “6 Things Teachers Can Do When Bad News Strikes.” The author is Angie Miller, the 2011 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, a writer and librarian.  “Teachers are understandably uncomfortable,” she relates, “bringing the outside world into their classrooms for many reasons: What if something controversial comes up and parents complain?  How will I ever get through my content?  How do I facilitate an honest conversation without my own bias coming through?  Can I allow students the space to process events without it consuming our day?  Though there is risk involved when talking about news or controversy, there are ways to integrate important current events in the classroom responsibly.”  Here are 2 of her 6 suggestions: “Connect current events to the curriculum” and “-Offer students outlets for expressing worries or concerns.”  Miller explains each and offers specific ways to implement them.             For a concrete example of the above item check out “How to Talk About Sexism in the Classroom” in the “Teaching for the Whole Story” commentary also in ED WEEK.  It’s written by a middle school language arts teacher and instructional-support coach who explains several situations that arose in her class (keep in mind she works with middle school students) related to that loaded topic and how she dealt with them.  In addition, she provides a number of suggestions and ideas offered by other teachers for handling the subject.  “Recently, I found myself in unfamiliar territory as a teacher,” she starts off.  “This was sparked when I found myself in an argument with some students during an unplanned whole class discussion.  Though I was out of my comfort zone, the conversation seemed deeply important—to me and the students.  Eager to make the most of the learning opportunity, that evening I turned to my community on Facebook of all places.  What followed was more learning and still more questions!  As I plan my next steps, I want to share the conversation here.”
BATs Meets With Representatives of Two Democratic Senators
Several members of the BATs (Badass Teachers Association) met with education staff for Democratic Senators Bernie Sanders (VT) and Maggie Hassan (NH) to discuss pressing issues related to education including special ed, ESSA and Betsy DeVos among others .  Both Sanders and Hassan are members of the Senate HELP Committee which voted on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos earlier today.  You can read  a summary of the meetings with both senators’ representatives by clicking here.
More Breaking News: Trump Names His Supreme Court Choice
Late this afternoon, Pres. Trump announced his choice for the Supreme Court.  He picked Neil Gorsuch who is currently serving on the federal 10th  Circuit Court of Appeals based in Denver.  An article posted on the L.A. Times website this evening has the details of the selection (look for it in the print edition tomorrow).  “Gorsuch is not likely to change the previous balance of the court.  But his nomination does set the stage for a bruising partisan fight,” it reports, “over a man who could help determine U.S. law on gun rights, immigration, police use of force and transgender rights.”  This item includes a video (12:42 minutes) of Trump’s announcement and Judge Gorsuch’s comments.  [Ed. note: For a preview of Gorsuch’s views regarding education issues, please see the article from ED WEEK in the section directly below.]
Trump and Education
Are rural people who voted for Trump going to eventually regret their decision?  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, believes so, especially when it comes to education policies.  He provides some statistics regarding rural schools and the students who attend them and some of the problems and issues they face.  “What’s sadly ironic,” Bryant points out, “is that these rural communities that will perhaps be most devastated by the school choice plan DeVos and Trump are about to foist on the nation are the very communities that voted overwhelmingly Trump into office.”               Jake Miller, a 7th grade U.S. History teacher in Pennsylvania, analyzes the key phrases regarding education from Pres. Trump’s inaugural address.  Miller concedes there are things that can be done to improve our traditional public school system but Trump, on the campaign trail or in his inaugural speech, hasn’t mentioned any of them.  In fact, Trump’s view of our schools, as is his vision of the rest of the country, is rather dim and foreboding.  Miller’s commentary appears on THE EDUCATOR’S ROOM website.               Pres. Trump is expected to announce his pick today to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia in Feb of 2016.  The author of the “School Law” column for EDUCATION WEEK previews some of the names on Trump’s short list and how they’ve ruled on previous education cases.  He identifies 3 front runners for the seat and adds 2 more names to the list.  Profiles of earlier decisions by the top 3 contenders are provided.  
“Failing” Schools, Really?
Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, tackles head-on that favorite shibboleth of the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies–the idea that our traditional public schools are “failing.”   “So why do we believe that American public schools are doing such a terrible job?  Because far right policymakers have convinced us all that it’s true.  It’s not.  Let me repeat that in no uncertain terms – America’s public schools are NOT failing.  They are among the best in the world.  Really!”  Before you think Singer needs to be medicated or committed to a mental institution, hear him out.  He sets out a very detailed and convincing case as to why labeling our schools as “failing” is doing a serious disservice to that system.  Just because certain groups and organization repeat over and over and over that schools are “failing” doesn’t make it true.  This is a very significant piece and should be required reading by everyone on BOTH sides of the education debate.  If you don’t read anything else related to education issues in the next week or so, read this one.  
Charter Schools, Choice & Vouchers
A KIPP charter school in Dallas earned an “F” on the state’s questionable A-F report card for schools.  Gary Rubinstein, on his Gary Rubinstein’s blog, points out how the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies love to tout charter schools and promote A-F rating systems for schools.  So what does it all mean when one of those charters earns an “F?”  Rubinstein tries to sort it out for you.  “I’ve argued in other blog posts that these types of A-F report cards are not really statistically valid and have been used to unfairly label a school as ‘failing.’  I still feel this way.  But I report things like this because,” he concludes,  “I’m so curious how ‘reformers’ respond when they learn that they have to choose between their prized charter chain or their prized weapon for shutting down schools.  Generally, though, they avoid any discussion about dilemmas like this.”               Want a peak behind the curtain of some of those questionably run and managed charter schools?  Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a story about a federal raid on the Celerity Educational Group’s headquarters in Los Angeles last week.  An item appears on the L.A. Times website early this morning (it hasn’t shown up in the print edition of the Times as of the deadline for this “Ed News”) that reveals that many of the Celerity schools lack proper supplies, books and other basic materials but seem to have plenty of funds for lavish parties and other non-classroom expenses.  That information was provided by several former employees of the charter network.  “Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed, are free from many of the regulations that dictate day-to-day life in traditional public schools.  Because of this,” the Times piece mentions, “their supporters often say that they are able to put more money into classrooms and have greater control over how it is spent.  But The Times spoke with nine former teachers and administrators in the charter network who said they had long harbored concerns about Celerity’s use of taxpayer dollars and felt that students were being shortchanged.”  Thanks to “Ed News” reader Don Hagen for sending this along.               A new study out of Indiana University supports the long argued idea that voucher programs that use taxpayer money for private schools have a serious tendency to discriminate based on several different factors.  The report is featured on the School Matters blog.  “The finding is especially timely,” it mentions, “as President Donald Trump and his designee to serve as secretary of education, Michigan school-choice activist Betsy DeVos, have indicated they will use federal clout and money to push states to expand voucher programs.”  You can read the short Abstract about the report by clicking here.  The full paper, titled “Dollars to Discriminate: The (Un)Intended Consequences of School Vouchers,” requires a paid subscription.               The corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies, like Betsy DeVos, love to promote school choice as the panacea for everything that ails the traditional public school system.  How has this idea fared in other countries around the world that have tried it?   Has anyone ever suggested we look at what “choice” has accomplished in those nations?  What one finds is not very encouraging and therein lies a lesson for the U.S.  A thought-provoking article from US News & World Report, authored by Henry Levin, Professor of Economics and Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, reports on the impact of school choice in Chile, Sweden, England and the Netherlands.  It does not paint a very reassuring picture.  “Some have argued that competitive incentives induced by school choice,” Levin suggests, “will lead to better educational outcomes.  However, there is little evidence to support this claim. . . .  Where school choice has shown powerful effects around the world is the systematic separation of students by ethnicity, social class and religion.”  
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


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