Ed News, Friday, February 3, 2017


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 “The walls of the school can’t stop the education.”

― Tanmaya Guru

Betsy DeVos
The “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK reviews  the Senate vote on Tuesday that sent DeVos’ nomination to the Senate floor and offers a preview of what’s to come. “Compared to past nominees, DeVos has proven to be a controversial one.  Democrats, the two national teachers’ unions, and other left-leaning interest groups had kept up a steady drumbeat against DeVos before her Jan. 17 confirmation hearing.  But opposition to DeVos intensified after that hearing,” it mentions, “in which DeVos said she may have been confused about whether there was a federal law governing students in special education. Her remarks about guns in school and her exchange with Franken about measuring proficiency versus growth also drew criticism. And she denied any role in a family foundation that donated to several organizations senators found suspect, despite a paper trail indicating the contrary.”               The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Committee dropped the niceties and went “to war” over the vote on DeVos.  So reports Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post.  Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA) removed the gloves as the panel’s session commenced.  “Ahead of the vote on DeVos, the most controversial education secretary nominee since the Education Department was created in 1979, Alexander and Murray each gave opening remarks,” Strauss writes, “that made clear the era of bipartisanship on the panel is over — at least for now and possibly for some time.”               DeVos was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on a strict 12-11 party-line vote.  Her nomination now goes to the full Senate for an “ay” or “nay” decision.  The Senate has 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and 2 Independents who caucus with the Dems.  If all Democrats vote against her selection, as is expected, at least 3 Republicans will have to join them in order to send her down to defeat.  In case of a 50-50 tie, Vice Pres. Mike Pence, acting in his roll as President of the Senate, gets to break the tie.  2 GOP Senators announced on Wednesday that they plan to vote against DeVos.  A fascinating article in POLITICO details the ins and outs of the confirmation process and DeVos’ in particular.  If you have any interest in the possibility of DeVos becoming the next Sec. of Education you have to read this and stay tuned for any future developments.  “Both Republican and Democratic senators,” the story concludes, “say they’ve been flooded with thousands of phone calls, emails and letters related to DeVos’ nomination — mostly in opposition.”  The piece includes a very brief video (37 seconds) with comments from the 2 GOP Senators who are opposing her.               Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post explores why Betsy DeVos is such a divisive figure as she attempts to become the next leader of the Dept. of Education (DoE).  Strauss provides an interesting list of the full Senate votes for all the previous Sec. of Education nominees.  All but one were nearly unanimous.  So what is different in DeVos’ case? “Certainly DeVos’s nomination has come at a time of deep divisions in the country,” Strauss suggests, “underscored by Trump’s election and the protests that have erupted over his policies in the short time he has been commander in chief.  But the opposition to DeVos is less about politics and more about her vision for the future of American education.”              As Betsy DeVos’ final confirmation vote approaches in the Senate [Ed. note: I’m privy to some inside Senate information as my brother is on the staff of one of the Democratic U.S. Senators.  He reports the final vote on the DeVos confirmation will take place on Monday or Tuesday–remember you read that here first] there is the possibility that she might win the battle after all.  If that’s the case (dread the thought) what damage might she do as part of the Trump/Pence team?  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK attempts to answer that question in a story titled “What Could Betsy DeVos Really Get Done as Education Secretary?”  The author uses a Q & A format to answer that important query.  Here are two of the questions she addresses: Could DeVos privatize public education?” and   Could DeVos get rid of the Common Core State Standards or tell states which tests to use?  Read the article to get answers to those and several other questions.                You may want to sit down before reading this next item.  Billionaire LA. philanthropist and ardent charter proponent Eli Broad, who has talked about trying to include up to 50% of LAUSD students in charters, came out with a blistering rebuke of Betsy DeVos’ qualifications to become the next Sec. of Education.  Yesterday’s L.A. Times details this unexpected turn of events and the reasons why Broad finds her “unprepared and unqualified.”  “Broad sent a letter to U.S. senators Wednesday, asking them to vote against President Trump’s nominee. . . .  Broad has contributed heavily through a political action committee to local school board candidates,” it explains, “who support charter schools, and his philanthropic group is backing an effort to increase their growth in Los Angeles, which already has more such schools than any other city in the U.S.   But despite their agreement on charter schools, Broad thinks DeVos’ views are too extreme.”               L.A. based billionaire Eli Broad may be a local figure but his influence is felt nationwide argues Valerie Strauss in her blog for The Washington Post.  “This is more than just one billionaire school activist who believes in school choice going against another billionaire school activist who believes in school choice.  It reveals a deep split in the movement to improve public education with corporate-style changes that seek to run schools like businesses and want to greatly expand alternatives to traditional public schools. . . .  His opposition underscores what has been obvious for some time: that the opposition to DeVos goes far beyond the teachers unions,” she maintains, “which have funded some of the campaign against her. Teachers, parents, students and other DeVos critics have staged protests, signed petitions and besieged the offices of U.S. senators with visits, phone calls and messages urging them to oppose her.”            Diane Ravitch appears on the REAL news network to talk about the latest developments regarding the Betsy DeVos confirmation.  You can view the video (13:54 minutes) by clicking here.               Both Republican senators from North Carolina, Richard Burris and Thom Tillis, have been inundated with phone calls demanding they vote both for and against Betsy DeVos’ confirmation.  Despite the response from constituents, both are expected to support her when the full Senate takes its final vote.  The Charlotte News & Observer describes the extensive pro- and anti-DeVos campaigns in the Tar Heel State.  “Other Republican lawmakers experienced heavy call volumes,”  it spells out.  “Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, in a tweet, advised his constituents to email him instead of calling his office.  The public feedback has been so intense some North Carolinians say they ran into full voicemail boxes or their messages went unreturned.”               Do phone calls, emails, tweets, letters and personal contacts have any effect on government representatives?  Good question.  A story in THE Nation tells the tale of how large numbers of public activists in Alaska got Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to buck her party, big time, and come out against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos.  “Murkowski, who had voted as a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee member to advance the DeVos nomination, then stunned the Senate by announcing that she would vote ‘no’ when the full Senate considers Trump’s choice.  The Murkowski switch,” it discloses, “is a testament to the power of the grassroots resistance to Trump and to his cabinet picks.”  So, yes, those calls, emails, tweets, etc., do make a difference.  Keep that in mind the next time you’re bothered by something one of your representatives did or said.  They do listen.               Could Betsy DeVos’ religious beliefs and views about science influence her ideas on teaching and curriculum if she become the head of the DoE?  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, explores those thoughts.  “Recent revelations in major news outlets should raise alarms about DeVos’s views on science and how they may influence her decision-making on national education policy.  In her charitable giving, her financial investments, and the rhetoric she uses to express her intentions as secretary,” he worries, “DeVos has exhibited a propensity to favor beliefs ground in quack science over the real thing.”               THE HUFFINGTON POST has a list of the 23 Republican senators (out of 52) who received direct campaign contributions and how much they got from Betsy DeVos and her family.  Those very same senators will be voting on the DeVos confirmation very soon.  Does that raise eyebrows with you?  “The nomination of billionaire heiress Betsy DeVos to head the Department of Education is one vote shy of failing in the Republican-controlled Senate. One thing that could come to her aid,” the story begins, “is that she and the entire DeVos family are massive Republican Party donors who helped fund the election of the remaining senators who will decide her fate.”               Steven Singer is pretty disgusted by the prospect of Betsy DeVos becoming Sec. of Education.  Writing on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, he believes Republicans have not only put up someone who is “unprepared and unqualified” (as Eli Broad characterized her) but they have put forward a person who is simply the “highest bidder” for the job (see item above).  “It is next to impossible to claim that her nomination is moving forward based on merit,” he declares unhappily.  “Our children will be left vulnerable to the whims of a woman who has no idea what she’s doing and has demonstrated a desire to destroy their schools.  If Republicans (and Democrats) have any spine at all, the time has come to show it.  Or else just take your dirty money and shut up.”               If Betsy DeVos is confirmed to become the new Sec. of Education, how might her policies protect LGBTQ students?  Sarah Kate Ellis, the author of a commentary for EDUCATION WEEK, is the president and CEO of GLAAD, a private media monitoring organization funded by LGBTQ people in the media. She has her concerns about DeVos based on the billionaire philanthropist’s religious beliefs and charitable donations.  “In the past, DeVos has stood with those who hurt LGBTQ students and families.  Millions of fair-minded Americans and education advocates are watching now to see if she’ll truly support equality for every student.  I have my doubts,” Ellis concludes, “but I hope she surprises us all.”               What fundamental tenets should presidents seek in selecting candidates to become secretaries of education?  Kevin Kumashiro recently stepped down as dean of the School of Education at the University of San Francisco and is the founder of Education Deans for Justice and Equity.  He was not real happy with Pres. Obama’s selection of Arne Duncan to head the DoE and we all know how that turned out.  Kumashiro, is equally disturbed by Pres. Trump’s pick of Betsy DeVos to head the same department.  In an essay for ED WEEK titled “How to Pick a Better Ed. Secretary Than Betsy DeVos,” he gladly offers 4 guiding principles for choosing better candidates to fill the position.  Here’ one example: “Third, develop and implement policies, laws, and reform initiatives by building on a democratic vision for public education and sound educational research.”               Despite what DeVos supporters would have you believe, opposition to her nomination is not exclusively the work of the big national teachers unions.  Challengers who want to see her confirmation derailed are both broad and deep as reported by Valerie Strauss for The Washington Post who notes that even the magazine “Teen Vogue” has run articles against DeVos.  “Whatever you think of the NEA and the AFT,” she writes, “the ‘it’s the unions’ mantra of DeVos supporters suggests that they can’t fathom that any American not carrying the teachers unions’ water could have personal, legitimate reasons to oppose her.”               
Tuesday’s “Ed News” highlighted an article on the L.A. Times website about a group of former educators from the Celerity Educational Group (LAUSD) complaining about a lack of resources for their classrooms.  It appears on the front page of Wednesday’s Times.  If you missed it the first time, you can read it by clicking here.               The story about Celerity Educational Group shortchanging students on essential materials and supplies (see item above) prompted a single letter that appears in today’s paper.  The author concludes her reply with this: “The more charter schools open, the less money your local public school has.  And the public schools have to take every kid.  I trust a public school to adhere to the law.  Who knows what some charter school will do?               Steve Lopez, in his Wednesday column in the Times has two bones to pick about recent education issues.  The first one has to do with the raid on the local headquarters of the Celerity Educational Group charter network (see first item in this section) and the large sums of money paid to the Celerity CEO and spent on lavish parties and other non-classroom expenses while students went without paper, pencils, books and other essential items.  His second bête noire has to do with some outrageous mailers aimed at defeating LAUSD board Pres. Steve Zimmer.  [Ed. note: I live in Zimmer’s 4th District, which extends from the Westside to the West San Fernando Valley, and I, too, received a number of brochures in the mail this week with some serious and totally unsubstantiated charges leveled against the incumbent.]  Lopez refers to this behavior as “gutter politics.”   “My advice is the same as it has always been.  This election season, when mailers arrive in your mailbox,” he suggests, “shred them, burn them, throw the ashes in the street and run over them with your car.  Twice.  You’ll be much better informed come election day.”               The Chief Financial Officer of the LAUSD, Megan Reilly, is leaving her post to take a similar position, at a higher salary, with the Santa Clara County Office of Education.  Reilly, who began working for the LAUSD in 2007 will assume her new post in April according to a story in Wednesday’s Times.  “In going to Santa Clara,” it points out, “she will oversee a sizable organization with an annual budget of $348 million, but it pales next to L.A. Unified, whose general fund is $7.6 billion.”           The 2015-16 school year was the first in which all LAUSD students needed to successfully complete a full complement of college-prep classes in order to graduate.  Midway through the year the district realized that a good number of high school seniors would not reach that goal and quickly offered a series of watered-down make-up and online classes in order to boost the number of students who would graduate.  All of this was highlighted, at the time, by the “Ed News.”  An editorial in Wednesday’s L.A. Times takes the district to task for providing poorly designed  credit-recovery courses that left students with little knowledge of the subject matter.  In addition, the piece suggests the district needs to, once again, makes graduation truly “meaningful.”  “L.A. Unified officials say a new graduation-tracking system will help avoid the emergency situation that confronted schools last year.  They also are trying to make the online courses more rigorous,” the editorial explains, “by having teachers take a more active role in the process, integrating their instruction with the computer lessons.  The district wants to leave it to teachers to determine how well students have learned the online coursework, rather than having the digital tests decide.”   The LAUSD is critical of the mounting costs it’s paying to an independent monitor it hired to watch over the district’s programs for disabled students.  If this sounds a bit complicated, join the club.  A story in yesterday Times tries to sort it all out for you.  “Programs for the disabled in the nation’s second-largest school system fell under federally authorized supervision, called a consent decree, in the wake of a 1993 lawsuit that contended the district ignored the educational needs of Chanda Smith and many other disabled students.  In the more than 20 years since, the district has tried to satisfy a federal judge and advocates for the disabled,” it points out.  “An independent monitor joined the mix in 2003, when the two sides agreed on specific goals that, if met, would free the district of supervision some officials consider costly and obtrusive.”
Trump Names His Supreme Court Choice
As highlighted in Tuesday’s “Ed News,” Pres. Trump selected Neil Gorsuch, of the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, as his nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.  The “School Law” column in EDUCATION WEEK profiles the selection and discusses some of the education cases he’s been part of.  “When it comes to education,” it relates, “Gorsuch has written or joined opinions in cases involving school discipline, education finance, special education, and religion in the public square, among others.”  The author of the column proceeds to scrutinize some of Gorsuch’s key education rulings.
Charter Schools & Vouchers
A research analyst at Stanford University makes the argument that if proponents want to protect public education they must make a stand against vouchers.  Dr. Frank Adamson’s commentary appears on the UNITE FOR QUALITY EDUCATION website.  “The assumed election of Donald Trump and his nomination of Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education have placed the American system of public education under threat,” he worries.  “Trump and DeVos will likely propose a national voucher scheme that would privatize education and likely lead to lower quality, inequitable, and re-segregated education.  Evidence from both the U.S. and other countries in a new book, ‘Global Education Reform,’ demonstrates that voucher policies increase educational inequality and diminish democratic participation in education. Americans must preserve public education, a fundamental pillar of our society.”  Adamson offers 4 reasons why the promotion of vouchers is so dangerous to the traditional public school system.              Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and large areas of the Gulf Coast in Aug., 2005.  In its aftermath the public school system in the Queen City was remake into an almost all charter district.  How has that experiment gone?  Over the past couple of years, the “Ed News” has highlighted a number of articles attempting to answer that critical question.  An intriguing article on THE LENS website features a new study that finds that more money is now spent on administration and less on teaching and learning since the charter transformation.  The report was produced by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans and was released in mid-January.  “The research undercuts one argument for charters — that they’re a solution to bloated bureaucracies at parishwide school systems. . . .  Overall, New Orleans schools — the vast majority of which are charters — spent $1,358 more per pupil on operating expenses, or 13 percent, than a control group in the 2013-14 school year.  Put another way,” it reveals, “schools spent that much more than they would have if New Orleans had remained a traditional school district after the storm.  Administrative spending increased $699 per student, or 66 percent, compared to the control group.  Meanwhile, instructional spending dropped by $706 per student, or about 10 percent.”               The corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies love to promote vouchers as a means to allow more families access to school “choice.”  So what are the hidden economic costs of vouchers?  Phyllis Bush is a retired educator and member of the board of the NPE (Network for Public Education)  and has an op-ed in the Fort Wayne (Indiana) News-Sentinel on that important topic.  That old economic adage: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” applies to the idea of providing “free” taxpayer funded vouchers as the author so clearly points out.  “Vouchers drain state tax dollars from the entire education funding pot,” Bush points out.  “This often causes district budgeting deficits and/or the need for tax increases, referendums and the like.  That loss of revenue to public schools increases class sizes and diminishes student resources such as counselors, support personnel, supplemental materials and buses.”               An article in THE TEXAS TRIBUNE posits the idea that vouchers are not really about education but about spending taxpayer dollars to support private and religious schools.  Texas is one of the states on the front lines of future voucher battles as its legislature attempts to pass a voucher bill.  “This voucher argument is not as much about choosing schools as it is about paying for the schools where you’d like to see your kid get educated.  Some state officials want to give you the money that would otherwise be used for your public education, and some of them don’t.  Parents are already free to move their kids to whatever school they want,” this analysis points out, “but if they can’t afford private schooling, the argument goes, they might as well have no choice at all.  If public money, raised from local and state taxpayers, goes to pay for those private schools, the questions and the political difficulties blossom.”
New Head of House Education Committee
Almost all of the education focus in Congress recently has been on the Senate and its confirmation of Betsy DeVos.  When all that dust settles things will get back to the normal work of passing legislation and that requires action by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  The House Education and Workplace Committee has a new chair, Virginia Foxx (R-NC).  The BATs (Badass Teachers Association) have a profile of Foxx on their website and it’s not very encouraging if you support public education and unions.  The piece is titled “BATs Beware!  A Foxx is Loose!!”  By the way, there are 4 Californians on the committee (1 Republican, 3 Democrats) that is controlled by the GOP. 
School Improvement Grants (SIGs) Criticized
And finally, last Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted an editorial in that day’s L.A. Times that featured a report from the U.S. Dept. of Education that was critical at how the department’s School Improvement Grant money was being spent.  That item prompted 2 letters-to-the-editor that appear in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  The first is from a professor of psychology at CSULA.  
This Sunday is Super Bowl LI, Atlanta vs
New England from Houston, Texas.  
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                                     .                                                                       http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://alumni.oxy.edu/s/956/images/editor/iModules%2520Tiger.jpg&imgrefurl=http://alumni.oxy.edu/s/956/index.aspx?pgid=254&h=535&w=589&tbnid=HpSKtombb69zFM:&zoom=1&docid=b__GuALUiVQjxM&hl=en&ei=eoUbVY37HJXhoASho4KgDg&tbm=isch&ved=0CCYQMygJMAk
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


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