Ed News, Tuesday, February 7, 2017 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 “The main element of true reconciliation is the public education system.” 

― Nilantha Ilangamuwa*

Breaking News: Senate Confirms DeVos
The U.S. Senate voted this morning to confirm the nomination of billionaire Betsy DeVos to become the next head of the Dept. of Education.  Members voted 50-50 with 2 Republicans, Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), joining all 48 Democrats in voting “no.”  Per Senate rules the tie was broken by Vice President Mike Pence acting in his role as President of the Senate.  A story appears on the L.A. Times website this morning reporting on the action.  [Ed. note: It will most likely materialize on the front page in the print edition of the paper tomorrow.]  “DeVos squeaked through the confirmation process on Tuesday,” the story reports, “with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence and the participation of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), whose own confirmation vote for attorney general was scheduled after DeVos’ to ensure his vote would be available.  It was the first time a vice president’s tie-breaking vote was needed to confirm a presidential Cabinet appointment.”  If you’d like to watch the final vote (24:22 minutes) you can view it via a PBS Newshour livestream on YouTube by clicking here.               Diane Ravitch’s blog quickly reacted to the Senate vote on DeVos.  Ravitch was appalled by the action but viewed it as a call to arms for activists who made a major push to derail the nomination.  “The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education,” she rails, “is an outrageous insult to the millions of people who send their children to public schools, to the millions of students who attend public schools, to the millions of educators who work in public schools, and to the millions of people–like me–who graduated from public school.”                The NPE (Network for Public Education) issued a Press Release decrying the approval of Betsy DeVos.  It announced that their campaign to fight school privatization was beginning immediately.  “The Network for Public Education will expand its Grassroots Network, and will roll out reports, advisories and toolkits,”  it promises, “to help policymakers and parents better understand the dangers of school privatization. In the months ahead, NPE will lead both state and national campaigns.”  If you’re not already actively involved, are you ready to join?  The NPE is holding their annual conference in Oakland this year.  Save the date and start making your plans now:
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The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK reports on the DeVos confirmation.  It reviews the massive campaign against her nomination and lists some of her supporters “It’s an open question whether DeVos can make the transition from highly divisive nominee to effective leader of the U.S. Department of Education,” it speculates. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, said during a 24-hour debate preceding the vote that DeVos would enter the department a hobbled education secretary.”              The same column in ED WEEK (see above) has a handy scorecard listing certain groups and individuals who are “Thrilled,” “Upset” or “Neutral” about DeVos’ victory.  It includes a short quote from the organization or person reacting to the vote.  “Check out [the] statements from organizations across the political spectrum,” it invites, “some of which were released just seconds after her confirmation Tuesday.  They range from the press release equivalent of ‘woo-hooo!’ to the despondent.”
THE HECHINGER REPORT predicts a “New Era of Education Passion, Protest and Politics Will Follow DeVos Confirmation.”  It looks ahead to what might be a new activist period and a renewed focus on education issues.  ” If nothing else, the historic confirmation of billionaire Betsy DeVos as President Donald Trump’s education secretary,” it suggests, “ushers in a new champion for public education: The public.  Education, as it often does, took a back seat during the heated and closely contested election campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Not anymore.”              Valerie Strauss, in her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, believes DeVos’ win is a big victory for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.  The ED WEEK item above included Bush in its “Thrilled” column in regards to DeVos’ confirmation.  “Bush was the early leader of the corporate school reform movement — treating public schools as if they were for-profit businesses — turning Florida into a testing ground when he became governor of the state in 1999. He created a ‘Florida Formula’ of school reforms,” Strauss writes, “that became a model for other states, including state ‘report cards’ that assign letter grades to schools based largely on test scores and widespread school choice right after he became governor in 1999.”
Betsy DeVos
[Ed. note: All of the items in this section were written prior to the final Senate vote confirming Betsy DeVos.]
Another billionaire backer of charter schools came out in opposition to Betsy DeVos’s confirmation to head the Dept. of Education (DoE).  He is Silicon Valley venture capitalist Arthur Rock and his announcement followed by one day that of Eli Broad who is also resisting her selection.  The reasons for Rock’s position are explored in an article in FORBES. Rock is a well-known supporter of school “choice.”  [He] is an active philanthropist in education reform.  From 2006 to 2008,” the account mentions, “Rock contributed $16.5 million to Teach for America.  He also donated $1.5 million to Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), the country’s largest network of charter schools.”               Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, carefully reads the responses Betsy DeVos provides to a number of written questions regarding education submitted by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA).  Schneider reports on DeVos’s answers related to special education and how private schools should provide services to pupils with disabilities.  They offer some rather eye-opening insights into DeVos’ knowledge and awareness (or lack thereof) of federal law in this area.  [DeVos] does not respond,” Schneider complains, “to the idea of supporting efforts to require that private schools that receive public funding provide the same rights and protections that traditional public schools must offer to the parents of children with disabilities.”               Time to lighten things up a bit.  Humorist Andy Borowitz has a hilarious piece about Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, Frederick Douglass and Black History Month in his comedy column in THE NEW YORKER, “THE BOROWITZ REPORT.”  You’ll just have to read it to get the connection. It’s short and if it doesn’t bring at least a smile to your face, you are beyond hope.                Rachel Maddow, on her eponymous “Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC Friday evening, delves deeply into a number of issues surrounding Betsy DeVos and her confirmation vote.  Maddow reviews the controversial investment DeVos insists on keeping for the biofeedback company Neurocore that makes some unsubstantiated claims about curing autism, ADHD and other conditions in children; why the vote on DeVos was been delayed; the massive number of constituent calls jamming Senate phone lines and fax machines; a ham and pineapple pizza sent to one senator’s office when the voter couldn’t get through on the phone and campaign donations from DeVos to a number of Republican senators who are voting on her nomination.  Maddow has 2 segments on DeVos (15:02 minutes and 8:15 minutes).  Stick with the first one even though it appears to begin as a Food Channel piece.                The volume of opposition to DeVos has turned into an “avalanche” according to a story from POLITICO.  It’s not just the teachers unions who are so vehemently against her nomination.  Parents, teachers, celebrities and community members have jammed senate phone and fax lines and sent thousands of tweets and emails urging a “no” vote on her confirmation.  “The campaign kicked into high gear [last] week,” the article points out, “after two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced their opposition, leaving the charter schools advocate hanging by a 50-50 thread.  Just one more ‘no’ vote and DeVos is done — a prospect that seems tantalizingly close for Democrats but that GOP leaders say they’re confident won’t happen.”               CAPITAL & MAIN reports on a little known characteristic exhibited on occasion by Betsy DeVos.  It seems she can be rather vindictive, especially towards Republicans who cross her, when it comes to pushing her right wing education agenda.  The author of the piece uses a bill in the Michigan legislature dealing with schools in Detroit as his case study of how DeVos can act when opposed by fellow Republicans.  “The bottom line for Michigan Republicans — and perhaps for GOP representatives anywhere — is that you cross or ignore DeVos and her educational crusade,” he concludes, “at your own peril.”               All the controversy and opposition surrounding the DeVos nomination boils down to a simple question.  If confirmed, can she be an effective Sec. of Education?  Peter Cunningham, the author of a commentary for THE HECHINGER REPORT, should be familiar with the inner workings of the job as he served as press secretary to former Sec. of Education Arne Duncan from 2009-12.  He offers some advice to DeVos should she inherit the position.  “Many progressive reformers oppose DeVos, but they also know that the real work of improving schools and helping kids has to move forward, regardless of who is running the U.S. Department of Education.  But the first move is hers.  If DeVos doubles down on vouchers,” he warns, “as Trump has promised, she will spend the next four years on defense.  If, on the other hand, she signals a more open mind on equity and accountability, she will find partners willing to look past the rhetoric and actually get something done for kids.”               Supporters of DeVos are fighting back with hundreds of thousands of dollars of paid ads now appearing on the airwaves attacking “extreme liberals” for their opposition and claiming it’s part of a sexist campaign against the poor billionaire philanthropist.  Valerie Strauss, in her blog for The Washington Post, profiles the 11th hour defense being organized to save Pres. Trump’s nominee.  You can view one of the 30 second ads being run in support of DeVos in the article.  “Although supporters of DeVos blame the opposition on Democrats and the two teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, critics come from the political spectrum.  Some conservative Republicans oppose her in part because they say she supports the Common Core State Standards,” Strauss chronicles, “though she says she doesn’t; she is a strong ally of former Florida governor Jeb Bush who was a big Core supporter for years.  Parents with children with disabilities have come out against her, saying they don’t believe she will protect their interests, and many school choice supporters, such as billionaire Eli Broad, who would have been expected to support her are in fact opposing her, saying they don’t think she believes in public education.  She says she does.  Hundreds of students and graduates from the Christian college she attended, Calvin College, wrote against her nomination too, saying she isn’t qualified and didn’t care enough about public schools.”  Strauss even mentions the ham and pineapple pizza ploy used by a voter in Utah to get through to her senator that Rachel Maddow references in her segment on MSNBC (see above).               Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, very carefully parses the wording of one of the commercials being run on behalf of DeVos (see above).  She finds one sentence particularly revealing in her analysis.  “The ads, put out by a group run by former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal” Strauss suggests, “are what you’d expect from a pro-DeVos ad: Democrats angry that Trump won can’t stand her, and her opponents don’t want equal opportunity education for all students like she does. But there’s wording at the end that is interesting.”            Is Betsy DeVos providing “alternate facts” when it comes to graduation rates at some virtual, online charters?  In answer to a written question submitted by Senate HELP Committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA), DeVos furnished a number of such schools with graduation rates over 90%.  Only problem was those figures were not true!  NPR called it “Betsy DeVos’ Graduation Rate Mistake.”  I’d call it something that’s not as civil.  “DeVos built an argument for virtual charter schools on language apparently taken — without citation — from a report written by a for-profit company with a huge stake in the industry.  In the process, DeVos either knowingly or unwittingly mischaracterized the official graduation rates of virtual schools,” it concludes, “making them look more successful than they are and making online learning, in general, look like a reliable pathway to student success when research suggests it is anything but.”  Anyone have any idea why she might do that?  Just asking.               Andy Borowitz has a humorous take on the Betsy DeVos nomination (see THE NEW YORKER item above).  Actress and comedian Melissa McCarthy takes on the role of Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer for a hilarious sketch on Saturday Night Live (8:06 minutes).  I only mention it because it includes a very brief appearance by SNL regular Kate McKinnon poking fun at DeVos (it runs for less then a minute starting at around the 5:50 mark).  You can view the very funny segment on YouTube by clicking here.                Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, has some background information about DeVos’ testimony as it relates to the SNL bit (see above).  Diane Ravitch’s blog also featured the Sean Spicer spoof.                Betsy DeVos has had her greatest impact on education in her home state of Michigan.  That’s why the Detroit Free Press’ editorial against her nomination is so compelling.  It’s titled “U.S. Senate Must Reject DeVos Appointment.”  “Make no mistake: A vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education is a vote to end public education in this country as we know it. . . .  DeVos is unqualified in every respect,” it says bluntly, “to serve as head of this critical department, and the U.S. Senate must vote Tuesday to reject her nomination.”               The author of an opinion piece for THE HECHINGER REPORT is an associate professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Education.  She fears that if Betsy DeVos becomes the next Sec. of Education that due to her promotion of charters, choice and vouchers, one of the first casualties will be educational equity.  “School choice as the sole vehicle for promoting equity,”  the author claims, “will instead contribute to racial segregation and further divide us.  This is the wrong choice for our nation’s education system. Betsy DeVos promotes a vision for society that outwardly extols the idea of equity but in reality does little to ensure it.”               Despite all the complications pertaining to Betsy DeVos’ testimony, financial disclosures and responses to written queries, 2 experts believe a strong ethical case can be made against her.  Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, co-authors of the piece for THE HILL, served as chief ethics lawyers for Pres. Obama and Pres. George W. Bush, respectively.  Both now work for the Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).  “As former ethics counsels to Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, we’ve reviewed more than our share of ethics filings for cabinet nominees,” they relate.  “Seldom have we seen a worse cabinet-level ethics mess than that presented by Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s choice for education secretary.”  They proceed to provide chapter and verse to bolster their unfavorable assessment.                Dr. Michael Flanagan, member of the BATs (Badass Teachers Association), believes the campaign to oppose Betsy DeVos, win or lose,  can be used as a template for other activists around the country.  He’s created an “Activist’s Rosetta Stone” that lays out a detailed plan of how to protest various actions and policies “The groundswell of organized opposition against DeVos is a positive for all other resistance movements.  It is something to build on,” Flanagan recommends.  “It is a way in which we can begin to coalesce, to open up the lines of communication between disparate social and political constituencies.”               Senate Democrats engaged in a round-the-clock stalling tactic by talking all last night and into the early hours this morning in a last-ditch attempt to find one more Republican to oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos.  Kamala Harris, the junior Senator from California, was one of the prominent participants.  A story in today’s L.A. Times describes the Democratic action.
Gender Roles and Perceptions 
The “Science File” feature in yesterday’s L.A. Times reports on the findings from a new study in the journal Science into how young children view gender roles and their perceptions of when and if boys and girls are characterized as “brilliant.”  The research holds some interesting implications for teaching and learning in the early elementary school years. “[The] new study finds that 6-year-old girls are less likely than boys to think members of their own gender can be brilliant — and they’re more likely than boys to shy away from activities requiring that exceptional intelligence,” the article points out.  “That’s a serious change from their attitudes at age 5, when they’re just as likely as boys to think their own gender can be brilliant, and just as willing to take on those activities for brilliant children.”
LAUSD School Board Race Already Getting Nasty
The L.A. municipal primary election isn’t until March 7, but that hasn’t prevented opponents of LAUSD board Pres. Steve Zimmer from sending out a scurrilous mailer accusing the incumbent of all sorts of terrible things–all untrue.  [Ed. note: I reside in Zimmer’s 4th District, which runs from the Westside to the West San Fernando Valley, and received a copy of the mailer in question.]   The piece of campaign literature is described in a story in Saturday’s L.A. Times.  Is that half color/half black and white picture of Zimmer’s face a takeoff of the Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer?”  Did Zimmer really propose the disastrous “i-Pad for all” program?  Those are all ideas baldly implied in the brochure.  “Zimmer is running for reelection in the March 7 municipal primary against Nick Melvoin, Allison Holdorff Polhill and Gregory Martayan.  The mailer is the product of political consultant John Shallman, on behalf of a political action committee that took the name ‘LA Students for Change.’  Three of seven board seats are on the ballot,” the article explains, “in an election that could tip the balance between allies of the teachers union and allies of charter schools.”                The Argonaut is a local Westside weekly paper with “Local News & Culture” articles.  [Ed. note: I live within its circulation area and read it regularly.]  The current, Feb. 2nd edition, has a feature on the crucial District 4 LAUSD school board race featuring incumbent Steve Zimmer and 3 challengers.  It discusses the huge sums of money being contributed in an attempt to unseat Zimmer (see above).  A second debate among the 4 candidates was held at Loyola Marymount University last night.  A previous forum took place in Venice.  The article briefly profiles the contenders for the seat.  It’s titled “School Choice Drives Big Money Race.”  “The last time Westside voters were choosing who would represent them on the LAUSD board,” it begins, “former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg catapulted a local election onto the national stage by pumping more than $1 million into campaigns supporting school choice reformers — and opposing incumbent Steve Zimmer.  Four years later, it’s former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan’s turn to give Zimmer a run for his money.  Earlier this month, Riordan contributed $1 million to the independent expenditure committee ‘L.A. Students for Change Opposing Steve Zimmer for School Board 2017,’ setting the stage for what could become the most expensive school board race in the country.”
U.S. Sec. of Education No Longer as Powerful as Before
When Betsy DeVos takes over the helm of the Dept. of Education, she will discover that her powers have been diminished in comparison to previous holders of that job.  The reason: The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which became law in December, 2015, according to a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  “As education secretary, DeVos would have a hard time pushing states and districts in significant new directions that local leaders wouldn’t want to take,” it spells out, “in part because of the restrictions in ESSA, the latest edition of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”
Charter Schools & Vouchers
Are some unscrupulous charter school operators simply using students and schools as a way to scam taxpayers into funding their real estate deals that yield said operators millions of personal profits?  A group called Arizonans for Charter School Accountability, founded by retired educator Jim Hall, has a Press Release out on just this topic as it relates to the Grand Canyon State.  He delves into the business dealings of the Leona Group LLC and its serious lack of transparency and accountability (a constant refrain with these types of schools) when it comes to its charter school activities.  The Press Release includes links to several reports Hall’s group has created on the subject.  “There is an appalling lack of transparency for charter school operations in Arizona,” Hall states.  “Legislation is essential requiring the Auditor General to monitor charter school spending.  Tax funds should be going to children in the classroom not to management fees, profits, and real estate purchases.”                 Gary Rubinstein’s blog takes a look at some “alternate facts” regarding how well charter schools are performing in Betsy DeVos’ home state of Michigan.  With the Super Bowl being played on Sunday, he rather appropriately headlines his essay “The Detroit Lyin’s.”  “While it is common knowledge that Michigan’s NAEP rankings have gone from the middle of the pack down to the bottom 10 in the time that DeVos has supported her style of education reform there,” he maintains, “there are still people out there writing about a Detroit miracle.”               Pres. Obama tried to improve public schools with a $7 billion program called School Improvement Grants (SIGs).  A recent edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a study by the U.S. Dept. of Education that reported the SIG program made very little improvement in reading and math scores.  The Trump/Pence/DeVos team would like to divert $20 billion of federal funds into a voucher plan for interested states. What are the chances that might succeed in improving public schools?  Richard D. Kahlenberg, senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank in New York City, believes vouchers are not the answer.  He makes a strong argument that spending federal dollars to develop special magnet and other programs can lure middle-class families back to struggling campuses.  This will aid in the integration of those schools and increase academic performance.   Kahlenberg offers some ways to achieve this and cites several cities where it’s been done.  His comments appear in The Atlantic. [Former Sec. of Education under Obama, Arne] Duncan has since acknowledged that failing to tackle segregation is one of his greatest regrets.  Educators have long known that reducing poverty concentrations of children,” Kahlenberg argues, “improves their chances of success; today, as my colleague Halley Potter highlighted late last year, 100 school districts and charter schools are acting on that knowledge.  High-poverty schools are 22 times less likely to be consistently high-performing as low-poverty schools, according to a study by the economist Douglas Harris of Tulane University.”
School Trip to Yosemite Brings Back More Than Students Bargained For
A field trip for a group of 190 7th graders at John Adams Middle School (Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District) took a turn for the worse when the pupils returned to their campus from their 5-day trip on Jan. 27 and an outbreak of a highly contagious norovirus ensued.  The school was closed on Friday as crews attempted to thoroughly clean classrooms and other facilities.  An item in Saturday’s L.A. Times details the students’ trip and the onset of the illness among pupils and staff at the school.  “Norovirus is a contagious organism that can be spread through contaminated food or water and human interaction,” it notes, “according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . . .  Those infected typically experience inflammation of the stomach and intestines as well as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain.”
Marshall High Wins LAUSD Super Quiz
Sunday was the Super Bowl but it’s also Academic Decathlon season and  Marshall High, located in Los Feliz, won the Super Quiz portion of the LAUSD competition on Saturday at the Roybal Learning Center downtown.  In a separate L.A. County event, the winner was South Pasadena High.  The topic for this year’s competition was World War II.  The state competition will take place in Sacramento next month with the the national championship occurring in April in Madison , Wisconsin.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times provides the details.  “Each school team comprises nine students: three with grade-point averages of 2.99 or lower; three with GPAs of 3.00 to 3.74 and three with 3.75 or higher,” it explains.  “The county competition involved 43 official teams and 17 junior teams from 26 school districts.  In L.A. Unified, 62 teams participated.  The state competition will take place in March in Sacramento.  Teams from L.A. Unified schools have claimed 17 national titles since 1987.”
Election 2016
And finally, a bill was introduced in the California Assembly to require that history textbooks discuss Russian hacking of the presidential election of Nov., 2016.  An editorial in today’s L.A. Times takes a dim view of the idea.  “One state lawmaker,” it grumbles, “has offered a solution to the problem that is not actually a solution: mandating that this incident be included California’s public school history textbooks so that schoolchildren forevermore will learn about it.  Given how much we don’t know about the hacking — including whether it turned the election and made Donald Trump president — what would be the point?””
*Nilantha Ilanguamuwa is the editor and the founder of the Sri Lanka Guardian, an online daily newspaper, and he’s also an editor of Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives, a bi-monthly print magazine published by the AHRC (Asian Human Rights Commission) based in Hong Kong and DIGNITY (The Danish Institute Against Torture) based in Denmark.
                                     .                                                                       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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