Ed News, Friday, February 10, 2017 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

The “Ed News” is going to take a short break to enjoy Valentine’s Day
and Presidents’ Day.  Look for the next edition on Friday, February 24.
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  “Learning is easy; misunderstanding makes it complex!” 

― Ernest Agyemang Yeboah

Betsy DeVos Confirmation
As the “Ed News” predicted, the main news story about the final Senate confirmation vote for Betsy DeVos appears on the front page of Wednesday’s L.A. Times.  If you missed the item that was highlighted in Tuesday’s edition of my blog you can read it by clicking here.              The Times story about the DeVos vote in the Senate (see above) drew 5 letters that appeared on the paper’s website Tuesday morning shortly after the final tally.  None of them were pleased by the result.  Interestingly, Thursday’s print edition only had 3 letters and they were slightly different.                An editorial in Wednesday’s Times excoriates Senate Republicans for not taking a principled stand against Betsy DeVos, who the paper describes as “neither qualified nor competent” for the job of Sec. of Education.  If 50 out of 52 GOPers couldn’t see clear to register a “no” vote on this nominee, what other people and policies will they not be willing to take a stand against?  “The vote Tuesday was, of course, a harbinger of bad things to come in the world of education.  But even worse,  it was a clear message from the more rational, thoughtful members of the Republican Party,” it deplores, “that we should not count on them  to stand up to Trump when his statements and actions are reckless, ill-considered or just plain dumb.  That’s very troubling; this is a particularly poor moment in history for them to surrender their independence.”             Kristina Rizga, author of the book “Mission High” (the upcoming summer selection for the ALOED Book Club), speculates about the future of federal public education policy  for MOTHER JONES under the now in place Trump/Pence/DeVos team.  She breaks her commentary into 3 broad categories. “Trump’s signature education proposal calls for dedicating $20 billion in federal money to help families move away from what he has called our ‘failing government schools’ and instead choose charter, private, or religious schools.  To do that,” it reports, “Trump could create an incentive program to encourage states to allow vouchers, lift caps on charter schools, and decrease state oversight over what kind of charter schools can be open and how they operate. In DeVos, he found a partner who has spent the past two decades doing just that in Michigan.”  You at least have to check out the photo that leads off this item.               Donna Roof is a retired high school teacher in Indiana who is “heartsick and outraged” at the confirmation of Betsy DeVos and what it will mean for public schools in the future.  She lists a number of reasons why she feels that way but adds an almost equal number of things she plans to to in response.  Her essay appears on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  “Today,”  Roof begins, “I am heartsick and outraged…I saw 50 Senators and our Vice-President vote for a person who is highly unqualified to be our country’s Secretary of Public Education.”  She concludes: “Today, tomorrow, and every day…I will fight against the injustice being brought against public education as I heed the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”               The Educators of Color organization on their EDUCOLOR website issue a Press Release decrying the approval of Betsy DeVos and vowing to continue the fight for educational equity and justice.  “As an organization committed to full educational justice for students and communities who are systematically denied access to a quality public education,” it reads, “we are fully prepared to resist policies and positions put forth by this Secretary of Education and this White House, and will be vigilant in protecting the important work of USED’s Office for Civil Rights.”         Leonie Haimson, on the NYC Public School Parents website, reviews the events of the past couple of weeks regarding the confirmation of Betsy DeVos to head the Dept. of Education (DoE) and gazes into her crystal ball to see what the future holds.  She headlines her piece “So It Happened; DeVos Was Confirmed.  What Next?”  “Surely, we will need all your activism,” she addresses readers, “in the battles to come – whether it be against the expansion of charters, the use of tuition tax credits or vouchers, or wasteful ed tech scams — all of which would divert precious resources from our public schools. Now that we’ve woken up our elected officials to the fact that parents and teachers and citizens fiercely love their public schools, and will do nearly anything to preserve, protect and support them, we must continue to speak out.”               The Chicago TEACHERS UNION (CTU) issues a Press Release stating their position that confirming Betsy DeVos to head the DoE is a “nightmare.”               Not be be outdone, UTLA (United Teachers Los Angeles) also quickly issued a Press Release reacting to the DeVos vote.  It reiterates many of the same sentiments as other groups and organizations cited in this section.  “We stand with our union affiliates — NEA, AFT, CTA and CFT — and with civil rights and community organizations around the country” the statement proclaims, “in strong opposition to DeVos as Secretary of the Department of Education.  In mass numbers, we called Washington, DC in attempts to influence the Senate regarding DeVos – now, we will re-double our efforts in building the movement for educational justice.”                Humorist Andy Borowitz, who the “Ed News” has happily highlighted in the past, couldn’t refrain from poking fun at the idea of Betsy DeVos becoming the next Sec. of Education. His piece appears, as always, in THE NEW YORKER.  “The Senate’s confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary,” Borowitz begins, “means that immigrants will be the nation’s only reliable source of educated people going forward, education experts said on Tuesday.”  Enjoy the rest of it and try not to laugh too loud.  You’ll disturb the people around you.  And please remember, it is SATIRE!               The “On California” column for EDUCATION WEEK paints a pretty bleak picture of what federal education policy will look like under Sec. DeVos.  The author extends his scenario to the impact it will have on California.  You may want to sit down before reading this one.  The cartoon that leads it off is definitely worth a gander.   “Betsy DeVos, I would hazard, doesn’t give a fig about running the traditional functions of the U.S. Department of Education,” the author suggest.  “She wants to get federal money in the hands of private school operators as fast as she can.  This includes relaxing the ban on funding scandal-ridden for profit higher education institutions.  She will say that she is for states’ rights, but what she will mean is that she favors the rights of states to use vouchers, and she will offer them every encouragement to do so.”                 Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, has an extended headline to her article: “She’s A Billionaire Who Said Schools Need Guns to Fight Bears.  Here’s What You May Not Know About Betsy DeVos.”  She’s been under a microscope since she was introduced as Trump’s choice to head the DoE on November 23.  There are lots of things you’ve probably learned about DeVos and Strauss attempts to educate you about some things you may not know about her.  Here’s just one example: “She did not support Donald Trump for most of the 2016 presidential campaign cycle.  DeVos has long been a close ally of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and she donated to his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.”           Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, reacts to the vote to confirm DeVos.  He aims his ire at both the new Sec. of Education and those Republicans who supported her.  Regarding the latter, he grumbles: “Yet only Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) joined all Democrats to vote against her. . . .  This is a classic example of money speaking louder than people.  DeVos is a Republican mega-donor.  She’s given $200 million to GOP candidates over the years – including many of the Senators who voted to confirm her.”                Sec. DeVos addressed DoE staff for the first time on Wednesday.  A member of the BATs (Badass Teachers Association) reports on what she said and what her words to the department actually mean “. . . . there were a couple of places where she let slip what her actual perspective was.  She said all children are born with innate curiosity,” the author relates, “and wanted to learn, but there were problems.  The problems were the adult humans around them who got in the way.  It doesn’t take much to figure out that the adult humans she considers in the way are teachers.  A word she could not bring herself to use.  She spoke of educators,but not in proximity to words about students.”               The satirical newspaper the ONION has a droll piece on some new policies DeVos plans to implement as head of the Dept. of Education.  Here are 2 examples from their list: “Identify at-risk students and do nothing whatsoever” and “Let low-income parents choose which one of their children gets to go to school.”  Please remember these are meant to be tongue-in-cheek.               Progressive Democrats may have lost the battle over Betsy DeVos.  However Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, sees a possible silver lining in the defeat.  He believes the long running bipartisan consensus on corporate “reform” between the GOP and moderate Democrats may have finally also died.  He cites a number of examples of how the dynamic is changing regarding charters and privatization between the two parties.  “For years, big money donors have been successful at keeping many Democratic party candidates in the charter school camp.  Opposition to DeVos may disrupt that loyalty,” he suggests is one.              CNN politics reports that a group of protesters blocked Betsy DeVos from entering the Jefferson Middle School Academy, a public campus in the District of Columbia, this morning.  [Ed. note: I have to agree with Arne Duncan and Randi Weingarten’s tweets about the incident that are included in the article.]  In addition, Diane Ravitch’s blog also condemned the action and reiterated how important it is that DeVos visit successful public schools to see how well they are doing.               OK, here’s another humorous take on Betsy DeVos.  This time it’s a short sketch (3:19 minutes) from “The Late Show” with Jimmy Fallon on NBC.  Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, presents the video with a few brief comments about it.  “On the show’s Thursday episode, Fallon ‘interviewed’ the secretary, played by comedian Jo Firestone, for a skit that attempted to show DeVos as clueless about nearly everything, including how to stand in front of a camera.  By midday Friday, more than 12 million people had viewed the bit on YouTube.”
House Republicans Want to Discard DoE Rules on ESSA and Teacher Prep
GOP lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are moving quickly to attempt to abolish certain rules promulgated under the Obama administration regarding school accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and teacher preparation.  The “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK reviews the Republican strategy and what it would mean.  “If both sets of regulations are overturned, it could have far-reaching consequences,” it maintains.  “States have been crafting their ESSA accountability plans for several months, and were doing so even before Trump won the election, with the Obama ESSA accountability rules in mind.  The Trump administration has already paused the final implementation of the accountability rules from Obama’s Education Department, but without any regulations at all, states will be in limbo and uncertain how exactly to craft state plans that pass muster with a Trump Education Department.”
Move to Abolish DoE Begins
Here they go again!  Republicans have long advocated the elimination of the Dept. of Education.  On the same day they voted overwhelmingly for Betsy DeVos to lead the department, a member of the House, Thomas Massie (R-KY), introduced legislation to end it.  The DoE came into existence in 1980 under Pres. Carter.  THE HILL briefly explains the bill.  [The] bill is only a page long,” it notes, “after merely stating the Department of Education would terminate on Dec. 31, 2018.  Massie believes that policymakers at the state and local levels should be responsible for education policy, instead of a federal agency that’s been in place since 1980.”
LAUSD School Board Races
The mostly pro-charter L.A. Times editorial board issues it’s endorsements for the 3 LAUSD board seats up for election on March 7.  Surprise, surprise, when given a choice between traditional public school advocates and pro-charter proponents, guess who they recommend?  Two of the 3 positions are held by incumbents, board Pres. Steve Zimmer (Disrict 4), who is considered pro-public schools and Monica Garcia (District 2).  The editorial, in Wednesday’s paper, favors 2 challengers who lean more towards the corporate “reformers” and privatizers.  For the one open seat being vacated by Monica Ratliff they urge a vote for a current charter school math and science teacher.  Their overall theme appears to be the need for “new faces” on the LAUSD board.                 Steve Lopez, in his Wednesday column for the L.A. Times, draws a connection between the confirmation of Betsy DeVos and the large amounts of money being poured into the campaigns of pro-charter advocates for the LAUSD school board (see above).  How are the two related?  He believes in both instances it’s the students who are being thrown under the bus ( and he begs your pardon for the pun).  Lopez is angry at the name of the group “LA Students for Change, Opposing Steve Zimmer for School Board, 2017” that is connected to, wait for it . . . . the ubiquitous California Charter Schools Association.  He explains how the student organization was formed and refers to a nasty mailer that went out under their name attacking Zimmer (see Tuesday’s “Ed News”).  [That one and other mailers] would have you believe Zimmer fired good teachers while protecting bad ones, drove the district into the ground financially, and failed to root out child molesters.   Zimmer’s actual record is mixed; he has supporters, he has critics,” Lopez fairly points out.  “But distorting that record is dastardly.  And using students as a front is immoral.”
California Teacher Shortages
The “Ed News” has documented teacher shortages that are plaguing states nationwide.  California is not immune to that troubling trend.  A new report from the Learning Policy Institute, featured in the “Teaching Now” column for EDUCATION WEEK chronicles the shortage of qualified educators in particular fields and the major impact that is having on classrooms up and down the Golden State.  Fields most impacted include special education, math, science and bilingual education.  “The state has wrestled with teacher shortages for some time now, and the California-based think tank says that districts have responded to the shortages by hiring underprepared teachers, relying on substitute teachers, and assigning teachers out of their fields of preparation.  This is disproportionately happening,”the piece points out, “in schools that serve the most vulnerable students, the report found through analyzing data from California government sources. . . .  The study points to research that shows that underprepared teachers depress student achievement and have higher attrition rates.”  You can find the full report (31 pages),titled “Addressing California’s Growing Teacher Shortage: 2017 Update,” which is, by the way, co-authored by Linda Darling-Hammond, by clicking here.
Friedrichs vs CTA Case–The Sequel
When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away unexpectedly last year, the high court ended up split 4-4 on the pivotal Friedrichs vs CTA case which challenged a public union’s ability to charge members an agency fee if they wished to opt out of paying full union dues.  Because of the tie vote the decision reverted back to the appellate court ruling which favored the unions.  Experts at the time predicted a new suit would be quickly filed with the same issues.  IT’S HERE!  Yohn vs California Teachers Association,the latest attack on agency fees was filed in a Santa Ana federal court on Monday.  An article in Wednesday’s L.A. Times has the details of this newest assault on public employee unions’ ability to raise funds and remain as viable entities.  “The main difference between last year’s case and this one . . . . is simply a new set of plaintiffs,” it points out.  “The litigants also want to change the law so that the union would have to persuade teachers to opt in to membership rather than being automatically enlisted.”              Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, reacts to the latest iteration of the Friedrichs case (see above).  He points out that the latest suit, Yohn vs CTA, was filed by the Center for Individual Rights (CIR) the same folks that brought you the original case.  “Plaintiff Yohn contends that he doesn’t need the union to negotiate for him because he can totally do better on his own.  He is 38 years old, far too old to believe in fairy tales, but personally,” Greene contends, “I would be happy to let him try.  And then I would like to sell him a bridge.   CIR expects to work their way up to the Supremes by the summer of 2018.  So dig out your old files– we’re going to literally re-litigate Friedrichs all over again, and that light at the end of the tunnel is probably the headlight of an oncoming train.”
The Teaching Profession
The corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies love to promote “choice” as a way to improve public schools.  What if they could be convinced to direct a few of their billions of dollars into teacher-powered schools?  If you are not familiar with them they are analogous to worker co-opts in which teachers are solely responsible for creating, planning and running schools.  Wendi Pillars is a National Board-Certified teacher who has taught ELLs in grades K-12 for 20 years both in the U.S. and overseas.  Her piece for the “CTQ Collaboratory” column for EDUCATION WEEK is titled “So You Want to Create a Teacher-Powered School? Five Things to Know.”  She attended the Teacher-Powered National Conference in Los Angeles last month and relates 5 things she learned from it.  Here’s one example from her list: “3. Teachers must design and propose their own solutions.”
Many students are feeling fearful and unsettled in light of particular Trump administration moves regarding immigrants.  Julie Jee, in the “First Person” commentary for ED WEEK, offers some practical suggestions for “Making Sure Students Feel Safe in Uncertain Times.”  She’s a high school English and literature teacher in New York and is National Board-certified.  “Even in the best of times,” she begins, “educators put in a tremendous amount of effort to make students feel safe in their classrooms—greeting students at the door, joking around about a potential snow day, asking about a recent swim meet, offering a shoulder to cry on after a family tragedy.”               This may seem intuitive but a recent study found a direct correlation between positive teacher evaluations and job satisfaction.  This may only apply to educators in Tennessee among whom the investigation was conducted.  The research was done by analysts at the Vanderbilt University and the University of Missouri and is featured in the “Teacher Beat” column for ED WEEK.  “Job satisfaction,” it maintains, “is directly related to a teacher’s choice to stay in the profession.  Past research shows that 25 percent of teachers who leave the profession say that job dissatisfaction is the reason.”               How do the individual states rate when it comes to average pay for teachers and where does California fall on the list?  Another “Teacher Beat” essay for ED WEEK provides answers to those always intriguing questions based on a new study from GoBankRates.  Alaska and New York are number 1 and 2 for paying the highest salaries; Mississippi and Oklahoma pay the lowest.  “A salary on the high end doesn’t necessarily mean easy living,” it notes.  “The authors show, for instance, that the average salary in California of $72,050 ‘is just a tad under the amount of money needed to live comfortably in [the state].’  What’s more, a starting teacher’s salary would be much less, closer to $40,000 per year, according to the California Department of Education.”  Read the article and check out the interactive map of average salaries and the link to a tool for comparing cost of living in various cities and states (from CNN Money).  You can find the full report, with the interactive map and individual state numbers listed alphabetically in little boxes under the map, titled “Here’s How Much Teachers Make in Every State” by clicking here.               The BATs (Badass Teachers Association) recently posted this question to the group’s Facebook page:  “Why did you become educators?”  Two of the members combed through the responses and posted them on the organization’s website.  Here’s one of the replies they received:“I became a teacher to make the world a better place.  I want to inspire people to really see the world around them and care enough to understand the importance of protecting this planet. Over the years that has evolved in practice, but it seems to matter more than ever right now.” – Amy Bebell
Trump on Education
More “alternate facts” emanating out of the Trump White House?  Senior Presidential counselor, Kellyanne Conway, stated in an interview with CNN, that Pres. Trump is going to follow through on his campaign promise to repeal Common Core.  One small problem: he can’t, according to the “K-12 Politics” column for EDUCATION WEEK which explains in detail (again) why the president doesn’t have the power to repeal the Standards despite what he and the administration believes.  “As we’ve reported previously, states adopt content standards like the common core—the federal government doesn’t get to choose for them,” it reiterates.  “Washington also didn’t write the common core. There was intense debate during President Barack Obama’s administration about whether Washington improperly coerced states into adopting the common core through programs like Race to the Top grants. But regardless of that debate, the president by himself doesn’t have the authority to scrap the standards with the stroke of a pen.”
Korean War Vet Earns High School Diploma at Age 83
Enough of this depressing, negative, nasty news.  Time for a real heartwarming education story.  I know they seem few and far between these days which makes them so welcome when they materialize.  Norm Johnson was a lad of 17 when he joined the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and was sent to fight in the Korean War.  The “Education Watch” column in yesterday’s L.A. Times catches you up on all the inspiring details of his life and the ultimate awarding of his high school diploma 67 years after he joined the military.  “After amassing personal experiences that could rival Tom Hanks’ character Forrest Gump in the 1994 film,” it relates, “Johnson will receive what he describes as an important accolade Wednesday when he gets an honorary diploma from the San Diego County Office of Education and Operation Recognition Veterans Diploma Project.”
Charter Schools
And finally, a member of the BATs (Badass Teachers Association) from Michigan describes how the charter system works in that state and suggests “You Don’t Want DeVos Style Charters in Your State.”  “Charters [in Michigan] do not have to hire certified teachers.  They do not have to accept any student they don’t want.  There are no lottery procedures. They get parents to enroll by promising them free laptops.  Then they feed the children computer instruction with little adult interaction.  Or their management companies create textbooks and software and make a profit by selling it to themselves at an inflated price.  Charters also get tax write offs for their real estate deals.  Which by the way, they pay for out of their school state aid.”
                                     .                                                                       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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