The ED NEWS
A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues
“Knowledge is a unique kind of property, indeed:
you can share it with others, while still possessing it.”
The “Numbers and letters” feature in the Sat., February 11, L.A. Times indicates that during the week of Feb. 4-10, the paper received “924 printable letters to the editor. . . . 43 letters mentioned Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the third most discussed topic. 121 letters were written about President Trump’s travel ban, including his comments on judges. 52 readers discussed the riot at UC Berkeley over Milos Yannopoulos’ speech.” [See, the “Ed News” wasn’t the only publication preoccupied with DeVos.] Barbara Miner, in an op-ed in the Feb. 12, L.A. Times issues a dire warning about Betsy DeVos and her voucher plans. Miner is a reporter based in Milwaukee and the author of a book that takes a look back at some of the key education policies that impacted that city. Her volume is titled “Lessons From the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City.” Miner reviews the history of vouchers in Milwaukee and how they expanded throughout her state of Wisconsin. “DeVos, now confirmed as secretary of Education, is not just another inexperienced member of the president’s Cabinet. She is an ideologue,” Miner warns, “with a singular educational passion — replacing our system of democratically controlled public schools with a universal voucher program that privileges private and religious ones. If you care about our public schools and our democracy, you should be worried.” The picture Miner paints is particularly bleak. Barbara Miner’s op-ed cautioning about the dangers of vouchers and the possible Trump/Pence/DeVos plan to divert up to $20 billion of taxpayer funds into them (see item above) prompted 3 letters that appear in the Feb. 18 edition of the L.A. Times. The first one favored the idea while the last 2 were opposed. What has DeVos been up to in her first few weeks in office? Valerie Strauss titles her “Answer Sheet” column for The Washington Post “So Far, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is Just What Her Critics Feared.” Strauss offers a list of some of the things DeVos has done that has her detractors up in arms. Want a dystopian view of what education and schools might look like under the Trump/Pence/DeVos triumvirate? Look no farther than North Carolina, suggests Lindsay Wagner, a veteran education journalist, on the AJF (AJFLETCHER FOUNDATION) website. The state is rife with charters, vouchers and online, for-profit “academies” to the detriment of the traditional public school system. Wagner’s essay is titled “North Carolina: Already a DeVos World.” “As a result of DeVos efforts—along with those of other school privatization advocates—hundreds of millions of public dollars now flow to school vouchers, charter schools and virtual charter schools,” Wagner concludes plaintively. “So when she does come to visit, it will be more like a welcome home party for DeVos. North Carolina has been her playground for years.” If you are not concerned about the future of public education after viewing what’s taking place in North Carolina (see above), why not check out the situation on charter growth in Florida and how it’s being accomplished courtesy of Mike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blog. Klonsky headlines his piece “Why DeVos is Making Florida’s Charter System Her ‘Model.’ She Practically Owns It.” “Florida’s charter schools are among the worst in the nation. The state’s so-called ‘choice’ system of charters and vouchers is highly segregated,” he maintains, “riddled with corruption and mismanagement (like FL state government in general) and has been rocked by scandal after scandal. . . . Therefore, I was not surprised to hear Trump’s ed secretary, Betsy DeVos point to Florida’s ‘choice’ system as her model and ‘blueprint’ for K-12 education.” Are you at all worried (terrified?) yet about what’s in store for public schools under the current administration? DeVos delivered some brief remarks yesterday to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). In one column for The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss reprints the speech in full. In a follow-up column she offers some analysis of what DeVos said including some disparaging remarks about how college and university faculty tell students what to say, how to say it and even how to think. Pretty inflammatory stuff. Diane Ravitch’s blog has an analysis of DeVos’ speech to CPAC (see above). Ravitch, as you can probably guess, was not impressed with what the new Sec. of Education had to say before the group. “Betsy DeVos gave a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), explaining that the programs created by George W. Bush and Barack Obama had failed, and she would replace them with her own ideas. She did not point out,” Ravitch begins, “that her own ideas have failed too. Just look at the mess she has made of Michigan, where the state’s rankings on the federal test (NAEP) have plummeted, and where Detroit is a mess thanks to the miasma of school choice.” According to Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, Trump and DeVos are readying a voucher plan to present to Congress. Because that might be a difficult sell, they are not calling it a “voucher” plan but, instead on referring to it as a “federal tax credit scholarship program.” That’s right. The word “voucher” doesn’t appear in the idea. Bryant explains how this is a clever ruse (he uses the term “deceptive scheme”) and why opponents of vouchers need to be careful how they play their cards in an attempt to defeat it. “So whether the plan is for tax credits or vouchers, in either case, public funding is redirected from public schools to private institutions,” he clarifies, “and the impact on funding available for public education is the same. There are reasons for the Trump administration’s deception.” You might want to read up on this topic as the battle lines are being drawn in anticipation of a bitter struggle to come.
What, exactly, is the purpose of standardized testing? Good question. Anyone want to weigh in with an answer? Audrey Hill, the author of this piece on The Dog With a Bone blog [Ed. note: I didn’t make that up, despite what you might think] is a middle school English teacher in New York. She mentions that the assessments were meant to be a way to provide accountability for individual students and schools but that’s not what they were designed for. “. . . high stakes testing, known ironically as accountability, is currently among the most unaccountable of unaccountable things in American education today. It is unaccountable in the very thing that it purports to account for: the measurement and evaluation of learning, teachers and schools. It does none of these things well.” Hill goes on to describe what the tests are truly meant to measure and why the results should NOT be used to evaluate teachers or rank schools or districts. Long Beach Unified School District requested a waiver from the state so that it could substitute the SAT instead of the SBAC standardized test in its high schools. LBUSD’s inquiry was based on a provision of the Every Student Succeeds Act which gives school districts some leeway in which exams they choose to utilize. The state turned the district down. An article from EdSource provides the specifics of the situation. “State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and state board President Michael Kirst detailed the SAT’s shortcomings as a Smarter Balanced substitute,” it relates, “and said state law wouldn’t permit the waiver. They concluded that the ‘SAT would require significant adaptation before it could be used for accountability purposes in California.’” Hey everybody, testing season is fast approaching. EDUCATION WEEK has some interactive maps and a chart illustrating what tests individual states are requiring this school year. Click a button next to a series of inquiries, then scroll down to the map or chart at the bottom to see the answers. Here’s one of the questions: “■ Which states are using PARCC or Smarter Balanced?”
Granada Hills Wins LAUSD Academic Decathlon
Marshall High may have won the Super Quiz portion of the LAUSD Academic Decathlon (see the previous edition of the “Ed News) but they couldn’t keep Granada Hills Charter High from repeating as overall district winner. Granada Hills is also the defending national champion. A story in the Feb. 12, L.A. Times describes the victory and how the Decathlon competition works. South Pasadena High was victorious in the separate L.A. County contest. The LAUSD winners were announced at a gathering at Hollywood High on Friday, Feb. 10. “The competition has 10 portions that contribute to the scoring,” the article explains, “and all had to relate to [this year’s topic] World War II. The first day of L.A. Unified’s competition took place Jan. 28 at the Roybal Learning Center, west of downtown, with students demonstrating their skills at delivering a speech, participating in interviews and composing essays. The Feb. 4 wrap-up competition also was held at Roybal. In the morning, students tested in eight subjects: art, economics, language and literature, math, music, science and social science. The Super Quiz, where teams submit answers to questions before a cheering throng, began in the afternoon. The Super Quiz is the only public event.” The top 10 scoring LAUD teams will advance to the next round which is the state competition in Sacramento in March. The national championship will take place in April in Madison, Wisconsin. Teams from the LAUSD have been victorious at the national level 17 times since 1987.
For-Profit Schools Are Getting a Reprieve Under Pres. Trump
The Obama administration made a concerted effort to investigate and close down some notorious for-profit colleges that were taking advantage of students in various ways. The Trump administration is revisiting that effort and the for-profits couldn’t be happier as some of their stock prices have soared recently. A story in The New York Times reviews the abrupt change in policy and what is all means for students, investors and the colleges themselves. “While some career training schools delivered as promised,” it points out, “critics argued that too many burdened veterans, minorities and low-income strivers with unmanageable tuition debt without equipping them with jobs and skills that would enable them to pay it off. After years of growing complaints and lawsuits, the [U.S. Dept. of Education] moved aggressively to end abusive practices that ranged from deceptive advertising to fraud and cost students and taxpayers billions of dollars.” That may all be coming to an end under Pres. Trump and Sec. DeVos. SAD!
ProPublica has an extensive investigative piece on how for-profit alternative charter schools in Florida are being used to hide dropouts and scam the accountability system in other ways in the Sunshine state. “Alternative schools at times become warehouses where regular schools stow poor performers,” it reveals, “to avoid being held accountable. Traditional high schools in many states are free to use alternative programs to rid themselves of weak students whose test scores, truancy and risk of dropping out threaten their standing, a ProPublica survey of state policies found.” The report focuses on how one school in Orlando is used to fudge the numbers.
The Public Schools
Steve Lopez, in his Sunday, Feb 12, column in the L.A. Times, features an Ontario Rotary Club luncheon that highlights some successful public school students in the pre-K-8 Ontario-Montclair School District who overcame some pretty difficult obstacles and have some ambitious education goals ahead of them. Lopez headlines his piece “If You Think Public Schools Are Failing, You Haven’t Met These Kids.” “President Trump’s new education secretary thinks charter schools and vouchers are the way to go. But at the luncheon,” Lopez writes, “Ontario-Montclair School District Superintendent James Hammond and board President Elvia Rivas said there may be no better strategy than investing sufficiently in traditional schools and giving them enough autonomy. And letting them put children before ‘adult-centered politics,’ as Hammond put it.” In light of the DeVos confirmation to head the Dept. of Education, The New York Times Magazine has an extensive and important article reviewing the history of public education and the whole concept and meaning of “public” institutions in this country. It asks the critical question “Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools?” Is DeVos the threat to our public school system as her critics worry, or is her elevation to become the next Sec. of Education just the catalyst pro-public school supporters need to rally around? “If there is hope for a renewal of our belief in public institutions and a common good, it may reside in the public schools. Nine of 10 children attend one, a rate of participation that few, if any, other public bodies can claim, and schools, as segregated as many are, remain one of the few institutions where Americans of different classes and races mix. The vast multiracial, socioeconomically diverse defense of public schools that DeVos set off,” it concludes on an upbeat note, “may show that we have not yet given up on the ideals of the public — and on ourselves.” The ELC (EDUCATION LAW CENTER) out of the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University has a list of the most “fiscally disadvantaged school districts” in the U.S. It comprises 54 different districts in 20 states. California is number 1 with 16 districts making the list including Bakersfield City, San Francisco Unified and Santa Barbara Unified. “This list of the most fiscally disadvantaged districts highlights the urgent need for school finance reform in many states,” the report specifies in the “Conclusion” section. “This reform must start with a determination of essential education resources and end with a funding formula that accounts for district poverty concentration and local fiscal capacity. It will require replacing outmoded, arbitrary funding formulas and the historic method of distributing funding based on prior year spending and political, not educational, considerations.” The full report (6 pages) is titled “Is School Funding Fair? America’s Most Fiscally Disadvantaged School Districts.” You can find the chart with the list of districts on page 3 of the report.
Bullying in the LAUSD
An internal Inspector General’s audit is critical of practices and procedures regarding student bullying in the LAUSD. The information was released after a public records request from the L.A. Times which features the study in the Feb. 14, paper. The report found that statistics on bullying were outdated and incomplete and teacher training was inadequate. “Although the extent of bullying found by the L.A. Unified’s Office of Inspector General,” the story notes, “is not necessarily out of line with national figures, the audit suggests that students are getting less help than they should.”
Julian Vasquez Heilig Speaks
Fellow ALOED member Larry Lawrence and I attended a “Friends of Education” event presented by Antioch University at their Culver City campus on Thursday evening July 16. Julian Vasquez Heilig spoke about equity and education policy in the age of Trump. He is a researcher, blogger and Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and the Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at CSU Sacramento. He addressed charters, vouchers and what education activists and people opposed to the Trump/Pence/DeVos agenda for dismantling the public school system can do to fight back. The audience consisted primarily of students in the credential program at Antioch and interested community members. Heilig spoke for approximately 45 minutes and answered questions for 15. A reception with refreshments was held prior to the event.
Death of LAUSD Teacher Sparks Meningitis Concerns
A third grade teacher at Montara Avenue Elementary School (LAUSD) died last week of meningitis spawning health concerns among parents at the South Gate campus. The educator was from Huntington Park, had taught at the school for 16 years and was 39 years old, according to a story in the Feb. 14, L.A. Times. “The L.A. Unified news release directed parents to a Los Angeles County Department of Public Health information page on meningococcal disease,” it mentions. “The disease can spread through coughing, sneezing or direct contact such as sharing food and drinks.”
Transgender Student Rules Overturned
This didn’t take long. You could pretty much have predicted it. It took only 33 days for the Trump administration to dismantle rules put in place by its predecessor regarding transgender students’ rights to use bathrooms of their choice. The “Rules for Engagement” column for EDUCATION WEEK describes the action and its ramifications. “The Trump administration had long signaled the shift,” it relates. “White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that the president believes the treatment of transgender students is a ‘states’ rights issue.'” What was Betsy DeVos’ role in setting aside bathroom rights for transgender students (see above)? Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, explains whether there was some disagreement between the new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions,and the head of the Dept. of Education over the matter. Critics of the action were outraged by her position. Strauss includes some of their Tweets as well as reprinting the official statement DeVos released on the issue. Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, is incensed by the Trump administration’s action against transgender students. He headlines his piece “I’m a Public School Teacher. Hands Off My Trans Students.” Singer describes an interaction he had with a student at his middle school to illustrate his point. “This has nothing to do with children. It has to do with old men and women who refuse to broaden their views about the world. It’s about the ancient making the young do as they say regardless of how doing so may trample on their right to be themselves. Well, I won’t be a part of it,” he bluntly concludes. “You want to attack my trans students? You’ll have to do it through me. I’m a guardian of kid’s rights. I’m a defender of children from whoever wants to do them harm. I’m a public school teacher. That’s just what we do.”
Proposal to Start School Day Later for California Teens
The “Education Matters” column in the Feb. 18, L.A. Times discusses a bill (SB 328) introduced in the California legislature by Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) that would require middle and high schools in the state to begin classes no earlier than 8:30 am. The proposed legislation is based on a 2014 policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics that found teenagers were better equipped to tackle academics if classes started after 8:30 in the morning. “Districts that have adopted the policy,” the article suggests, “have reported improved attendance rates, state exam and college admission scores, and grade-point averages, according to the academy. Research has also shown that students who start classes later are involved in fewer disciplinary measures and car accidents.” An editorial in today’s Times was dismissive of the idea of starting the school day later for middle and high school students in California (see above). The main argument put forward by the piece is that it should be a local district decision and not mandated by the state. “By requiring all public middle and high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.,” the editorial contends, ‘SB 328 would represent an overreach by Sacramento, dictating a decision better left to local school districts. For all of the advantages of later start times, they might not work for all communities and all schools.”
A Scholarly Look Back at NCLB
I hate to keep beating a dead horse, as the saying goes, but No Child Left Behind has been pretty universally condemned as a failure when it came to education policy. Helen F. Ladd is a professor of Public Policy and Economics at Duke University and takes an authoritative look back at NCLB in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Her article is reprinted in the Wiley Online Library website. “Although NCLB included some components that generated positive, if qualified, effects,” she points out, “my overall conclusion is that NCLB was deeply flawed.” Ladd discusses the few positive components of the law and then details 3 major weaknesses in her analysis.
LAUSD School Board Races
The L.A. Municipal election next month includes races for mayor, controller, city attorney, 8 city council seats and 3 LAUSD school board positions. Guess which one’s are drawing the most campaign contributions so far? If you said “mayor,” you’d be wrong. If you thought it was the city council races you’d still be incorrect. The 3 school board slots vastly outdrew ALL the other city races in outside spending. As of Feb. 17th it was all other city elections $465,803 versus $3,357,847 for the school board spots! A story in Tuesday’s L.A. Times has the rather astonishing details. “Independent spending is when a group or political action committee chooses to support or oppose a candidate or ballot measure,” it explains. “As long as the candidate or the candidate’s campaign plays no role in managing this spending, there are no limits. In the school board races, the largest spending was in District 4, covering the Westside and west San Fernando Valley, to defeat school board President Steve Zimmer ($1,256,121). Zimmer also was the single candidate with the most money spent on his behalf ($705,157).” Steve Lopez, in his Wednesday column for the L.A. Times, is perplexed by a group called L.A. Students for Change and their involvement in the fractious LAUSD District 4 school board race (see above). He did some digging and arranged to visit one of their gatherings only to have the invite rescinded after he wrote an earlier column about how the campaign was using the students as a front for a heavily financed professional campaign. “To be clear, I’ve got no issue with the students. Good for them for raising their hands out of a desire for an improved L.A. Unified,” he writes. “But I had trouble believing that 18 students, without adult guidance, decided all they wanted to do was attack a single candidate rather than extol the virtues of other candidates. And that one candidate, incumbent Steve Zimmer, is a target of charter school proponents, which is where the million dollars came from, with former Mayor Dick Riordan as sugar daddy.”
The Teaching Profession
Many states, including California, are experiencing teaching shortages. Previous editions of the “Ed News” have chronicled this alarming phenomenon and suggested reasons for its existence. One of them is high teacher turnover. An article in Tuesday’s L.A. Times describes how the Great Public Schools Now organization, a strongly pro-charter group, has provided grants totaling almost $900,000 to 3 charter school networks and one traditional LAUSD public school to work on improving teacher retention. “Recent, comprehensive data are hard to come by, but an early study of Los Angeles area charters, published in 2011,” the piece points out, “found that they were having to replace on average 50% of their instructors every year. To qualify for a grant from Great Public Schools Now, a charter operator had to meet certain academic performance parameters. It also had to have lost no more than 30% of its faculty since the last school year. That’s still well above the state average of 10.6%.” Corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies like to promote the idea that ending tenure will improve the teaching profession (i.e., the Vergara case in California and others in New York and Minnesota). Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, takes a look at the premise and finds, at least in Louisiana, the ending of tenure led to an exodus of teachers from the profession. Tenure was ended in the Pelican state beginning in 2012 after Act 1 was passed by the legislature. What has been the impact? Schneider features a new study released Wednesday from the Education Research Alliance (ERA) in New Orleans that looks at the data on teacher turnover. “Act 1 began in 2012 as House Bill 974. The reason it is called Act 1,” she explains, “is that the 2012 Louisiana legislature rammed it though as the first act, with calculated speed, amid an atmosphere dripping with then-Governor Bobby Jindal’s business-and-industry-backed intention to bring “accountability” in the evaluating of the state’s teachers. Once 2012 hit, Louisiana teachers began considering how and when to leave the profession. And each year beginning with 2012, Louisiana’s teacher workforce has experienced a noticeable exit of many experienced, seasoned teachers who otherwise would not have likely chosen to leave the profession so soon.” Do you know the difference between a summative and formative assessment? If you’re not sure or want some clarification, the “High School & Beyond” column for EDUCATION WEEK has a short video (2:00 minutes) explaining what a formative assessment is. Ever heard of the “Hamburger Method” for writing as essay? It’s a graphic organizer geared to elementary students. The “Curriculum Matters” column for ED WEEK features a short video (54 seconds) narrated by Briana Sotomayor, a cute and self-assured 4th grader in rural West Virginia, who explains how to write an essay. It’s worth your time just to listen to her describe how it works.
No Charges in FBI Probe of LAUSD iPad Program
And finally, after a lengthy inquiry by the FBI, the U.S. attorney’s office decides not to file any charges related to the LAUSD’s controversial, and ultimately unsuccessful $1.3 billion “iPads-for-all” program. The plan was the brainchild of former district Supt. John Deasy who quit under pressure related to the proposal in October, 2014. A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times provides the latest developments in this long, drawn out case. “Especially under scrutiny by investigators were personal ties and communications that Deasy and other district administrators had with executives from Apple and Pearson, the company that provided the curriculum installed on the devices. . . . Deasy had worked closely with Apple and Pearson,” it reviews, “and had little or no contact with competing vendors, according to records released by the district. He’d also filmed a promotional video for the iPad in December 2011, before he announced the iPad-in-schools plan. A pilot project in the year leading up to the board vote tested only iPads — while another did a trial run of Pearson’s online content.”
*Eraldo Banovac is an energy expert and a university professor. He was born in 1955, in Pula, Republic of Croatia.