Ed News, Tuesday, February 28, 2017 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

EVENT REMINDER: The next ALOED Book Club discussion will take place on Saturday, March 25, at the Samuelson Alumni Center at Occidental College.  The volume this time is Vicki Abeles’ “Beyond Measure.”  Brunch, provided by ALOED, will be served at 11 am with dialogue about the book to follow at noon.  For more details and to RSVP click here.  Please join us for good food and an always stimulating discussion.  You don’t even have to read the book to participate but you do have 3 1/2 weeks to finish it.  Stop making excuses.  Sign up for the event, get the book, READ IT and join us.  You’ll be glad you did.


And now to the news.

 “The best teacher teaches by inspiring students to learn 
 by showing them the ultimate purpose of learning.” 

― Debasish Mridha

Charter Schools & Vouchers
Carol Burris, once again writing on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, offers a “cautionary tale” of how a fight over the takeover of a neighborhood school effected an entire community.  This time she travels to John Wister Elementary School in a neighborhood of Philadelphia to describe how the parents were split into two warring factions in a battle with the Mastery Charter School chain.  “The popular rationale for charter schools is that they provide families with ‘choice.’  Competition is good, proponents claim, and neighborhood schools will get better as they compete for students and resources.  Increasing numbers of parents, however, argue that the opposite is happening.  They complain,” Burris contends, “that charters take away the choice they want — a public school in their neighborhood in easy walking distance from their home.  The playing field is not even, they argue.  Charters have more money to spend, and are favored by political forces.  And when a charter chain aggressively lobbies to take over a public school, parents are pitted against each other.  Surely that is no one’s choice.”              Are charter schools losing some of their cachet?  New figures reported in EDWEEK Market Brief note that school spending between 2012 and 2014 for non-charters rose while lagging “significantly” for charter schools.  Surprisingly (or not), the biggest gap in comparative spending between charters and non-charters was in the realm of instruction.  “Only half of states reported high-quality financial data for both charter and noncharter school districts. Of the 25 states that did report,” the piece notes, “the data showed charter schools spent 10 percent less per student on average than traditional district schools.  Interestingly, the gap showed most in instruction.”  Apparently, a lot of that taxpayer money for charters goes to non-classroom sources like public relations, advertising, salaries for charter board members, rent, profit (in some cases), etc., etc.  Be sure to check out the bar graph for a rather revealing snapshot of charter vs non-charter spending.               Several new reports are out putting the kibosh on vouchers, one of the Trump/Pence/DeVos triumvirate’s signature policy initiatives.  A story in The New York Times reviews the latest studies and some of the reaction to them.  It’s headlined: “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins.”  “The new evidence on vouchers does not seem to have deterred the Trump administration, which has proposed a new $20 billion voucher program.  Secretary DeVos’s enthusiasm for vouchers,” the article concludes, “which have been the primary focus of her philanthropic spending and advocacy, appears to be undiminished.”  This is just another example, apparently, of how the Trump administration is going to ignore the research in their headlong crusade to achieve their personal agendas–facts be damned.  As Trump himself might tweet: “SAD!”               Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, previews the Trump/Pence/DeVos initiative to introduce vouchers in the president’s budget plan scheduled to be released in mid-March.  Schneider predicts that details and the cost of the voucher proposal will be sketchy and references the article above about poor results from voucher plans in Louisiana, Ohio and Indiana.  “What this means in the world of Trump-DeVos education is that the voucher is being pushed regardless of the evidence that state-level voucher programs are faring embarrassingly poorly.  School voucher superiority is an ideology that Trump says he will finance and DeVos is devoted to proliferating.  By mid-March,” she suggests, “America might know just how much the Trump-DeVos voucher non-solution will cost, at least in the short term.  The long-term costs for the thousands of students subjected to dismal ‘choice’ remains to be seen.”                Is the ultimate goal of education to make a profit or educate students?  That shouldn’t be a difficult choice yet we allow for-profit charters to make millions of dollars.  ARIZONANS FOR CHARTER SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY have a new report about an unregulated online charter that made $10 million in 2016.  You can read a 1 page News Release about the study by clicking here.  It includes 2 separate links to the full report (14 pages) titled “The Consequences of Unregulated Charter Schools: For-Profit American Virtual Academy Nets $10 Million in 2016 After Siphoning $84 Million From Non-Profit Primavera Online.”               Yet another disgruntled teacher has quit Eva Moscowitz’s Success Academy Charter chain in New York City and sent a letter, posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog, about why she chose to leave.  “Most of the students I taught at Success dreaded coming to school, as did most of the teachers.  It is a grueling, relentless atmosphere where every second is cherished as potential learning time, and every slip-up garners an immediate consequence.  There is a small fraction of people – students and adults alike – who thrive in this extreme environment. . . .  Like so many others,” the young educator reveals, “I quit Success because the brand of teaching the network demands prevented me from providing the quality of education my students deserve.”               Another study, released last week, finds that private school vouchers are NOT the answer as they provide only limited or no improvement in student test scores (see item above from the New York Times for some additional research on vouchers).  The report is written by Martin Carnoy, a professor at Stanford University and research associate at the Economic Policy Institute and is featured by Valerie Strauss in her blog for The Washington Post.  “The Carnoy report concludes by saying that any Trump administration ‘push for vouchers and charters could be seen as distracting from implementing programs that can, in fact, improve student learning.’  They include investing more in excellent teacher pre-service training,” Strauss emphasizes, “in early-childhood education, in after-school and summer programs, in improved student health and nutrition programs in and out of schools, and in implementing high standards in math, reading and science curriculums.”
The Trump Administration 
What might we expect from Trump’s initial budget proposal in regards to education policy?  The President addresses Congress this evening and is expected to submit details of his budget by the middle of March.  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK speculates about Trump’s spending plans for K-12 and post-secondary education.  One thing he has more than hinted at is a possible 10% cut in domestic agencies to help fund a substantial increase in military and security spending.                 Jennifer Berkshire has changed the name of her influential blog from “EduShyster” to HAVE YOU HEARD.  She has a Q & A with Derek Black, professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, about what he sees the Trump administration doing regarding civil rights enforcement and education.  He’s not at all encouraged by their very first action in this area–the rescinding of guidelines promulgated by the Obama administration pertaining to transgender student’s rights to use the  bathroom of their choice.  Black also ventures some predictions for the future and comments on “zero-tolerance” discipline policies.
2 Key Elections for UTLA
United Teachers Los Angeles is in the midst of 2 important elections.  Union elections have taken place over the past couple of weeks with the ballots counted yesterday (see following item).  On March 7, a week from today, the L.A. municipal elections include races for 3 critical LAUSD board of education seats which the “Ed News” has reported on in previous editions.  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times mentions the current situation the union is in and what the 2 elections augur for the future.  The school board races once again pit pro-charter candidates against union-backed challengers and one incumbent.  “In the school board races, UTLA-backed candidates are facing off against those supported by charter-school advocates. Although the union can’t match charter backers dollar for dollar,” it suggests, “it’s ultimately likely to spend well over $1 million to plug its candidates and to try to convince voters that charter-backed candidates are the tools of billionaire donors who would work on behalf of a Trump agenda — because Trump views increasing the number of charters as key to giving families more choices in schooling options.”               Preliminary UTLA election results (see above) can be found on the union’s website by clicking here.
Betsy DeVos
Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the NEA (National Education Association), the nation’s largest teachers union, got a phone call from Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos who wanted to talk about future education policies.  Before conducting a conversation Eskelsen Garcia wants some clarification on where DeVos stands on certain issues and wrote a letter to the head of the Dept. of Education which she shares on her Lily’s Blackboard website.  The letter includes 4 critical questions the leader of the NEA would like answers to.  “For us, there is a wrong answer to these questions.  Privatizing and profiting from public education,” Eskelsen Garcia writes, “has not moved us toward equity, equal access, non-discrimination, and opportunity for all students.  Educators will never waver in our determination to create a system that works for ALL children.  Educators, students, and parents deserve to know that the U.S. Secretary of Education will do the same.”  So far, she’s not received a response from DeVos.               SomeDam Poet has a one stanza rhyme about DeVos and how she handled the Trump administration’s u-turn on transgender student bathroom rights (see Friday’s “Ed News).  It appears on Diane Ravitch’s blog and is titled “DeV[i]o[u]s.”  It will take you all of 15 seconds to read.               DeVos delivered some brief remarks to the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) on Thursday (see Friday’s “Ed News).  Peter Greene, writing for The Progressive, deconstructs one of her main points and finds it rather disingenuous.  She blames Pres. Obama and his Sec. of Education, Arne Duncan, for wasting billions of dollars on their School Improvement Grants (SIGs) program.  Greene believes she’s focusing on the wrong issue.  “DeVos and other conservative reformers are taking the real lesson of the grant program’s failure: ‘spending money on the wrong thing for schools doesn’t help,’ and shortening it to a far more damaging assessment: “spending money on schools doesn’t help.’”  Greene points out she want to spend $20 billion (Trump’s estimate) on vouchers–another failed idea–to “help” the public schools.  She’s missing the point, as Greene tries to explain.               Mitchell Robinson, writing on the eclecta blog, has some advice for Betsy DeVos after her rough start as Sec. of Education and her speech to the CPAC (see item above).  “So, here’s my last bit of advice for you: slow down, talk to some real teachers (not those Teach for America interns the Department of Education seems to be so fond of these days), and make a real, pre-approved, planned, coordinated visit to an actual public school (not another one of those ninja-style assaults you tried to pull off last week).  When you get to that school,” he offers, “try this: listen more than talk; pay attention to what the students and teachers are really saying, not your own interpretation of what you think they are saying; and–most importantly–ask them how you can help.”  Robinson includes a list of some of the “stuff” DeVos did during his first week or so as head of the DoE.             Maria Kilfoyle, Executive Director of the BATs (Badass Teachers Association), was angered by Betsy DeVos’ first attempt at social media upon assuming her post as head of the DoE.  It had to do with a “joke” about finding pencils
Inline image 1
Kilfoyle invites teachers to talk about how they’ve spent their own money to provide supplies and materials for their students and prints a long list of their responses.
NEPC Presents its “Bunkum Award”
In this season of awards, the Oscars were handed out Sunday and several others preceded it, the NEPC (NATIONAL EDUCATION POLICY CENTER) out of the University of Colorado, Boulder, School of Education, presents its annual “Bunkum Award” for the worst research from a think tank.  Envelope please.  And the winner is . . . . The Center for American Progress (CAP) and its questionable study correlating high standards (Common Core) to improvements in test scores for high-poverty students.  “The fundamental flaw in this report is simply that it uses inadequate data and analyses to make a broad policy recommendation in support of the common core state standards.  A reader may or may not agree with the authors’ conclusion,” the piece notes, “that ‘states should continue their commitment to the Common Core’s full implementation and aligned assessments.’  But that conclusion cannot and should not be based on the flimsy analyses and anecdotes presented in the report.”
Pearson Records Record Loss
The education publishing giant, Pearson, reports its biggest loss in history amid slumping textbook sales in the U.S.  The London-based company announced a loss of 2.6 billion British pounds ($3.23 billion) on Friday according to a story in theguardian.  “Pearson was founded in 1844 as a construction company which switched to the publishing sector in the 1920s,” it points out.  “A spokesman for the company, which listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1969, said he could not be definitive but believed it was the largest loss Pearson has ever reported.”
No Homework Policy
One of the recommendations Vicki Abeles makes in her book “Beyond Measure” (see note about the next book club discussion at the top of this edition) has to do with an over abundance of homework making students’ lives miserable (along with some other things) and what can be done about it.  Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, tells about one public elementary school in Vermont that decided to ban homework and suggest that students read and play instead.   The principal ran the idea by his 40 educators, how refreshing, and they all agreed.  [He] conducted a family survey asking about the policy, and most parents at the nearly 400-student school responded.  The vast majority supported it,” Strauss points out, “saying their kids now have time to pursue things other than math work sheets, and many report that students are reading more on their own than they used to.  He said a small minority of parents are concerned that students are missing learning opportunities from doing homework and won’t be prepared for middle school.”  Find out how the idea was implemented and how it fairing since its introduction at the start of this school year.
LAUSD Shines
For a supposedly “failing” large, urban, public school district, the LAUSD keeps winning prestigious academic competitions.  The nation’s second largest school system has won 17 National Academic Decathlon titles since 1987, by far outdistancing the second place district.  A team from North Hollywood High just won the LADWP’s Science Bowl and, surprisingly, the school’s B team placed second.  North Hollywood has a long history of success at regional science competitions.  This was their 18th overall victory.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times provides the gratifying details.  “Team members each receive the $1,000 Hitachi Scholarship and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington,” the article relates, “where they will represent L.A. in the U.S. Department of Energy National Science Bowl from April 27 to May 1.  The team will compete in a field of 70 high school champions from 40 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  A total of nine teams from California will participate.”
Technology and Staff Development
THE HECHINGER REPORT has a piece on “3 Ways Technology Can Supercharge Teacher Training.”  It presents some of the latest video learning techniques to help educators improve their delivery of instruction.  “In the past four decades, many new methods have been adopted by schools to make professional development less sit-and-get and more personalized to teachers’ individual needs.  Now it’s time to adopt the technology,” the author of the piece suggests, “that can act as a force multiplier for personalizing professional learning.”
Public Education
And finally, despite what you might hear from the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies, “choice,” in the form of vouchers and charters, IS NOT the only way to improve underfunded and poorly supported public schools.  As the authors of this commentary in THE HECHINGER REPORT argue, there are other avenues to achieve improvement.  They provide 4 concrete suggestions for helping traditional public schools and use two examples from districts in Lowell, Massachusetts and Denver, Colorado, that demonstrate what can be achieved if the right strategies are adopted.  The piece is titled “When It Comes to Struggling Schools, School Choice is no Substitute for Systemic Change.”  The two authors are president and managing director of Education Resource Strategies, a national non-profit group assisting urban school districts to better utilize and manage resources.  “Successful turnarounds must be accompanied by real and meaningful changes,” they conclude, “in the way we train and support teachers, the way we instruct students and the way we structure our time and use our resources.  It’s not sexy but it works.”
                                      .                                                                       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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