The ED NEWS
A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues
The “Ed News” will be taking a brief break. Look for the next edition on Tuesday, March 21
Reminder: Daylight Saving Time officially begins at 2 am Sunday. Turn your clocks ahead one hour.
Next Friday is St. Patrick’s Day.
And Spring begins at 6:29 am on Monday, March 20.
And now to the news.
“We must master many subjects in order to implement our dreams.
Our personal journey begins by gathering appropriate learning experiences
and awakening our minds to observe, evaluate, and recall what we experience.”
LAUSD School Board Election Results
Two of the 3 critical LAUSD school board races will head to run-offs after first round voting took place on Tuesday. Board Pres. Steve Zimmer will square off with charter proponent Nick Melvoin in District 4. Pro-charter incumbent Monica Garcia won outright in District 2 and a run-off will be required to determine the winner for the open seat in District 6. Charter-backed Kelly Gonez drew the most votes but was well short of the 50% + 1 vote needed to take the seat. The L.A. City general election will take place on Tuesday, May 9. An item posted on the L.A. TimesWednesday morning has the unofficial results. “Tuesday’s races,” it notes, “marked the latest battle between supporters of charter schools and those allied with the teachers union. Those two factions spent millions of dollars on outside campaigns that dominated the election.” You can find all the Semi-Final Official election results on the County of Los Angeles Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk website by clicking here. If charter proponents in the two remaining races (see above) prevail over teachers union backed candidates in the May 9 general election they will have a 4-3 advantage and a majority on the LAUSD board for the first time. What does that bode for the future of charters in the district? Continued expansion? Less oversight/accountability? A front-page story in yesterday’s L.A. Times assesses what’s possibly in store in the next couple of years for the LAUSD which already has the most charter campuses and students in charters than any other district in the nation. “But the charter vs. union controversy has become a kind of shorthand for each side’s hopes for L.A. Unified’s future, often obscuring other issues. Both sides say they also see the local contests,” it suggests, “as a leading indicator of how California’s education landscape could shift. . . . Both sides are likely to pour more than a million more dollars into the most expensive school board elections in the country.” The March races were pretty nasty battles. For the 2 remaining contents in May, both sides will undoubtedly take the gloves off.
Vouchers and School Choice
A federal government voucher program will divert taxpayer dollars to provide tuition for students to attend private and religious schools. Because it is a federal program it adds to the deficit. The Trump administration is likely to stay away from the term “voucher” for just that reason and instead propose a “tax credit scholarship program.” What does that mean and how does is work? An article inThe New York Times provides some answers and focuses on a plan in Arizona where one private investor is making lots of money on the deal. “State tax credit voucher programs have grown rapidly in recent years. The number of students receiving them increased to 256,000 this year, from about 50,000 in 2005. Arizona has one of the oldest and largest programs. It allows taxpayers who donate money to nonprofit voucher-granting organizations,” it explains, “to claim a 100%, dollar-for-dollar credit against their state taxes (up to a certain limit). In other words, if a married couple donates $1,000 to a voucher-granting nonprofit, their tax bill is reduced by $1,000. The nonprofit then gives the money to families who use it to pay tuition at private schools.” The money that is donated is no longer taxed and that adds to the deficit because it is no longer collected as revenue. Pretty neat, huh? John Kuhn is superintendent of a district in Texas and a long-time advocate for traditional public schools. He recently delivered a speech to the Association of Texas Professional Educators during their Legislative Action Weekend. His topics: “Vouchers Serve Adults at Childen’s Expense.” His remarks appear on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog. “The voucher movement is about money and adult interests. It isn’t about children. It’s not even mostly about parents who want a discount on their private school tuition; it’s mostly about the interests of other adults, very wealthy adults. It’s about the interests of tycoons and political players,” he complains in his talk, “who are funding school voucher campaigns across our state and nation not because they want to improve schools, but because they want to engineer a cheaper education so their property taxes will go down. They want to hobble teachers’ unions and reduce wages and benefits. And on top of cheapening a system that already has one of the lowest levels of per pupil spending in the nation, Texas privatizers also want to make money on the back end, they want a piece of the education pie, which billionaire school choice advocate Rupert Murdoch said was a $500 billion dollar industry just waiting to be ‘transformed.’ He meant to say hijacked.” We all pretty much know what school “choice” means to the corporate “reformers” and their political allies: charters, vouchers, private and religious schools, no teachers unions, more emphasis on student test scores for evaluating teachers, etc., etc. What does school “choice” look like from the point-of-view of a public school classroom teacher? Good question. Glad you asked. Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, invites Sarah Yost, a veteran National Board-certified teacher of English Language Arts who is currently working at a middle school in Kentucky, to share her experiences about how school “choice” is impacting her state. Is the idea of “school choice” just another term for the “segregation academies” that sprouted up around the South in the wake of theBrown v Board of Education decision in 1954? If certain types of people don’t want their kids attending school with children of a different group, they’ll just start their own elite, exclusive campuses. Is that racist solution from the past simply repeating itself today? That explosive charge is examined by Jennifer Berkshire on her HAVE YOU HEARD blog. She travels to Arkansas as the first stop on her “school choice tour” to check out what’s going on. She quickly discovers that the Walton Family Foundation (of Walmart fame) is pushing a bill in the state legislature that would achieve two main goals from the corporate “reform” agenda. “The Waltons are backing a controversial bill,” she asserts, “that combines two new school choice faves—1) ‘tax credit scholarships’ that would let well-heeled Arkansans and corporations claim hefty state and federal tax deductions for donating to a nonprofit, which then disperses funds to choice-seeking parents in the form of 2) an education savings account, which lets parents pay for private school tuition using a ‘backpack full of cash.’ So what’s changed? Not the number of private schools. Arkansas has just 230 of them, and that’s before you cross off the schools that charge well in excess of the $6K voucher amount. And not the legacy of racism that gave rise to many of these schools in the 1960’s and 70’s.
The LA WEEKLY chronicles the continuing enrollment declines in the LAUSD. Those numbers cannot be blamed totally on the expansion of charter schools in the district. The LAUSD has the largest number of charter schools serving the largest number of students of any district in the U.S. “The district’s enrollment, which peaked in 2004 at just under 750,000, began to drop. Some of the loss was to independent charters,” the piece suggests, “a growing trend that would soon amount to a veritable exodus of students. But the total number of kids being served by both the district and charters also was dropping. The reason was simple: People are having fewer children. They’re also having them later in life — and they’re often leaving L.A. once they do.”
An editorial in Wednesday’s L.A. Times was disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up a case dealing with a transgender teen’s desire to use the bathroom of his choice. The justices had scheduled oral arguments on the issue this month after which the Trump administration withdrew the previous guidelines promulgated by the Obama administration. The Times labeled the court’s decision “a mistake.” “The justices should have heard the case anyway,” the editorial suggests, “as both sides of the case had urged. Then it should have ruled that, under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits schools and colleges from engaging in discrimination ‘on the basis of sex,’ the school must allow him to use the bathroom that corresponds to his gender identity — even if that identity is different than the one on his birth certificate.”
It’s Testing Season
As the testing season commences, one way schools and districts are trying to counteract the opt-out movement is by providing incentives (bribes?) to students who take the standardized exams. Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, describes some of the latest attempts to boost student participation in the annual assessments. She zeroes in on one elementary school in Colorado and how they are enticing students to engage in the testing program. “Other schools are also offering incentives in Colorado,” Strauss relates, “one of the states with the largest opt-out movements. New York has had the most opt-outs, with at least 20 percent of students statewide refusing to take accountability tests for the past few years, and officials expecting big numbers again this year.”
Are the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their political allies helping to re-segregate the nation’s schools by creating a two-tier system of education? That’s the issue raised by Mike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blog. He visits Chicago to illustrate his point. As an aside, he singles out Walter Payton College Prep High School, one of the city’s most desired selective enrollment campuses, which Vicki Abeles features in her book “Beyond Measure” (the next title to be discussed by the ALOED Book Club on March 25). “The news out of Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel has autocratic power over the public schools,” Klonsky writes, “is that the city’s selective-enrollment high schools have become even more exclusive. In 2009 the Chicago deseg consent decree was liquidated by a federal judge with support from Arne Duncan and selective-enrollment and charters have dropped all pretense of being about racial equality.” The corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their political allies would love the public to drink the Kool-Aid that says the “failing” public schools can’t be fixed and the only answer is “school choice”, i.e., charters, private and religious schools and vouchers. Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, thinks he’s found a traditional public school system that works and could be used as a model for others to emulate. The surprising (gratifying?) thing is, it’s right in our backyard. The district he holds up as the exemplar? Surprise, surprise . . . . Long Beach Unified. “Educators I met up and down the ranks of LBUSD refer to ‘The Long Beach Way’ as a culture of continuous improvement that begins with a respect for teachers and a belief that internal accountability – rather than top-down mandates – is what drives meaningful change,” Bryant reveals. “The Long Beach Way, I learned, is a relentless devotion to the process of ‘doing school’ that puts the essentials of good education – curriculum and instruction and an intense devotion to the well-being of students – at the heart of the work rather than technocratic changes meant to solve problems quickly or disrupt the system. And while the district has certain ‘non-negotiables,’ real progress is expected to come from the bottom up through collaboration and team work rather than demands and compliance.” He goes into detail about what he found to be laudable with what Long Beach is doing. In the article former California Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig tells Bryant why he thinks any school district can replicate what LBUSD has accomplished. In closing, Bryant promises to continue reporting on other districts that are having similar successes as Long Beach and what, exactly, they are doing right. Stay tuned!
“A Day Without a Woman” Impacts Schools
Wednesday’s “A Day Without a Woman” protests worldwide could have a serious impact on schools around the world. Women were urged to stay home from work, avoid shopping and wear red in honor of International Women’s Day. A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times looked ahead to the action and the effect it could have on schools. “Schools may feel some of the biggest effects. Roughly three-quarters of U.S. teachers are women,” it points out, “according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Two school districts in North Carolina and Virginia have canceled classes, telling about 27,000 students to stay home because not enough teachers and staff plan to show up for work. In Alexandria, Va., 16 public schools will be closed after 300 members — or more than 20% — of the teaching staff requested the day off.”
Federal Education Dollars Could Be Slashed
When Pres. Trump addressed a joint session of Congress last week, he proposed major increases in military spending and significant tax cuts without corresponding revenue increases. That’s a guaranteed formula for a huge increase in the federal deficit, something Republicans used to be loathe to do. In order to pay for his 2 major initiatives, Trump will have to reduce spending for discretionary programs like EDUCATION. Therefore, K-12 budget planners are looking at serious reductions in federal dollars. EDUCATION WEEK takes a look at this critical issue at a time when districts are formulating their budgets for the next school year. “A spokesman for the Education Department, Matt Frendewey, said last week that his department was still waiting on more details about how Trump’s plan would affect K-12. But advocates for relatively limited federal spending on education,” it mentions, “are encouraged by the early signal from the Trump administration.”
The Public School System in Jeopardy
Renowned education psychologist, prolific author and former dean of the School of Education at Arizona State David C. Berliner takes a nuanced look at some valuable education numbers and statistics to get a clearer picture of the state of our traditional public schools today. He does so in the hope of clearing up some misconceptions being peddled by the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and certain news outlets. He addresses the fallacy of our “failing” public schools and what needs to be done to “fix” them on the Equity Alliance Blog. “In the US, wealthy children attending public schools that serve the wealthy are competitive with any nation in the world. Since that is the case why would anyone think our public schools are failing? When compared to other nations some of our students and some of our public schools are not doing well,” Berliner asserts. “But having ‘some’ failures is quite a different claim than one indicting our entire public school system.” Berliner offers some concrete suggestions for correcting some of the problems plaguing our public schools. Linda Darling-Hammond, writing for THE Nation, wonders if the traditional public school system, as we know it, can survive the assault on it from the Trump/Pence/DeVos triumvirate along with the corporate “reformers” and privatizers. Her piece is titled “Education for Sale? School Choice and the Future of American Education.” “Clearly, the issues surrounding school choice are more complex than the typical pro-charter/anti-charter battle lines might suggest,” Darling-Hammond explains. The central question for a public-education system in a democratic society is not whether school options should exist, but whether high-quality schools are available to all children. The fact that choice doesn’t guarantee quality should be clear each time we flick through 500 cable-TV channels without finding a single good viewing option. In public education, this kind of choice is not an acceptable outcome.” “The article is well worth reading,” Diane Ravitch acknowledges. “It contains useful data.” Along the same lines, Alex Molnar, Research Professor and Publications Director, National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado Boulder, looks at how the conservative movement may achieve 2 important goals as part of their overall ideology–make lots of money and eliminate the traditional public school system. “After the U.S. Constitution had been drafted, Benjamin Franklin commented that the framers had given Americans a republic, ‘if you can keep it.’ The founders also provided the nation with a deeply democratic ideal of public education,” he recounts. “We’re not likely to keep it. In the next decade the distinction between public and private will likely continue to blur, and ever more public tax dollars will be syphoned into private coffers. Public schools will limp along, underfunded and struggling to educate ever larger numbers of students with needs too great to be profitable. Vast amounts of student data will be collected, sliced, diced, and sold for private gain again and again. Technology, marketing, and finance will fill the pockets of a tiny minority, and their well-paid retainers and experts will continue to obscure this reality.” The nation’s infrastructure is in dire need of updating or replacing. That goes for school buildings and their facilities as well. The American Society of Civil Engineers, in assessing the state of the nation’s overall infrastructure, gave a D+ grade to the schools according to a story in the “District Dossier” column for EDUCATION WEEK which includes a link to the Engineers’ report (3 pages). It closely mirrors similar findings about the schools issued last year by the 21st Century School Fund. “A D grade means that buildings are in fair to poor condition,” the article reports, “with many elements nearing the end of their useful life and showing significant deterioration, according to the report.”
How Are States Dealing With the ESSA?
The Every Student Succeeds Act was passed and signed into law in Dec., 2015. Based on that law, the states are facing two early deadlines this year on April 3, and Sept. 18, regarding accountability, assessment, monitoring and support. How are the individual states dealing with the new legislation in general and the approaching deadlines in particular? EDUCATION WEEK investigates and finds some states in better shape than others to implement ESSA. “Uncertainty surrounds what lies ahead for education under the Trump administration, but one thing is for sure: The Every Student Succeeds Act will be fully implemented in the 2017-18 school year,” it begins, “devolving more decisionmaking authority to the states.”
Interview With Michelle Rhee
Jennifer Berkshire, on her HAVE YOU HEARD blog, and Jack Schneider, author and assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross, host a Q & A with Michelle Rhee on the topics of value-added models, rating teachers, her tenure as Chancellor of the Washington, D.C., schools, founder of the advocacy group StudentsFirst, the future of education in the Trump era and others. You can listen to the podcast (35:45 minutes) and/or read the transcript by clicking here.
Teacher Preparation Rules Blocked
The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to block Obama administration rules that would have required teacher preparation programs be rated by student test scores, according to an item in the “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK. “The Education Department finalized the rules after a lengthy process [late last year], and changed how colleges and universities must judge the effectiveness of their programs that prepare teachers for classrooms. Among other things,” it notes, “these rules would require programs to include data on how many of their graduates get jobs in high-needs schools, how long their graduates stay in the teaching profession, and their impact on student-learning outcomes.”
Congress not only derailed Obama’s rules on teacher preparation programs (see above) but also dialed back on a number of other guidelines related to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The New York Times describes some of the actions taken and how they will impact future education policies. “It is customary for federal agencies to issue detailed regulations on how new laws should be put into effect, and Mr. Obama’s Department of Education did so in November. But some lawmakers from both parties saw the regulations as unusually aggressive and far-reaching,” it spells out, “and said they could subvert ESSA’s intent of re-establishing local control over education and decreasing the emphasis on testing. Last month, the House of Representatives overturned a broad swath of the rules using the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to spike federal regulations. The Senate passed a similar resolution on Thursday, and President Trump has indicated that he will sign it. That would leave ESSA on the books, but Ms. DeVos would have more flexibility in how to apply it.”
The Teaching Profession
What to do when those unexpected intrusions cause you to lose valuable instruction time? Starr Sackstein is National Board-certified and an English and journalism teacher in New York City. Her “Tips for Capitalizing on Lost Instructional Time” appears on the “Work in Progress” column for EDUCATION WEEK. “Every student wants to learn, but sometimes the temptation to mess around becomes too great,” she writes, “especially when an unfamiliar substitute is in front of the room. If we can create an atmosphere that demand and challenges students to engage, they will rise to the occasion, at least most of them will. So much of what we do depends on the groundwork we lay on a regular basis. What we value becomes evident, perhaps more so in our absence.” Sackstein offers 7 suggestions for dealing with those times when you are not able to meet your students personally. Starr Sackstein is at it again forED WEEK (see above). This time she addresses the idea that the traditional report card is outdated. The infrequent A-F or numerical rating with the possible inclusion of a few canned comments is not an effective way to communicate information in our highly technological age. She provides 9 ideas on how to improve student evaluation for all involved, i.e., students, parents and teachers. “The idea of what report cards are and what they actually do is fatally flawed from the beginning,” she complains. “Communication about learning needs to be ongoing in a meaningful way and paper report cards being mailed home or sent home with students or uploaded onto an online portal as a PDF a few times a year just doesn’t cut it. Aside from the infrequency of sharing, the content shared is often out of date and/or not a good representation of what students know and can do.” Are you currently a retired educator? [Ed. note: My answer is “yes.” I retired in 2009 after 37 years as a Social Studies teacher with the LAUSD.] Are you planning to retire soon? Will you eventually retire from teaching? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, a article from The New York Times takes a look at the state of various state teacher pension plans and the picture is NOT encouraging. It features a report from the Urban Institute that graded each state’s plan on an A-F scale using several criteria. “No states got an A,” the story lists, “and only six states received a B: Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, New York, Oregon and Wyoming. Most states — 33 — received a C, while six got a D. The last six — Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio and Rhode Island — each received an F.” California got a . . . . It’s too depressing to print. Check out the map that accompanies the piece for the answer. There are several other graphs and charts laying out the teacher pension situation nationally and state-by-state. You can peruse the full study from the Urban Institute titled “The State of Retirement: Grading America’s Public Pension Plans” by clicking here. Under the section headed “Filter Plans by Occupation,” click on the box marked “Teachers.” Either click on the state from the map or select from the boxes with the state names for detailed information about individual state pension plans. As the Trump administration continues to crack down on immigrants to this country, LGBTQ people and other groups, guess who is on the front lines in trying to protect students and their families? You guessed it! Teachers!!! THE Nation has a story detailing how teachers will be one of the first lines of defense in protecting illegal immigrants, trans students and other who have been threatened with unfair treatment. The article is titled “Teachers Will Be a Formidable Force Against Trump.” It looks at some recent protest marches in New York spearheaded by teachers. “New York schools have historically been seedbeds of political dissent, but under the Trump administration, the classroom atmosphere has been more charged than ever,”the piece relates. “Kids wonder if Homeland Security will snatch up their parents at home while they’re in school. And teachers might take a little more care to make sure their trans student can use the right bathroom without getting bullied.” Here’s an intriguing idea for dealing with the teacher shortage in California. 2 state senators have introduced SB 807 which would give veteran teachers an exemption from paying state income taxes for 10 years, in essence giving them a 4-6% pay increase and hopefully attracting more people into the field. The nonprofit group EdVoice is behind the drive to get the legislation passed and into law. It also includes tax credits to assist new teachers entering the profession to defray some of the costs of earning a credential. The “Teacher Beat” column for EDUCATION WEEK has a Q & A about the bill with Bill Lucia, President and CEO of EdVoice. In response to a question about whether anything like this has or is being done in other states, Lucia replies: “This would be novel. While some states don’t have any income tax, we would be the only state in the nation to have exemptions for teachers. Some states have explored tax credits to help teachers pay for supplies in their classrooms,” he continues. “In California, the training costs that teachers can incur, depending on the district, can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. We don’t know of any proposal like this that has gotten as far as people in the governor’s office weighing whether to suggest a veto.”
*Kilroy J. Oldster is an accomplished trial attorney, arbitrator, and mediator. His litigation practice encompasses both criminal and civil cases including personal injury, professional negligence, business disputes, and domestic relations.