The ED NEWS
A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues
Final ALOED Event Reminder: You only have a couple of days left to sign up for ALOED’s spring Book Club to be held this Saturday in the Samuelson Alumni Center on the Occidental College Campus. The book to be discussed is Vicki Abeles’ “Beyond Measure” which is a follow-up to her documentary film “Race to Nowhere.” Brunch will be provided by ALOED so please be sure to RSVP so they know how much food to order. It will be served at 11 am followed by a stimulating conversation about the book at noon. You don’t have to read the book to participate. If nothing else, come for the food. For all the details and to RSVP click here. Hope to see you on Saturday.
And now to the news.
“An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know.
It’s being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.”
Trump and Education
Want a preview of what the Trump/Pence/DeVos national voucher plan might look like? Gander no farther than the program in Florida. The “Back Story” feature in the March 12 L.A. Times offers a “primer, ” in the form of a Q & A, on what the private school choice program looks like in the Sunshine state. Here’s one question and the response from the article: “How does the Florida tax credit scholarship work? Companies get dollar-for-dollar tax credits for their contributions to nonprofit scholarship organizations. Depending on the type of tax, they can get credit for between 50% and 100% of their tax liabilities through the program. Parents apply for scholarships by submitting pay stubs, tax returns and other financial documents. If eligible, they can get up to $5,886 per student and apply that money toward tuition at a set list of private K-12 schools. The average cost of private school in Florida this year is $7,864.” A story in the Times early this month about the Trump administration’s plan to provide taxpayer funded vouchers for students to attend private or religious schools sparked a single letter-to-the-editor in Friday’s paper. The author was “beyond outraged” at the idea. Pres. Trump unveiled his proposed 2018 fiscal year budget Thursday and it contains some massive cuts for the Department of Education among a number of other agencies. The DoE has been slated for a whopping 13% cut including some very popular and critical programs. The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK has the depressing details. “The federal spending plans still need to go through Congress for approval, and cuts of this magnitude will almost certainly be a tough political lift. And it could be months before lawmakers decide which of these cuts to accept or reject. The proposal would set spending levels for federal fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1 and generally impacts the 2018-19 school year.” Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, reacts (as you can guess) rather antagonistically towards Pres. Trump’s proposed budget as it relates to education (see above). His essay is titled “Trump Budgets More Money to Kill Kids in Yemen Than Educate Kids in the USA” and it excoriates Trump for his spending priorities. [Parental warning: In his anger, Singer drops a number of F-bombs in his piece.] “While boosting the military by $54 billion in his 2018 budget, he slashes spending at the U.S. Department of Education by $9.2 billion – the largest cut in the department’s history,” he complains. “This sad excuse for a man actually proposes that guns and tanks are more important than school children. Perhaps his motto should be ‘Save the guns! F— the children!’” What specific U.S. DoE programs could face the budget knife under Pres. Trump’s proposed budget? The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK, in a follow-up to its article above, attempts to read the tea leaves as to which face reductions. “President Donald Trump’s budget plan for education has singled out several programs to be slimmed down or eliminated. But all we know right know is based on a mere two pages in a 62-page ‘skinny’ federal budget the administration released last week. It doesn’t necessarily detail,” it suggests, “all or even most of the cuts and additions Trump’s team wants to make. Once the administration releases a more-detailed budget proposal for Congress to consider—and it might be several weeks before this is released—we’ll know a lot more about what Trump wants to do for public school spending.” Andre Perry, columnist for THE HECHINGER REPORT, is critical of the Trump administration’s proposed budget and its steep cuts to education programs. It’s titled “In the America-First Budget, Schools Come Last.” The author finds a couple of contradictions in the spending blueprint and lists some specific items targeted for steep reductions. “The only logic Trump’s budget follows is across-the-board cuts, which lack internal consistency. It’s as if Trump said increase defense spending and make up for it by reducing everything else. This isn’t sensible or effective budgeting. A budget that puts America first,” he concludes, “would first and foremost invest in the next generation of Americans.” THE HECHINGER REPORT hosts its first ever “chat” on the impact of Trump’s proposed budget on students and Trump voters and what the figures reveal about the administration’s priorities regarding education. Participants in the conversation include members of The Hechinger news team. Pres. Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by the unexpected death of Antonin Scalia last February. If the jurist is confirmed by the Senate, what might that mean for education policy? The “School Law” blog for EDUCATION WEEK has a commentary titled “5 Things for Educators to Consider About Neil Gorsuch’s Confirmation Hearing.” Gorsuch appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee beginning yesterday. Here’s one of the points the author raises: “4. Progressive groups have focused some of their criticism of Gorsuch on his rulings in the areas of special education and disability discrimination.” What kind of fight might be in store as the Trump administration attempts topromote federal legislation to push charters, choice and voucher programs? A battle taking place in Iowa might offer a precursor, according to a story in The New York Times. “Despite Republican control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the State Legislature,” it points out, “proposals to significantly expand school choice programs in Iowa are stalled, at least for now. The pushback has come from groups traditionally opposed to the idea — Democrats, school districts, teachers’ unions and parents committed to public schools — but also from some conservatives concerned about the cost to the state. Iowa is one of 31 states where legislators have proposed creating or expanding school choice programs this year, without Washington even lifting a finger. Even if just a few of the bills pass, the number of children attending private schools with public money could greatly increase, one reason the proposals are meeting resistance.”
Here’s a real eye-opener about how some for-profit networks operate. Pro Publica’s lengthy investigative piece probes charges the some of the schools run by Camelot Education are more “like a prison.” True, it deals with students in 6th through 12th grade with behavior or academic problems but its techniques for dealing with those pupils raise some serious issues. The article focuses on one Camelot campus, Paramount Academy in Reading, Pennsylvania and some harmful actions aimed at students. “Over six months in 2013 and 2014,” the story reports, “about a half-dozen parents, students and community members at Paramount Academy — billed as a ‘therapeutic’ day program — complained of abusive behavior by the school’s staff.”
The PBS NEWSHOUR program has a continuing series called “Making the Grade.” This installment takes a look at how the voucher program in Indiana, one of the most extensive in the country is playing out. It could offer some insights into what a national program might look like as proposed by the Trump administration. The program in Indiana was greatly expanded under then-Governor, now Vice-President, Mike Pence. You can watch the segment (6:38 minutes), listen to a podcast and/or read the transcript by clicking here. Most parochial schools stand to profit from any federal plan to provide taxpayer dollars for families to send their children to private or religious schools. However, Cheryl Binkley, on her Third Millennium Teacher blog, makes the case for why congregations should be against the Trump voucher proposal. She’s a former teacher who now lives in Virginia and offers 4 main reasons for her position. “Many of the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish congregations of the U.S. behind the scenes are welcoming,” she begins, “even promoting the idea of government vouchers and financial supports for religious based PreK-12 schools, and the reasons are fairly evident. More money, more students, the opportunity to open their own school.” Despite the push for vouchers from the Trump/Pence/DeVos triumvirate, they are not a sure bet at the state level, even in Republican controlled conservative states like Arkansas. The lower house of the state legislature recently rejected a bill, by a vote of 37 in favor to 47 opposed, that would have created educational savings accounts (aka vouchers). The ARKANSAS NEWS provides the latest developments. “Legislators who spoke against the bill,” it mentions, “raised concerns about accountability, fairness, the impact on public schools and implications for the future.”
The corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their political allies love to label the traditional public schools as “failing.” Maybe it’s time to apply that label to charter schools. An investigative item in USA TODAY finds that some charters have admirable graduation rates which they often achieve by having selective admissions policies, high expulsion rates, low numbers of ELLs and students with disabilities, strategies that counsel poor performing academic students to leave and others. That, however, is not the focus of the article. It looks at how charter students do at earning a degree from a college or university. It even gives them 6 years to earn that degree. The numbers are not easy to come by, but the author of the story believes it’s around 23%. Interestingly, he uses the Alliance College-Ready Public (charter) Schools network as his case study. The item is titled “Charter Schools ‘Thorny’ Problem: Few Students Go On to Earn College Degrees.” “Like many charter school networks, the Los Angeles-based Alliance College-Ready Public Schools boast eye-popping statistics: 95% of their low-income students graduate from high school and go on to college,” it begins. “Virtually all qualify to attend California state universities. Its name notwithstanding, the network’s own statistics suggest that few Alliance alumni are actually ready for the realities — academic, social and financial — of college. The vast majority drop out. In all, more than three-fourths of Alliance alumni don’t earn a four-year college degree in the six years after they finish high school.” Remember the collapse of the Texas-based energy titan Enron when it declared bankruptcy back in 2001? Might there be some parallels to the charter industry? That’s the gist of a very intriguing study by 3 education researchers featured in BUSINESS INSIDER. “The charter-school industry — consisting of schools that are funded partly by tax dollars but run independently — is rife with the same types of fraud and mismanagement,” the report reveals, “that led to the Enron collapse.” The article includes a link to the full report (52 pages) titled “Are Charter Schools the Second Coming of Enron?” At the end of the article is another link to a similarly fascinating study (26 pages) titled “Are We Heading Toward a Charter School Bubble?: Lessons From the Subprime Mortgage Crisis.”
New California School Accountability System
The old API (Academic Performance Index) with its single, standardized test based number is a relic of the past. The California State Board of Education is rolling out its new “dashboard” accountability plan for comparing schools and districts using a number of criteria and some color coding. A story in the March 13 L.A. Times describes how the new system came into being and how it works. When the pilot version of the State Board’s dashboard website went live last week, “visitors [are] able to search for a school and find something called an ‘equity report’ on its page. The report includes how a school performed on standardized tests in English and math; the progress English-language learners are making toward proficiency; suspension rates; and graduation rates, ” the article explains. “Links let people find out more about each area, including how particular groups of students are doing. Down the road, more information will be added, including measures of school climate and how prepared students are for college, and potentially scores on science tests.” The California State Board of Education rolled out the new school accountability “dashboard” system (see above) on Wednesday. An article in Thursday’s Times reports that schools seem to be fairing better under this concept than under the previous API. “The dashboard reflects a new, more holistic approach to evaluating schools,” it points out, “one that does not see test scores as the be all and end all. It also emphasizes progress and so heaps praise on schools that do poorly but see significant score increases from one year to the next.” The piece explains how the new system works and has some preliminary results. It also includes two graphs with comparisons of how students in grades 3-8 performed under the old API single-number rating and the new “dashboard” system. The Times story includes a link to the California School DASHBOARD or you can find it by clicking here. Select a school or 2 or an entire district and see what pops up. [Ed. note: I checked up on the high school where I taught for 26 years and from which I retired in June, 2009 and also the LAUSD. Hang in there. I ran into a few glitches.]
If you think the DeVos selection to be the U.S. Sec. of Education is a fiasco, wait until you see who she picked to be a special assistant. It’s Robert S. Eitel, who previously worked as the chief compliance officer for a company that runs several for-profit colleges that are facing a number of federal investigations for deceptive marketing, loose accounting practices, burdening students with enormous debt and inflated job placement rates among others. A story in The New York Times profiles Mr. Eitel whose current post does not require Senate confirmation. “[Eitel’s] new role,” it points out, “which has not been announced publicly, could bump up against federal rules involving conflicts of interest and impartiality, ethics experts said, particularly given his position as a vice president for regulatory legal services at Bridgepoint Education Inc., an operator of for-profit colleges, during federal investigations into the company.” Prior to becoming Sec. of Education, Betsy DeVos was a strong proponent of charters and vouchers. Now that she heads the Dept. of Education she still supports those programs but also claims she’s in favor of “great public schools.” The only problem is how she defines “public schools.” Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, takes a careful look at what she really means by that phrase. “School choice proponents like DeVos often argue that all that matters is whether students who attend charters, online schools, and private academies do well on standardized tests and that parents are generally satisfied with these choices. But this argument ignores the tax-paying public that deserves to know whether those outcomes are being achieved without wasting our public dollars,” he complains, “which more often than not, they probably are.” It’s becoming more and more necessary to fact-check some of the things Betsy DeVos says. She recently accentuated the story of a student from India who was attending a “failing” public school when his family moved and enrolled him in a virtual charter. He graduated which is great news although we have little idea of the quality of the education he received there. In addition, DeVos failed to mention that less than 20% of his class graduated in 4 years. If you add a fifth year the number only rises to 23.6%. That would easily be considered a “failing” school by the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies like Betsy DeVos. Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 provides the “missing” details left out of the Sec. of Education’s cherrypicked “success” story.
The Teaching Profession
If you’ve taught for any length of time you have certainly had what would be considered to be “difficult” students. How you handled them makes all the difference in the world as to how they remember you. Mercedes Schneider, on her blog at deutsch29 titles her piece “Many of My Most Difficult Students End Up Loving Me.” She’s been teaching on and off at different levels since 1991-92 . Whether you are retired from the classroom, teaching currently or planning on entering the profession she has some sound advice to offer. When you care about these students a bond develops between you and them. “What happens is that a trust is established and a relationship is forged. That doesn’t mean there is no longer a need for discipline,” Schneider relates. “What it means is that the student trusts me and understands (and even comes to value) the discipline when it must come. These moments I consider the gems of teaching and learning. These moments defy capture on any standardized test or school grading rubric.”
Bill Proposes Money for Teacher Housing in California
And finally, the lack of affordable housing in urban areas in California and a paucity of available housing units in rural ones are contributing factors to the teacher shortage in the state. AB 45, introduced by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), would address those issues by allocating $100 million to school districts to help construct units for their teachers. A brief story in Sunday’sL.A. Times describes the legislation.