The ED NEWS
A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues
“I call therefore a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war.”
― John Milton,
More accusations aimed at the nations second-largest school district. Two recently released reports and a lawsuit are critical of how the LAUSD allocates newly created funding for its most needy students. A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times details these latest complaints. “This particular dispute centers on one of Gov. Jerry Brown’s core reforms: providing extra money to serve students who are in the foster system, from low-income backgrounds and learning English,” it points out. Because 82% of L.A. Unified students fall into at least one of these categories, the dollars add up to about $1.1 billion of the district’s $8.4 billion annual operating budget.” The article focuses on one school, La Salle Ave. Elementary in South L.A. The district disputes many of the charges.
Many different sources have weighed in on Betsy DeVos’ nomination, confirmation and first few weeks in office. So, you may be a bit surprised (or not) that this lengthy analysis comes from Rolling Stone. It is, like many others, highly critical of her in a piece titled “Betsy DeVos’ Holy War” that reviews her background and family history, religious beliefs, political and educational philosophy, philanthropy and ongoing war on traditional public education. “Central to understanding the DeVos family, and particularly Dick and Betsy’s zeal for education, is the Calvinist doctrine of predestination,” the reporter writes, “a belief that one’s salvation (or damnation) has been preordained by God. According to this view, God’s ‘elect’ must work hard in dedication to the glorification of Jesus Christ. Another of Calvinism’s central teachings is that God is the ‘absolute sovereign’ over everything in the world, and followers must in turn claim ‘every square inch’ of the Earth for Jesus Christ.” Bloomberg has a disturbing report about Betsy DeVos ending an Obama administration rule that limits the fees student debt collectors can charge. The decision is a windfall for companies that collect student debt and a former for-profit college lobbyist who until a couple of days ago was an adviser to DeVos at the Dept. of Education. “DeVos’s decision, announced [March 19th] in a memorandum to the student loan industry, allows companies known as guaranty agencies to charge distressed student debtors fees equivalent to 16 percent of their total balance,” the article explains, “even when borrowers agree within 60 days to make good on their bad debt. The reversal is almost certain to hand United Student Aid Funds Inc., the nation’s largest guaranty agency, a victory in its two-year legal battle against her department. The fees could translate into an additional $15 million in annual revenue for the company, filings in a related lawsuit suggest.” The Trump administration has only been in office a little over 2 months but THE MERROW REPORT describes a state of confusion and chaos at the Dept. of Education. John Merrow sees a silver lining in the current situation and believes it’s an opportunity for the states to exert more control over education policy. His commentary is titled “What the Dickens is Going On?” and he details what’s going down at the DoE. “So, it’s bad, but it would be worse if Trump’s anti-public school people had their act together, which they do not. And there’s a brighter side to all this. Congress,” he suggests, “which finally got out from under the widely-discredited No Child Left Behind Act when it passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, has now revoked regulations issued in the dying days of the Obama Administration. That gives even more power back to states and districts, who must still file their ESSA accountability plans with the Department….even though it’s not clear that anyone at the Department will read them, let alone approve them.”
Charters & Vouchers
Interested in another debate about charters and vouchers? This one takes place at CSU Sacramento. The motion: “Charters and Vouchers Are the Answer.” Arguing in favor is Chris Stewart, Director of Outreach and External Affairs, Education Post and he’s opposed by Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, Professor of Education Leadership and Policy Studies, Sacramento State. You can view the debate (89:46 minutes) on YouTube. You can read Dr. Heilig’s opening and closing statements of the debate on his website CLOAKING INEQUITY by clicking here. It includes a link to the debate, some brief comments and updates on it and the results of audience and viewer voting on the motion before and after the debate. Apparently, voucher advocates in Texas will resort to some rather questionable tactics in support of their position. “The Blast” the political newsletter of THE TEXAS TRIBUNE reveals that hundreds of pro-voucher letters received by several Texas legislators were fraudulently sent. “State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, was suspicious when his office fielded 520 letters between mid-February and mid-March,” the brief story relates, “from constituents of his rural district, who are more likely to oppose private school choice than support it. All the letters were addressed from Austin and had the full names and addresses of each constituent at the bottom. Springer started making calls. ‘We talked to a couple of dozen constituents. No one knows where they’re coming from. None of them agree with the positions that they’re even taking,’ he said. He knows of about 10 other representatives who got similar letters.” Earlier this month a front-page investigative story in the L.A. Times looked into some questionable spending patterns and conflicts of interest at the Celerity Educational Group, a network with 7 charter schools in Los Angeles and additional campuses in Louisiana (see the March 7, edition of the “Ed News). This week Celerity responded to the Times report, defending the practices and the salary in paid to its founder and former CEO Vielka McFarlane. An article in yesterday’s Times reports on Celerity’s answers to the issues raised. “Celerity Educational Group’s credit card statements, which The Times obtained through a public records request,” it mentions, “show that when McFarlane was the network’s CEO she paid for expensive meals and hotel stays with a credit card belonging to her nonprofit organization, which receives the bulk of its funding from the state. Asked if she ever repaid Celerity, McFarlane and Celerity’s lawyer did not comment.” The Trump administration is getting a head start on expanding vouchers by increasing taxpayer money available for the program in Washington, D.C., which the U.S. Congress has jurisdiction over. Diane Ravitch’s blog points out that this is in spite of the fact there is no research that demonstrates vouchers achieve better test scores. “Republicans have already started moving HR 1387, the SOAR Reauthorization Act,” Ravitch writes. “This bill would reauthorize the DC voucher program (the only federally funded voucher program in the country), and the group that administers the program has said they expect to provide ‘hundreds’ of new vouchers to DC students with Republicans in charge.”
Diane Ravitch’s blog reports on 8 local teachers unions in California who have banded together to promote “real school reform,” not the market-based version being pushed by the corporate “reformers” and their allies. The organizations range, geographically, from San Diego to San Francisco and include the largest cities in the state representing over 50,000 educators. The new alliance is called The California Alliance for Community Schools and instead of promoting charters, vouchers, privatization and “choice,” their platform includes “Lower class sizes, Resources for high-needs schools and students, Shared decision-making at local school sites, critical to student success, Charter school accountability and Safe and supportive school environments.” The article includes a list of all 8 local unions and contact information for each. In the ongoing rancorous debate between charter schools vs. traditional public schools, magnet schools are often left out of the equation. An interesting article on the BROOKINGS website, an independent, non-partisan social science think tank, makes the case for magnets titled “Don’t Forget Magnet Schools When Thinking About School Choice.” “Magnet schools are schools of choice that have themes (e.g., STEM, arts, gifted/talented). Initially a tool for desegregation efforts in the 1970s (i.e., by encouraging white parents to stay in urban districts),” it informs, “magnets have evolved to serve a wide variety of purposes and settings. While magnet schools are widely prevalent—there are over 3,000 magnets across more than 600 school districts within 34 states—they have received less attention in the research literature than charters.” Michigan, Florida and South Carolina have the highest proportion of magnet schools and the LAUSD, Miami-Dade and Houston are the districts with the largest number of magnets according to data included in the story.
The Teaching Profession
Have you ever had a student or students in your classroom who know more about technology than you do? If so, it’s a pretty common occurrence these days, so don’t feel bad. Tricia Ebner is a National Board-certified teacher of English/Language Arts at a middle school in Ohio. On the “CTQ Collaboratory” column for EDUCATION WEEK she offers some practical ideas onhow to overcome your own fears of technology. Her commentary is headlined “When Students Know More About Technology Than Their Teacher.” “Learning to let go of my need to be the ‘technology guru’ for my students is an ongoing process. I’ll admit that sometimes I still hesitate to try a new tool because I haven’t yet explored all the details. But in those moments,” Ebner concludes, “I try to remember that our students today are growing up in a world filled with websites, programs, apps, and tools that are readily available to them, and they are willing to learn by doing. It’s a true example of hands-on learning, and it’s working for them. Who am I to stand in their way? ” A teacher at Palm Beach Central High School was angered by a commercial for Booking.com she believes casts teachers in a very negative light. The Palm Beach Post comments on the ad and prints the email the teacher sent to the company in protest. “By now, millions of people probably have seen Booking.com’s ‘kindergarten’ commercial,” it explains, “which features a frazzled teacher surrounded by a classroom of screaming kindergartners throwing balls, banging bats and playing in the classroom fish tank. . . . Alana Milich, a teacher at Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington, caught the online travel website’s commercial at home Tuesday, her second day of spring break. . . . What she saw, over and over again, was a portrayal of a teacher as inattentive to the classroom and obsessed with her upcoming vacation.” The newspaper has the offending commercial (29 seconds) for you to view and a response from the company and reactions from other teachers. Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog has a blunt rejoinder to the whole episode of the Booking.com ad (see above) which can be summed up in his title: “Booking.com and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Ad.” [Ed. note: I’ll leave it at that!] Steven Singer is kind of torn by testing season. As a teacher he doesn’t look forward to proctoring the standardized exams in his classroom but he finds the fact that he opts his 2nd grade daughter our of the tests to be a joyous occasion. I’ll let him explain this dichotomy in his singular style on his always entertaining GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG. “Testing season is a gray period in my classroom. But it’s a joy in my house. As a classroom teacher with a daughter in the public school system, I’m always struck by the difference,” he recounts. “In school I have to proctor the federally mandated standardized tests. But I’ve opted my own daughter out. She doesn’t take them. So at home, I get to see all the imaginative projects she’s created in her class while the other kids had to trudge away at the exam.”
Creator of Value-Added Model Dies at 74
William L. Sanders, an adjunct professor of business and agricultural statistician at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, was the creator of the Education Value-Added Assessment System which came to be known as a value-added model (VAM). It is a highly controversial tool used to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers. Sanders passed away last week at age 74. Audrey Amrein-Beardsley wrote extensively about VAMs on her VAMboozled blog. She notes Sander’s passing and comments about her research regarding his creation. “Sanders thought that educators struggling with student achievement in the state should ‘simply’ use more advanced statistics, similar to those used when modeling genetic and reproductive trends among cattle,” she comments, “to measure growth, hold teachers accountable for that growth, and solve the educational measurement woes facing the state of Tennessee at the time. It was to be as simple as that.” She includes a link to the Sanders obituary that appears in the Shelbyville (Tennessee) Times-Gazette.
New California School Accountability System
The State Board of Education debuted the new, expanded “dashboard” school accountability system last week. Instead of a single number (the old API) it combines ratings on a number of criteria with a color-coded system for comparison purposes. The L.A. Timeshad two article about the new program last week that were both highlighted in the “Ed News.” The second story prompted 2 letters that appear in Wednesday’s edition of the paper. Both were rather critical of the new “dashboard” structure.
U.S. Supreme Court Expands Rights for Special Ed Students
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous 8-0 vote, issued a major ruling on Wednesday that expands the services school districts must provide to special education students. Interestingly, the decision has ties to an earlier case involving Appellate Court Judge Neil Gorsuch who underwent several days of confirmation hearings this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee to assume the seat on the nation’s high court left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia over a year ago. The “School Law” column for EDUCATION WEEK has details about the current case and the connection to a possible future Supreme Court justice. “The decision comes in the case of a Colorado student named Endrew F. whose autism led to behavioral issues in school. After four years in the Douglas County schools, near Denver,” it reports, “the boy’s parents believed his academic and functional progress was stalled. Endrew F.’s individualized education programs largely carried over the same educational goals and objectives from one year to the next. . . . The parents pulled the boy from public school amid a dispute over his 5th grade IEP and enrolled him a private school specializing in autism, the Firefly Autism House. . . . Under established precedents, the family sought reimbursement from the Douglas County district for the private school tuition. They lost before a state administrative law judge, a federal district court, and the 10th Circuit.”
CSU Raises Tuition
The California State University Board of Trustee voted on Wednesday to boost tuition by 5%. The vote was 11-8 and came amid protests from students. Earlier this year the UC system increased tuition by 2.5% according to a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times. “At Cal State, the increase will amount to about 5%, or about $270 for in-state students. Tuition for out-of-state students,” it explains, “as well as graduate and teacher credential programs also will go up. These increases will generate $77.5 million in crucial net revenue, officials said. The more than 60% of Cal State students whose tuition is fully covered by grants and waivers will not be affected.”
Senate GOP Rejects Hannah Skandera for Ass’t Sec. of Ed Post
And finally, Senate Republicans opposed the nomination of Hannah Skandera, the current New Mexico Commissioner of Education, to become an assistant to Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos. The reason? Skandera is a close ally of Jeb Bush and a strong supporter of the Common Core so the Trump administration decided to withdraw the offer. Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29,details the machinations surrounding the selection.