Ed News, Friday, March 31, 2017 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 “I can see education is everywhere, and many people were educated. 
But I realize that common sense is not that common.” 

― Nurudeen Ushawu

LAUSD School Board Elections
LAUSD board president Steve Zimmer is facing a stiff challenge as he seeks a third term for his District 4 seat which stretches from the Westside to the West San Fernando Valley.  Voters will decide the election on Tuesday, May 16th.  The NPE (Network for Public Education) officially endorsed Zimmer in a statement on their website last week.  “Even though Mr. Zimmer has served on the Board since 2009,” it notes, “he is facing tough opposition from a candidate backed by the California Charter School Association and by the billionaires who have tried for over a decade to take control of the Los Angeles School system, with the goal of school privatization and charter expansion.”                If you’re still a little hazy about where Arne Duncan stands on charter schools, this story in yesterday’s L.A. Times should help dispel the fog.  The Sec. of Education for 7 years in the Obama administration just endorsed the 2 pro-charter, pro choice candidates for the LAUSD school board.  Duncan came out in favor of Nick Melvoin in District 4  and Kelly Gonez in District 6.  Both Melvoin and Gonez are charter proponents and are financially supported by millionaire former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan. Current board Pres. Steve Zimmer  (District 4) and Imelda Padilla (District 6) are backed by UTLA.  “Like President Trump and his Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, Melvoin and Gonez strongly support privately operated, publicly funded charter schools.  But so does Duncan.  And so did the administration of President Obama,” the item points out, “who also maintained close ties with leaders of teachers unions critical of charters.  The union message to liberal Los Angeles voters has been that Melvoin and Gonez will pursue the Trump education agenda.  But the candidates insist the more apt association is with Obama.”
High-stakes, standardized testing got its big start under No Child Left Behind which was signed into law by Pres. George W. Bush in Jan., 2002.  As Vicki Abeles indicates in her book “Beyond Measure” (which, by the way, the ALOED Book Club discussed on Saturday)“NCLB and Race to The Top [Pres. Obama’s version] began as an effort to raise standards but ended up as a punitive accountability strategy.”  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, follows in Abeles’ footsteps and wonders what has all this testing accomplished over the past 15 years in a piece he titles “The Lost Years.”  Greene offers a couple of theories as to why students seem to know less even with the huge emphasis on the exams.  “I don’t think the BS Test scores mean jack, and they have never been and will never be my measure of success.  But reformsters chose the game, set the rules, picked the measurement they wanted (BS Test scores),”he complains bitterly, “and they STILL lost the game. We have wasted over fifteen years of education; some students have seen their entire schooling consumed by test-centric baloney.  Yet we keep plowing on, keep committing to Testing Uber Alles. We are losing students, losing education opportunities, losing the chance to awaken some young humans to what they could be and could become– instead, we are still trying to mash their spirits flat under the heavy testing hand. We are losing years that we cannot get back, cannot give back, and this is not okay.”  Diane Ravitch has this to say about Greene’s impressive commentary: “This is one of Peter Greene’s most powerful posts. I urge you to read it.”               Peter Greene is a teacher and in the item above he explains why he believes that high-stakes assessments are a waste of time and have been for a decade-and-a-half.  Another teacher and blogger, Ralph Ratto, who teaches elementary school in New York, describes the start of testing this week in his state as “one of the darkest days in education” on his Opine I Will blog.  “Teachers must sit by as our students struggle for hours.  We will observe children get physically and emotionally ill taking these tests,” he describes dejectedly.  “We are forbidden to assist or even discuss the tests.  Students who refuse the test must sit in the same room with those taking the test.  They are expected to sit quietly and read for at least 90 minutes.  Have you ever tried that?  How do they expect 8-12 year old kids to do that?  Folks, this is institutional child abuse!  I have written about this and about how this is the time of year that I am ashamed to be a teacher.  We all should be ashamed, when we make these children take these tests to fulfill a political agenda and provide absolutely no valid  data that helps children excel.”   
Trump and Education           
Cartoon of the day:
is finding threats where nobody looked before
Tom Toles | Trump’s new security state is finding threats where nobody looked before
Charter Schools & Vouchers
Is this another example of the “bloom being off the rose” when it comes to the charter sector?  The “Charters & Choice” column forEDUCATION WEEK reports that the number of charter schools that opened in 2015-16 “plummeted” as compared to previous years.  “In a new analysis of the charter sector’s growth, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers finds that applications for new charters have fallen off by 48 percent since 2012.  In the 2015-16 school year,” it points out, “the average number of applications received by large authorizers fell to just over 7, down from more than 18 in the 2011-12 school year.”  The ED WEEK article offers a few reasons for the decline in new charter schools and includes a link to the NACSA report titled “Inside Charter School Growth: A Look at Openings, Closings, and Why Authorizers Matter.”               The CBS THIS MORNING program ran a segment yesterday on controversial reclusive Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen and his connection to a string of charter schools in the U.S. and around the world.  Gulen lives in a guarded compound in the Pocono Mountains in western Pennsylvania.  [Ed. note: The ALOED Education Film Series screened the documentary “Killing Ed” about Gulen and his charter network on the Occidental College campus in November.]  The Turkish government has requested the extradition of Gulen charging him with involvement in the unsuccessful coup attempt in Turkey in July.  The Obama administration didn’t act on the application before leaving office in January.  The Trump administration has yet to respond.  “Over the past two decades, Gulen’s Turkish followers have opened up taxpayer-funded charter schools in the U.S.  Some parents have expressed concern about the connection to the Gulen movement, while others don’t seem to mind.  But CBS News has learned,” the segment reports, “the FBI is investigating whether Gulen’s followers have skimmed money from those schools in order to fund his movement in Turkey.  A senior State Department official believes Gulen-linked charities and educational institutions in the U.S. look ‘a lot like the ways in which organized crime sets itself up… to hide money for money laundering.’”  The article includes a video (5 minutes) of the story that ran on the program.               The corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies like to tout how well charter schools are doing.  Don’t buy all the hype.  Carol Burris, former New York high school principal and currently executive director of the NPE (Network for Public Education) has been traveling around the country reporting on charter schools in California and various other states.  She recently spent some time in Arizona and writes about her findings on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog forThe Washington Post.  This entry is headlined: “What the Public Isn’t Told About High-Performing Charter Schools in Arizona.”  Burris burrows into the BASIS Charter Network that now runs 18 campuses in The Grand Canyon state.  She discovered some rather interesting things.  Despite the fact charters like to claim they are “public” schools because they are funded by taxpayer money, the comparison to traditional public schools pretty much ends there.  Among other things Burris analyzes are enrollment demographics and declines, the low number of students accepted with disabilities and ELLs, administrative costs and other factors.  “Like the ‘no-excuses’ charter schools found in cities, the attrition rates at BASIS middle and high schools are extraordinarily high,” she reveals.  “Of a cohort of 85 students who began eighth grade in BASIS Flagstaff during the 2011-12 school year, only 41 percent (35) remained to enter twelfth grade in 2015-16.  In the flagship school, BASIS Tucson North, a seventh-grade class of 130 became a class of 54 by senior year.  The same pattern exists in every BASIS charter high school in the state.”               The Charter industry in Nashville isn’t faring very well.  Will Pinkston, member of the Metro Nashville Board of Public Education, describes it as “unraveling” in an op-ed forThe (Nashville) Tennessean.  “It was just a matter of time before the wheels came off Nashville’s charter school industry,” he suggests.  “This year, it’s finally happening.  Advocates for charters — publicly funded private schools — have long argued they’re the best approach for improving K-12 public education.  But national research shows, and now a series of new local developments reinforces, that charters are just a collective ruse pushed by special interests trying to privatize our school system.”  Pinkston details what is happening at 2 chains in his city, RePublic and Rocketship, to buttress his claim.         The former director of 3 controversial charter schools in Oakland was recently charged with mail fraud and money laundering in relation to the schools’ applications for federal grant funds.  Ben Chavis who stepped down from his post in 2013 amid previous charges, was arrested yesterday in North Carolina reports a story in the EAST BAY TIMES.  “According to the indictment announced Thursday,” it reveals, “Chavis, 59, of Lumberton, N.C., and others devised and put into place a scheme from early 2006 through May 2012 to defraud the California School Finance Authority by requesting federally funded competitive grants for three charter schools in violation of federal conflict-of-interest regulations.”             The largest voucher school in North Carolina is enmeshed in a major financial scandal.  Keep in mind the Tar Heel state requires very little accountability and transparency regarding how taxpayer funded voucher programs are run, so it’s pretty easy to get away with this kind of shenanigans if one is so inclined.  Lindsay Wagner, writing on the AJF (AJFLETCHER FOUNDATION) website, explains what’s going on at the Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville and it should serve as a sobering caveat as to what can happen with voucher programs like the massive federal one being proposed by the Trump administration.  “Since 2014, Trinity Christian has received more than $1.2 million in taxpayer funds through the Opportunity Scholarships Program, which provides low-income families money to attend private schools.  For the academic year 2016-17,” Wagner writes, “school voucher recipients comprised 60 percent of Trinity Christian’s enrollment, according to state records.  The voucher school’s overall school enrollment grew by 25 percent between 2015-16 and 2016-17.  The state places few requirements on private voucher schools to account for how the taxpayer dollars are used to educate students, demonstrate achievement of the students who receive the aid or any transparency to assure the funds are used as intended.”
Betsy DeVos
Even a second grader is concerned about Sec. of Ed. Betsy DeVos’ agenda to dismantle the traditional pubic school system in this country.  A delightful piece in THE HUFFINGTON POST describes the sincere postcard Willa, the 8-year-old daughter of CNN commentator Sally Kohn, sent about her school to the head of the Dept. of Education pleading with DeVos not to “tear it down ever.”  “Kohn told HuffPost she was proud of her daughter,” the article explains, “for speaking up to protect her education.  She praised the school Willa attends and hopes one day all schools will have the necessary resources to keep kids thriving.”                Did Betsy DeVos just compare school “choice” to the battle between Uber, Lyft and traditional taxi services?  Yes, she did at a speech she delivered at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday.  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK scrutinizes her latest observations about schools, ride-sharing services and test scores.  [Ed. note: I know what you’re thinking, but I really didn’t make this up.  Maybe she just wants traditional public schools to be taken for a ride!!  Oooooo–bad pun!]               If you’d like to read just exactly what DeVos said about school “choice”  and ride-sharing companies (see above), Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, provides you with a transcript of her remarks.  Here’s an excerpt from DeVos’ address: “The reflexive question asked, often politely, by critics of choice is why should we not simply fix the broken schools first?  If only schools received more funding, they say, the schools could provide a better learning environment for those being left behind.  But of course we’ve already tried that, and it’s proven not to work.”  [Ed. note: Oh really Madam Secretary. When was the last time we ADEQUATELY funded and supported our public schools?]               A detailed analysis in The New York Times of DeVos’s speech this week to the Brookings Institution (see 2 items above) parsed her comments about school “choice,” School Improvement Grants (SIGs), some disappointing test scores and ride-sharing services. “Betsy DeVos, in her first extended policy address as education secretary,” it begins, “argued on Wednesday for an expansion of school choice programs, pointing to lagging test scores and a program championed by the Obama administration that funneled billions into low-performing schools but failed to produce better academic outcomes.”
Diane Ravitch’s blog castigates much of what DeVos said during her speech this week (see 3 items above) and urges reporters like the one who wrote the above story in The New York Times to carefully fact-check everything she says.  Since many of them don’t, Ravitch takes it upon herself.  “Grrr. It is frustrating to see this kind of ignorance expressed by the Secretary of Education,” she objects, “although Arne Duncan should have lowered our expectations.”               That speech DeVos delivered on Wednesday is drawing a lot of attention.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, joins the list.  Greene takes her to task for most of her prepared remarks and her responses to the Q & A afterward.  He too, was appalled at her Uber/Lyft/ taxi comparison to schools and choice.  He refers to it as “a tortured analogy.”  “This week Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stopped by Brookings to help them help her plug choice.  The main purpose of the event was to roll out a new report (The 2016 Education Choice and Competition Index),” he begins, “but the main outcome of the event was that DeVos said some truly extraordinary stuff.  First, she delivered some prepared remarks, but then she sat down for some Q & A with Russ Whitehurst (Brookings) and that’s when some kind of amazing stuff just kind of fell out of her mouth.”               Add Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, to the growing tally of bloggers vetting DeVos’ speech.  Schneider is dismayed by the whole idea of schools as businesses that should be run as a franchise like McDonald’s, 7-Eleven or Hertz.  “In sum, the term franchise is a marketing term.  And given the push to turn American public education,” she explains, “into a marketed product/service under the auspices of ‘school choice,’ it should come as no surprise that promoters of market-driven ed reform use business terminology to attempt to reframe American public education.” Diane Ravitch’s blog goes a little deeper into one aspect of the speech than she does in her post highlighted above, i.e., the Uber/Lyft/taxi similarity to schools and education. Ravitch titles this essay: “Note to DeVos: A School is Not a Taxi or an Uber.”  “At the Brookings celebration of school choice, Secretary DeVos said that people should choose a school like choosing Uber or some other alternative to the traditional public school.  She is clueless about the role of public education,” Ravitch declares, “in a community and in a democracy.  Picking your mode of transportation is a consumer good that you pay for; public education is both a public good and a right.”              And finally, at least for the time being, Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, checks in on DeVos’s speech from earlier this week.  He’s not in the lease bit bashful about his reaction to what she said, to wit, his title is “NEWSFLASH: Betsy DeVos Opens Mouth.  Nonsense Falls Out.” Singer zeroes in on what she said in regards to our test scores as compared to other countries.  He finds her remarks well short of the mark.  “Betsy, please just stop.  The blatant ignorance coming out of your mouth hurts,” he pleads harshly.  “It’s embarrassing.  But perhaps there is a silver lining here.  We’re used to hearing these lies from more credible sources.  Before becoming Education Secretary, Arne Duncan and John King had advanced degrees.  They ran major metropolitan school systems.  DeVos is just rich.”   Be sure to check out the illustration he leads his piece with.               All right.  Enough already about that speech DeVos delivered.  Let’s move on to other matters.  Want to get a handle on what types of schools DeVos would really like to create?  Are you sure to want to know?  Rebecca Klein, Education Editor for THE HUFFINGTON POST, describes a school DeVos has supported for many years in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  You may need or want to sit down before reading the story.  It’s extremely revealing and a rather scary look at what the future of education may have in store.  Remember, you’ve been warned of the nature of the article.  Proceed at your own peril.  The piece is titled “Welcome to the Private Evangelical School of Betsy DeVos’s Dreams.”  “The Potter’s House is a private school that is ‘evangelical in nature’ and reportedly teaches creationism alongside evolution.  It’s also the type of school,” Klein relates, “that Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, apparently believes can level the playing field in educational inequality.  The nondenominational Potter’s House makes a special effort to serve students of all races and income levels.   DeVos has been deeply involved with The Potter’s House for years ― as a donor, volunteer and board member. She has mentioned the school by name in speeches and interviews, saying schools like The Potter’s House have given ‘kids the chance to succeed and thrive’ and that the institution inspired her to advocate for education-related causes.”
Graduation Rates 
As the school year winds down, high school seniors begin to contemplate graduation DAY.  Education experts also begin to focus ongraduation RATES.  There’s been a major push in recent years to increase those numbers.  The co-authors of a story in EDUCATION WEEK offer “Six Ways to Improve High School Graduation Rates.”  “In recent years, the graduation track record of our 15 million U.S. public high school students has steadily increased,” they mention.  “Overall national graduation rates for public school students have climbed 4.2 percentage points in the past four years, up from 79 percent in the 2010-11 school year to the current 83.2 percent.  Despite improvements, the stakes remain high.  At the current rate, close to 700,000 of today’s high school freshmen won’t make it.  If nothing changes between now and 2020, nearly three-quarters of a million young people each year will see their prospects for higher education, high-skilled jobs, and economic mobility severely curtailed.”
The Teaching Profession
With students making use of so many varied digital platforms, the author of this essay on the “Work in Progress” column forEDUCATION WEEK urges teachers to “Model What It Means to Be a Digital Citizen.”  Starr Sackstein, National Board-certified teacher, author and blogger, offers six sensible suggestions on how to exhibit appropriate digital behavior for students and to your own children and grandchildren by extension.  Here’s one example from her list: “Be respectful.  It’s useful to remember that we should treat others as we want to be treated and social media is the perfect forum to practice.  People are watching all of the time.  Whether it is your followers, colleagues or students, when you choose to be respectful, others will notice and they will notice even more if you engage in disrespectful behavior.”               Most veteran educators probably know this but a new study out of the U.K. finds that teacher encouragement and positive feedback have a lasting impact on students.  The report was produced by a researcher from the University of Cambridge.  An article in the “Teacher Beat” column for EDUCATION WEEK features it.  “The study also revealed that a teacher’s encouragement,” it points out, “has a much greater impact on students with average grades and parents with limited educations.  These students who reported receiving positive feedback from their teachers more often finished high school and pursued college degrees.”  The ED WEEK item includes a link to the full report titled “Does Teacher Encouragement Influence Students’ Educational Progress”  A Propensity-Score Matching Analysis.”  [Ed. note: I have no idea what the last statement of the title means.  Maybe it’s something uniquely British.]
What Would a Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch Mean For Students With Disabilities?
The chances appear pretty good that Neil Gorsuch will become the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Unless the Democrats have some sort of trick up their sleeve, the Republican majority has a clear path to approval.  Once he’s on the court, what might his presence mean for students with disabilities?  The answer: not encouraging as Jeff Bryant points out on the Education Opportunity NETWORK.  His commentary is titled “A Gorsuch Approval Would Put Vulnerable Students Further At Risk.”  “Students with disabilities already face a difficult path through our nation’s education system, but President Donald Trump appears determined to add to the disadvantages these students already face.  His nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court,”Bryant maintains, “is yet another sign his administration is less than eager to uphold the rights of these students. . . .  With the Gorsuch nomination, Trump appears increasingly willing to respond to the real obstacles these children face by telling them, ‘Tough!  You’re on your own.'”  Bryant proceeds to offer some analysis of several previous legal rulings by Judge Gorsuch when he was on the federal appeals court and reminds readers of candidate Trump’s mocking on the campaign trail of a reporter with a physical disability.  
Student Privacy
And finally, do some of your students or even your own children or grandchildren take the SAT or PSAT for college admission or as a high school graduation requirement?  If so, are you aware of the amounts of personal data that are collected and what the College Board, that owns the 2 tests, does with it?  Valerie Strauss turns her column in The Washington Post over to Cheri Kiesecker, a Colorado parent who’s a member of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, a national organization fighting to protect parent and student personal data.  She did some detailed investigating and reveals some rather disturbing aspects about what information is collected, how it’s collected and how much of it and with whom it is shared. Student privacy issues have come to the fore as digital technology becomes more and more ubiquitous and this item shines some much needed light on the topic. 
                                      .                                                                      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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