Ed News, Tuesday, April 4, 2017 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“I have indeed two great measures at heart, without which no republic can maintain itself 
in strength: 1. That of general education, to enable every man to judge for himself 
what will secure or endanger his freedom. 2. To divide every county into hundreds, 
of such size that all the children of each will be within reach of a central school in it” 

― Thomas Jefferson

Public Schools
The headline of an op-ed in The New York Times tells it all: “Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These?”  It tells the story of some highly successful TRADITIONAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS in the K-12 Union Public Schools district in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The author of the piece is David L. Kirp, professor at UC Berkeley, who ALOED member Larry Lawrence and I heard speak at Occidental College back in September, 2014.  Kirp describes an innovative system with a strong emphasis on the STEM subjects and is organized into a tightly knit group of community schools and surprise, surprise, the students are not from a high socio-economic enclave.  The district also offers healthy doses of art, music and sports to augment the academics and they accomplish all of this on one of the lowest per pupil spending amounts in the country.  “Ms. DeVos, the new secretary of education, dismisses public schools as too slow-moving and difficult to reform.  She’s calling for the expansion of supposedly nimbler charters and vouchers that enable parents to send their children to private or parochial schools.  But Union shows what can be achieved,” Kirp points out, “when a public school system takes the time to invest in a culture of high expectations, recruit top-flight professionals and develop ties between schools and the community.”  Kirp adds in conclusion that the Union District in Tulsa is not an outlier.  He singles out districts in Union City, N.J., Montgomery County, Md. and Long Beach and Gardena, Calif., as accomplishing similar things and he challenges Betsy DeVos to check out what’s taking place at these exemplary PUBLIC schools.  Diane Ravitch called this “a terrific article that you will enjoy.”              Arthur Kamins was a science teacher and administrator in New York, Massachusetts and Kentucky.  He makes the case that public institutions and programs are essential to our democracy and that public schools do a much better job of maintaining it than private schools.  It is critical,therefore, that we preserve and strengthen our public schools if we wish to retain our democratic system of government.  Kamins’ commentary is titled “Don’t Be April Fooled: Public Is Better” and appears in THE HUFFINGTON POST.  “Don’t be fooled.  Tell your federal and state representatives,” he concludes.  “The wealthy need to pay more taxes not less.  Tell them that we don’t want to slip inside the gates of the wealthy.  We want to improve the public schools we have for all children.  Vote for that or we won’t vote for you.”
Charter Schools & Choice
The UTLA website summarizes 4 bills introduced in the California legislature last month that would promote charter school“accountability, transparency and equity” and promote the creation and support of more community schools.  “The legislation will be joined by an additional bill in coming weeks, forming a package of proposals that would support the creation of Community Schools,”the article relates, “and hold privately operated charters to some of the same standards as traditional public schools, including ensuring equal access for students and the prohibition of practices that discourage enrollment or push enrolled students out of school.”                A small group of Republican members of the Freedom Caucus (previously known as the Tea Party), in the House of Representatives, were recently able to derail Pres. Trump’s attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.  Now, another contingent of conservatives is gathering steam to oppose the administration’s much touted plan to make school choice, in the form of vouchers, into a federal program.  The opponents of the idea see it as yet another bid to shift powers away from local and state governments.  Diane Ravitch’s blog reports on a recent meeting at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, where a group of conservatives issued a warning to refrain from turning vouchers into a federal program.                The corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies like to promote school “choice” as a panacea for what supposedly ails public schools which is really under funding and poor support–but I digress.  Is school choice a ruse for a more sinister agenda?  Patricia MacCorquodale, a parent, sociologist and professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Arizona, describes her experiences navigating the twists, turns and dead ends of school “choice” in trying to select the best school for her daughter.  Her essay appears on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” column for The Washington Post and is headlined “The Masquerade of School Choice: A Parent’s Story.”   “Don’t let school choice trick you,” MacCorquodale sums up.  “The best way to provide quality across social class, race and ethnicity is to invest in public schools.”               When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies saw a rare opportunity to remake the New Orleans school district into an all-charter system.  It took a couple of years but the district is now pretty much 100% charter.  And how has that transformation improved the schools?  Well, in the realm of school desegregation, the answer is “not at all” as they remain as segregated as before the storm.  Diane Ravitch’s blog features a new report from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans out of Tulane University.  “New Orleans schools were highly segregated prior to the reforms, especially in terms of race and income,” Ravitch writes, “and the study finds that segregation levels remain high post-Katrina.  The authors find little evidence that the reforms affected segregation for elementary school students, but most groups of high school students they examined were affected. . . .  Among high school students, segregation has increased for low-income students and English language learners but decreased for special education students.  The study also finds that segregation by achievement levels has generally declined since Katrina.”               The League of Women Voters of Missouri came out strongly against charter expansion in the Show-Me state.  The two co-presidents of the local chapter in Columbia-Boone County penned an op-ed in theCOLUMBIA DAILY Tribune explaining why their organization takes that position.  Here’s one of their reasons: “• There is an unfounded belief that charter schools are superior to traditional public schools and therefore provide parents with an advantageous choice.  Studies of charter school academic achievement do not demonstrate that they are better than traditional public schools.  Parents expect superior outcomes when placing their children in charter schools.  Unfortunately, such is often not the case, and all too often charter school outcomes are actually inferior to those of traditional public schools.”
Neil Gorsuch
Several previous editions of the “Ed News” highlighted a couple of items about why Judge Neil Gorsuch would probably not rule to protect students with disabilities if he were to be confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.  John C. Fager, a former education columnist for the NY Daily News, agrees with that assessment.  In a piece on the BATs (Badass Teachers Association) website he goes into detail regarding a previous decision on the topic issued by Judge Gorsuch and explains why the jurist was less than forth coming on the matter during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago.               Yesterday Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-9, along party lines, to approve the nomination of Judge Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court and send it to the Senate floor for final action.  Democrats on the panel hammered the jurist for a previous appellate court decision concerning the rights of students with disabilities and their belief that he doesn’t fully support the landmark Brown v Board of Educationdesegregation decision.  The “School Law” column for EDUCATION WEEK updates the latest developments.  Senate leadership hopes to hold a final floor vote on the Gorsuch nomination by this Friday.  “The 11-9 vote sets up a showdown later this week on the Senate floor, with most Democrats apparently embracing a filibuster strategy the would require 60 votes to end debate, and Republicans saying they are willing to change Senate rules to permit a majority vote on the nomination. . . .  Assuming they could not reach the number needed to end a filibuster,” the story continues, “Senate Republicans have said they would go for the so-called nuclear option, voting to change rules to eliminate filibusters for Supreme Court nominations.”
A new coalition of community groups has banded together to try to get the LAUSD to streamline and simplify the district’s enrollment procedure according to a story in Sunday’s L.A. Times.  “The idea is that students and families would have one place, one form and one process,” it explains, “for managing the myriad educational options available in the nation’s second-largest school system.”
LGBTQ… Students
Not sure what all the letters in the first part of this headline stand for?  Wonder how you can best support your LGBTQ students or even children or grandchildren?  Have no fear.  Kristi Jackson is a Spanish teacher in Virginia and the single mother of a teenaged transgender son.  She provides a primer on what all those (and other) letters mean and offers an alphabet (A-Z) of suggestions on how to best support an LGBTQ child in your classroom or at home.  Her thoughts appears on the BATs (Badass Teachers Association)website.  Here’s one example from her lexicon: “P = Protect   This one bears repeating: Protect the privacy and safety of your LGBT students at all costs. Many of these kids could face very difficult and even dangerous home and social situations if they were to be ‘outed’ unintentionally, even with the best of intentions behind it.”  Her other 25 entries are of equal value.
Math Anxiety
Many students suffer from the malady known as “math anxiety.”  It can affect student grades as well as their performance on standardized tests.  Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics education at Stanford, features some new research on the subject and outlines 5 problems educators can solve to ease students fears about math.  Her commentary appears on THE HECHINGER REPORT.  “Widespread, prevalent among women and hugely damaging,” it notes, “math anxiety is prompted in the early years when timed tests are given in classrooms and it snowballs from there.  Psychologists’ recommendations — including counseling and words to repeat before a test — severely miss the mark.  The only way to turn our nation around is to change the way we teach and view math.”
Trump and Education
Education advocates are concerned that Pres. Trump’s proposal to eliminate Title II funding in his budget blueprint could seriously impact the hiring and support of teachers, especially those who work with ELLs.  The Supporting Effective Instruction State Grant program (aka Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) is funded to the tune of $2.3 billion annually and its projected termination has educators up in arms according to an article in EDUCATION WEEK.  “Eliminating the $2.3 billion program could hamper implementation of the law’s newest version, the Every Student Succeeds Act.  It also could lead to teacher layoffs,” it further points out, “and make it tougher for educators to reach English-learners and other special populations and to make the most of technology in their classrooms, educators and advocates say.”  Click on the “Title II Funding” sidebar for a pie graph showing where Title II funding went in 2015-16.               Pres. Trump shared some of his ideas about education today in answer to a question at a CEO town hall meeting in Washington, D.C.  Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, features his response and she offers some analysis of what he said.  She also includes a video clip (1:27 minutes) of his answer.  “Denigrating public schools is a common theme among some school reformers, such as DeVos,” Strauss reminds readers, “whose primary interest in education is to expand school choice, including charter schools, which are publicly funded but operated privately, and vouchers, which use public funds to pay for private school.  Public school advocates say that such rhetoric is untrue, unfair and hurts the public schools that educate more than 80 percent of America’s schoolchildren.”
Opt-Out and Common CoreTesting
The final figures are not yet in, but Newsday is reporting that over 51% of students in 116 out of 124 school districts they surveyed in Nassau and Suffock counties on Long Island chose not to take the English/Language Arts exams in grades 3 to 8.  The article also details some flak State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia is taking over some Common Core testing issues and a controversial Holocaust lesson at one campus in the state.  “Some upstate school systems also reported high rates of ELA test refusals, while others have said their numbers were down somewhat.  Elia told Newsday on Monday,” the story relates, “that the department would release official data on opt-out rates after state math tests are completed next month.”
Betsy DeVos
And finally, Betsy DeVos visited another school on Monday.  This time it was a Dept. of Defense school in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina and, surprise, surprise, she talked up providing vouchers for military families to send their children to private schools if they wish.  Not everyone she addressed was thrilled by that prospect according to Valerie Strauss in her column for The Washington Post.  “More than 73,000 students attend 168 Defense Department schools,” she points out, “in 11 foreign countries, seven U.S. states, Guam and Puerto Rico, according to the Department of Defense Education Activity, an agency that runs pre-K through 12th-grade educational programs for stationed military families.  At Fort Bragg, N.C., there are eight schools that run from pre-K to eighth grade, with students attending high school off the military installation. . . .  The visit occurred at the start of the Month of the Military Child.  More than 80 percent of military-connected students are educated in public schools, but DeVos supports expanding options to public schools, including vouchers that use public money to pay for private school tuition.  That’s what she talked about at Fort Bragg.”  The executive directors of the Military Impacted Schools Association and the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools both issued statements questioning DeVos’ focus and urging her to direct more funding to the public schools.               If you are still wondering what in Betsy DeVos’ résumé qualifies her to be the U.S. Sec. of Education, join the club.  The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of sources that have raised the same issue.  Mike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blog is now on the bandwagon after reading a disturbing story in The Washington Post about some clandestine meetings between Erik Prince, founder of the controversial security firm Blackwater AND sister of Betsy DeVos, who apparently acted as a go-between in setting up a back channel contact for the Trump/Putin connection back in January of this year in the Seychelles [Ed. note: Extra credit if you know where they are].  Klonsky includes a link to the WaPo story.  Check it out.  It’s alarming and his blog piece attempts to ascertain why Trump picked DeVos to head the Dept. of Education.  “Betsy DeVos’ appointment as Sec. of Education had less to do with her competency, adroitness, or knowledge of the field than it did with massive donations to the Trump campaign and her family’s ties to a web of international intrigue,” he suggests, “centered around her brother, Blackwater founder and secret Trump attaché, Erik Prince.”
                                      .                                                                      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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