The ED NEWS
A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues
[Ed. note: The “Ed News” is going to take some time off to enjoy Spring Break. Look for the next issue on Tuesday, April 18th.]
The 8-day Jewish holiday of Passover begins at sundown on Monday.
April 14th is Good Friday and, of course, Easter arrives on Sunday, April 16th.
And now to the news.
“There is a difference between information and knowledge,
and the most important role of the library is not providing access to information;
it is supporting, enhancing, and facilitating the transfer of knowledge – in other words, education.”
Not only are many educators still shaking their heads over the selection of Betsy DeVos to head the Dept. of Education, but now many of those same skeptics are concerned (troubled?) about some of her picks to fill jobs in the DoE. A story in The New York Times raises some serious issues about 2 key nominees to positions in the Department’s Office of Civil Rights. You may want to sit down before reading about who’s been selected. One candidate was involved in a critical sexual harassment case involving Florida St. University and the other leveled some incendiary sexual charges against Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign. “The posts are among the most high profile in the department. Staffing in the Office for Civil Rights has been a source of concern for civil rights advocates ever since the Trump administration rescinded protections for transgender students as one of its first education policy moves. . . . The appointments,” it explains, “have been met with trepidation from advocates who are anxious about the future of the Office for Civil Rights, which gained a higher profile under President Barack Obama as it focused policy as much on equity in education as on achievement.” The news emanating from the Ed. Dept. just keeps getting worse and worse! Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, describes 3 schools DeVos visited this week. One was a public school, albeit, one that was located on a protected from protesters military base. One was a private religious school and one was a charter with ties to a controversial rapper and a charter network that came under investigation by her own Dept. of Ed a couple of years ago. “As DeVos concludes this itinerary of school visits, she will have visited at least as many private and charter schools as she has visited traditional K-12 public schools in her tenure as Education Secretary so far. . . . But the schools she chooses to visit and what she says to the educators in these schools continue to convey the message that rather than fulfilling her obligation as a public servant to support public schools,” he complains, “her agenda is mostly about distributing scarce resources for education to other types of schools she would prefer parents choose instead. The fact these schools may have a religious agenda, may rely on schemes to redirect tax money to private pockets, or may be designed to put education funding at risk to privateers and real estate deals seems not to bother her one bit. That’s not parents’ choice. It’s her choice.”
The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive public policy research and advocacy group, has a rather troubling story about suspensions and expulsions in PRESCHOOLS. It’s titled “4 Disturbing Facts About Preschool Suspension.” Here’s one example from the list: “2. It can be driven by implicit racial bias.”
Trump and Education
What are the chances the Trump administration will be able to get its federal voucher program through the House and Senate and to the president’s desk for his signature? Michael J. Petrilli, on the “FLYPAPER” blog from the THOMAS B. FORDHAM INSTITUTE, a conservative education policy think tank, believes it will take “3 miracles” which he gladly reveals. Given the fact a bloc of very conservative Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus (formerly known as the Tea Party) were recently able to derail Trump’s signature attempt to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, the odds are pretty slim that the president will prevail in his voucher plan, according to Petrilli’s commentary. “So the prospect [of a federal voucher program] is compelling for school-choice enthusiasts. But so is the goal of Heaven on Earth,” he fears. “The question is how to get from here to there. Creating and sustaining a massive new federally-fueled voucher program will take more than a miracle. It will take three miracles.” Russ Walsh, on his Russ on Reading blog, issues a manifesto and a call to arms for proponents to defend the traditional public school system in this country. He ties it in with a recent segment of Bill Maher’s “Real Time” program that featured an author remarking on his latest book about how to counteract the rise of fascism and communism in the 20th century. The piece is titled “Defending Public Education From Trump’s Tyranny.” “Our institutions are under assault. One of the most vulnerable of these institutions is public education. If we do not fight for it, we will lose it. If we do fight for it,” Walsh insists, “perhaps we can turn the conversation about schools around and focus on what is really causing our educational problems – income inequity, prejudice, and segregation.” Diane Ravitch calls this “an important post.”
The news is not all bad on the corporate “reform” and privatization front. The following 4 stories may signify the continuing decline of those “reformers” and privatizers: First, the Wisconsin Working Families Party swept 3 school board elections in Milwaukee on Tuesday so now pro-public school members control the board in that city. Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints a press release from the WWFP announcing the exciting news. “Wisconsin Working Families Party worked for months to elect a slate of public school champions,” it states, “who will advocate for more resources for our school system, fight off unaccountable voucher expansion, and put forth an aggressive policy agenda that trusts teachers, invests in our student’s success, and adds to the quality of life for working families in Milwaukee.” Second, the Connecticut State Board of Education decided this week to eliminate the use of student state standardized test scores as part of its teacher evaluation process. It’s not a total victory for education experts,however, who have railed against this practice for years as districts will still need to count 22.5% of a teacher’s evaluation based on non-state exams according to a story in the ct mirror. “State education board Chairman Allan B. Taylor and Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell,” it relates, “both praised the board’s approval of the plan as an important clarification of the role state tests should play: a goal-setting tool for teachers, not part of a formula for rating an individual teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom.” Third, the Texas (Texas!) House voted against the authorization or funding of school vouchers in the state thus killing the idea for at least the next 2-year budget cycle. The HOUSTON CHRONICLE has the details of this action. “The votes put on the record the lower chamber’s distaste for a program prioritized by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and favored by Gov. Greg Abbott,” it concludes, “to allow students to take public funds assigned to their school district to subsidize tuition at private schools. The Senate has spent years trying to push such a program into law but the bill has failed to make traction in the House.” And fourth, 17 school districts in Illinois have joined together and filed suit against the governor, the state and the State Board of Education for a failure to fund the public schools at the levels they require to function properly in accordance with the state constitution. Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints a press release describing this action. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is on the attack AGAIN! In 2011 he and the GOP legislature were able to ram through a draconian bill that eliminated most collective bargaining rights for public unions in the state. His latest offensive against public schools is to promise increased funding for districts IF they can certify that they’ve cut teacher pay and eliminated long-term union contracts. Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, is justifiably outraged at this latest incursion. “Would this reduce the number of teachers in Wisconsin? Of course– and thereby weaken that damn union and its ability to stand up to guys like Scott Walker. And of course,” Greene complains, “this also accomplishes the goal of making public schools less and less attractive so that charter schools can look better by comparison (without having to actually get good).” The NPE (Network for Public Education) released its latest “Toolkit: School Privatization Explained” which consists of 13 one-page “fact sheets” about charters, privatization and vouchers for your information and to share with people who may be uninformed about those critical topics. It also includes an interactive map with report cards detailing the state-by-state status of privatization. For instance, click on California and we earn a “D” based on their 6 criteria, which are individually detailed. “The appointment of Betsy DeVos as US Secretary of Education has put our public school system in the crosshairs. We know her real agenda– the destruction of our public school system, which she referred to as ‘a dead end.’ DeVos and her allies,” the introduction to the Toolkit explains, “have worked for decades pushing charters, vouchers and neovouchers such as education tax credits and ESAs. DeVos even supports virtual charter schools that have a horrific track record when it comes to student success. Unfortunately the general public is often confused by the misleading terms that privatizers use to mask their agenda. Terms like ‘choice’, ‘portability’ and Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are an attempt to make religious school vouchers and other unpopular policies acceptable.”
The Teaching Profession
Given the very divisive presidential campaign and what’s taken place since the election and inauguration, have teachers shied away fromdiscussing political issues and personalities in their classrooms? According to a survey conducted in February by the Education Week Research Center, the answer is “no.” Results of the poll appear in EDUCATION WEEK. “More than 830 K-12 teachers and other school-based instructional staff members who are registered users of Education Week’s edweek.org website,” it notes, “responded to an email invitation for a survey about their experiences teaching about controversial topics in a time of division. . . . Many teachers said they feel obligated to make sure all their students—regardless of nationality, race, ethnicity, or religion—feel safe and secure, and that has made conversations about politics and other current events feel necessary.” The article includes a link to the results titled “Survey Data: Discussing Controversial Topics in the Classroom” which consists of several interactive graphs with findings from the poll. A veteran of the Washington, D.C., schools describes the fear that’s driving her from the classroom. If nothing else, the title of this essay from the GREATER GREATER WASHINGTON website should grab you: “What’s a White Bitch Like You Doing in a School Like This?” And that was one of the first questions she was asked in a JOB INTERVIEW! “The fear that will drive me from my classroom at the end of the 2016-2017 school year is the fear,” the author gravely relates, “that what I gave was not enough when pitted against the forces of a disengaged and segregated society.” When educators like this leave, it’s no wonder we have teacher shortages. An article in THE HECHINGER REPORT suggests that high schools can take a page out of how preschoolers learnin order to make academics more palatable. It focuses on what’s going on in the classrooms of City Neighbors High School, a charter with 375 students in Baltimore. “For anyone who’s spent time in an early childhood classroom, the idea that school should be as much about making friends and having fun as learning the alphabet will sound familiar. The traditional American high school, by contrast, has been compared to a factory,” it suggests, “in which kids are treated like products, to be crammed with knowledge (in the most boring way possible) before they’re ejected from the assembly line. A new generation of reformers has been working to change that system for more than a decade, and many of their ideas are borrowed — knowingly or not — straight from preschool.” Be sure to note the references to High Tech High School in San Diego.
Protections for Student Journalists
What, if any, press freedoms do high school and college journalists have in this country? Good question. Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, has an interesting item on just that topic. It includes a sate-by-state interactive map of the protections afforded to those correspondents. Click on California, for example, and you’ll find this: “College and high school students are both protected from administrative censorship.” Click on the “Read More” button and you’ll get a detailed assessment of the legal protections in the Golden State from the splc (Student Press Law Center). The New York Times has a similar story about press freedoms for student journalists (see above and note both articles use the same photo). It relates how a group of high school reporters in Kansas discovered some falsified credentials that a recently hired principal at their school claimed to have. They published their findings in the monthly student-run newspaper and, guess what? Said principal promptly resigned! The story also touches briefly on the issue of how each state is different in what it allows student journalists to print. “The article might never have appeared had it not been for the Kansas Student Publications Act, which grants students independent control over their editorial content,” the Times piece points out, “including material that might paint a school in an unflattering light. A 1988 Supreme Court ruling gave administrators the authority to censor the content of student journalists. Ten states, including Kansas, passed laws giving students independent control, although administrators can still remove material that is obscene, defamatory or poses a danger to the school. Similar bills are pending in nine other states.”
Charters & Vouchers
Sec. DeVos visited a charter school in Florida yesterday. OK, whats wrong with that? I wonder if she was aware that the school’s management company was under investigation by her Ed. Dept. a couple of years ago? Probably not or, if she was, she may not care. Anyway, Jennifer Berkshire, on her HAVE YOU HEARD blog, interviews Preston Green, an education law expert at the University of Connecticut, about problems of cronyism, conflicts of interest and mismanagement that all too often arise in the charter industry due to a lack of accountability and transparency. “I explored the issue of whether a charter school ‘bubble’ is emerging, akin to what we saw in the lead up to the housing crisis. . . . Charter schools were to be freed from the shackles of rules that applied to public schools and those rules were regulations. The thinking was that by removing those regulations,” Green explains, “the industry could tap into innovation. And that’s the same language, by the way, that we saw in the subprime mortgage crisis and that we saw in relation to Enron. By removing all of the shackles that would prevent innovation in the business sector, we would harness that innovation. But instead we enabled private entities with nefarious purposes to take advantage of that. I’m not saying that all charter schools are nefarious,” he continues, “but when you remove the regulations, there may just be too much incentive, and too much temptation for some.” Carol Burris, executive director of the NPE (Network for Public Education), has been touring the country gathering information and writing about the charter industry in various states. She was in California and the “Ed News” highlighted her findings there. Recently, she was in Arizona and, again, the “Ed News” featured her report. This week she penned an op-ed in the Arizona Capitol Times summarizing what she discovered in the Grand Canyon State. Her piece is titled “School Choice a Sham, Profits on the Taxpayers’ Dime” and it paints a pretty damning picture of what’s happening with corporate “reform” in Arizona. “It is time for Arizonans to take a hard look at who really benefits from school choice. While some families may want tax-payer funded options, the dizzying array of choices, combined with lax oversight and weak laws,” she indicates, “make Arizona’s taxpayers easy marks for profiteering on the taxpayers’ dime. Arizona is the Mecca of School Choice – for-profit charters, non-profit ‘fronts’ for for-profit charters, Empowerment Scholarships Accounts (ESAs), and tax credits all compete with little regulation and oversight.” Arizona is certainly not backing away from its charter and privatization push. In fact, it’s doubling down on its voucher program (called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) by expanding it to all students in the state. Republican governor Doug Ducey signed the legislation last night and Betsy DeVos quickly tweeted her delight at the approval according to a story in the “Charters & Choice” column for EDUCATION WEEK. “Under the ESA’s expansion, the average student will receive $4,400 a year,” it explains, “the amount of money the state would typically send a district for enrolling a student. Students with disabilities and poor students would receive more money than other students.” Arizona, it should be noted, has one of the lowest per-pupil spending rates in the country.
The LAUSD’s Spring Recess begins tomorrow and ends on Easter Sunday, April 16th. Happy Spring Break to all LAUSD employees. The NPE (Network for Public Education) ACTION has officially endorsed Imelda Padilla for the District 6 LAUSD school board post to be determined by voters on May 16th. The seat represents the East San Fernando Valley and was previously held by Monica Ratliff who decided to run for the L.A. City Council. “Imelda is strongly opposed to vouchers and believes that it is important to keep class size small,” the statement mentions. “Although she is not an educator, she believes she has the skill set needed for success. ‘As a youth and labor organizer, I have a winning record in fighting for the needs of all students; demanding resources be redirected to our students and parents. I’ve devoted my life to advocating for our most vulnerable and will not stop until we reach 100% graduation,’“ she told NPE ACTION.
BREAKING NEWS: Judge Gorsuch Confirmed
And finally, Senate Republicans had to make a major change in the chamber’s rules to end the use of the filibuster in dealing with Supreme Court nominations but they were then able to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch as an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court today. The vote was 54-45. The “School Law” column for EDUCATION WEEK has the latest developments. “Gorsuch, 49, is expected to be sworn in time to participate in April arguments that include a case with potentially major implications for religion and education. The new justice also could cast potentially deciding votes,” it says, “in education issues expected to come to the court in the near future, including on the rights of public-employee unions and transgender students.” Now that Justice Gorsuch is set to join the other 8 members of the U.S. Supreme Court (see above), what can one expect regarding his rulings on education issues? Previous decisions certainly don’t predict how judges will rule in future cases but they do open a window into how jurists think and apply the law. With that caveat in mind, Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, analyzes the meaning of a single word in one of Judge Gorsuch’s rulings in 2008 while he was on the 10th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals regarding the rights of students with disabilities. She headlines her piece “Why the Word ‘Merely” Turned Many Advocates for Students With Disabilities Against Gorsuch” and includes excerpts from his Senate confirmation testimony in which he attempts to justify his position. Strauss supplements her piece with an article by John C. Fager on the same subject that was highlighted in Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News.” Ta Da! I even scooped Valerie Strauss on that one.