Ed News, Friday, April 21, 2017 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“Life is not only about acquiring knowledge,
it is about applying knowledge.”

― Amit Kalantri

Charter Schools
The LAUSD board voted 4-3 at their regular meeting on Tuesday to support 3 controversial bills in the Sacramento legislature that would bring more transparency and accountability to charter schools in the state.  The split vote is significant given there are 2 seats up for grabs on the board at the May 16th L.A. City general municipal election.  If charter proponents Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez win their respective races against incumbent board Pres. Steve Zimmer and newcomer Imelda Padilla, charter supporters will have a majority on the LAUSD board for the first time.  That critical factor and information about the 3 bills can be found in a story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times.               Diane Ravitch’s blog has some harsh words for L.A. billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad and his position on charter schools.  She’s critical of his possible influence in having a bill (SB 808) withdrawn in the California legislature (see above) that would have allowed only local school boards to reject new charters in their districts that were neither needed nor wanted. Current law lets charters that are not accepted by local school boards to appeal to county boards of education or even the state board.  Ravitch is curious if the Democratic author of the bill pulled it from the Senate Education Committee due to influence from charter supporters like Broad.  “How many millions or billions will Eli Broad and his friends in the CCSA [Calif. Charter School Association] spend before they admit that all they accomplished was to destroy public education?  This will be Eli Broad’s legacy: not his museum; not the buildings where he has carved his name,” Ravitch bitterly concludes.  “But his destruction of public education in Los Angeles and across the state of California.”              Do the applications filed to open new charter schools contain keys as to whether they will be successful or not?  The answer to that provocative query is “yes,” according to a just released study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a pro-choice, conservative, nonprofit education think tank.  The report is featured in the “Charters & Choice” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  The research identified “three risk factors for new charter schools: failing to name a school leader, lacking programs to support at-risk students, and planning a child-centered curriculum.”  The article briefly discusses those and how they were determined.  You can find  the full report (45 pages) titled “Three Signs That a Proposed Charter School is at Risk of Failing” byclicking here.                Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, profiles an unconventional charter school in Indiana with an eye catching motto that, on the surface, would seem to be producing miracles.  But digging a little deeper yields some discouraging results that aren’t, unsurprisingly, being publicized.  “‘College or Die.’  That’s the motto of the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School,” it begins, “a charter school in Indiana which, according to its website,  ‘expects 100% of its students to be accepted at a fully-accredited four-year college or university’ and ‘to achieve exceptionally high levels of scholarship and citizenship.’”  That’s a strikingly high (impossible?) target to achieve.  A quick investigation yields some rather unsettling figures.  In 2013-14, 93 students were enrolled in 9th grade.  4 years later only 40 made it to their senior year.  It doesn’t take advanced math to determine that’s a loss of 57%.  Not anywhere close to the promise that 100% would be accepted at a college or university.  Now I know the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies want schools to run like businesses but it doesn’t take long to realize that’s a prime example of false advertising!               When schools are supposed to run like businesses one of the things they could spend their money on is advertising in order to attract students.  Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider discuss the idea of “Edverstising” on Berkshire’s blogHAVE YOU HEARD.  Their conversation takes place on a podcast (26:45 minutes) that you can listen to by clicking here.  “Is $1,000 per student kind of a lot to be spending on marketing?  That’s how much Success Academy spends, putting the charter network on par with a typical large corporation.  In the latest episode of Have You Heard, Jack Schneider and I wade into the murky business of education marketing or ‘edvertising.’  Fast growing and completely unregulated,” Berkshire writes in the introduction to the podcast, “edvertising is one byproduct of an education marketplace.  We talk to researcher Sarah Butler Jessen about what happens when public schools must now compete against charter schools with lavish marketing budgets.  And what happens to public education when schools define themselves as “brands.'”  The website includes a link to a full transcript (9 pages) of the program.                Do you ever notice that some of those corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies will tout a successful charter or innovative school but when someone goes back and checks on the campus a few years later things aren’t going so swimmingly?  Case in point:  billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates lauded Eagle Valley High School in Colorado back in 2013 for implementing many of his ideas for school improvement.  Well, Gary Rubinstein’s blog revisited the school and found it to be doing rather poorly on several important metrics that Colorado measures school growth by. Wouldn’t that seem to imply that Gate’s “innovations” may not be what they’re stacked up to be?  Only asking.  Will anyone, other than Gary Rubinstein, call him out on that?  The commentary is titled “Update on Colorado District that Gates Praised in 2013.”                 One of the initial aims of the charter movement was to use nonunion teachers.  Some charters have since become unionized for various reasons.  The “Teacher Beat” column for EDUCATION WEEK takes a look at the state of unionization at charters schools today “As of February of this year,” it reports, “the AFT was representing teachers at 229 charter schools scattered across 15 states. Todd Ziebarth, the senior vice president for state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said that the union’s efforts to recruit new charter teachers has only intensified with the election of President Donald Trump and the appointment of his education secretary Betsy DeVos, who is pushing for more school choice and charter schools, reports Politico.”
Need a comprehensive, all-in-one-place list of “34 Problems With Standardized Tests?”  Your wish has been fulfilled, thanks to Valerie Strauss’  column in The Washington Post.”  Built around a dubious court ruling in Florida that decided standardized test results can be used to deny third graders promotion to fourth grade, Strauss turns her column over to Marion Brady, veteran Florida educator, author of school textbooks and courses of study and a nationally syndicated columnist.  He’s pretty annoyed by the court’s investing so much certainty in standardized exams.  “The proceedings illustrate the legal profession’s inability to get it right on matters having to do with teaching and learning.  The appeals court’s decision reflects the conventional wisdom that testing is a simple matter,” he complains.  “Unacknowledged is the fact that educators have wrestled with the complexities of evaluating learner performance for generations without reaching firm conclusions.”  Brady suggests a long list of negative consequences from the misuse of standardized tests.  
Lessons From Finland
Finland has often been held up as having an exemplary public school system.  What, exactly, are the Finns doing that could be replicated here in the U.S.?  Timothy D. Walker moved to Finland 4 year ago to teach English in a 5th grade classroom there.  What did he learn about what makes the Finns so successful?  What he discovered he’s turned into a brand new book titled “Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Lessons for Joyful Classrooms.”  The “Teaching Now” column for EDUCATION WEEK contains an interview with Walker in which he talks about his book and some of the lessons he learned while working in the Nordic country.  In answer to a question about teacher training in Finland, Walker had this response: “Perhaps one of the most obvious lessons is that training is important.  Teachers need to feel a sense of expertise, to feel confident in their abilities, and have certain areas of teaching developed before they step foot in the classroom,” he relates.  “There are great teaching programs in the United States, but some programs are not helping inexperienced teachers develop or making sure that teachers enter the classroom with basic teaching skills.”
A Primer on Vouchers, “Neovouchers” and Education Scholarship Accounts
Not exactly sure what vouchers are or how tax credits and ESAs to attend private/religious schools work?  What about the term “neovouchers?”  Kevin Welner, Professor of Education Policy and Law and Director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, offers a primer on some of these key terms that you are sure to run across soon if you haven’t already.  The Trump/Pence/DeVos triumvirate are quite keen on promoting these at the federal level so you need to be, if you aren’t already, conversant in what the terms mean and how they work.  Welner’s piece appears on THE CONVERSATION website.  “As Republican lawmakers craft a tax reform bill, there’s speculation on the import taxes, value-added taxes and tax cuts it may usher in.  Meanwhile,” he commences, “it’s likely that the bill will also include a major education policy initiative from the Trump administration: a tax credit designed to fund private school vouchers.  A decade ago I started researching this new kind of voucher – funded through a somewhat convoluted tax credit mechanism – that appears to have particular appeal to President Trump and other Republicans.”
The Teaching Profession
Teacher salaries will not make one a millionaire.  But what if you could start a business and make millions selling your lessons?  That certainly seems far fetched and unrealistic and you’re probably VERY skeptical of the whole notion.  But before you give up and think this is totally fanciful, check out the story in EDUCATION WEEK titled “Million-Dollar Teachers: Cashing in by Selling Their Lessons.”  “Miss Kindergarten is in the million-dollar club.  So are Lovin Lit, the Moffatt Girls and about a dozen other teacher-entrepreneurs,” it begins, “who are spinning reading, math, science and social studies into gold by selling their lesson plans online to fellow teachers around the world.”  Still not convinced?  Read the rest of the item.  It’s not that long and it could be worth a million dollars to you.                How do teachers present controversial issues in these especially contentious political times?  The “CTQ Collaboratory” column for EDUCATION WEEK takes another look at a topic the “Ed News” has highlighted a number of times in the past. The author of the piece, William J. Tolley,  currently teaches in the Peoples’ Republic of China and if you think confronting controversial issues is dicey in this country, try taking them on in highly authoritarian China!  He offers some ideas that apply to teaching in China but can certainly apply to the U.S., as well.  Here’s one of his examples: “3. We made the issues of the day a primer for learning about the issues of the past.  Using worldwide current events as a springboard for our discussions, we make connections between contemporary consequences and their historical causes—and always round back to discuss change and continuity over time.”           Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted an article by Valerie Strauss about the demographics of the teaching profession.  She noted that even though the numbers of minority teachers had increased, they still made up less than 20% of the total.  An op-ed piece in The New York Times is titled “Where Did All the Black Teachers Go?”  The author attended an all-black elementary school in Pennsylvania beginning in the first grade in 1957, 3 years after the landmark Brown decision ordered the desegregation of schools in this country.  He relates his experiences attending all-black schools until the 5th grade when he summarily became a “guinea pig” in the desegregation experiment and describes the situation regarding black teachers today.  “Statistics show that districts are doing a miserable job of retaining teachers of color and that more leave the field each year than enter it.  A 2016 report by the Education Trust shows why.  Among other things, African-Americans interested in teaching black students find they are steered into positions where they teach only black students.  The same teachers complain of being pigeonholed as disciplinarians,” he maintains, “their other talents rendered invisible.  The forces that are driving African-American teachers out of the classroom are taking a toll not just on black children but on the educational system as a whole.  The country will never overcome this problem unless it begins to treat it with urgency.”
LAUSD Ends McTeacher’s Nights

As predicted (see Tuesday’s “Ed News”) the LAUSD board, at their meeting on Tuesday, voted to end the fundraising events known as “McTeacher’s Nights” where groups of teachers and administrators from a particular school would take orders from behind the counter at a local McDonald’s from students and parents at their school.  A portion of the money collected would go to the school or an education-related organization.  The vote was 5-1 but the final resolution that was passed watered down some of the language at it related to other fast food restaurants according to a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.
Betsy DeVos
Two items from Tuesday’s “Ed News” were critical of Betsy DeVos’ choice to fill a critical, albeit, temporary position in the Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.  The person selected appeared to be an opponent of civil rights.  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, reviews a couple of her recent picks and worries that DeVos will not be sensitive to civil rights.  His commentary is titled “Early Signs Betsy DeVos Will Not Support Civil Rights” and he draws an interesting comparison to Monday’s Easter egg hunt on the White House lawn that appeared to be practically devoid of any minority children.  “As I reported shortly after her nomination, DeVos has a problematic track record on civil rights, based on her actions in Michigan.” Bryant reminds readers, “to promote school choice programs that significantly worsened the state’s racial and socioeconomic segregation of schools. . . .  More alarming is recent news of how many new hires for the education department have a history of making racially offensive comments and expressing controversial opinions on efforts to level the social and economic playing field for African-Americans and other racial minorities.”               They say “politics makes strange bedfellows”  Can we infer from that adage that education might do the same?  Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos and AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten took a “field trip” yesterday to the Van Wert City Schools, a rural Ohio district made up of TRADITIONAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS, at the invitation of the AFT head.  [Ed. note: They did have a deal that Weingarten would accompany DeVos to a “school of choice” the Secretary would select in the future.] The “Politics K-12” column forEDUCATION WEEK recounts the visit and notes at the outset of the story that “Both were still alive and well at the end of the day.” “Weingarten said in advance of the visit that she picked Van Wert,” it notes, “because it’s a good model for what the rest of the country should be doing when it comes to K-12.  The 2,200-student district focuses on community schools, early-childhood education, and project-based learning. And teachers are brought to the table whenever district leadership makes any significant changes to the curriculum.”
Trump and Education
Last month the Trump administration released its budget blueprint for the next fiscal year.  It contains huge increases for military spending and homeland security and large cuts for just about everything else including the Dept. of Education.  A commentary forEDUCATION WEEK decries the elimination of a particular program that funds after-school and summer learning for mostly low-income students.  Margaret McKenna, the author of the piece, is chairman of the board of the National Summer Learning Association and a former university president. She describes the program being axed and questions the justification offered by the administration for its elimination.  “In rationalizing the proposed cut,” McKenna complains, “Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget chief, claimed there is ‘no demonstrable evidence’ that after-school programs, designed to help low-income children do better in school, are successful.  Whether administration officials are consciously rejecting evidence or just alarmingly uninformed, they are completely wrong.”
Supremes Hear Crucial Church-State Case
Tuesday’s “Ed News” highlighted an important case before the U.S. Supreme Court that although not directly related to education could have some serious implications for future education policies especially concerning the expansion of federal vouchers.  The case deals with the use of state money in Missouri to repave a church’s preschool playground.  Oral arguments were heard on Wednesday and a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times reviews what the opposing attorneys had to say and how the justices reacted.  “The case, Trinity Lutheran Church vs. Comer, could lead to a major shift in the law on church schools and public funding.  Lawmakers in many states have been pressing for tuition vouchers, scholarships and similar proposals,” it explains, “that would allow public funds to flow to support religious schools and their students.  But they sometimes confront a barrier written into their state constitution.  These provisions forbid the use of any tax money to support churches or church schools.  They are sometimes called ‘Blaine amendments’ because they were adopted in the late 19th century after Rep. James G. Blaine tried but failed to add a similarly strict ban to the U.S. Constitution.  The playground dispute gives the justices a chance to strike down those limits as unconstitutional.”               An editorial in yesterday’s Times describes the 1st Amendment dilemma facing the Supreme Court justices in the Missouri church-state case they heard on Wednesday (see above).  “Religious freedom in the American context has two meanings.  One is that government will not promote religion or, as the 1st Amendment puts it, that there will be ‘no law respecting an establishment of religion.’  But the 1st Amendment also protects the ‘free exercise’ of religion,” the editorial informs.  “That means citizens can’t be penalized for practicing their faith, including, the Supreme Court has ruled, when it comes to the allocation of government benefits.  On Wednesday the court struggled with a case originating on a preschool playground in which those two definitions of religious freedom seemed to pull in different directions.”  The piece urges the court to issue a narrow ruling in the case so as not to open the door to federal voucher proposals in those states that have laws prohibiting them.  “A ruling limited to the facts of this case would be an exercise in judicial modesty.  It also would reassure those who have worried that a victory for the church in this case,” it continues, “would make it easier to adopt a program of vouchers for religious schools in states with constitutional provisions such as Missouri’s.”
New Poll on Attitudes Towards Education in California
A new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California surveyed 1,705 adults in the Golden State earlier this month about theirattitudes on a number of education-related topics. The “Education Watch” column in today’s L.A. Times features some of the key results.  It headlines the fact that respondents favored vouchers and higher school funding.  “About 60% of adults and 66% of public-school parents in a new poll said they favored vouchers that parents could use for their children’s education at any public, private, or parochial school,” it reports regarding the former topic.  “Republicans (67%) were more likely than independents (56%) and far more likely than Democrats (46%) to hold that view.  Across racial and ethnic groups, 73% of African Americans, 69% of Latinos, 56% of Asians and 51% of whites supported vouchers.”  Other subjects mentioned in the story included reporting on the immigration status of students, schools as sanctuary zones and how respondents rated their local school.
How to Keep a School Superintendent on the Job
School superintendent tend to have rather short tenures.  A recent report found that they last an average of only 3 years in urban districts and 6 years in rural ones.  What should school boards avoid in hiring a new superintendent?  Cindy Mincberg, a former biology teacher, school board member and CEO of the Houston and Portland, Ore, school districts, is currently president and CEO of the Center for Reform of School Systems.  In a story for EDUCATION WEEK she lists 5 “pitfalls” school boards must navigate around and solutions for how to do that in selecting a new district chief.  Here’s one from her account and the accompanying solution: 3. Reliance on the interview to make a selection. . . .  Solution: Instead of prioritizing interviews, the board should first rely on the investigations of past behaviors by the candidates, as past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.  In addition, it should initiate a series of interactions between the candidates and the board members in a variety of settings where interaction ranges from casual to structured.”
An AA Degree May be the New High School Diploma
And finally, if “orange is the new black” and 40 is the new 30 [Ed. note: I’m WAY beyond that age.], than an AA Degree may be the new high school diploma or so argues Ronald Brownstein, a senior editor at the Atlantic, in an op-ed in today’s L.A. Times.  “A surge of innovation in states and cities is building momentum for what could become a seismic shift in American education.  Just as in the last century Americans came to expect that young people would finish at least 12 years of school,” he writes, “many local governments are now working to increase that minimum to 14 years.  And political leaders are beginning to acknowledge that if society routinely expects students to obtain at least two years of schooling past high school, government has a responsibility to provide it to them cost-free. . . .  Two key factors explain why 14 is the new 12 in education.  First, amid anxieties about the economic divide in America, there is a recognition that community colleges provide crucial opportunities for working-class kids. And second, they fill employers’ simultaneous demand for more highly skilled workers.”  Thanks to “Ed News” reader Don Hagen for sending this along.
                                      .                                                                      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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