Ed News, Tuesday, April 25, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“If you are born on this planet, we want to make sure you get 
the kind of education you actually deserve.” 
Earth Day and Science Education 
Saturday marked the 47th anniversary of the first Earth Day and protests and marches around the world took place to observe the occasion.  A march took place in downtown Los Angeles in opposition to the anti-science policies demonstrated in words and deeds by the Trump administration.  How have these negative attitudes towards science impacted the teaching of the subject in our nation’s classrooms?  Valerie Strauss, in her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, takes a look at 9 bills introduced in various state legislatures just this year aimed at curtailing the teaching of evolution and/or climate change in U.S. schools.  She headlines her piece “What the Latest Assaults on Science Education Look Like.”  “There are essentially two different kinds of anti-science legislation,” she writes, “according to the nonprofit National Center for Science Education.  One involves efforts to repeal the adoption of state science standards or challenge science textbooks.  There are also bills that attempt to allow science (and other) teachers to present unscientific criticism of scientific principles as legitimate — usually aimed at affecting classroom discussion on evolution and climate change.”               The “Inside School Research” column for EDUCATION WEEK describes how a number of education research organizations and educators joined the March for Science that took place in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to commemorate Earth Day (see above).  The reporter spoke with several of the march participants to find out why they were taking part.  Here’s one example from the piece: “Erin Anderson, a sociologist at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., marched with her husband Jon Schultz, a middle school special education teacher, and their daughters Grace, 7, and Claire, 5.  Schultz said he worries about the removal of science data from federal web sites, and Anderson voiced concern about ‘the delegitimizing of science and STEM fields in the current administration.  The politics is informing policy now instead of science.'”
Granada Hills Charter High Wins National Academic Decathlon Again
You can certainly criticize the LAUSD for all sorts of reasons but you can’t complain about how well its students perform at the prestigious Academic Decathlon competition.  For the third-year-in-a-row the team from Granada Hills Charter High (LAUSD) took home the honors at the national contest that took place over the past week in Madison, Wisconsin. The win actually marked the sixth time in the last 7 years the school claimed victory.  A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times heralds the good news.  “The team of nine students scored 54,507 points out of a possible 60,000,” it relates, “in the rigorous three-day competition, beating out dozens of other national teams.  For the second year in a row, Highland Park High School in Texas placed second. . . .  Students were tested in seven subject areas: science, literature, art, music, social science, economics and mathematics. The competition included multiple-choice exams in each subject, as well as essays and speeches.  It ended with a fast-paced Super Quiz.  This year’s topic was World War II.”  To further demonstrate the dominance of the nation’s second largest school district, this year’s win marked the 15th consecutive national victory for the LAUSD!!!  In addition, teams from the LAUSD have been victorious at the national level 17 times since 1987.  That’s preeminence.
Charter Schools and Vouchers
A rally, news conference and teleconference for media members [took place] yesterday morning by a wide range of California state lawmakers, parents, educators and community activists in support of 3 bills pending in the state legislature that would promote more charter accountability, transparency and access for all students in the Golden State. The event was held in Sacramento according to a press release reprinted on Diane Ravitch’s blog prior to the action taking place.  “News conference speakers,”  the announcement explains, “will include state Senator Tony Mendoza, author of SB 808, ensuring that charters could only be authorized by the school district in which they would be located; Assembly Member Reggie Jones-Sawyer, author of AB 1478, requiring charters to comply with the same transparency and accountability laws as traditional public schools; and Assembly Member Rob Bonta, whose AB 1360 would prohibit discriminatory admissions practices and ensure due process in pupil discipline at charter schools.”             Speaking of SB 808, see above), Jennifer Freemon, ALOED member and Glendale school board representative, has an informative op-ed about the legislation in the Glendale News-Press titled “A Glendale Lesson: SB 808 Would Rein in Charter Schools.”  She details the bill and explains how it would effect local school board decisions regarding the charter approval process.  Freemon chronicles how the GUSD board turned down one charter application and it was subsequently also denied by the County Board of Education.  However, it was ultimately accepted by the State Board of Education.  “Rather than creating space for innovation and creativity to improve public education as a whole, the system is being abused, and as a result we see inadequate charter schools failing our precious children.  Locally elected school boards,” Freemon demonstrates, “do not have the final authority to determine whether or not a charter school fits the needs of their student population and community.”  Thanks to ALOED past-president Nancy Kuechle for passing this along.               It’s pretty obvious what the agenda of the school “choice,” charter and voucher crowd is–the end of traditional public schools and the total privatization (in order to earn massive profits) of that long-cherished system in this county.  Michael Fiorillo, a reader of Diane Ravitch’s blog, comments on what the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies really hope to achieve.  “There is the desire to have iron control of the labor force,” he writes, “explaining why charters are over ninety percent non-union: the desire, as seen virtually everywhere else in the labor markets, to replace full-time employment with temporary/ contingent labor, the desire to pay teachers less, and the desire to have them under the thumb of management, which is much more difficult to maintain in a union, career-oriented environment where institutional memory has value.”                Los Angeles is obviously not a rural area but a federal voucher program, like the one being pushed by the Trump/Pence/DeVos triumvirate may actually do extreme harm to those schools located outside of urban and suburban areas of this country.  So argues Jill Long Thompson, visiting associate professor at the Kelley School of Business and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington.  Her commentary appears in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette and is titled “Vouchers Can’t Make Rural Schools Great Again.”  “For rural communities, in particular, voucher programs create a business model that simply will not work.  Running a rural school is very challenging because the resources are always limited, and oftentimes scarce.  Vouchers encourage the creation of small private schools.  But, we don’t need more schools in rural communities; we need more resources to strengthen the schools we have,” she argues.  “Increasing the number of schools means increasing the overhead, which is why vouchers dilute resources even further.  A school voucher program is the education policy equivalent of a county highway program that would give residents money to build little private roads anywhere they want.  That would not only be costly and inefficient; it would not serve the community’s transportation needs.”               Mercedes Schneider is an investigative reporter extraordinaire.  On her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 she does the tedious research and in-depth fact gathering necessary to uncover some of the more wild claims of the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies, in this case the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the strongly pro-choice and conservative education policy think tank.  TBF has been a charter authorizer in Ohio since 2004 and they currently oversee 11 schools in the Buckeye State.  Their goal, as stated on their website, is to ensure “that every student who comes to our schools makes the grade.”  So, how well are they achieving that benchmark?  That’s where Schneider comes in.  She dug into the school report cards published by Ohio and uncovered some rather deficient results for the TBF schools.  “None of the 11 TBF charter schools,” she discovers, “have even a C in ‘achievement.’  And ‘gap closing’?  FFFFFFFForget about it.  Still, TBF seeks to expand the number of, uh, ‘high performing’ charters.”  Diane Ravitch had this to say about the TBF Institute: “Since TBF lectures the nation about the virtues of school choice, it is useful to know how it’s own schools are doing.  It is not a pretty picture.”               Since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and other areas along the Gulf Coast in 2005, all but 5 of New Orleans schools have been converted into charters in the nation’s largest experiment in school “choice.”  The ExCEED Network Charter Schools Management Organization recently withdrew its application to convert those few remaining campuses into charters.  A story in THE HECHINGER REPORT has the latest developments.  “New Orleans,” it rather bizarrely notes, “could have become the first city in the U.S. where the elected school board doesn’t directly run any public schools.  Now that won’t happen — at least, not this year.”
Public Education in the Crosshairs             
The GOP-controlled legislature in North Carolina has done something wonderful for the public schools in that state.  They voted to reduce class size in grades K-3!  Only. . . one. . . small. . .  problem.  That’s an expensive proposition and they have, so far, refused to provide any additional funding to pay for it.  Is this just another thinly veiled strategy by the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies, in this case Republican lawmakers, to create chaos in the public schools so they can turn around and promote “choice,” charters and vouchers?  NC POLICY WATCH describes the problematic situation developing in the Tar Heel state.  “Policy Watch has reported extensively on the class size bickering since last November,”  it reminds.  “School district leaders say a GOP-authored budget mandate that schools trim class sizes in grades K-3 beginning with the 2017-2018 academic year will have major consequences in North Carolina public school districts without additional state funding or staffing flexibility for district leaders.”               And then there’s this nifty trick from the Florida legislature that’s offering up to $200 million to charters to help them fund things they won’t pay the public schools to have.  The Tallahassee Democrat headlines its story “Activists See Conspiracy In Plan to Help Charter Schools.”  It features Beth Overholt, a parent and proponent of her local public schools, who is fed up with the shenanigans going down as the legislature races to wrap up its current session.  “Overholt is among a group of parents, educators, and lawmakers,” the article states, “who see a plot to undermine public education unfolding in the session’s final two weeks.  They say it is being executed by reformers who use a pretense of accountability and innovation to divert public money to set up an alternative privatized education system.”
Betsy DeVos
Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a visit by Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos and AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten to a rural public school district in western Ohio.  That “field trip” sparked several reactions.  The first, comes from Russ Walsh on his Russ on Readingblog.  He titles his piece “School Choice: The Faustian Bargain” and argues the language needs to change if traditional public school supporters hope to make any headway.  Walsh believes the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies are really anti-democratic and need to be called out for it.  “School choice is theft of our tax dollars and theft of our democracy,” he suggests, paraphrasing an Ohio voter.  The second is from Mike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blog and the author is a bit skeptical of what Weingarten was trying to achieve by escorting DeVos to the Van Wert High School.  Klonsky quotes the same Valerie Strauss article in The Washington Post that was highlighted in the “Ed News” on Friday.  [Ed. note:  The “Ed News” scoops another eminent education blogger.]  “If some WaPo ink is all Randi was after,” Klonsky concludes suspiciously, “all well and good.  But if she’s providing some union cover for DeVos in exchange for some credibility with the Trump administration, she’s playing a fool’s game.”               Betsy DeVos is at it again.  She recently announced “There isn’t really any Common Core any more.”  Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, had to politely disabuse her of that notion.  “When she was first nominated late last year to be education secretary by Donald Trump, the Michigan billionaire was described as a strong ally of former Florida governor — and Common Core booster — Jeb Bush.  She had not at that time attacked the Core publicly but later said she was not a supporter.  During the campaign,” Strauss carefully outlines, “Trump had promised ‘to get rid of Common Core,’ and at a December rally with the president-elect, she repeated that sentiment, saying that the Trump administration would put an ‘end to the federal Common Core.”  Here’s the problem: The federal government didn’t technically impose the Core on the individual states; the standards were fully or in part approved by state bodies, departments of education or legislatures in 46 states. Only states can decide to get rid of the standards, and, in fact, some have.”
The Teaching Profession
Dr. Michael Flanagan, writing on the BATs (Badass Teachers Association) blog, once again is befuddled by a teacher evaluation system in New York State that took effect last month that is making use of student test scores on standardized assessments, which are also brand new, for 40% of a teacher’s rating.  “Besides the pressure these tests put on students, teachers’ careers are now being evaluated on short notice assessments, that no teacher has even seen, much less been able to prepare their students for,” he complains. “Teachers are educated professionals.  I myself have a doctorate in education.  We can all clearly see that this method of evaluation is a farce.”              
Technology and Teacher Training
Is it possible to train teachers to work with technology that hasn’t even been invented yet?  Candace Roberts, the author of an item inTHE HECHINGER REPORT, is a professor of education at Saint Leo University in Florida.  Her department makes a major effort to do just that and she explains why and how.  “New tools have changed how teachers interact with their students, and how the students interact with the materials being taught.  More than 100 years ago,” she reminds readers, “the chalkboard was a great teaching tool.  It’s since been replaced by interactive whiteboards, document cameras, tablets and virtual reality headsets, each slightly more functional than its predecessor.  Changes today are not just incremental improvements of old tools. They are helping us move to a new paradigm, and teachers need to be prepared not only for the tools available today, but for the tools that we can’t fathom are coming in the next 10, 15 or 20 years.”  Roberts provides 4 tools for training teachers for the technology to come.
Testing and Opt-Out
Diane Ravitch’s blog has an essay on why students should opt-out of standardized testing “The single most important thing you need to know about the state tests is that they are utterly useless and without any value,” she points out.  “The results come back in the summer or fall, when the student has a different teacher.  Neither students nor teachers are allowed to discuss the questions on the test, so no one learns anything from them.  Teachers are not given a diagnostic report for each student, just rankings.  Why do you need to know that your child is a 38 or 48 or 68?  How does that help her?  What information can you glean from a ranking?  None.”               What do student standardized test takers have in common with passengers being taken/dragged off commercial airplanes?   TheAlfie Kohn blog provides an answer and it has to do with the idea of competition and declaring winners and losers that, he says, has become so prevalent in this country.  If that’s all a bit confusing, read Kohn’s essay and see if it doesn’t clear up the fog.               
Trump and Education
On Saturday, Pres. Trump will reach the widely watched benchmark of his first 100 days in office.  What has he accomplished and how does he compare to his most recent predecessors George W. Bush and Barrack Obama?  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK provides some answers.  “Trump and Congress haven’t wrapped up, or even done major work on, a signature K-12 policy bill.  Trump has talked a fair bit about expanding school choice,” it notes.  “And there are placeholders for it in his preliminary fiscal 2018 budget.  Those could eventually turn into significant voucher or tax-credit proposals.  But so far, no school choice legislation in Congress has gotten any real traction, including a high-profile voucher bill from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.”
New Research on Pre-K
One of the first titles discussed by the ALOED Book Club was by Daniel Willingham, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, author of several books and a blogger.  In an entry on his Science & Education blog he reviews some new research from a group of scientists from various fields who look at the value of pre-kindergarten education in this country.  Willingham analyzes 4 key findings from the complete report.  “The last decade has seen a huge upsurge in researcher interest in the consequences of pre-k education. That’s due, in part,” he begins, “to the steady increase over the last fifty years in the number of children enrolled in pre-k.  In the last twenty years, that increase has been driven by children enrolled in public programs. . . .  The increase in publicly funded programs naturally enough sparks interest among policymakers as to whether these programs work.”  You can find the full report (106 pages) titled “The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects” by clicking here “If you have even a passing interest in pre-k,” Willingham concludes, “I recommend this report to you.”
Impact of Private Donations to Public Schools
These days traditional public schools never seem to get the amounts of funding and support they need and deserve.  Per pupil spending varies widely from state-to-state and private donations can supplement what schools spend.  EDUCATION WEEK has an eyeopening analysis of 3 neighboring districts in Wisconsin and it reveals a wide imbalance in the amount of private dollars each attracts.  The article asks: “Do Private Donations Reinforce School Disparities?”   The piece is illustrated by a number of colorful graphs, charts and a map and is part of an ED WEEK series on “Hidden Inequities” (link included).  “Private donations can come through parent-teacher organizations, school district foundations, booster clubs, and private companies,” the item relates.  “Though they account for a fraction of districts’ budgets, the extra dollars can reinforce existing inequities between districts just one street over from one another, suggests a nationwide Education Week Research Center analysis of the latest federal financial data available.”
SDUSD Program to Combat Islamophobia Draws Controversy
And finally, last Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” called attention to a program in the San Diego Unified School District that attempts to educate students, faculty and staff about Islamophobia and bullying of Muslim students.  It must be something about our current political times, but the idea has drawn controversy according to an item in the San Diego Union-Tribune.  “Stan Anjan, executive director of Family and Community Engagement at the district, said the district could begin rolling out steps to address the issue by the end of the school year.  Those steps,” it explains, “could include social studies lessons on Islam so students would better understand the religion.  Another suggestion was including Islamic holidays on calendars so teachers who had Muslim students would be more sensitive about scheduling after-school meetings with parents. . . .  Anjan said the district’s plan does not include favoritism of Muslim students or violate church and state restrictions.”
                                      .                                                                      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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