Ed News, Friday, April 28, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“Knowledge itself is power” 
California Graduation Rates Questioned
An extended editorial in Wednesday’s L.A. Times is laudatory of California’s increased high school graduation rates but questions how some districts achieved their numbers.  It’s titled “What’s That Diploma Worth?”  “How much of the increase indicates real educational improvement, and how much of it was attained through shortcuts that allowed districts to boost their numbers without teaching young people the skills expected of a high school graduate?” it asks.  “There have been disconcerting signs that too much of the latter has been going on in California, and to be fair, across the nation.”
The Teaching Profession
School districts around the nation are revamping how they offer professional development in light of some new wording in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  EDUCATION WEEK has a new special report on the topic titled “Smart Strategies for Teacher Professional Development.”  You can find a link to it with a list of articles exploring the subject by clicking here.  “Professional development has the potential to not only improve teacher practice, but to make a real difference for students. But too often,” the introduction to the report relates, “professional development has been criticized as unfocused and irrelevant.  But many school systems are overhauling their PD programs to tie them closely to teacher needs and to districtwide academic goals.”               In the past, the “Ed News” has highlighted several stories about teacher-powered schools.  EDUCATION WEEK describes how one school in Minnesota and others around the country are teacher-created and teacher-led.  “A reported 115 teacher-powered, or teacher-led, schools are operating in 18 states, and advocates suspect that the real number is much higher. . . .  Minnesota is one of the centers of the movement—it has 24 teacher-powered schools,” it points out, “more than any other state except California.  Teacher-powered schools have been around since the 1970s, but supporters sense they’re in a moment now.”  The article explains how these schools get started and how they work.  For more information about this growing phenomenon check out the teacher-powered schools website by clicking here.               Many states now require that their teacher credential candidates pass the edTPA (education Teacher Performance Assessment) before earning their certificates.  The edTPA is a Pearson created handbook and exam that purports to determine teacher readiness for success in the classroom.  (According the edTPA website “California has had a requirement for teacher performance assessment in place since 2008 and is currently considering edTPA as an additional assessment option available to preparation programs for that purpose.”)  Pearson has taken a lot of criticism for its Common Core aligned exams and materials so how are future teachers reacting to the edTPA?  Alexandra Miletta is a teacher educator at Mercy College in New York City and an author.  She turns over her Alexandra Miletta blog to one of her current student teachers, Melina Melanovic, who has some thoughts about her experience with the edTPA.  Melanovic shares several concerns about the entire process and concludes: “You are like a robot that is programmed to only one way of teaching, the edTPA way.  I would suggest using any resources that are available to you,” she urges, “in order to help you during this process, and take it seriously!  Be as explicit as that handbook tells you to be because it seems like that is what they are looking for. Also, remember that teachers are creative. There is always room for creativity, which can be beneficial for both your students and you.”                 A 9th grade humanities teacher at a Boston charter was selected as the National Teacher of the Year for 2017 last week.  An item in the “Teaching Now” column for EDUCATION WEEK profiles the latest winner, Sydney Chaffee.  “Chaffee, who has taught for 10 years, was announced as the 66th winner of the national prize [April 20th] on CBS This Morning,” it details.  “A humanities teacher hasn’t won the contest since 1998, and there hasn’t been a National Teacher of the Year from Massachusetts in the awards’ 65-year history.”  One of the other 3 finalists for the award was a special education teacher from Del Norte High School in the Poway Unified School District (San Diego County).
Charter Schools and Vouchers
Is Minneapolis the next city in the cross hairs of the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies?  Is the Walton Family Foundation (of Walmart fame) behind the move?  An extended exposé, lavishly illustrated with several charts, graphs and maps on the edhivemn(dot)com website, details the plan by a group called Minnesota Comeback to add 30,000 charter seats in the next 8 years to the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts, which have a combined student enrollment of only 36,000,  That would divert 84% of the students in both district into charters.  The item is titled “Free to Choose a Walmart School–Poverty Academies, Segregation Academies and a Foundation Plan to Destroy the Minneapolis Public School District.”  “30,000 new ‘seats’ in a district that has a student population of about 36,000 students is essentially a plan to kill that public school district,” the author writes.  “As Alejandra Matos wrote in the [Minneapolis] Star Tribune a year ago, some Minneapolis education officials ‘…suspect Minnesota Comeback is out to undermine the traditional public school system by replacing it with a vast network of charter schools, like in New Orleans or Washington, D.C.'”               Here’s an unusual twist (bribe?) for attracting corporations to invest in new charter schools.  A couple of bills introduced in the North Carolina legislature would offer some enticing perks for companies who donate land, buildings or equipment to a charter school.  Yep, you read that right!  The [Raleigh] News & Observer has the [sordid?] details about this proposed legislation.  The story is headlined “Should Charter School Enrollment be a Corporate Employee Perk?”  “The state House is considering a collection of bills that would change who can start a charter,” it notes, “and how quickly the schools can grow. Corporations would be able to reserve spaces in schools for their employees’ children, and two towns would be able to set up charter schools for their residents.  Under current law, charters are open to any student in the state, although schools can give preference to siblings and school employees’ children.”  The article describes how the other bills would favor corporate donors.  Yeah, it all sounds pretty elitist to me, too!               North Carolina teacher and blogger, Stuart Egan, on his CAFFEINATED RAGE blog, rails at one of the bills (House Bill 800) before the North Carolina legislature (see above).  Egan believes it reveals again how public taxpayer money is being diverted in support of the privatization of public schools through charters.  Egan quotes one member of the North Carolina House as saying this bill “really pushes us down the road to privatization that we resisted on charter schools.  This allows you to set up the equivalent of a company store, but it’s a company school.”
Still not convinced that some charter networks are replete with fraud, mismanagement and other scandals?  ProgressOhio has a handy-dandy chronological list of the latest charter wrongdoings.  Unfortunately, it only covers a 2-year period from 2013-15.  A full inventory would probably require a phone book length volume.  The article is titled “An Incomplete (Yet Totally Terrifying) Ohio Charter School Scandal Chronology.”  Here’s one example: “June 15, 2015    Ohio Auditor David Yost, a Republican, releases findings showing that a recently closed Dayton charter defrauded taxpayers out of about $1.2 million by billing them for students who did not attend school.  Some students had moved, gone to prison or never showed up in the first place.”               For the seventh year-in-a -row Tennessee (Tennessee!) legislators failed to pass a voucher bill.  Proponents of the bill limited the proposed program to Memphis in a attempt to garner more support.  Even that tactic failed to amass enough votes according to a story from Chalkbeat Tennessee.  “It’s an anticlimactic ending,” it notes, “after months of debate and hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars spent to boost legislation allowing public money to be spent on private school tuition. . . .  But in the end, disagreements over how private schools should be held accountable for academic results — as well as legislators’ exhaustion after passing a hotly debated gasoline tax — caused the measure to stall.”               Are you aware that there already exists a federally funded voucher program, similar in scope, although much smaller in scale , to the one being proposed by Pres. Trump?  If not, you need to read up on the program in the nation’s capital that is authorized by the U.S. Congress and is paid for with federal taxpayer money.  One small problem: the vouchers appear to be having “a negative impact on achievement” according to a new study from the IES, the Institute for Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Dept. of Education.  The “Charters & Choice” column for EDUCATION WEEKfeatures the study.  “President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are major supporters of the D.C. voucher program, and school choice in general,” it relates.  “And legislation reauthorizing the voucher program is pending in Congress, which is controlled by Republicans.  Congressional critics of the program were quick to cite the report in explaining why the D.C. vouchers shouldn’t be renewed, as well as to throw cold water on the Trump administration’s school choice agenda.   The report comes on the heels of other evaluations of voucher programs in Louisiana and elsewhere showing negative impacts on student achievement.”               At a recent hearing convened by the NAACP, parents and students in the New Orleans charter schools system had some serious complaints about the segregated nature and unequal education being provided to the district’s Black students.  The “Ed News” has pointed out, on a number of occasions, that after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005 the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies embarked on the nation’s biggest district transformation by converting almost all the schools in the city into charters.  CommonDreams has a story titled “Everything Wrong With Charters on Display in New Orleans” which includes a litany of troubles plaguing the system and a seeming lack of interest in dealing with them.  “In summary, the NAACP heard that they charter system remains highly segregated by race and economic status.   Students have significantly longer commutes to and from school.  The percentage of African American teachers has declined dramatically,” it identifies, “leaving less experienced teachers who are less likely to be accredited and less likely to remain in the system.  The costs of administration have gone up while resources for teaching have declined.  Several special select schools have their own admission process which results in racially and economically different student bodies.  The top administrator of one K-12 system of three schools is paid over a quarter of a million dollars.  Students with disabilities have been ill served.  Fraud and mismanagement, which certainly predated the conversion to charter schools, continue to occur.  Thousands of students are in below average schools.  Students and parents feel disempowered and ignored by the system.”  The article includes a link to a video of the full hearing (189:59 minutes.  To find it, scroll down to the very end of the link).
Pres. Trump and Education 
Pres. Trump recently signed an executive order directing Sec. of Ed. Betsy DeVos to study how the federal government has overstepped its jurisdiction pertaining to education policy and determine ways it can be returned to state and local control.  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK gives a rundown of this latest action and its impact.  “In response to the executive order,” it points out, “a task force at the department, led by Robert Eitel, a senior adviser to the secretary, will take a hard look at all of the K-12 regulations put out by the past administration and decide which step on local control, Rob Goad, a senior U.S. Department of Education aide, said.  After 300 days, the department will release a report on its findings.”  The ED WEEK piece includes a link to the official executive order which was signed by Pres. Trump on Wednesday.               Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG,is a might befuddled by some contradictory education policy statements from Pres. Trump.  I’ll let Singer explain what’s bothering him: “Donald Trump is talking out of both sides of his mouth.  Again,” he exasperatedly begins.  “This time he’s signing an executive order demanding the Department of Education study how the federal government oversteps its legal authority with regard to K-12 schools.  Yet he still proposes bribing states with $20 billion in federal funds to enact school vouchers.  Well which is it, Oh Orange One?  Are you for limiting the federal role in education or for coercing states to do your bidding?  Because you can’t be for both.”  Singer believes one reason why Pres.Trump is doing this is to cover up for a lack of any concrete achievements during his first 100 days in office which arrives tomorrow.  Singer has some other imaginative reasons for Trump’s actions.             Pres. Trump met with the 2017 Teachers of the Year on Wednesday.  It’s a customary event that goes back to the Truman administration but this year things went a little differently, as explained by Valerie Strauss on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post.  She titles her commentary “Trump’s Rather Weird Meeting With the 2017 Teachers of the Year.”  “Rather than a ceremony in the East Room or the Rose Garden, as past presidents have done, Trump invited the teachers into the Oval Office,” Strauss relates for starters, “where he asked them all to gather around him, standing, while he sat at his desk.  In the crowd were first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Pence, second lady Karen Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.”  Strauss also describes how Presidents Obama and George W. Bush conducted their meetings with the honored educators.  The article leads off with a short video (2:17 minutes) with some brief remarks by Trump.  
Public Schools 
Why do the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies persist in referring to the traditional public schools as “dropout factories?”  They seem to come up with the most pejorative terms in order to make their agenda for school “choice” sound better.  NANCY BAILEY’S EDUCATION WEBSITE goes after that negative framing in a piece called “‘Dropout Factories:’ The Disparaging & Hypocritical Reference to America’s Public Schools and Teachers.”  The author was a veteran special ed teacher with a Ph.D. in education leadership from Florida St. University.  This blog has, for a long time, referred to our public school system as under funded and poorly supported.  Bailey provides a list of research-based strategies for helping those often high poverty schools.  Here’s one of her solutions for helping curb school dropouts: “3. School-based after-school programs and school psychologists. Not only should the President not end after-school programs, according to Davies and Peltz, (2012), it would be a good idea,” she suggests, “to add school psychologists to the mix. We know that at-risk youth tend to feel better-connected and will feel more inclined to stay in school if they have an after-school program they can attend.  School psychologists can help students better work out their difficulties.”  Diane Ravitch calls this “A valuable and informative post.”
Questions About the U.S. News & World Report’s High School Rankings
And finally, every year U.S. News & World Report comes out with its highly anticipated ranking of the “best” high schools in the country.  Gary Rubinstein, on his Gary Rubinstein’s blog, reviews this year’s ratings and explains how they are shaped.  [Ed. notes: His school, the highly selective Stuyvesant High in New York City,  ranked 71st.]  He was rather curious why 34 charters made the top 100 list and decided to do some investigating.  Voilà!  He believes one charter network, KIPP, may have manipulated the results in order to gain a higher rating for one of its campuses and he explains how that was accomplished.  Interesting findings.  Diane Ravitch writes “What he discovered might surprise you.  If nothing else, it will persuade you–as it did me–that the U.S. News rankings are baloney.”
Enjoy this unseasonably warm Spring weekend!
                                      .                                                                      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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