Ed News, Tuesday, May 2, 2017 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“The only way to educate oneself is by making books a life companion.”
Celerity Charter Could Lose Accreditation
Celerity Education Group currently manages 7 campuses in the LAUSD.  The charter network has been under an internal inquiry by the district’s inspector general for misuse of public funds and a federal investigation into fiscal irregularities and possible mismanagement.  Now comes word that they could lose their accreditation.  WASC, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, a major accrediting agency, recently informed the organization of that possibility according to a story in Saturdays L.A. Times.  “In its letter to Celerity,”  it reports, “WASC criticized the network for not alerting the association to the federal raid and investigation in a ‘timely’ manner.  The association’s policies require schools to report any “’substantive changes’ within 30 days.  It also questioned the organization’s ethics and its commitment to fully disclosing information about its operations.  Included in WASC’s letter was a list of requests for detailed information about Celerity’s finances and [founder Velka] McFarlane’s involvement in the charter school network.  It called on Celerity to have an independent audit done to determine if the organization is financially stable and following state and federal laws.”
SBAC Lines Up New Management
The SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), one of the two major groups that designed Common Core-aligned materials and assessments, has found new management.  UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies announced it was not renewing its 3-year contract with SBAC that will conclude on June 30 of this year.  The new home for SBAC?  UC Santa Cruz’s Silicon Valley Extension.  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints a statement from POLITICOPRO (it requires a paid subscription) about the change.   “Smarter Balanced is a public agency that developed a Common Core-aligned test used in 15 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and by the Bureau of Indian Education.”the item explains.  “It, along with PARCC, was one of two testing consortia started with the help of federal funds.  Both have lost support from some states in recent years amid political discourse over the Common Core standards and standardized testing.”  [Ed. note: California is part of the SBAC.]               EDUCATION WEEK has a story in its “High School & Beyond” column about the change in management at SBAC (see above) AND PARCC, the other consortium.  You can access it by clicking here.  It’s more concentrated on the PARCC switch.
A Peek Behind the Curtains About Those AP Exams
How much do you know about those highly touted AP exams?  David Krisofferson, former teacher and current math and science tutor for high school students, looks at what those passing scores (3, 4, 5) on the AP tests really indicate, comments on an issue in regards to cheating on the exams and some other concerns .  He titles the essay on his EduIssues website “It’s AP Ex(scam) Time Again!” 
Betsy DeVos
Jennifer Berkshire, FKA the “EduShyster,” now blogs at the HAVE YOU HEARD website.  She managed to shadow the visit by Betsy DeVos and AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten to the tiny public school district in rural Van Wert, Ohio (see the April 21st and 25th editions of the “Ed News”).  Berkshire reports on what the three of them experienced as they travelled to several stops in the district.  “The divide between Weingarten vs. DeVos is about more than just unions or vouchers, school funding or learning options,” she writes.  “It’s about whether the state should protect us from the excesses of the free market.  DeVos’ answer to this is an emphatic ‘not.’  It’s why her Education Department moved so quickly to roll back protections for student loan borrowers.  And it’s why she holds up as a model a Florida voucher program that strips parents, or ‘buyers,’ of the rights and protections that the public system guarantees.”               Was Betsy DeVos chosen to head the U.S. Department of Education in order to demonstrate that it is no longer needed?  That’s the interesting hypothesis posited by Steven Singer on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG.  The Republicans have been trying to do away with the DoE ever since it was created by Pres. Carter in 1979.  This may be their best chance.  Singer believes the agency plays an important role and needs to be fixed.  “It’s not the Department of Education that’s the problem.  It’s what we’ve done to it.  The department has a vital and important role to play,” he suggests, “in making sure our system of public education serves everyone.  Speaking in broad terms, the department should be dedicated to these three things: ensuring public schools are being properly funded, student and parent civil rights are not being violated and to be a repository for national data and research.”  Singer goes into detail about each of those key functions and concludes with a very sound argument for retaining and improving the DoE.                Pres. Trump reached his first 100 days in office on Saturday.  Comedian Andy Borowitz couldn’t pass up the opportunity to poke fun at Betsy DeVosas the benchmark passed.  His satirical column appears regularly in THE NEW YORKER.  His posts are always very short and can be read in under a minute.  Take the time.  It should make you at least chuckle.  He headlines this one “BETSY DEVOS SAYS MEDIA SHOULDN’T EMPHASIZE FIRST HUNDRED DAYS BECAUSE ‘IT’S SO HARD TO COUNT TO A HUNDRED.’”  Go ahead, read it.  If it doesn’t make you laugh, I’ll refund your subscription to the “Ed News.”                 DeVos was scheduled to visit the CHIME Institute’s Schwarzenegger Community (charter) School in Woodland Hills yesterday.  It was suddenly cancelled.  Diane Ravitch’s blogspeculates on some reasons why and reprints the very brief press release from the Dept. of Ed. announcing an “unforeseen scheduling conflict.”                The “Education Watch” feature in today’s L.A. Times talks about the planned “now it’s on–now it’s off” visit by Betsy DeVos yesterday to a special needs charter in the San Fernando Valley (see above).  “Parents’ reactions were complicated, as has often been the case as DeVos makes herself known to America’s schools.  On her first visit to a public school in Washington, D.C.,” it notes, “protesters all but chased her off the premises — though she eventually made her way into the campus.  Meanwhile, embarrassing video of her reception made the rounds on the Internet. . . .  Four parents interviewed by The Times said they assumed the visit was called off out of fear of protests — though protesters are more or less a constant for DeVos.”               Diane Ravitch’s blog has a follow-up to her item (see above) about DeVos cancelling her visit to the school in Woodland Hills citing an “unforeseen scheduling conflict.”  Ravitch perused the DoE’s schedule for DeVos yesterday and discovered she was in Los Angeles meeting with some VIPs at 12:15 and 2:30.  Apparently, they were more important to the Secretary than some special needs kids!
Charter Schools and Vouchers
The April 25th edition of the “Ed News” highlighted 3 bills in the California legislature that would promote more transparency,accountability for the state’s charters and open access to them for the all students.  The CTA (California Teachers Association) has assembled a wide-ranging group of legislators, parents, community activists and educators to support the legislation.  The group’s press release reviews each of the bills and explains why they are needed.  You can read that statement from the CTA website by clicking here.  “Research by In The Public Interest,” it notes, “shows Californians overwhelmingly favor proposals to reform charter schools—proposals that include strengthening charter school accountability and transparency, improving teacher training and qualifications, preventing fraud, returning money to taxpayers when charter schools close, and ensuring that neighborhood public schools are not adversely affected.”  The Press Release includes links to the full text of each of the bills.               More questions about the veracity of the U.S. News & World Report rankings of the top high schools in the nation.  The previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted Gary Rubinstein’s discovery of some shady numbers for the  KIPP Academy Charter School in New York City which was ranked #29 in the nation and #4 in New York by U.S. News.  In a follow-up blog on his Gary Rubinstein’s blog he believes the campus DOESN’T EVEN EXIST!!!  “Based on what I’ve found, and it is pretty confusing actually, I believe I’ve uncovered a pretty big scandal,” he alleges.  Check out his latest investigation (it includes a link to his previous effort in case you missed it or see Friday’s “Ed News”).  “Read Gary’s analysis,” Diane Ravitch urges.  “One thing is clear: the U.S. News & World Report ranking of high schools is phony.  A fraud.  Meaningless. They rank high schools to sell magazines.  They don’t fact-check.  They set themselves up as the arbiters of which are the best high schools in the nation, based on flawed data, and they are not qualified to do this work,” she complains.  “Of what value is their product?” Gary Rubinstein isn’t the only blogger looking into the value of the top high school ratings published yearly by U.S. News & World Report (see item above).   Mercedes Schneider’s “EduBlog” at deutsch29 decided to scrutinize the number 1 school on the list, BASIS Charter School in Scottsdale, Arizona.  She discovered a heavy emphasis on AP exams which is one of the key indicators of the U.S. News rankings.  In addition, she did some very deep digging into the BASIS network’s tax filings and financial disclosure forms and discovered a serious debt problem developing.  Schneider titles her piece “Which is Higher at BASIS Schools: Its AP Scores, or it’s Debt?”  It’s long and quite detailed but, in the end, very revealing.  “The BASIS enterprise is headed toward a fiscal crisis,” she submits.  “This is trouble, folks.  No amount of US News and World Report recognition can remedy the BASIS Schools debt sinkhole.  Shiny AP scores cannot fix this debt issue.”               Since some form of voucher plan is a big education goal of the Trump administration, how versed are you on what it is?  Julian Vasquez-Heilig, professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at CSU Sacramento, poses and answers 8 questions about vouchers that he doubts Betsy DeVos could answer correctly.  His article appears on TheProgressive website.  “In a recent article [highlighted in the April 21st “Ed News”], Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado specializing in education policy and law, reported that conventional voucher policies now exist in 16 states,” Vasquez Heilig reviews, “producing about 175,000 vouchers annually.  Education Savings Accounts are in 17 states and generate about 250,000 vouchers every year.”               A California state appellate court ruled in favor of allowing parents to invoke the “parent-trigger law” to convert their local elementary school in Anaheim into a charter despite questions concerning whether the law is still relevant.  The school in question is Palm Lane Elementary (Anaheim Elementary School District) in a case that dates to early 2015 when parents first submitted a petition under the parent-trigger provisions to transition their “low performing” campus into a charter.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times has the details on this latest development.  “Until the ruling, there was doubt on both sides about whether the parent-trigger law still was in effect in California,” it notes.  “That’s because the law, which is predicated on a school’s poor performance, originated under a different school-rating system.  The state has revised its academic standards, state tests and accountability system, and it hasn’t updated which schools, if any, would now be vulnerable to the parent-trigger law.  Formerly, one trigger requirement was that a school score less than 800 on the state’s Academic Performance Index.  That index no longer exists, and there is now no single number or grade used to rank a school.”               An article in today’s Times has both good news and bad news for charter schools.  The good news: The LAUSD will foot half the bill for construction of some new classrooms at the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in Pacoima replacing some very old portables.  The bad news: An L.A. Superior Court judge recently ruled that the district could spend $200 million less on classroom construction for charters based on her ruling regarding Measure Q which was passed by voters in 2008.
Former Head of Chicago Public Schools Sentenced to Prison
Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s pick to lead the nation’s third largest school district starting in 2012, was sentenced Friday to 54 months in prison.  Byrd-Bennett was indicted in Oct., 2015 and later pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud.  The Chicago Tribune has the details. “U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang sentenced Byrd-Bennett to 4 1/2 years in prison for scheming to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks,” it notes, “in return for steering lucrative contracts to SUPES Academy, an education consulting firm where she had formerly worked. . . .  In handing down the sentence, Chang said he needed to send a message to other public officials and corrupt vendors that they face significant time behind bars if they’re caught defrauding the public for their own financial gain. It’s a message that so far has not gotten through, the judge said.”
Questions Raised Concerning Current Netflix Series About a Teen’s Suicide
Have you been watching the current Netflix series “13 Reasons Why?”  How about your children, grandchildren or students?  Briefly, it’s about a 17-year-old girl who takes her own life and also covers topics like cutting and other at-risk behaviors.  It’s based on a young adult novel published in 2007.  The program prompted a Florida school superintendent to sent home a letter to parents noting a rapid increase in such behaviors at his elementary and middle schools since the series began airing March 31.  Valerie Strauss, on her Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post discusses concerns being raised about student viewing of “13 Reasons Why” and reprints the letter from Robert M. Avossa, the Palm Beach County Schools head, along with a note from the National Association of School Psychologists with tips for educators on how to guide discussion about the program and a list of resources for parents, students and teachers.  “In a brief interview,” Strauss mentions, “Avossa texted that officials at schools in his district have learned about at least a dozen episodes over a brief period involving young people who have either harmed themselves or threatened to do so, and cited the show when discussing their behavior.”
What’s a “Fidget Spinner?”
Quick question-of-the-day:  What’s a “Fidget Spinner?”  I had no idea until I read Dr. Michael Flanagan’s “A Teacher’s Thoughts on Fidget Spinners” on the BATs (Badass Teaches Association) website.  “The Fidget Spinner is the latest fad spreading throughout America’s classrooms.” he explains right off the bat.  “It is a plastic pinwheel constructed with ball bearings that can spin between the thumb and forefinger, or on top of a desk.  The difference between this craze and past ones such as Tamagotchis, Silly String, or Pokemon Go is that this one is billed as the panacea for distracted students. Fidget Spinners are touted– mostly by the producers of the product– as being able to alleviate anxiety, stress, and ADHD.  They keep students focused, alright, but not on what you are trying to teach them.”  Flanagan proceeds to describe how they and previous classroom disruptions, bees and farts are what he mentions, can ruin even the best classroom lesson for a good part of the rest of the day.  If you haven’t seen a Fidget Spinner or aren’t sure what it is, he leads off his article with a picture of one.
Trump and Education
Over the weekend Congressional negotiators reached a tentative agreement on a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30th that will avert a possible government shutdown.  Interestingly, it ignores many of the education-related cuts requested by Pres. Trump.  The latest agreement’s impact on education funding is the subject of a “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK.  “Lawmakers appear to be sending early signals of independence from the Trump administration on education budget issues,” it points out.  “For example, in the fiscal 2018 budget proposal Trump released several weeks ago, the president also sought to eliminate just over $1 billion in support for 21st Century Community Learning Centers in fiscal 2018.  However, this budget deal for fiscal 2017 would give the program a relatively small boost of $25 million up to nearly $1.2 billion.  Trump had also wanted to cut Title II funding in half in fiscal 2017, far more than this agreement, before eliminating it entirely in fiscal 2018. . . .  The budget deal doesn’t appear to include a new federal school choice program, a top K-12 priority for the Trump administration, although Trump’s request for such a program appears in his fiscal 2018 proposal and not his fiscal 2017 blueprint.”               Yesterday Pres. Trump asked some puzzling questions and raised some baffling issues about the U.S. Civil War and Pres. Andrew Jackson. Humorist Andy Borowitz is at it again about this latest lack of historical knowledge exhibited by our current president.  Writing on his “Borowitz Report” in THE NEW YORKER, this one is headlined “Fourth-Grade Class Touring White House Answers Trump’s Questions About the Civil War.”  Just a reminder, it’s very short and it is TOTALLY satire.  For some background on just what Trump said/Tweeted, see Dan Rather’s comments on THE HILL website, which you can find by clicking here.  Rather refers to Trump’s observations as “sheer craziness.”
K-12 Sexual Assaults a Hidden Problem
And finally, the AP (Associated Press) has uncovered a hidden problem concerning sexual assaults on the nation’s K-12 campuses.  The number of incidents they discovered was much higher than some previous studies had reported.  EDUCATION WEEK features the latest statistics.   “Relying on state education records, supplemented by federal crime data,” the article relates, “a yearlong investigation by The Associated Press uncovered roughly 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students over a four-year period, from fall 2011 to spring 2015.  Though that figure represents the most complete tally yet of sexual assaults among the nation’s 50 million K-12 students, it does not fully capture the problem because such attacks are greatly under-reported, some states don’t track them, and those that do vary widely in how they classify and catalog sexual violence.  A number of academic estimates range sharply higher.”  The ED WEEK item follows the story of one 12-year old boy who was raped by several classmates at his middle school in Maine and what teachers, administrators, counselors and the police did and did not do in response.    In a companion piece to the one above, ED WEEK provides a state-by-state break down of student sexual assaults and what is required by law to be reported.   It notes that 32 states, including California, and the District of Columbia require that information on sexual assaults be maintained although the thoroughness of that data varies from state to state.  18 states have no reporting requirements.  Here’s what the story says about the Golden State: “CALIFORNIA     The state required every public school to report any offense by a student involving sexual assault or sexual battery, regardless of whether it led to suspension or expulsion.  The state defined those offenses broadly to include any forcible oral, anal or vaginal penetration, lewd behavior with someone 15 or younger, and unwanted intimate touching through or under clothes for arousal or gratification.  California reported 4,630 such student offenses over the four-year period [fall 2011 to spring 2015].”
                                      .                                                                      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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