Ed News, Friday, May 5, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“Teaching is the best way to learn. Never stop learning.” 

― Debasish Mridha

Charter Schools
Former Sacramento mayor and one-time NBA player Kevin Johnson is the founder of a chain of 4 charter schools in the Golden State’s capital.  The teachers are attempting to unionize at those campuses according to a story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times.   “Teachers at a network of Sacramento charter schools founded by former Mayor Kevin Johnson are trying to unionize,” it begins, “citing growing discontent over the schools’ management and high staff turnover.  The four schools, which are operated by St. Hope Public Schools, are a desirable target for a union for political and strategic reasons.  Although Johnson no longer oversees them, his wife, Michelle Rhee, is the chairwoman of the organization’s governing board.  As the former schools chancellor in Washington, D.C., Rhee was one of the most public faces of a campaign to change how public schools are run and a favorite target of teachers unions.”               There is no question that the Trump/Pence/DeVos triumvirate is a strong proponent of charters, “choice” and vouchers.  So how do thoseDemocrats who support similar policies distinguish themselves from the GOP?  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK calls this “The Democrats’ Dilemma on Charter Schools” and he explains how they are attempting to wiggle out of the delicate position they are in and how they got there in the first place.  He references a recent column in The New York Times about charters and choice that Jennifer Berkshire briefly reviews in her HAVE YOU HEARD column (see the “Poverty and Education” headline below).  “It’s important to understand the source of the school choice schism in the Democratic party goes back 25 years, Jeffrey Henig explains in Education Week,” Bryant writes, “when proponents of school choice came up with two different ways to achieve their goals: school vouchers and charter schools.  While conservatives favored vouchers, which were a creation of free-market economist Milton Friedman, political centrists and some left-leaning people became infatuated with charters because they were birthed by ‘business-oriented moderates and technocrats’ who became the predominant force in the Democratic party during Bill Clinton’s presidential administration.”
Betsy DeVos
Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, has a little sympathy for how Betsy DeVos is perceived but only up to a point.  Despite that, have no fear that he’s gone over to the dark side.  He believes that some of her more controversial comments have been misunderstood but that shouldn’t take away from her overall agenda which is pretty clearly destructive of the public school system.  “As I said– any shred of sympathy I might have felt for DeVos is pretty much shredded when she starts talking.  Is she occasionally criticized unfairly?  Yes, I think she is.  But is she misunderstood, with her policy goals unfairly maligned and misrepresented?  I think not.  We have a person in charge of our nation’s public education system,” he concludes, “who does not value that system and would happily preside over its destruction, a dismantling she has worked for her entire adult life and never disavowed.  DeVos may feel that we just aren’t seeing and hearing her properly, or she may just be experiencing some frustration because her attempts to control the narrative are being thrown off by, you know, facts and accurate perceptions and people not being dopes.  We do see and hear her, and I think we see and hear her pretty clearly and accurately, and she is pretty clearly an enemy of pubic education.”
New York State continues to be a hotbed for the opt-out movement and Long Island could be considered the epicenter.  Latest figures from Long Island Newsday indicate that up to 50% of students at Long Island schools opted out of this year’s standardized math exams which concluded this week.  Statewide, the numbers could approach 20% as they have been for the past couple of years. Unfortunately, the original article requires a paid subscription, but Diane Ravitch’s blog thankfully provides a copy of it.   “This is the fifth consecutive year of boycotts of the Common Core tests.  On Long Island,” it reports, “the number of refusals mushroomed to about half of all eligible students both last year and in 2015, according to Newsday surveys of the 124 districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties at the time.  On Tuesday, figures from the 100 responding districts showed 32,239 students in Nassau and 47,541 in Suffolk opted out of the exams.  Newsday’s survey showed a broad range: In the Plainedge district, for example, 79 percent of students refused to take the test, while in Hempstead, less than 7 percent opted out.”               James D. Kirylo, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina and a parent of a 3rd and 5th grader was “intimidated” by local police after he informed their school  that his two children would opt-out of the standardized tests.  An overzealous administrator forced the 5th grader to take the test so Kirylo stated in a phone conversation with the administrator his intention to come to school to discuss the situation.  “When I arrived at the school, I saw two police patrol cars in front.  They were there for me,” he acknowledges.  “Two uniformed police officers hovered around the office area, evidently thinking that I was a threat simply because I openly expressed my displeasure at the school.”   His harrowing tale is reprinted in Mercedes Schneider’s “EduBlog” at deutsch29.   There’s every reason to believe his story.  I did not MAKE IT UP.   
Teacher Appreciation Week
This year, May 8-12 is designated as National “Teacher Appreciation Week” and Tuesday, May 9, is “National Teacher Day.” TheNational PTA website contains some information and materials for the two events which you can access here.  “Since 1984, National PTA has designated one week in May,”  it explains, “as a special time to honor the men and women who lend their passion and skills to educating our children.  PTA events at the national, state and local levels celebrate the outstanding contributions teachers make.  We are also proud to recognize teachers and administrators with awards and grants.  National PTA also serves on the selection committees for the National Teacher of the Year Program.”  This year’s theme is “Teachers Deliver.”
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Here are some similar materials and ideas regarding National Teacher Appreciation Week from the California State PTA.
Latest Graduation Rates Confirmed
When the latest graduation rates for the 2014-15 school year were announced last October, they were greeted with some amount of skepticism.  Some critics felt they were inaccurate or inflated.  A new report, released Wednesday, featured in the “High School & Beyond ” column for EDUCATION WEEK, finds the numbers to be both correct and encouraging.  “A unique feature of this year’s report is its attempt to address doubts about the validity of the country’s high graduation rate,” it points out.  “Even though states are now required to use the same method to calculate graduation rates—the ‘adjusted cohort graduation rate,’ which tracks the percentage of 9th graders who earn diplomas four years later—states have wiggle room that can affect their calculations.”  The article addresses some of the questions raised about the graduation rate and includes a link to the full study (82 pages) titled “Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Raising High School Graduation Rates.” 
Trump and Education
Speaking of “alternative facts” and “fake news,” Pres. Trump and Vice Pres. Pence were lauding the federal voucher program in Washington, D.C., despite a new report that found it ineffective and seriously flawed.  The event took place Wednesday at the White House during National Charter Schools Week.  Students from both public and private schools in the capital, along with family members were there to meet the Veep and Sec. Betsy DeVos when the president dropped in and made his comments.  Valerie Strauss, in her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post mentions the gathering and the president’s oversight regarding the report about the voucher program in the District.  “[Trump] took the opportunity to slam D.C. public schools while talking up the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the only federally funded school voucher program in the country. . . .  The study,” she writes, “released by the Education Department’s research division, found that students in the program performed worse on standardized tests within a year after entering D.C. private schools than peers who did not participate.”  Strauss includes quotes from the remarks delivered by Trump and Pence and a short segment from the report.     The Trump administration in word and deed has promised a crackdown on undocumented people in this country.  That impacts both students and teachers who don’t have legal status.  The PBS Newshour series “Making the Grade” examines the issue.  Their correspondent visits Los Angeles and speaks with several undocumented students and teachers about what they are currently experiencing and their fears for the future.  The piece includes a short written introduction to the video (7:35 minutes) which was originally broadcast on April 25.  
Questions Raised Concerning Current Netflix Series “13 Reasons Why”
Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted an item that raised some serious questions about copycat behavior by some elementary and middle school students after watching the provocative Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” about a teenage girl’s suicide that also contained other issues regarding cutting and self-harm.  The PBS Newshour program “Making the Grade” explores the program and the impact it is having on students with the head of psychological services for the Montgomery County (Maryland) schools and a TV critic for “Variety.”  You can watch the segment (12:24 minutes), listen to a podcast and/or read a full transcript by clicking here.  The piece is titled “13 Reasons Why is Provocative and Devastating.  Is it Also Dangerous?”  “’13 Reasons Why’ tells the fictional story of Hannah Baker, a 17-year-old high school student,” the PBS correspondent describes, “who takes her own life. Hannah leaves behind 13 cassette tapes, where she narrates the events leading up to her suicide.”
School “Choice”
The corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies, in this case the Trump/Pence/DeVos triumvirate, like to tout school “choice” as the panacea for everything that ails K-12 education today.  They never mention under funding and the poor support the public schools receive.  Carol Burris, writing on Valerie Strauss’ column for The Washington Post, discusses “Three Big Problems With School ‘Choice’ That Supporters Don’t Like to Talk About.”  Burris draws a nuanced distinction between public and privatized school choice and identifies “3 consequences for taxpayers” when the latter programs are implemented.  Here’s one of her examples: “1. Privatized school choice will inevitably reduce funding for your local neighborhood public schools.”                The New York City schools have hada school “choice” program for 14 years.  So, how is it working out?  You can probably tell from a story in The New York Times, titled “The Broken Promises of Choice in New York City Schools,” what the answer to that question is.  “Under a system created during Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration, eighth graders can apply anywhere in the city,” it points out, “in theory unshackling them from failing, segregated neighborhood schools. Students select up to 12 schools and get matched to one by a special algorithm.  This process was part of a package of Bloomberg-era reforms intended to improve education in the city and diminish entrenched inequities. . . .  But school choice has not delivered on a central promise: to give every student a real chance to attend a good school.”  The extensive article is lavishly illustrated with pictures, graphs and maps.
What Health Care Repeal Means for Education  😓
House Republicans were able to pass the Obamacare repeal and replace bill yesterday by a vote of 217-213.  (No Democrats voted in favor and 20 Republicans cast ballots against).
The legislation now goes to the Senate.  If the bill is eventually signed into law what could it mean for education?  It’s not well know but the effect will be significant for certain segments of the population.  An article in The New York Times, published the day before the vote speculates on the impact on one particularly vulnerable group–special education.  “With all the sweeping changes the Republican bill would impose, little attention has been paid to its potential impact on education.  School districts rely on Medicaid, the federal health care program for the poor,” it carefully points out, “to provide costly services to millions of students with disabilities across the country.  For nearly 30 years, Medicaid has helped school systems cover costs for special education services and equipment, from physical therapists to feeding tubes.  The money is also used to provide preventive care, such as vision and hearing screenings, for other Medicaid-eligible children. . . .  The new law would cut Medicaid by $880 billion, or 25 percent, over 10 years and impose a ‘per-capita cap’ on funding for certain groups of people, such as children and the elderly — a dramatic change that would convert Medicaid from an entitlement designed to cover any costs incurred to a more limited program.”   [Ed. note:  I wonder how the Republicans will justify this?   REALLY SAD!]
The Teaching Profession
When was the last time you applied for a teaching position?  The author of this item, Tom Rademacher, is the 2015 Minnesota State Teacher of the Year and he just lost his job.  He describes the ideal conditions for his next position in the form of a personal ad.  His commentary appears on the “Teacher-Leader Voices” column for EDUCATION WEEK.   Here’s one of the things he’d like his next school to have:“Maintain a commitment to social justice and racial equity.”  He explains what that means.  Check out what else he includes on his list.  Know anybody who’s hiring?               What is the effect of those corporate “reforms” like charters and school “choice” on an urban traditional public school?  Ryan Heisinger, a high school English teacher in Newark, New Jersey, provides a disheartening view of the burden of those changes.  He’s taught at both a charter and at public schools so far during his 4-year career.  His insightful observations appear on Jennifer Berkshire’s HAVE YOU HEARD blog and are titled “Chaos by Design.”  “These concerns are relatively new, the products of an alarming trend in urban education,” he perceptively writes, “through which public school systems have become increasingly unstable as charter schools continue to take up a greater share of students in cities.”                A U.S. District Court judge in Texas has issued a ruling tossing out the teacher evaluation system in the Houston Independent School District because of its over reliance on a highly suspect value-added model (VAM).  Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, a fierce and authoritative critic of VAMs, titles her commentary “A Big Victory in Court in Houston.”  It appears on her scholarly VAMboozled blog,  She includes several quotes from Judge Stephen Wm. Smith’s decision and also reprints a Press Release from the AFT commenting on the case and its significance.
New York Principal Accused of “Communist Organizing.  Is this the 1950s?
A combined middle and high school in Brooklyn has been rocked by allegations that the principal was engaged in “Communist organizing?”  If you are wondering if this story is a leftover April Fools joke, you are forgiven.  Jill Bloomberg became the head of Park Slope Collegiate, a grade 6-12 secondary school, in 2014.  She learned of the action against her in early March of this year.  A story inThe New York Times reads like a throwback to the McCarthy period during the early Cold War era, only it’s NOT.  It smacks of that time in our history when Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-WI) was making wild charges against thousands of people in the government who, he claimed, were communists or communist sympathizers.  Many reputations and careers were ruined before he was finally censured by the Senate.  This story has many of the elements of that bygone time–unnamed accusers, an activist charged with “Communist Organizing” although the charges against Bloomberg have not been officially made public, investigations, lawsuits, injunctions, denials of a “witchhunt” taking place and finger pointing all around.  “Over the years, Ms. Bloomberg has become one of the most outspoken and visible critics of New York City’s public schools, regularly castigating the Education Department’s leadership at forums and in the news media.  Most of her criticism,” the article suggests, “is aimed at actions that she says perpetuate a segregated and unequal educational system and that penalize black and Latino students.  Through the years, she has helped organize protests and assemblies to push for integration and equal resources and treatment for her almost entirely black and Latino student body.”  Check out a note of support for Ms. Bloomberg from the PARK LANE COLLEGIATE website by clicking here.
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Jill Bloomberg, principal of Park Slope Collegiate
Poverty and Education
Why do some people think education is the key to ending poverty?  Because that way you can take the focus off other factors they’d rather not address. You’ve probably heard that stress on education as the answer before but Jennifer Berkshire, on her HAVE YOU HEARD blog, interviews historian Harvey Kantor who believes that idea is dangerously overstated.  Their Q & A is titled “Education Can’t Fix Poverty.  So Why Keep Insisting that it Can?”  “In response to a question about why so much emphasis is put on education to end poverty, Kantor responds: “If we really want to address issues of inequality and economic insecurity, there are a lot of other policies that we have to pursue besides or at least in addition to education policies, and that part of the debate has been totally lost.  Raising the minimum wage, or providing a guaranteed income,” he continues, “which the last time we talked seriously about that was in the late 1960’s, increasing workers’ bargaining power, making tax policies more progressive—things like that are going to be much more effective at addressing inequality and economic security than education policies.”  Diane Ravitch describes this as a “fascinating discussion.”
LAUSD to Ignore New Trump Administration School Nutrition Standards
The USDA (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture) under the Trump Administration has loosened some Obama-era regulations regarding school nutrition.  They have to do with the amounts of sodium allowed, the use of whole grains and what type of milk can be served.  The “Q & A” feature in today’s L.A. Times looks at how these new guidelines will effect the LAUSD and other districts in L.A. county.  Here’s one example from the piece: Where does L.A. Unified stand on nutrition standards?    L.A. Unified has been a national leader in improving nutritional standards.  But it has encountered some of the same problems that other school systems are complaining about, which include persuading students to eat healthier meals.”
Educating Immigrant Students
Valerie Strauss, in her blog for The Washington Post, offers the tenth in a series of articles featuring the winners of the 2015-16 Schools of Opportunity contest.  Guest writer Kevin Welner, one of the co-founders of the Schools of Opportunity project and  director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, profiles 3 schools that are doing an exemplary job of educating immigrant students.  One is in Ossining, New York,  a second is in St. Paul, Minnesota and the third is Oakland International High School in Oakland, California.  “Oakland International High School (OIHS) is the first high school in Oakland designed to meet the needs of newly arrived immigrants. It’s a small public high school created in 2007,” Welner writes, “and all of the students at OIHS are English Language Learners who have immigrated to the United States within the last four years.  Every student’s culture and first language is valued at OIHS, as demonstrated by the school’s tradition of holding what are called Community Walks.  Each October, groups of students lead teachers through their communities, introducing them to the places, the agencies, and the people in their lives outside of school.”
The “Ed News” Reaches a Milestone
And finally, sometime on Wednesday, the “Ed News” surpassed 2,500 page views.  If that were achieved in a couple of months or a year it might be something to really crow about but, in fact, it took 5 years.  I am nowhere near the level of a Diane Ravitch who collected over 30 million page views in almost the same amount of time.  However, we both support the same things: a strong and vibrant public school system, teachers, unions, ending the misuse of standardized testing,  exposing vouchers, charters and school “choice” for what they are, etc..  Her clout is far and away bigger than mine will ever be.  As long as you, the readers, continue to follow the “Ed News,” in whatever numbers, I, the editor, will continue to produce it.  THANKS FOR READING!
                                      .                                                                      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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