The ED NEWS
A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues
Today is National Teacher Day,
Part of Teacher Appreciation Week.
“Look within yourself and ask yourself honestly what you want to be.
Throw away the idea that school is the only way to get educated. Anything can educate you.
Understand this and look through all the possibilities.”
Massive School Closures in Puerto Rico
If you think public education is threatened in the U.S., wait until you see what’s taking place in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Facing an enormous debt crisis the Caribbean commonwealth recently declared bankruptcy and, as a result of that action, the closing of 184 public schools. A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times has the devastating details and what they mean for students, teachers and staff. “Roughly 27,000 students — mostly from kindergarten through fourth grade — and 2,700 teachers will be affected by the closures,” it distressingly reports, “which are set to take place before next school year. . . . The financial trouble has deepened as many people have left for the U.S. mainland in search of better jobs. Consequently, the population of school children has been in steep decline, making the education system an inviting target for cuts. Between 2010 and 2015, Puerto Rico closed 150 schools, according to the Associated Press. This new round will be the largest in Puerto Rico’s history.”
Is A Unified Enrollment System in the Cards for the LAUSD?
The LAUSD board has been looking into creating a Unified Enrollment System at an estimated cost of $24 million. What is a UES, you ask? Briefly, it’s a one-stop, simplified enrollment system for students and their families that put charter schools on an equal footing with the traditional public schools in the district. What’s wrong with that? The cost, number one; the fact that the idea is being pushed by the charter industry, number 2; and, number 3, several district insiders who are helping to develop the plan have links to charter proponents. The entire process of bringing the enrollment system to fruition has been questioned, particularly since the LAUSD is still recovering from its “iPad-for-all” fiasco and the troubled roll-out of its My Integrated Student Information System (MiSiS). That’s not much of a track record for new technology initiatives. Local parent activist Karen Wolfe, on her PSconnect blog, has been investigating the UES scheme. She wrote 3 posts on the topic at the end of April. The first looks at the research into similar systems in New Orleans and Denver. The second, uncovers the process of secret meetings with board members and slick presentations made to them and other district officials. Her third effort looks at some of the district personnel involved in creating the program and their relationships to the Walton and Broad foundations. Taken together, it all smells a little fishy. “In this [third] post, as promised, we’ll introduce the privatizers who have infiltrated the school district to advance the interests of the charter lobby. Conspiracy theory? Hardly. This just looks like the new business model,” she worries. “Since the iPad scandal, privatizers have had to find new ways to move their agenda. The scandal made direct corporate lobbying behind the scenes too risky. But there’s no need, if you have managed to plant your sales force inside the school system itself. The District personnel pitching the Unified Enrollment scheme are not just any LAUSD employees. They are Broad and Walton acolytes, trained and placed in the school system to move the corporate reform agenda forward from the inside.” Wolfe’s third article contains links to the first 2. Peter Greene picked up on Wolfe’s investigations into the LAUSD’s development of a Unified Enrollment System (see above) and wrote about them for his CURMUDGUCATIONblog. “What Unified Enrollment does is generate a database of potential students,” he explains, “all the easier for a charter’s computer to sort and sift. It is a great tool to have if you believe that ‘school choice’ really means ‘school’s choice.’ Proponents keep claiming UE is the great mixing bowl, when it fact it works as more of a giant sorting hat.”
Battle Over School Budget Caps in California
It’s a (very) complicated issue but one that has important ramifications for school spending. Some school districts in California were hoping to save money in a reserve fund for when times were tight. However, in 2014, Gov. Brown, with the support of the California Teachers Association, pushed through a provision that placed a cap on the amount that districts could keep in that reserve fund. That may all be changing under new legislation introduced in the California Senate and Assembly according to the “Political Road Map” column in Sunday’s L.A. Times which attempts to sort the issue out for you.
Charter Schools & Choice
How does the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) maintain its considerable clout? There’s no question it is a powerful force regarding education policy in the Golden State. According to a detailed item from EdSource, the CCSA is able to distribute LOTS of campaign donations and energize a lot of people power, when necessary, in order to get what it wants. “Buttressed by its roughly $18 million in political spending in 2015 and 2016 by its political action arms, the California Charter Schools Association is a rising political force in California,” it points out, “that’s challenging the teachers unions’ prowess in shaping local and state education law, at least when it comes to anything affecting the future of charter school growth. The group has flexed its strength with campaign cash, legislative hustle and a sophisticated ground game to score major wins for charter schools.” Adam Bessie has written and Erik Thurman has illustrated an eye-opening graphic essay on the impact of school “choice” and how it has affected students with disabilities in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. They particularly single out Betsy DeVos for her role. Their commentary is titled “Betsy DeVos’ ‘School Choice’ Movement Isn’t Social Justice. It’s a Return to Segregation” and it appears on the FUSION website. Check it out for its unique medium that you don’t see too often in the “Ed News” as it tells the story of Antoine who has a learning disability. “I recommend that you see it,” Diane Ravitch urges. “It illustrates the adage that a picture is worth 1,000 words.”
Low Income High School Senior Accepted at Some Top Colleges
Steve Lopez’s Sunday column in the L.A. Times tells the inspiring story of Noe Martinon, a senior at the Santee Education Complex (LAUSD) south of downtown L.A., whose parents came from Mexico, but who was accepted at an impressive number of prestigious colleges and universities. Martinon completed a number of AP classes at his school and scored a perfect 5 on his AP Spanish test. Out of 163,000 students who took the challenging exam worldwide, he was one of only 108 to get a perfect score. “Between February and the end of March, Noe’s mailbag was filled with acceptance letters and offers of grants —paying up to 90% of his education — from elite schools big and small. Connecticut College wanted him,” Lopez writes, “as did Williams, Hamilton, Whitman, Grinnell, UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and on and on. Of the 20 schools he applied to, 17 accepted him. He got into two Ivy League schools, Cornell and Dartmouth, and the latter flew him to the campus two weeks ago for a visit that was Noe’s first trip to the East Coast.” Read the column for more information about a remarkable young man and find out which school he has decided to attend.
LAUSD School Board Elections
The battle for 2 seats on the LAUSD board is heating up between charter opponents and their supporters. The May 16th General Municipal Election is down to the wire. It’s an off-year exclusively local vote with no marquee races for president, governor or mayor and thus turnout is expected to be (very) low. Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed board Pres. Steve Zimmer, in his race against Nick Melvoin, and Imelda Padilla as she faces off against Kelly Fitzpatrick-Gonez. Melvoin and Fitzpatrick-Gonez are supported by the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies, in this case former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan who donated $1 million to their campaigns. Should the charter backers win both seats they would hold a 4-3 edge on the board and a majority for the first time in history. TheUTLA website has the details of the Sanders endorsement. Not surprisingly, since they took the same stance in the March primary, an editorial in today’s L.A. Times endorses LAUSD school board charter proponents Nick Melvoin in District 4 which covers the Westside and west San Fernando Valley and Kelly Gonez in District 6 covering the east San Fernando Valley (see above). According to a fascinating exposé on the HEDGE CLIPPERS website, over $4 million has been channeled via the CCSA (California Charter Schools Association) and its various iterations into the LAUSD school board races of Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez (see both items above). It provides lists and names names of the millionaires and billionaires, many from out of the city and state, who are supporting those pro-charter candidates. “Since the Supreme Court ruled on Citizens United we’ve seen an explosion in hidden money (so-called ‘dark money’) pouring into political races,” it maintains, “fueled by corporate self-interest, a desire for the super wealthy to lower their taxes and/or to privatize the functions of government. These races have typically been big races for the control of the House, Senate, Governor’s mansion or the presidency. In Los Angeles, we’re now watching a flood of billionaire dollars into two district school board races. . . . What we do know, from available reporting on contributions to independent expenditure committees and contributions made directly to the campaigns of Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, is that the network of super wealthy donors from outside of Los Angeles who have been pouring money into these two school board races includes many donors with ties to Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump.”
Why is California Administering An Outdated Science Test?
California is trying out the new Next Generation Science Standards but because of a quirk in a federal law the Obama administration would not grant a waiver from the old standardized assessment until the new one is ready. Accordingly, students in the Golden State are taking two different science tests, one that is not aligned to the standards they are learning and one that is. An article in Sunday’s L.A. Times tries to make sense of this situation. “State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson asked the Obama administration to let California out of this double-testing requirement, arguing that it wastes students’ time and the state’s money. The administration said no, more than once,” it reports. “That’s because the new test’s scores won’t be counted at first and the federal government wouldn’t accept years without valid science test scores. Now the state is making the request again, to the new administration.”
Current Research on Student Absenteeism
The “Inside School Research” column for EDUCATION WEEK features 3 recent studies on student absenteeism. “For improving achievement, boosting student attendance seems like the lowest of the the low-hanging fruit: If you can’t get the kids to school, nothing else you do matters. But new research on chronic absenteeism,” it begins, “reveals surprising details that can make a difference in whether students make it to class.” One study found that having students ride a school bus to their classes actually cut down on the number of absences as opposed to coming to school with their parents, walking, biking or using public transportation. That information might be used by districts to justify not cutting back on school transportation budgets.
How is Australia Faring With its National Standardized Assessments?
Are there any lessons to be learned from Australia’s plunge into national standardized tests which were introduced in 2008 in response to what was taking place in the U.S. under No Child Left Behind? The Aussie system is called NAPLAN (National Assessment Program–Literacy and Numeracy). Phil Cullen, on his The Treehorn Express blog looks at the steady decline in test scores in Australia over the near decade since NAPLAN was implemented. He titles this piece “NAPLAN Maintaining Mediocrity.” “At this time of the year NAPLAN preparation dominates the schooling landscape. The wholesome, holistic curriculum is shelved, time-tables are adjusted, homework is test-based and unexciting, parents panic and each child’s mental compass gets screwed. It’s not the kind of education system,” he complains, “that we once envisaged for the 21st Century. Schooling in Australia has lost its way.” Sound at all familiar?
California Moves One Step Closer to Eliminating Its High School Exit Exam
With the passage of AB 830 by the Assembly last week, California moves another step closer to eliminating its high school exit exam as a graduation requirement. If the bill passes the state Senate it will proceed to Gov. Brown’s desk for his approval. A short article in the “High School & Beyond” column for EDUCATION WEEK provides the latest details. “Known as CAHSEE, the test has been the target of increasing criticism in recent years,” it mentions, “as the state moved toward a system of judging schools and students that puts less emphasis on a single test. . . . If approved, AB 830 will make permanent a change the legislature already enshrined in law in 2015. By approving Senate Bill 172, lawmakers dropped the CAHSEE as a graduation requirement for the high school classes of 2016, 2017, and 2018. They directed school districts to award diplomas to any student who graduated after 2004 and fulfilled all requirements except passing the CAHSEE. The law also set up an advisory committee to make recommendations about the future of CAHSEE, or a replacement exit exam.” That panel recommended in September that the state drop the exit exams completely.
A Positive Vision for Public Education
Are there progressive schools and educators who have a positive image of what our traditional public schools should look like? Check out this TED talk by Dr. Michael Hynes, superintendent of the Patchogue-Medford School District on Long Island in New York for some concrete ideas on the subject. Instead of pouring millions of dollars into charters, vouchers and school “choice” why aren’t we directing our scarce resources into programs like he suggest?. His talk (18:39 minutes) appears on YouTube and was delivered in March of this year. It’s titled “Why PEAS Are the Keys to a Successful Education.” Watch the program and he will explain what the PEAS are. Why do we continue to group students in classrooms by age? Does every child learn at the same rate so that they should be grouped together solely by age? An interesting article from THE HECHINGER REPORT is titled “Multiage Classrooms Put Child Development at the Center” and it discusses that strategy using a high school in Massachusetts as a case study. “Multiage education is not a return to the one-room schoolhouse of yore,” it explains, “in which students of all ages learned different subjects in one space. Instead, students from (typically) two grades learn together in an environment that, advocates say, encourages cooperation and mentoring while allowing struggling students enough time to master material.” The story goes into extensive detail about how multiage classrooms work and why they are a good approach to 21st century education.
The Teaching Profession
Is Wisconsin the first state to “declare war on teachers” by allowing unlicensed and unqualified people into its classrooms as a solution to the problem of teacher shortages? The Bust-Ed pencils website takes a peek into the possible dystopian future of the teaching profession. Be sure to read the comment posted at the bottom of this piece from Lloyd Lofthouse from CSU, Fresno.
Teacher Appreciation Week
And finally, EDUCATION WEEK appropriately has a feature on Teacher Appreciation Week. The “Teaching Now” column leads off with some sad statistics from a recent Gallup K-12 poll that reveals“Only 29 percent of K-12 teachers strongly agree that they have received recognition or praise for doing good work in the last seven days, according to a Gallup blog post that analyzes research done in 2013. This is especially troubling considering the benefits of feeling valued: When teachers receive regular recognition and praise, they are more likely to be productive and engaged, according to Gallup research. Consistent recognition,” it continues, “can promote teacher retention and also result in higher satisfaction reported by parents and students.” The article proceeds to list some groups and organizations that are making an effort to appreciate the hard work teachers are doing.