The ED NEWS
A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues
“You’re never going to learn something as profoundly
as when it’s purely out of curiosity.”
LAUSD Reinforces Protections for Undocumented Families
The LAUSD board on Tuesday approved some additional policies to offer protections for undocumented families. A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times reviews the school board’s actions. “Among the safeguards in the sweeping set of guidelines: No immigration officers will be allowed on campus without clearance from the superintendent of schools,” it points out, “who will consult with district lawyers. Until that happens, they won’t be let in, even if they arrive with a legally valid subpoena.”
Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, takes apart a recent speech delivered by Sec. of Ed. Betsy DeVos that was highly critical of traditional public education. DeVos’ solution for the problems she identifies as plaguing public schools–more school “choice,” of course. We’ve heard all this before. Greene titles his essay “DeVos: Boldly Trampling Pubic Education.” “It may be worth it to hold your nose and read the whole speech, because it is shaping up to be a good capsule of the DeVos manifesto for education. It’s an ugly, anti-democracy, ill-informed, anti-public education song,” he complains, “but I’m afraid we’ll be listening to it for a while.” On Wednesday, Betsy DeVos delivered the commencement address at Bethune-Cookman University, an historically black school in Florida. Her reception was less than cordial. Graduates attempted to drown out her speech with boos, despite being threatened by the president of the school. A number of students and a few faculty members turned their backs as she was speaking. A group of protesters held signs outside the ceremony decrying DeVos’s appearance on the campus in Daytona Beach. An item from the HUFFPOST provides additional details of this latest expression of disdain for the Sec. of Ed. “DeVos’ speech ignited immediate controversy when it was announced earlier this month, and students criticized the school for selecting her,” it reports, “after she downplayed the role of racism in the creation of historically black colleges and universities. Protesters on Tuesday delivered petitions to the school’s leaders, calling on them to cancel DeVos’ speech due to her ignorance of HBCUs and lack of support for student loan borrowers. Organizers said they had collected 50,000 signatures.” Betsy DeVos was invited back in February to address the annual convention of the Education Writers Association taking place between May 31 and June 2. The EWA got no response despite renewing the offer several times. Late last month a representative of the Dept. of Education called to decline the invitation due to conflicts with DeVos’s schedule. Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for THE WASHINGTON POST has a brief story on the situation. “DeVos has not made herself easily available — or available at all — to reporters who are covering her,” Strauss complains, “and the Education Department does not always respond to questions posed by education journalists. Now she is declining an opportunity to address the journalists who cover her. Some would call that a missed opportunity.” Strauss reprints a statement from the EWA and a tweet from Joy Resmovits, education reporter for the L.A. Times, both expressing their disappointment that DeVos couldn’t see fit to address the gathering. SAD!
The Teaching Profession
How would you rate the professional development at your school? Thumbs up or thumbs down? Linda Yaron, a National-Board certified teacher in Los Angeles, applies the 5 journalistic Ws. who, what, when, where and why, to the presenting of “quality professional development.” Her lesson appears on the “CTQ Collaboratory” column for EDUCATION WEEK. “Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to both create and participate in PD that has fundamentally changed my teaching practice and made me a better teacher. I’ve also experienced PD that had little or even negative impact,” she relates, “These drastically different experiences have left me thinking more deeply about how we can create meaningful and purposeful opportunities for educators to enhance their classroom practice.” Yaron offers a list of things “quality PD isn’t” and then applies the 5 Ws to some guiding principles for excellent PD. The Schools of Opportunity program singles out exemplary schools based on various characteristics. Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post has been featuring some of the gold and silver winners of the 2015-16 year. Guest bloggers have named the schools and described why they were selected. Kevin Welner, co-founder of the Schools of Opportunity program and Linda Molner Kelly, co-director of the project, describe two silver winners who treat teachers like professionals, a rather rare occurrence these days. The 2 campuses? Urbana High School in Urbana, Illinois and Northwest High School in Germantown, Maryland. This is the twelfth in a series of columns Strauss has presented on the award winners. “Teachers are the backbone of any school, but it is not unusual to hear them lament the lack of support and opportunities they receive,” Welner and Kelley write, “as they shoulder the responsibility for student success. This is because we rarely treat teachers like other professionals who, as an integral part of their work, receive regular opportunities to participate in specialized learning to enhance their repertoires as they stay on top of the newest developments in their fields.” National Teacher Appreciation Week wraps up today. Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, thinks it’s a good idea to “appreciate” teachers but it should last all year–not just during one week. He’s not real enthusiastic about how attitudes towards educators are playing out these days. You could probably tell that from the title of his commentary: “Teacher Appreciation Week is a Pathetic Joke!” “If we really appreciated teachers, we’d hire more of them. We wouldn’t demand they do more with less. When we were deciding school policy at any level – federal, state or local – we’d include them in the process – in fact, they’d be the deciding factor!. . . . If we really appreciated teachers,” he suggests, “we’d respect them as professionals, and we’d pay them accordingly. We’d respect their rights to a positive working environment both for themselves and for our own children.” As National Teacher Appreciation Week ends today (see above), veteran teachers in New Orleans who were in the system both before and after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city are feeling a bit unappreciated . After the storm, the Queen City became a guinea pig for the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies who transformed the district into a nearly 100% charter experiment. How are teachers feeling about all this? Andrea Gabor’s blog explores this intriguing topic through data from a newly released poll by the Educational Research Alliance (ERA) at Tulane University. “In New Orleans, with a teacher cadre plagued by high turnover and sparse classroom experience,” she derives from the study’s findings, “veteran teachers should be treasured. That so many say they have less job satisfaction than during the pre-Katrina years, suggests that they are not, which is surely a failing with implications far beyond just teacher morale. Gabor includes a link to the full survey (7 pages) titled “Teachers’ Perspectives on Learning and Work Environments Under the New Orleans School Reforms.” George Skelton’s “Capitol Journal” column in yesterday’s L.A. Times discusses a bill in the California Assembly that would extend the time before teachers in the state would be granted tenure to 3 or as many as 5 years. Skelton also profiles the author of the legislation, Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), whose father moved the family when she was 3 from a Jim Crow Arkansas to Los Angeles in 1951 in order to avoid being lynched. “Weber is pushing a bill, AB 1220, that would extend a new teacher’s probationary period from two years to at least three and possibly up to five. Currently,” Skelton points out, “a school must decide whether to grant permanent status — tenure — or cut the teacher loose after two years. Weber’s bill would allow the school three years for teacher evaluation. It could extend probation another year or two, but would have to provide the teacher professional help, such as a mentor.” Thanks to ALOED member Don Hagen for sending this along. Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, on her VAMboozled blog, references a judge’s ruling against value-added models (VAMs) in a Houston case (see the May 5th “Ed News). She also testified against the use of VAMs in a Nevada case and lists “The Top 10 Research-based Reasons Why Large-Scale, Standardized Tests Should Not Be Used to Evaluate Teachers.” Her scholarly list makes some excellent points.
Classroom App for Mindfulness Training
THE HECHINGER REPORT describes a new app for classroom and home use that can aid teachers and parents in demonstrating mindfulness training for their students or children. The article focuses on one first-grade teacher in Delaware and how she uses the app, ClassDojo, and how it functions. “The ClassDojo app helps teachers reinforce their own in-person lessons, and track a child’s classroom behavior,” it explains. “Colorful cartoon characters act out scenes that children watch – at home, in school or a combination of the two. The app also helps teachers communicate with parents, using it to send text messages, pictures and videos of what’s happening during the day. The app is used by millions of teachers in the United States, thus allowing the wide distribution of lessons like the mindfulness project.”
LAUSD Board Delays Vote on Unified Enrollment System
Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a proposal before the LAUSD board to create a Unified Enrollment System (UES), a one-stop, simplified enrollment form for students and their families that put charter schools on an equal footing with the traditional public schools in the district. At their regular board meeting on Tuesday, an approval vote on the first part of the new system was delayed when it appeared Supt. Michelle King didn’t have enough votes to pass the measure. An article in today’s L.A. Times details the board’s action or lack thereof. “The apparent problem was that Supt. Michelle King didn’t have a solid majority on the Board of Education,” it points out, “to approve the purchase of the necessary technology. As a result, officials quietly removed a vote on the $24-million budget item from the agenda of the Tuesday board meeting at the last minute.”
The Opt-Out Movement
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a measure this week that would have made it easier for parents in the state to opt their children out of standardized tests. Diane Ravitch’s blog points out a rather blatant case of hypocrisy in the action. The corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies, in this case Gov. Deal, constantly use of the refrain school “choice” when they push charters and vouchers and other policies. However, when it comes to a parent’s choice to opt his or her child out of standardized exams, choice is not part of the mix. Ravitch reprints an article from POLTICOPRO (it requires a rather hefty subscription) describing Deal’s response to the legislation. “House Bill 425 included provisions discouraging disciplinary action against those students who do not participate in federal, state or locally mandated standardized assessments,” it describes. “Additionally, it would have allowed students to complete the exams using paper and pencil, instead of a computer.” The item includes some quotes from Gov. Deal explaining his reasons for rejecting the bill.
Remember the item in the May 2nd edition of the “Ed News” about Fidget Spinners? No? Remember what a Fidget Spinner is? No again? No worries! The “Teaching Now” column for EDUCATION WEEK answers the second question and presents a new one: “Do Fidget Spinners Belong in the Classroom? Teachers are Divided.” “Fidgets spinners are supposed to help students sit still and focus. But many teachers are saying it’s having the exact opposite effect,” the item notes. “Meant to help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, anxiety, or other conditions relieve tension and focus better, fidget spinners have become a popular toy among children. But some teachers say they have been causing classroom disruptions, prompting bans and confiscations. For teachers who haven’t seen the recent spinner craze hit their classrooms yet, fidget spinners are small handheld toys that Forbes is calling a ‘cure for nervous or bored energy.’ The small toy spins in your hand as you twirl the blades.” The ED WEEK story explains how some schools and districts are banning the devices while, at the same time, some teachers are using them to enhance their lessons.
LAUSD School Board Races
By now it’s no surprise that millions of dollars have been poured into the 2 LAUSD school board races. Most of it from billionaire donors from outside of the district. The L.A. municipal general election is Tuesday. Incumbent board Pres. Steve Zimmer is being challenged by charter proponent Nick Melvoin in District 4, which runs from the Westside to the west San Fernando Valley. Imelda Padilla is facing pro-charter advocate Kelly Gonez for the District 6 seat, which covers the east San Fernando Valley and is being vacated by Monica Ratliff. For 2 seemingly inconsequential school board seats, we are not talking chump change here. The outcome of the elections could have serious ramifications for the future direction of the LAUSD. If both Melvoin and Gonez win, charter supporters would have a 4-3 edge on the board for the first time in history and thus the huge campaign contributions. A investigative piece in today’s L.A. Times has the names, numbers and huge dollar amounts involved. “If the Los Angeles school board elections were a movie,” it reveals, “then the nominee for best supporting actor might go to an individual who so far has received little attention: Reed Hastings. Based on documents reviewed by The Times, the co-founder of Netflix has contributed close to $5 million since last September to California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, a major conduit of funds for school board candidates backed by charter school supporters. His most recent contribution was $1 million on Tuesday.” Check out the other names and amounts involved on both sides in these highly contentious races. Surprised?
Do Parents See Math as ‘Less Useful” Than Reading?
That’s the headline of an article in EDUCATION WEEK that features some new research from a poll by the Overdeck and Simmons foundations. The survey found parents ranking math lower in importance than reading. “A survey last month of more than 2,500 parents,” the story reports, “found that they generally rank math and science as lower in importance and relevance to their children’s lives than reading. Moreover, 38 percent of parents, including half the fathers surveyed, agreed with the statement ‘Skills in math are mostly useful for those that have careers related to math, so average Americans do not have much need for math skills,’ according to the survey.”
The California State Board of Education voted to close 2 of 6 L.A. charter campuses run by the troubled Celerity Education Group, according to a front-page story in today’s L.A. Times. The “Ed News” has highlighted several items in the past about problems plaguing the nonprofit charter management organization, which is under a federal investigation as well one from the LAUSD inspector general’s office,. “Some parents and teachers at the schools cried through their testimony at an emotional hearing,” it reports, “which ended with the board declining to renew the charter petitions for the Celerity Dyad Charter School in South Los Angeles and the Celerity Troika Charter School in Eagle Rock. Explaining their vote, board members said they had lost confidence in the Celerity Educational Group, the organization that manages the schools, and expressed growing concerns about its governance structure and finances, as well as the potential for conflicts of interest.
Getting Rid of a Poor Superintendent
And finally, want to get rid of a poorly performing or inadequate school superintendent? Why not offer the person a sizable severance package and be rid of them? The “District Dossier” column for EDUCATION WEEK looks at some recent cases and wonders if taxpayers are getting fleeced by some outsized payouts by school boards in a hurry to rid themselves, for various reasons, of their superintendent. “Eye-popping parachute packages are not uncommon in the corporate world,” it suggests, “where CEOs and top executives snag multimillion-dollar payouts as they walk out the door. But school districts—where officials are charged with being responsible stewards of public money and in charge of managing resources within very constrained budgets—have also been giving out hefty severance packages to superintendents for them to go away early.”