Ed News, Tuesday, May 16, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“As long as high schools strive to list the number of Ivy League schools 
their graduates attend and teachers pile on work without being trained 
to identify stress-related symptoms, I fear for our children’s health. 
I am not mollified by the alums of my daughter’s school who return to tell everyone 
that the rigor of high school prepared them for college, making their first year easier than they’d anticipated.  If they make it that far.”
LAUSD School Board Races
The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of items regarding the 2 critical LAUSD school board races.  They mostly focused on the inordinate amount of donations, most of it from outside sources, that have flooded the campaigns making them some the most expensive school board contests ever.  By the time you read this edition the polls have already be closed (8 pm) for today’s election.  An article in Saturday’s L.A. Times zeroes in on the contentious issues that have split the candidates into two warring camps.  The headline in the print edition of the paper pretty much sums it up: “L.A. School Board Races are a War of Ideologies.”  The sub headline reads: “Charter Backers and Unions Have Waged Brutal Campaign for Two Seats, With Control of the Panel at Stake.”  “The nastiness leading up to the May 16 runoff election has been generated by independent campaigns set up on behalf of the candidates because of the election’s importance.  Charter school partisans and unions had spent about $13 million combined through Friday,” the story points out.  “The candidates themselves had spent another $1.5 million.  If the charter-backed candidates prevail, charter advocates will win their first governing majority on the seven-member body.  If the election goes entirely the other way, unions will strengthen their influence on a board that leans pro-labor.  In that scenario, the board would be more likely to limit the growth of charters in the nation’s second-largest school system, which has more charters and more charter students than any other school district.”  Those are extremely significant outcomes which certainly explains the gobs of campaign cash being donated and spent.               In urging a “yes” vote for LAUSD board Pres. Steve Zimmer, the redqueeninla describes the nastiness and negativity of the campaign between Zimmer and challenger Nick Melvoin for the District 4 board seat, which has become the most expensive school board race in history.  “Mostly, the fourth board district school board race has been one of incessant negativity and lies,” she laments.  “Why do we permit this uncivilized behavior?  I can tell you in walking my neighborhood I am met with deep weariness, wariness and hostility.  This is the legacy of democracy abused.  This race has been nothing if not about Big Lies and electoral abuse, and that’s a lesson being bought – and paid for – dearly.”               Peter Dreier,  professor of Politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College, has an analysis of the outside billionaires who are fueling the campaign to defeat LAUSD board Pres. Steve Zimmer in Tuesday’s election (see 2 items above).  Dreier’s commentary appears courtesy of the HUFFPOST.  “Some of America’s most powerful corporate plutocrats want to take over the Los Angeles school system but Steve Zimmer, a former teacher and feisty school board member, is in their way,” Dreier maintains,  “So they’ve hired Nick Melvoin to get rid of him.  No, he’s not a hired assassin like the kind on ‘The Sopranos.’  He’s a lawyer who the billionaires picked to defeat Zimmer.  The so-called ‘Independent’ campaign for Melvoin — funded by big oil, big tobacco, Walmart, Enron, and other out-of-town corporations and billionaires — has included astonishingly ugly, deceptive, and false attack ads against Zimmer. . . .  As a result, the race for the District 4 seat — which stretches from the Westside to the West San Fernando Valley — is ground zero in the battle over the corporate take-over of public education. The outcome of next Tuesday’s (May 16) election has national implications in terms of the billionaires’ battle to reconstruct public education in the corporate mold.”   Dreier discusses Zimmer’s background and his accomplishments since joining the LAUSD board in 2009, and provides a list of those out-of-town billionaires who are bankrolling his opponent and why they are doing it.               Having a little trouble wrapping your head around the LARGE sums of money flowing into the Zimmer/Melvoin LAUSD school board race?  The redqueeninla has created a couple of graphics to illustrate the situation, money wise, as of Friday.  She titles her contribution “Count The Money! (Think of the Kids).”                An LAUSD parent responds to a letter she received  from Eli Broad [Ed. note: I also live in District 4 and got the same letter.] urging her to vote for Zimmer’s opponent Nick Melvoin for school board.  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints the letter from Tracy Bartley.  Here’s one of the points she makes in her “Dear Eli” note:  “– I struggle with the ‘Nick is a teacher’ bit I’m afraid.  I don’t feel 2 years a teacher makes.  My mom was a teacher.  I should say IS – because I think it is a calling rather than a profession 95% of the time.  Steve Zimmer IS a teacher,” she argues.  “I’ve witnessed his past students interacting with him at events.  I’ve seen how he greets students at our community schools.  It is very much who he is.  I don’t get that from Mr. Melvoin.”                 Today’s L.A. Times provides a final preview of the 2 critical LAUSD school board races in the form of a Q & A.  It discusses the personalities involved, the issues in the races and the implications for the future of the LAUSD.  “A barrage of campaign mailers, online videos and TV ads signals that Tuesday’s Los Angeles school board elections matter to people.  If they win the two runoff races,” the introduction to the piece lays out, “candidates funded by charter school advocates would claim their first-ever majority of seats on the seven-member board of the nation’s second-largest school system.  This possibility has fueled record spending, more of it by pro-charter groups, but a lot by unions as well.  Unions, especially the teachers union, want to limit the influence of charter backers on a board that leans pro-union.”
The Teaching Profession 
As the 2016-17 school year rapidly draws to a close, educators around the country will be reflecting on what they’ve accomplished and how they can improve for the next year.  Justin Minkel, a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher in Arkansas and that state’s 2007 Teacher of the Year, offers 5 questions to ask yourself as the year ends.  His commentary appears in EDUCATION WEEK.  Here’s one from his list: 3. What have you done well? Teachers tend to be hard on ourselves.  Don’t gloss over your strengths and successes, large or small.”                Is this another nail in the coffin of teacher disrespect and contempt for the profession?  Just another way to deprofessionalize the job teachers do?  You decide. Valerie Strauss reports on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post that Arizona will now hire teachers with “absolutely no training in how to teach.”  You’ll have to read her column to believe what Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law.  “The Arizona law is part of a disturbing trend nationwide to allow teachers without certification or even any teacher preparation,” Strauss laments, “to be hired and put immediately to work in the classroom in large part to help close persistent teacher shortages. It plays into a misconception that anyone can teach if they know a particular subject and that it is not really necessary to first learn about curriculum, classroom management and instruction.”  Oklahoma and Utah have recently passed similar laws.  The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of articles about the teacher shortage plaguing the nation but this is NOT a viable solution.  Thanks to ALOED member Don Hagen for sharing his concern about this situation and sending Strauss’ column along.               Most educators would agree that they are underpaid based on the importance of what they do and the difficult working conditions many of them face.  Would you believe that teacher salaries in Miami-Dade County are lower today, adjusted for inflation, than they were 10 years ago?  Why”  Part of the reason is that Miami-Dade transitioned from a traditional step salary schedule to one based on performance which has translated into lower pay for many veteran teachers.  The author of the Kafkateach website is a current high school Social Studies teacher in Florida and does some research on teacher pay in her/his state over the past decade.    Check out the salary schedules the blogger provides and ask yourself why the district implemented this system.  Where is the money going that should be budgeted for teacher salaries?               Low salaries and reducing or eliminating the training new teachers receive is NOT a long-term solution to the current teacher shortage (see 2 items above).  Teacher residency programs may offer a much better alternative according to a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  Unfortunately, there aren’t that many programs in existence right now and they don’t turn out enough teachers to make a major dent in the shortages facing school districts today. “Only about 50 programs nationwide use comprehensive teacher residencies,” the piece explains, “in which universities partner with local school districts to provide long-term student-teaching in exchange for teachers agreeing to work in the district for a period of time.  Each of those residencies only produces from five to 100 new teachers a year—not enough to fill gaps in teacher pools nationwide.”  The article goes into detail about how the residencies work and profiles a couple of specific ones including the San Francisco Teacher Residency.
Charters & School “Choice”
THE CENTER FOR POPULAR DEMOCRACY, a left leaning, nonprofit advocacy organization, has a report out this month that finds charter schools are particularly vulnerable to fraud and abuse.  That is, in fact, part of the title: “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud and Abuse–Federal Charter School Spending, Insufficient Authorizer Oversight, and Poor State & Local Oversight Leads to Growing Fraud Problems in Charter Schools.”  “This report offers further evidence that the money we know has been misused is just the tip of the iceberg.  With the new alleged and confirmed cases reported here,” the Executive Summary states, “the financial impact of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in charter schools has reached over $223 million since our first report [in 2014].  Public funding for charter schools (including local, state, and federal expenditures) has reached over $40 billion annually.  Yet despite this tremendous ongoing investment of public dollars in charter schools, all levels of government have failed to implement systems to proactively monitor charter schools for fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.”   Check out p. 4-5 of the report which chronicles some examples of charter waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in California.               Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, looks at some of the recent articles and reports about school “choice” and asks “What is the Purpose of School Choice?”  He references several items that you’ve seen highlighted in the “Ed News.”  “Another week, another round of evidence that providing parents with more ‘school choice,’ especially the kind that lets them opt out of public schools,” he begins, “is not a very effective vehicle for ensuring students improve academically or that taxpayer dollars are spent more wisely.”               A lengthy editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times reviews 3 bills before the state legislature that would reform certain charter school practices.  The “Ed News” has highlighted those proposals in several previous editions.  The paper favors 2 of them.  One  that would promote more oversight and accountability and a second that would ensure charter enrollment is open to every student.  The Times editorial board was against SB 808 which would only allow local school districts to approve charters within their boundaries, thus taking away that authority from county boards or the State Board of Education.  These 3 bills are “merely a start.  What’s missing is comprehensive legislation to make sure that charter schools operate fairly and fulfill their promise of superior public education,” the editorial concludes, “with proper oversight that itself needs to be regulated so that it is both effective and just.  It’s been a quarter of a century since the Legislature passed the bill that gave charter schools their start in California.  Back then, few could have foreseen the complications that would arise.  But arise they did, and Sacramento has been allowing them to fester for too long.”     The California State Board of Education chose not to vote on the renewal of a charter for the Oxford Preparatory Academy in Chino.  That action means the campus will have to close its doors on June 30th of this year.  The Inland Valley (San Bernadino) Daily Bulletin newspaper described why the Board acted the way it did and what it means for the students, faculty and staff of the school.  “Board members grappled over the fate of the high-performing school,” it reports, “that might be fatally encumbered with unknown debts accrued by its ousted founder, who is under investigation by district attorneys in two counties for alleged fraud.”                What happens when a charter campus unravels and descends into turmoil?  An extensive investigative piece in the Palm Beach Post describes just such a situation that took place at the Eagle Arts Academy in Palm Beach County.  It’s not a pretty picture.  Everything looked and sounded rosy when the arts themed school opened in 2014.  “But when school started in August [of last year], many classrooms had no textbooks.  The principal resigned abruptly in the first week.  The second principal was gone a few weeks later.  The third one left two weeks after that.  Soon,” the article describes, “teachers were being fired or leaving in droves.  Mothers complained that their children were not being enrolled in art classes.  And then a fed-up parent put together an online petition to remove the school’s director, who responded by calling police.”  The situation at the school spiraled down from there as the story relates.
Betsy DeVos
Besides charters, vouchers and school “choice,” what other kinds of teaching and workforce issues has Betsy DeVos favored?  What are her positions, as best they can be ascertained at this time, regarding teacher pay, tenure, collective bargaining and teacher evaluations?  The “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK provides some answers to that question and a possible guide to what to expect in the future.  “U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is best known as a school choice cheerleader.  But she’s had plenty to say,” it notes, “over the years about the importance of paying the best teachers more—and getting rid of teachers who aren’t effective.  And organizations that she’s helped fund and found in Michigan have been players in efforts to make it easier to fire teachers, and whittling down benefits that public sector workers, including teachers, receive.”               Nancy Bailey thinks its high time for Betsy DeVos to resign.  Bailey was a long-time special ed teacher and has a Ph.D. in education leadership from Florida State University.  She blogs on her NANCY BAILEY’S EDUCATION WEBSITE.  What sparked Bailey’s call was the reception DeVos received when she spoke last week at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach , Florida (see Friday’s “Ed News”).  Students booed her commencement address and protesters paraded with anti-DeVos signs outside the event.  “At Bethune-Cookman a great historically black university,” Bailey writes, “students who have worked hard, who gained acceptance to their university, arrive at their graduation as success stories. They’ve managed to do all the right things, pass all the tests.  And who shows up to speak to them?  Betsy DeVos, a woman who hypes their university as a ‘choice’ school because she is all about that.”                  Since she became Sec. of Education, Betsy DeVos has visited charter, private, military, parochial and one or two  public schools.  On Monday she met with representatives of the Home School Legal Defense Association.  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints a brief item from Politico Morning Education. “DeVos has previously expressed support for homeschooling,” it mentions, “and the group backed her during her Senate confirmation process.”                Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, suggests “This Is the New Betsy DeVos Speech Everyone Should Read.”  It was delivered last week in Salt Lake City at an annual tech and innovation conference sponsored by Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley.  Strauss quotes a couple of points DeVos made specifically about education and parses what they mean and adds the full text of DeVos’ talk at the end of her column.  “The audience, a friendly one of entrepreneurs, probably expected [DeVos] to talk exclusively about educational technology.  What she talked mostly about, though, is what she always talks about — school choice — and she renewed previous attacks she has made on the value of government and public schools.  If anybody thought that having the responsibility of running the entire Education Department would broaden her scope,” Strauss warns, “this speech should disabuse them of that.”
Testing and Opt-Out
Groups are more and more taking to social media to spread the word against high stakes standardized tests.  They are creating short, to-the-point videos describing the abuses of the exams and hoping they will go viral.  The NPE (Network for Public Education) is one such organization and Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog explains how they go about creating their films and disseminate them widely.  “It is not easy to create a video that spreads like wildfire across social media,” Cody suggests.  “The message must be clear, the voice authentic, the speaker eloquent.  Viewers have to not only watch it, but be motivated to share.  For these reasons, creating a successful video of this sort is like catching lightning in a jar.  The Network for Public Education has a project underway that hopes to do just that.”
New School Evaluations Under ESSA
The Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law by Pres. Obama in Dec., 2015, takes the place of the unpopular No Child Left Behind.  One of the things it does is require states to develop new systems for evaluating schools besides simply using standardized test scores.  The Dept. of Education set a spring, 2017, preliminary deadline for states to submit their plans for peer review and approval.  The District of Columbia and 16 states (not including California) met the deadline.  Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, invites Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (aka FairTest), to review and comment on these first submissions as they relate to testing and accountability.  Neill singles out Maryland as a state that appears to be on the right track.  Their plan isn’t ideal in his opinion but it’s a good start. “Seventeen plans have been referred by the Department of Education for peer review and approval; two others are partially submitted.  Most states,” he relates, “will not submit their ESSA plans until September.  That means assessment reform activists still have time to influence them.  Even completed plans can be overhauled in the future.  The challenge for testing reformers across the nation is how to follow Maryland’s lead in mobilizing the grassroots and building the powerful coalitions needed to win meaningful assessment and accountability reforms.”
Technology and Education
For a couple of dominant technology companies, Google, Microsoft and Apple, the link between tech and education is a marriage made in heaven.  The New York Times has run several lengthy investigative stories about how those giants have offered their products and services to a growing number of classrooms and in return they have made some impressive profits and a lot of customers for life.  The series is titled “Education Disrupted, A series examining how Silicon Valley is gaining influence in public schools.”  The latest story profiles how Google has become involved extensively in the ed business and how it effects their bottom line now and in the future. It uses a 6th grade classroom in Chicago as a case study.  “Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest school district in the United States, with about 381,000 students, is at the forefront of a profound shift in American education: the Googlification of the classroom.  In the space of just five years,” the article discovers, “Google has helped upend the sales methods companies use to place their products in classrooms.  It has enlisted teachers and administrators to promote Google’s products to other schools.  It has directly reached out to educators to test its products — effectively bypassing senior district officials.  And it has outmaneuvered Apple and Microsoft with a powerful combination of low-cost laptops, called Chromebooks, and free classroom apps.”  At the end of this story you’ll find links to previous items in the series.
Trump and Education
More fake news and alternative facts, this time from the president himself?  Pres. Trump recently touted a a 98% (!) graduation rate from the voucher schools in Washington, D.C. That certainly turned heads and raised some questions.  The program itself claimed an 82% rate which would still be pretty dramatic.  Diane Ravitch’s blog invited William Mathis of the National Education Policy Center to analyze those figures.  His findings are titled “Pres. Trump’s Phantom 98% Voucher Graduation Rate.”  “While Trump argues for billions in new tax breaks for voucher schemes, there is no evidence that they are an effective reform strategy.  To the contrary, the segregative effects could be quite harmful. Large-scale voucher studies in Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio also show negative numbers.  So in light of these facts,” Mathis summarizes his findings, “what did the federal government do?  They prohibited further studies of the program and called for greater federal support of voucher programs.”
Student Privacy
You may or may not be aware of the kinds of personal data schools collect on individual students and the ways that information is distributed to governments, vendors, for-profit companies and other entities, mostly without parental consent.  Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, discusses that critical issue along with the 2 co-founders of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, which has put together a “Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy.”  “The personal data collected from children,” they divulge, “may include students’ names, email addresses, grades, test scores, disability status and health records, suspension and discipline data, country of birth, family background, and more.  Other digital data collected may include internet search history, videos watched, survey questions, lunch items purchased, heart rate and other biometric information measured during gym class, and even classroom behavior, such as being off-task or speaking out of turn.”
Corporate “Reform”
Is the corporate “reform” movement beginning to fizzle out?  “Will Corporate Reformers Ever Admit They Were Wrong?” is the question asked by John Thompson on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  He believes the movement is splitting into 2 warring camps.  “It’s sure fun to watch corporate school reformers forming a circular firing squad,” Thompson chortles.  “For a generation, conservative and neoliberal reformers sang from the same hymnal, even as they privately suppressed their many internal disagreements.  Now, accountability-driven, charter-driven neoliberal micromanagers are openly attacking their former allies who were primarily devoted to a market-driven agenda.”
Brown v. Board of Education
And finally, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education celebrates its 63rd anniversary tomorrow.  The case ordered the desegregation of the nation’s public schools.  Richard Rothstein, research associate at the Economic Policy Institute and author of several books, writes on Valerie Strauss’ blog for The Washington Post, about the history of the decision and whether it’s been successful over these 6+ decades.  “In 1954, a few hours after Brown was announced, Thurgood Marshall, leader of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, told reporters that it would take, at most, five years for schools to desegregate nationwide,” Rothstein explains.  “He didn’t anticipate the massive resistance of Southern states to the decision, yet that’s no longer the most important factor impeding integration.  Rather, schools remain segregated mostly because their neighborhoods are segregated.  Had civil rights lawyers been able to attack neighborhood rather than school segregation, they would have accomplished more for educational equality than by focusing on schools directly.”


Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             

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