Ed News, Friday, May 19, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“When it comes to learning, there are no boundaries and restrictions literally; 
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Charter Backers Win Both LAUSD Board Seats

Charter proponents Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez won their LAUSD school board races on Tuesday over incumbent board Pres. Steve Zimmer and Imelda Padilla, respectively.  The victories give charter school backers a 4-3 majority on the district’s governing body for the first time in history.  An article appeared early on Wednesday on the L.A. Times website with the results of the contentious battles.  Another story posted on the Times website early Wednesday morning reviews the results and what it means for the future of the LAUSD.  “The charter school movement has long been a major force in Los Angeles school circles.  But the victory Tuesday night by pro-charter forces — who dramatically outspent rivals in what was the most expensive election in school board history — gives them the opportunity to reshape the district.  The election marks a defeat for teacher union forces,” it reports, “who have long been a power center in L.A. school politics.  With their new majority, charter school backers can press their campaign to expand such schools across the city.  Charter forces have long been critical of how the LAUSD is run.  Now they will have to show they can steer the massive, often frustrating, bureaucracy better.”   Here are the unofficial final election results from  the L.A. City Clerk’s website.
****** LAUSD OFFICES *****












Now that the LAUSD school board elections are over the post-mortems are rolling in.  Yesterday’s L.A. Times had 4 separate items on the races and what they will possibly mean for the future of the nation’s second largest school district.  First, is a front-page story speculating about what the new pro-charter 4-3 majority on the board will portend for a district that already has the most number of charter campuses and students in charters of any in the country.  The headline in the print edition is “A Pro-Charter Majority at LAUSD; Now What?”  “A day after the election,” it reports, “the outcome was still sending tremors through the region’s education community.  Many skeptics wondered if, after years of suing the school district and rallying parents to protest at board meetings, charter school advocates and the candidates they backed are prepared to lead the nation’s second-largest school district.”  Second, an editorial comments on the shift in power on the board from the teachers union to charter proponents.  “The Times has consistently urged both pro-reform and pro-union board members to come out of their ideological silos, stop viewing the world in black-and-white, right-and-wrong terms, and instead to think independently, on behalf of students.  That challenge now rests especially with the board’s newest members,” it concludes, “who have an opportunity to reject labels that divide but do not serve the district.”  Third, 2 letters lamented the millions of dollars poured into the Melvoin campaign by mostly outside billionaires to defeat incumbent Pres. Steve Zimmer.  “If the $14 million spent to elect Nick Melvoin to the school board,”  the second one laments, “ had been put toward smaller classes higher salaries to attract creative, bright young teachers, and after-school programs, our children would be better off.”  Fourth, to get an idea of what the future might look like under the new pro-charter majority on the LAUSD board, two Times  reporters visited Daniel Webster Middle School near where the 10 and 405 freeways cross in West L.A.  The campus contains both a traditional public school and a charter, Magnolia Science Academy 4, and a second charter, Citizens of the World Charter Mar Vista, is slated to open on the grounds next year.  “A charter-majority school board would most likely put up less resistance to new charter schools and could make it easier for existing charters to have their five-year operating agreements renewed.  Charters also could get increased access to district-owned classrooms,” the item reports, “such as the ones at Webster and to school construction money controlled by L.A. Unified. . . . Because of a California law requiring school districts to rent empty classroom space to charters, traditional public schools and charters often are forced together.  That’s the case with Magnolia and Webster in the middle of L.A. Unified’s Board District 4, where charter supporter Nick Melvoin ousted union-backed incumbent Steve Zimmer on Tuesday night.”                  Occidental College professor Peter Dreier, writing on the HUFFINGTON POST, offers his analysis of Nick Melvoin’s victory over Steve Zimmer for the District 4 seat on the LAUSD school board.  Dreier believes the main reason Zimmer lost was the MILLIONS of DOLLARS spent by his opponent to defeat him.  Plain and simple.  “The corporate big-wigs are part of an effort that they and the media misleadingly call ‘school reform.’  What they’re really after is not ‘reform’ (improving our schools for the sake of students) but ‘privatization’ (business control of public education).  They think public schools should be run like corporations, with teachers as compliant workers, students as products, and the school budget,” he spells out, “as a source of profitable contracts and subsidies for textbook companies, consultants, and others engaged in the big business of education. . . .  Now the billionaires and their charter school operators will have a majority on the school board.  LA will become the epicenter of a major experiment in expanding charter schools – with the school children as the guinea pigs.  Pundits will have a field day pontificating about the LAUSD election, but in the end it’s about how Big Money hijacked democracy in LA.”               The post-election examinations continue in today’s L.A. Times.  A front-page story looks at the stunning defeat absorbed by UTLA, the LAUSD teachers union, in the two school board races .  What lies in store for the union as charter-backers now hold a 4-3 majority on the board?  “The election losses amount to more than just the back and forth of politics, with one party on top now and another later, where ground lost today can be made up tomorrow, according to observers from various perspectives.  It is unclear whether the union can recover the territory,” the story speculates.  “One widely expected outcome is that charter schools will continue to grow in number and influence.  That could benefit students and families looking for alternatives to their local public schools.  But because most charter schools are not unionized, their growth threatens the teachers union — and possibly other local public-employee unions.”
School Privatization
Jennifer Berkshire reports on the evangelical and religious roots of the corporate “reformers” and privatizers who want to transform public education into a market-based industry with the promise of huge profits to be earned by their disciples.  Her commentary appears on the Jacobin website and is titled “The Privatization Prophets.”  “The ultimate aim of the project [the privatization of the public schools] of which DeVos is now the most visible face is to remove education from the public system.  Those ‘buildings’ of which she speaks so disdainfully, the disparaging ‘status quo’ never far behind, represent the entire architecture of public education, and more importantly, its democratic control.  Diminishing this is key to reaching the promised land of privatization.  Stodgy school boards are standing in the way of getting there; so are superintendents and parent teacher associations and teachers unions — above all, the teachers unions.”

Vouchers & Charters

Diane Ravitch’s blog features a new report from the AASA (the School Superintendents Association) and ITEP (the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy) that looks at the adverse consequences of the proposed federal voucher plan on traditional public schools.  Ravitch reprints the Press Release from the AASA regarding the study.  “The report . . . . describes how boosting resources for private schools while simultaneously providing tax breaks for wealthy taxpayers and corporations will greatly undermine public education.  The expanded voucher tax shelter proposal under consideration,” the statement notes, “would allow the federal government to reimburse wealthy taxpayers (with tax credits) in return for providing funding to private schools on the government’s behalf.  Further, the report says the legislation would ‘starve’ public education of critical funding at a time when available federal resources are already limited.”  You can find the full report (14 pages) titled “Public Loss Private Gain:  How School Voucher Tax Shelters Undermine Public Education” by clicking here.               Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, sees very little difference between charters and vouchers.  Where they do diverge, in his belief, is with the political groups that seem to be coalescing around each and how they are funded.  He divides his column into “The Differences” and “The Similarities” between these two types of school “choice.”  “Not only is Trump’s voucher plan deeply unpopular, but the public has already begun to associate any kind of school privatization with a doomed President,” Singer suggests.  “So like cockroaches, neoliberals have begun to skitter to one type of privatization over another.  Fake Democrats hide beneath unfettered charter school expansion.  Bought-and-sold Republicans cling to the idea that we should spend taxpayer dollars on private and parochial schools.”  Read what he has to say and see what you think.               2 letters in today’s L.A. Times react to an editorial in Sunday’s paper about 3 bills in the California legislature that would check the growth of charters in the state (see Tuesday’s “Ed News”).  The first one is from the president and chief executive of Green Dot Public (Charter) Schools California.                 The former head of a now shuttered South L.A. charter school was arrested on charges of mismanagement and fraud for channeling over $200,000 from the school to a business she owned, according to a story in today’s L.A. Times.  “Kendra Okonkwo, 51, was charged with misappropriation of public funds, grand theft by embezzlement, money laundering and keeping a false account, according to a news release issued by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.  Her son,” it reports, “29-year-old Jason Okonkwo, is accused of approving fake invoices to further the plot and faces the same charges, prosecutors said.  Kendra Okonkwo founded the Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists near the Watts neighborhood in 2006, but the school quickly became a target of regulators and lost its charter in 2016.”                Julian Vasquez Heilig, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at CSU Sacramento, uses the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) test scores to compare students in charters versus traditional public schools.  He lavishly illustrates his research with a number of bar graphs to bolster his point that charters are badly outperformed by the public schools.  He “scores” the results: “National Public Schools 23, Charters 4.”  His findings appear on his Cloaking Inequity blog.  “One would most likely suspect from the current positive public discourse about charter schools that they would display higher national and large city NAEP performance when compared to non-charter neighborhood schools, however,” he writes, “this is not actually the case when examining achievement data at the school level.  Out of the 28 total comparison tests run, only 4 times did charters produce higher composite score averages than non-charter neighborhood public schools— 8th grade reading and math in the years 2013 and 2015.  There was a tie in the large city comparison for 4th grade reading in the year 2013 as charter schools and non-charter neighborhood public schools displayed the same average composite scale scores.  In the other 23 cases charter schools produced lower average composite scores on the NAEP (math, reading, science) than non-charter neighborhood public schools.”               The debate of school vouchers rages on and will only intensify as the Trump administration unveils its plan for a federal program and attempts to get it through both houses of Congress.  Two segments of the “Morning Edition” program from NPR that aired last week explored “The Promise and Peril of School Vouchers.”  They zero in on the voucher program in Indiana, which began in 2011 and now has the country’s largest voucher program and which just so happened to be expanded by then Gov. Mike Pence.  It also reviews the pros and cons of vouchers.  You can listen to both segments (6:59 minutes, 7:56 minutes) and/or read an extended report on the issue by clicking here.  A third segment (4:53 minutes) of the NPR series on vouchers (see above) is narrated by Anya Kamenetz, an ALOED Book Club author, who explores the problematic issue of how voucher schools deal with students with special needs.  It’s titled “For Families With Special Needs, Vouchers Bring Choices, Not Guarantees.”  Kamenetz discovers a mixed bag when it comes to parents using vouchers for special needs children.  A few campuses accept them but many do not whereas the public schools are required by law to provide services to these students. 
California’s Exemplary ELL Programs
The guest author of this piece for the “On California” column for EDUCATION WEEK believes the Golden State could set a good example for the rest of the country on how to teacher English Language Learners.  Vickie Ramos Harris is the Associate Director of Education Policy at Advancement Project California and she outlines a number of innovative programs being utilized or in the development stages for schools working with ELLs.  Harris believes they could serve as excellent models for other states with non-English speaking students.  “Because English Learners comprise 9% of the public school population in the United States, their education is an important issue for every school system in the country.  California’s leadership in this area is critical.  In fact,” she writes, “California is uniquely positioned to lead the nation on English Learner education as nearly a quarter (22%) of the state’s public school students are English Learners, and nearly 60% of children birth to age five live in a home where English is not their primary language.”
VAMs Questioned
The “Ed News” has often highlighted Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, who has researched and written extensively on the misuse of value-added models (VAMs) for evaluating teachers on her VAMboozled blog.  You can now add Cathy O’Neil to that list of skeptics.  She’s a mathematician and author of the book “Weapons of Math Destruction.”  Her piece for Bloomberg News is titled “Don”t Grade Teachers With A Bad Algorithm, The Value-Added Model Has Done More to Confuse and Oppress Than to Motivate.”  O’Neil actually mentions Amrein-Beardsley in her story and references a recent court ruling in Houston and a lawsuit in New York against the use of VAMs to evaluate teachers (both highlighted in earlier edition of the “Ed News”).  Under presidents George W. Bush and Barrack Obama, “Many states went for VAM, sometimes with bonuses and firings attached to the results. Fundamental problems immediately arose,” O’Neil points out.  “Inconsistency was the most notable, statistically speaking: The same person teaching the same course in the same way to similar students could get wildly different scores from year to year.  Teachers sometimes received scores for classes they hadn’t taught, or lost their jobs due to mistakes in code.  Some cheated to raise their students’ test scores, creating false baselines that could lead to the firing of subsequent teachers (assuming they didn’t cheat, too).”
Trump and Education
There is no doubt that the Trump/Pence/DeVos triumvirate is a big fan of school “choice” with policies that heavily favor charters and vouchers.  One way to dismantle the traditional public school system is through the budgeting process.  Starve the public schools of funding and then complain that they are “failing” so you can promote the charters and vouchers where you have lavished federal dollars.  Don’t believe that scenario?  Check out the specifics of Trump’s first federal budget plan which includes major cuts to essential public school programs and big boosts to favored charter and voucher plans.  Still not convinced?  A story in The Washington Post dissects the latest details of Trump’s first spending plan.  “Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan,” it details, “to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post.  The administration would channel part of the savings into its top priority: school choice.  It seeks to spend about $400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies.”  The rest of the article sets forth some of the other specifics of the draft proposed budget which has yet to be submitted to Congress.               Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” column for The Washington Post goes into greater detail about which education programs are being cut in Pres. Trump’s proposed budget (see above) and provides a rationale for their elimination.  “Mental health services.  Civics and arts programs.  International education and language studies.  Anti-bullying activities.  Gifted and talented initiatives.  Full-service community schools.  These are some of the K-12 education programs,” she leads off, “that President Trump is proposing be eliminated in his first full budget, as explained in a story [in The Washington Post].”  Just more proof, if any was needed, that this administration could care less about assisting the traditional public school system in this country.  
Betsy DeVos
A number of pundits and reporters were focused on Pres. Trump’s first 100 days in office.  Wednesday happened to be Betsy DeVos’ 100th day as the U.S. Sec. of Education.  So, how has she done so far?  A team of journalists from THE HECHINGER REPORT sat down for a conversation on that topic and what might we expect from the head of the Dept. of Education in the future.  They discuss some of the best and worst days of her tenure thus far.  
The Teaching Profession
As a History major at Occidental College (class of ’71) and a secondary Social Studies teacher (History, Government, Economics, Geography) with the LAUSD for 37 years (retired in 2009) this next story has got to hurt.  It’s titled “Why So Many Students Hate History–and What To Do About It” and it appears on Valerie Strauss’  blog for The Washington Post.  She leads off with the precipitous decline in History majors over the past decade and concludes with an excerpt from a brand new book titled “Rebooting Social Studies: Strategies for Reimagining History Classes” by Greg Milo, who taught high school Social Studies for 13 years.  “As Social Studies teachers,” he writes, “we want students to get involved in their community and their education.  We want the experience to be real and valuable for them. We want them to take the skills they learn in our classes to their next class, or even better, to college and their future career.”  At least he has an upbeat feeling for the future of Social Studies.                Most teachers find student cellphones in their classrooms to be a nuisance and a major distraction.  However, Curtis White, who has been teaching high school math, science, Bible, and computers for over 10 years at Abundant Life Christian School in Madison, Wisconsin, puts those “hand-held computers” most students are carrying around to good use in his classroom.  He discusses some techniques for utilizing those devices to expedite student learning in an article for EDUCATION WEEK.  “As teachers, we want to use every tool available to create an environment that helps students leverage the many learning techniques technology has to offer.  We don’t need to use cellphones all the time in class; they won’t always help students learn effectively,” White maintains.  “But we also shouldn’t be afraid of them.  This is what it means to be an educator: to develop the best techniques to help the most students grow the deepest understanding they can of the world around them.”
Deadliest School Attack in U.S. History
Yesterday marked the 90th anniversary of the deadliest school attack in American History.  [Ed. note: I was a teacher and an historian and I must admit I’d never run across this event until now.]  Interestingly, it was not a shooting but two deadly bombings at the Bath Consolidated School in Bath Township, Michigan, a little northeast of Lansing, that killed 45 people including 38 children and the bomber, Andrew Kehoe, a disgruntled school board member.  A brief but fascinating item appears on the “Rules for Engagement” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  It includes links to several interviews with some survivors of the tragedy.  You can view a picture of the historical marker erected to commemorate the event by clicking here.
Seat Belts on School Buses
The PBS NEWSHOUR series “Making the Grade” tackles the question “Should Seat Belts on School Buses Be Required?”  Every day, millions of parents put their children on buses for the trip to school,” it begins.  “Statistically, buses remain the safest way to make that trip. But fatal accidents do happen.  Just yesterday [Monday], an 11-year-old boy died in East Texas when the bus he was riding on collided with another vehicle and rolled over.”  Are safety issues outweighed by the costs?  You can view the program (7:22 minutes), listen to a podcast and/or read a full transcript by clicking here.
Learning to Collaborate
And finally, children, apparently, need to learn how to work collaboratively according to some new research featured in EDUCATION WEEK.  It reports on several new studies on what collaborative skills consist of and how they need to be taught to children.  “. . . . researchers and educators are working to understand how to help students gain the skills needed to learn and work in groups. . . .  The ability to collaborate with others,” the article suggests, “has become one of the most sought-after skills in both education and the workplace.”
                                                     Enjoy this warm (hot?) weekend.


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

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