Ed News, Tuesday, May 23, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

The “Ed News” is going to take a short break for the Memorial Day Holiday.  
Look for the next edition on Friday, June 2.
Monday is Memorial Day.
                Inline image 1

And now to the news.

“Study to learn, do not study to pass.” 

― Kamaran Ihsan SalihLatest Proverbs

LAUSD Board Elections
2 letters-to-the-editor in Saturday’s L.A. Times reacted to the paper’s front-page story Thursday about how the new 4-3 pro-charter majority on the board will govern the district in the future (see Friday’s “Ed News”).  The first was from “a retired  principal and teacher and former LAUSD employee” and the second from “a 20-year veteran LAUSD teacher.”       Speaking of letters, the “Numbers and Letters” feature in the same paper reported that “653 usable letters to the editor were received between last Friday and this Friday.  230 letters were written about Russian campaign meddling.  56 readers reacted to news that Trump passed along top-secret information to Russian officials.  40 letters mentioned the races for two L.A. Unified School District board seats.”                Any guesses what the voter turnout for the LAUSD board seats was?  60%?  25%?  12%?  9.53%?  If you picked the last one, you win an unlimited subscription to the “Ed News!”  All kidding aside, that figure is embarrassing and shameful.  The redqueeninla was likewise appalled at that statistic given all the massive protests for Women’s Day, Earth Day and May Day in the past 3+ months here in L.A.  “From a school district that is approximately 75% Hispanic and 80% eligible for free-or-reduced-price-meals, comes an election of national significance, decided by a preponderance of very narrow, special interests,” she laments, “including relatively affluent silicon-beach-millenials, attorneys, entertainment executives, and real estate investors from the coastal plain to the palisades of LA’s westside.  For it to happen in the face of the last six month’s electoral imbroglio is at once mystifying and maddening.  After all we’ve been through, here we are all over again witnessing the triumph of alternative facts, propaganda, Big Lies and even bigger money.”               Speaking of big money, the numbers are still being finalized but this much is certain, the contentious school board battles (war?) between challenger (and eventual winner) Nick Melvoin and school board Pres. Steve Zimmer in District 4 and winner Kelly Gonez over Imelda Padilla in District 6 will go down as the costliest school board contests in the nation’s history (at least for now).  A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times, in the form of a Q & A,  puts the total at an astronomical, or maybe not, $15 million combined.  “With the results, charter forces for the first time won a majority on the Board of Education,” it reports, “a shift that could bring big changes to the district.  This came from an election like no other, fueled by big-money donations from across the country, giving what are typically local campaigns a national significance.  It’s an oversimplification to say the outcome was all about money, but charters spent more ($9.7 million compared with $5.2 million), and their candidates finished first in both races on Tuesday’s ballot.”  The article lists some of the key supporters on both sides and how much they contributed to their respective candidates.               2 letters appear in today’s paper in reaction to the Times story about the vast amounts of money poured into into the 2 critical LAUSD school board races (see item above).  Charter backers supported by mostly outside billionaires were able to defeat the pro-public school teachers unions and their allies.
Charter Schools and “Choice”
This sounds like dirty pool (bribery?) to me.  Gov. Rick Scott of Florida has a controversial K-12 public school bill on his desk awaiting action.  The traditional public schools would like him to veto the bill and supportive parents are writing and calling in, on their own, to express their desire that he do so.  It happens to be against the law for public schools to endorse any political candidates or advocate for a particular law or issue.  However, a couple of south Florida privately-managed CHARTER schools are offering parents an incentive (bribe?), in the form of a credit for 5 “volunteer” hours they are encouraged to provide,  to write to the governor urging him to support the legislation.   That strikes me as dishonest and unethical but it’s NOT ILLEGAL.  This can’t be, you exclaim!  An item in the Miami Herald describes the skullduggery.    The paper has screen shots of the action “alerts” posted on the two schools’ homepages.  “Mater Academy Lakes Principal Rene Rovirosa dismissed criticism that his school’s efforts to drum up support for the bill were akin to bribing parents,” the article explains.  “He argued students were free to express their views on either side of the issue, and it was a social studies lesson for the students.”   To that, I reply, “Bullpucky!”               With the Trump administration’s official release of its fiscal 2018 budget today (see Trump and Education section below) you may be a bit unsure about all the terms being bandied about related to school “choice.”  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, offers, as several others have previously, a primer on “What ‘School Choice’ Means in the Era of Trump and DeVos.  Quick quiz: what’s the difference between a charter and a magnet school?  Can you distinguish between a voucher, a tax credit “scholarship” program and an educational savings account?    What’s a virtual school?  If you are pretty well schooled on these topics (pun intended) you may wish to share her column with colleagues, friends or family members.                Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, takes the gloves off as he charges “school choice is an essentially selfish position.”  “That’s why some folks champion privatized education – they only care about their own children.  In effect, when a parent sends their children to a charter or voucher school,” he charges, “they are telling the community that they don’t care what happens to any one else’s kids so long as their kids are properly cared for and educated.  It is the root cause of most of our problems in education today and has nothing to do with children.  It’s all about adults – adults lacking empathy.”  He’s pretty fired up about the whole idea and you may take offense with him but you should at least hear him out.  His essay is titled “Why Care About Other People’s Children.”               Are charters increasing the rate of racial segregation in this country?  That’s the provocative question addressed in a story in The Washington Post.  The reporter travels to Louisiana to provide some answers.  “As the charter school movement accelerates across the country,” she suggests, “a critical question remains unanswered: whether the creation of charters is accelerating school segregation.  Federal judges who oversee desegregation plans in Louisiana are wrestling with that issue at a time when President Trump wants to spend billions of dollars on charter schools, vouchers and other ‘school choice’ initiatives.”
Value-Added Models/Measures
William Sanders, the creator of the value-added measure or model, recently passed away.  He had a doctorate in statistics and quantitative genetics and invented VAMs in order to analyze livestock.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, follows the twisted trail of how that beginning led to VAMs being used for high stakes evaluations of teachers. It all seems to have started, apparently, with a nuclear explosion and the downwind deaths of sheep and cows.  No kidding!  Greene is skeptical of a laudatory article in The New York Times by Kevin Carey (link included) about Sanders and his invention.  It’s an interesting tale but Greene believes it’s full of b – – – – – – -.  “You’ll never find me arguing against any accountability; taxpayers (and I am one) have the right to know how their money is spent.  But Sander’s work ultimately wasted a lot of time and money,” he complains,  “and produced a system about as effective as checking toad warts under a full moon– worse, because it looked all number and sciencey and so lots of suckers believed in it.  Carey can be the apologist crafting it all into a charming and earnest tale, but the bottom line is that VAM has done plenty of damage, and we’d all be better off if Sanders had stuck to his radioactive cows.”
The Teaching Profession
A San Luis Obispo High School (San Luis Coastal USD) special ed teacher, Michael Stack, resigned May 11th over a letter he wrote to the school’s newspaper claiming sinners and people who commit homosexual acts “deserve to die.”  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times has the details.  “Stack’s letter to the student newspaper, Expressions, was published online May 9.  The letter,” the Times’ piece mentions, “was a response to a recent print issue of the newspaper that included multiple articles about the LGBTQ community and featured a cover photo of two women kissing.  In the letter, Stack quoted, verbatim, 17 verses from the Book of Romans regarding numerous sins, including greed, envy, murder and gossip — and homosexuality.”  The Times’ article includes a link to Stack’s original letter to the school paper and a sidebar in the Times’ story reprints his letter of resignation.
Inflated Graduation Rates and High School Ratings
Several previous editions of the “Ed News” have highlighted some questionable (inflated) graduation rates among a few charter schools.  Subsequently, some of those campuses garnered high rankings on U.S. News & World Report’s top high schools in the U.S.  Diane Ravitch’s blog features a one-stanza ditty from Some DAMPoet about this topic titled “100% Graduation.”  Enjoy!               Speaking of those high school rating lists, Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, invites guest columnist Carol Burris to critique the ones from U.S. News and Jay Mathews (incidentally in The Washington Post) that were recently released.  A few pundits viewed these lists and concluded, rather cavalierly, that charters are superior to traditional public schools.  Burris isn’t buying that conclusion by a long shot and she explains in great detail why you shouldn’t either. “Should ranking lists call high schools ‘the best’ when their program keeps teenagers with Down syndrome and serious learning disabilities out, or when they shed 10 percent or more of their students who cannot keep pace?  Should we then have ‘default’ public high schools where the students who can’t keep up are segregated from more academically able peers?  If we continue down the path of unfettered choice,” she worries, “with vouchers and boutique charters, that will surely be the outcome.”
Trump and Education
An extended editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times is troubled by the Trump administration’s plan to earmark over a billion federal taxpayer dollars for a voucher program.  It’s particularly concerned by the hypocrisy of Trump’s rhetoric.  On one hand, he campaigned often on getting the federal government out of the education business as much as possible yet, on the other hand, he’s laying out a massive new federally funded voucher program as part of his first proposed budget.  “Vouchers, as this page has said many times before, misuse public money for private educational enterprises, provide too little accountability and pose church-state separation issues, among other problems” the Times’ piece points out.  “Charter schools, on the other hand, can be a boon to families and students, as they largely have been in Los Angeles.  But in many areas of the country, where for-profit charter schools are prevalent and oversight is nearly nonexistent, these publicly funded but privately managed schools often perform no better, and in many cases worse, than traditional public schools.  And Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos haven’t launched any efforts thus far to ensure the quality of charter schools, which would get 50% more federal aid than before under the draft budget.”               Pres. Trump’s budget for fiscal 2018 was officially made public today although parts of it were released earlier.  The “Ed News” has highlighted several items in it related to education spending (see also above).  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK offers “Four Things to Watch in Trump’s Education Spending Plan” as those specific budget figures come into focus.  They are listed in the form of questions.  Here’s one example: “1) How will his school choice proposals work?  “We’ll get a sense of lawmakers’ views,” the article predicts, “when the House appropriations committee holds a hearing on the education budget proposal [tomorrow].  The special guest?  Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.”               With all the controversy currently swirling around the Trump administration, how likely is he to get his education spending proposals approved by a distracted Congress?  That question is tackled by ED WEEK with a few experts weighing in on the issue.   “President Donald Trump swept into office in January with grand visions of dramatically expanding school choice.  And he picked an education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who wanted to help him make it a reality.  It looked like the biggest opportunity for choice in years,” it begins.  “That was, of course, before a swarm of very negative headlines concerning Trump, Russia, and the FBI, and the  appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump and Trump associates’ ties to Russia.  All of that controversy is cutting into Trump’s already sluggish popularity, and hurting his credibility on Capitol Hill.   We still don’t know what the political fallout will be for the Trump administration and the GOP-led Congress at this early stage.  But what does it all mean for a big school choice push that he promised on the campaign trail and since taking office?  It depends on who you ask.”                Speaking of Betsy DeVos, she delivered a speech yesterday before a group she used to head, the American Federation for Children, at their annual policy summit in Indianapolis.  You can probably guess what she talked about.  You’re right!  The expansion of school “choice” under the Trump administration’s new budget proposals according to an item in ED WEEK.  “She didn’t provide any details on how those choice programs would work as the Trump administration prepares to release its fiscal 2018 budget.  But DeVos did say that while Washington won’t force states into expanding choice programs and will leave states a lot of flexibility, those states that decline to do so will be held accountable by their constituents,” she subtly warned.
The testing season this year is or will soon be drawing to a close.  That means it’s time to start grading those crucial standardized tests.  Just who is grading them?  Allan Singer, social studies educator at Hofstra University, answers that question on the HUFFPOST.   “They want college graduates (or equivalency?), any degree, and they are willing to pay $13 an hour,” he reports, “almost as much as a customer associate earns at Walmart, but significantly less than our test grader would make at Costco or Home Depot.”  Singer
includes a screen shot of the advertisement Pearson ran seeking graders for its Austin, Texas, scoring center.               Do you have any idea the number and types of tests students are subject to in this day and age?  Dr. Michael Flanagan of the BATs (Badass Teachers Association) offers a detailed accounting of what students in New York have to deal with. Although some of the assessments are unique to the Empire state, i.e., the New York State Regents exams, students in most states face a similar multitude of standardized assessments.  They may simply carry different names.  Flanagan also decries the amount of time dedicated to these tests and what must be sacrificed in order to squeeze all of them into the school year.  Who benefits from all this?  He points fingers at the educational companies that develop and push all these evaluations in the name of corporate and stockholder PROFITS!  Flanagan’s commentary is pretty damning and discouraging at the same time.  
School Privatization
The NPE (Network for Public Education) has just published its “State Report Cards for 2017” detailing how intrusive school privatization is on a state-by-state basis through a highly interactive map.  The states are ultimately given an A-F grade on the basis of different  criteria, that you can single out and that are explained on the NPE website.  Only 3 states garnered an “A” grade:” West Virginia, Nebraska and North Dakota.  California?  Earned a “D.”  You can click on individual states to get more comprehensive information.   Spend a little time with this.  It’s extremely informative and in a very user friendly format.  You can find a good analysis of the NPE’s map on school privatization from ALTERNET by clicking here.
Betsy DeVos
Diane Ravitch has an essay for the NEW REPUBLIC in which she makes the intriguing argument that if you don’t like Betsy DeVos and what she’s doing to public education, a good part of the blame rests with the Democrats.  As an education historian she traces this back 30 years to when George H.W. Bush was president and Democrats began to blur the distinctions they had with Republicans over important education policies.  “One might imagine that Democrats were America’s undisputed champions of public education.  But the resistance to DeVos obscured an inconvenient truth: Democrats have been promoting a conservative ‘school reform’ agenda for the past three decades,” Ravitch contends.  “Some did it because they fell for the myths of ‘accountability”’ and choice’ as magic bullets for better schools.  Some did it because ‘choice’ has centrist appeal.  Others sold out public schools for campaign contributions from the charter industry and its Wall Street patrons.  Whatever the motivations, the upshot is clear: The Democratic Party has lost its way on public education. In a very real sense, Democrats paved the way for DeVos and her plans to privatize the school system.”  Ravitch lists a number of centrist Democrats who have adopted conservative Republican programs like charters, vouchers and school “choice’ and lays out a path the Democrats need to follow to get back to being the party that supports our traditional public schools.  My one criticism of her thesis is that she appears to lump all Democrats into the pro-charter camp.  A good number of progressive Democrats, myself included, never drank the kool aid of school privatization. 
What’s the Best State to Teach In, and Why? 
And finally, Momma Brown’s Blog spotted that query on a Facebook group that she follows.  Brown is a teacher, small business owner, wife and mother of 2 living in New York and she reprints some of the 347 responses to that question.  She singles out the best and worst states and the characteristics shared by each.  “Most respondents answered very strongly concerning the state they taught in,” she relates.  “The ‘best’ states characteristics tended to be geographically north-eastern, union-supported, secure in teacher tenure rights, and included average to above-average teacher pay, including pensions. . . .  The characteristics of states to avoid included: hostile governors, anti-union sentiment, right-to-work laws, lacked teacher tenure rights, lacked pension benefits, and paid teachers unlivable wages.”  How did California fare?  Read the piece and see.  Are you surprised?
    Have a great holiday weekend!


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

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