The ED NEWS
A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues
“The more I learn, the more doors of information
and opportunity are open to me.”
Oxy Prof. Roger Boesche Passes Away
Popular Occidental College professor Roger Boesche passed away last week at the age of 69. Pres. Obama once credited Boesche with giving him his start in politics while Obama was a student on the Eagle Rock Campus during his freshman and sophomore years. Boesche spent 40 years on the Oxy campus as the Arthur G. Coons Distinguished Professor of the History of Ideas, Politics and was the well-regarded teacher of the History of European and American Political thought. An obituary for Boesche appears in the May 25, L.A. Times. “Boesche was born Jan. 24, 1948, in Tulsa, Okla.,” it reports, “and studied political science at Stanford, where he led protests against the Vietnam War and met his future wife, Mandy, who was a few years younger. It was for her that he remained at Stanford for his doctorate, according to a profile in the Occidental College alumni magazine. He arrived at Occidental in 1977 as a young professor and quickly developed a devoted following among students.” [Ed. note: I did not have the privilege of attending any of Boesche’s classes as I completed the studies for my Bachelor’s in History in 1971, and teaching credential in June, 1972. ]
Betsy DeVos appeared last Wednesday before a House Appropriations subcommittee to defend Pres. Trump’s budget proposals for education. It was her first visit to Congress since her inept performance at her confirmation hearings in January. She attempted to support the administration’s plan to cut 13.5% from the Dept. of Education’s budget for fiscal year 2018 while channeling increases to Trump’s proposal for a vastly expanded federal voucher program. In addition, she refused to commit to withhold funds from private schools that discriminate against students according to a story in The New York Times. “The budget plan would eliminate more than 20 education programs,” it explains, “and redirect funding to expanding school choice initiatives. Those include a $250 million program to give students publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools. But Ms. DeVos said states, not the Education Department, would decide whether to withhold federal money from private schools that are neither required to serve a diverse pool of students nor held publicly accountable for doing so.” What has Betsy DeVos been up to lately and what does it reveal about her ultimate goals as Pres. Trump’s Sec. of Education? Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post over to long time guest columnist Carol Burris who analyzes a recent speech DeVos delivered and what it tells us about the direction the leader of the Dept. of Education is headed. The item is titled “The Long Game of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.” “DeVos and President Trump have made clear that their top priority in education is to expand school choice,” Strauss writes by way of introduction, “not continue the efforts of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to hold schools ‘accountable’ largely through test scores.”
Trump and Education
Pres. Trump’s first budget proposal was officially unveiled last week. It contains huge increases in military spending and cuts for many domestic programs. Details of the plan had been publicized prior to its formal roll out but now it’s there for all to see including a proposed 13.5% reduction in funding for the U.S. Dept. of Education. An item in the May 25, L.A. Times reviews some of the ways the proposals would impact students in California and around the country. “Observers don’t expect Congress to pass the budget in its current form,” it notes, “but [former Sec. of Education under Obama John B.] King, who now leads the Education Trust, a Washington-based nonprofit focused on educational equity, said it shows the administration’s values and frames the conversation around cuts instead of investments.” Are Pres. Trump’s proposals for school choice likely to pass the political hurdles in the nation’s capital? A number of issues factor into that question and they are reviewed in the “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK. Political realities in Washington, D.C., aside, the foundation of the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) gives much more power over education policies to the states than previous legislation. “With ESSA on the books, prospects for Congress to enact major education legislation in the foreseeable future are pretty slim,” the piece predicts, “outside of a potential reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.”
Free the Principal!
School principals are asked to do a number of things, many mundane, over the course of a school day. What if they could concentrate on increasing student learning and overall school achievement? “A pipe dream,” you say? Monday morning’s “All Things Considered” segment on NPR introduces you to a director of school logistics and operations at a public middle and high school in Washington, D.C., who is taking some of the burden off those overloaded principals. You can listen to the segment (4:08 minutes) and/or read an expanded story by clicking here. “We like to think of school principals, at their best, as instructional leaders,” it relates, “with a laser focus on boosting student achievement, school culture and academic accountability. But too often principals and their deputies have to deal with hundreds of things that have little to do directly with teaching and learning: student discipline, school maintenance, the cafeteria, safety, transportation, paperwork — and lots more.” Thanks to ALOED member Don Hagen for sending this along.
SDUSD Sued Over Plan to Protect Muslim Students from Bullying
Several previous editions of the “Ed News” highlighted a program approved for the board of the San Diego Unified School District that would attempt to protect Muslim students in the districts from bullying and discrimination. There is a legal organization and a group of parents who are opposed to that idea and they filed a lawsuit in federal court last week challenging the constitutionality of the plan. A story in The San Diego Union-Tribune details the legal action and why it’s being taken. “In April, trustees in the district voted to create a policy that would protect Muslim students,” it mentions, “from bullying by, among other steps, increasing lessons about Islam. . . . The antibullying policy is part of a larger effort the district has adopted to make campuses safe for all students. Such policies also have been created for LGBTQ students and students who are Native American or Latino.
LAUSD Reformer Judy Burton Dies at 69
During her long career with the LAUSD, Judy Burton was a well-known teacher and principal and led a number of reform efforts from both inside and outside the district. In recent years she founded the largest charter network in southern California. An obituary appears in the May 26, L.A. Times announcing her passing last week at age 69. “Over a career that spanned 45 years,” it mentions, “she was a loyal, accomplished L.A. Unified insider, a savvy outsider competing with the school district and something of a roll-up-the-sleeves revolutionary wherever she landed. Within the nation’s second-largest school system, she headed the district’s central reform effort of the 1990s. Then she became founding director of Alliance College-Ready Public Schools [charter network], which has grown to 28 schools educating 12,500 students.”
Foreign Language Instruction
How extensive is foreign language instruction in this country and what languages are being taught? Some interesting answers to those questions appear in the “Learning the Language” column for EDUCATION WEEK. It features a first-of-its-kind national survey from the Language Flagship at the Defense Language and National Security Education Office, which is part of the U.S. Department of Defense. The research discovered that only about 20% of U.S. students are studying a world language or American Sign Language. “Enrollment rates vary widely from state to state. More than half of New Jersey’s public K-12 students are enrolled in foreign language classes, according to estimates. But in states such as Arizona and Arkansas,” the article reports, “the survey estimates that fewer than 10 percent of students are studying world languages in school.” In California the figure was 13.91%. A copy of the complete report (52 pages), titled “The National K-12 Foreign Language Enrollment Survey Report,” is included at the end of the ED WEEK story.
Charter Schools and Vouchers
Have you ever wondered why some of those billionaires seem so enamored by pouring their money and efforts into charter school networks? What effect might they have if they turned those endeavors toward properly funding and supporting our traditional public school system or solving the problem of income inequality plaguing this country? In an op-ed in the May 26, L.A. Times, Harold Meyerson, executive editor of the American Prospect, a quarterly progressive magazine, offers an answer to those questions. “As the billionaires see it, it’s the lack of skills, not the dysfunctions of the larger economic system that they (or their parents) mastered, that is the cause of our national woes. Pure of heart though some of them may be,” he concludes, “the charter billionaires have settled on a diagnosis, and a cure, that focuses on the deficiencies of the system’s victims, not the system itself. How very comforting for them.” 3 letters appear in Tuesday’s Times reacting to the op-ed in last Friday’s paper (see above) about why billionaires are so captivated by charter schools. 2 of the 3 letters are written by former teachers. After the school board elections last month gave charter proponents a 4-3 majority, what might we see them doing in the weeks and months ahead? The reporter of the story in Tuesday’s Times spoke to several charter supporters and describes what they told her. “Although charter backers speak of collaboration,” she points out, “charters remain largely at cross purposes with the district, which faces long-term budget problems. The two sectors both seek more revenue and are competing for enrollment. Each student brings dollars from the state.” Now that charter proponents control the LAUSD school board after winning 2 seats in elections last month (see above), does that portend similar victories in other cities around the country? That question is addressed in an article for EDUCATION WEEK. “Los Angeles Unified is the largest district in the country governed by an elected board, and the race for influence over its future direction,” it mentions, “pitted pro-charter forces who want to significantly grow charter schools there against teachers’ unions that have been aggressively fighting to hold the line on charters. . . . Some view the Los Angeles race as a harbinger for battles over school board elections in other cities, and possibly bigger legislative battles in states over the expansion of the charter school market.” Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT (American Federation of Teachers), and Jonah Edelman, chief executive of Stand for Children, have penned an op-ed in Wednesday’s Times that is critical of and deeply concerned by the Trump administration’s plan to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on a nation-wide federal voucher program. They worry not only about the impact on the public school system but also on our democratic government. “Today, vouchers are used by less than 1% of the nation’s students. Trump and his Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, want to change that. Trump’s new budget proposal would make historic cuts to federal education spending, while diverting $1 billion into voucher programs — a ‘down payment’ on his oft-repeated $20-billion voucher pledge. We believe the president’s plan would deal a terrible blow to public schools and to the 90% of America’s children who attend them, while doing almost nothing to benefit children who receive vouchers.” Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, is troubled by Randi Weingarten co-authoring an op-ed in the L.A. Times with Jonah Edelman (see above) about the proposed federal voucher program. Singer believes she’s getting a little too cozy with Edelman who he describes as an “anti-union operative.” Singer reprints a single quote from their op-ed to illustrate his point that Weingarten appears to be promoting charter schools. “This is one of the reasons I’ve been calling for Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association, to step down. They aren’t listening to their constituents. They have both gone rogue. They are playing politics on our dime,” Singer complains, “without giving proper consideration to what’s in our benefit. Teachers don’t want their national union representatives playing patty cake with those out to destroy us. We want action in the streets! We want activists and resisters, not diplomats and politicians. It’s time Randi and Lily stepped aside for union leaders who understand what our schools, our students and our profession really needs.” Read the op-ed and check out Singer’s response and see what you think. Diane Ravitch’s blog offers a brief item titled “Some Reasons I Object to Vouchers for Private and Religious Schools.” Here’s one from her list: “I object to my tax dollars paying for schools that discriminate against children based on their race, their sexual orientation, or their disabilities.” Need some evidence of how charter schools are different from traditional public schools despite claims to the contrary from charter proponents? The Jersey Jazzman zeroes in on the schools in Newark, New Jersey, to provide some convincing evidence regarding how the two systems compare. He illustrates his research with a number of graphs and although he focuses on schools in New Jersey, his conclusions should easily translate to other cities and states too. He measures things like percentage of students with disabilities or special ed or ELLs served, administrative costs per pupil and teacher salaries. Check it out. It’s eye-opening data that charter supporters somehow seem to ignore. The Taylor International Academy in Southfield, Michigan (home state of Betsy DeVos), abruptly closed its doors Wednesday, 3 weeks BEFORE the end of the school year. WJBK, FOX 2, out of Detroit has the grim news. Students and staff were left high and dry by the sudden action. “Teachers were seen packing their belongings. They say they will get paid Friday but the school is not able to pay them through August,” it painfully points out. “Parents received word last week that money woes would force the school’s closure at the end of the academic year on June 30th. They got a rude awakening on May 31st. . . . Taylor International has been beset by money problems since 2013 and according to Renaissance School Services, the company that managed it, and things came to a head.” Diane Ravitch has this to say about the closure: “No doubt, Betsy DeVos would say that’s the way the free market works.” [Ed. note: Just one question: How often does this happen to traditional public schools?] The NPE (Network for Public Education) issues its formal “Position Statement on Charter Schools.” The document outlines a number of reasons why the organization opposes charters and lays out a list of legislation that needs to be passed and promptly implemented to bring more accountability and transparency to them. “By definition, a charter school is not a public school. Charter schools are formed when a private organization contracts with a government authorizer to open and run a school,” the statement reminds readers. Charters are managed by private boards, often with no connection to the community they serve. The boards of many leading charter chains are populated by billionaires who often live far away from the schools they govern.”
Students Stage Walk Out Over Rape Allegation
A number of students walked out of classes last Thursday morning at the Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts (LAUSD) near downtown in protest over the handling of a charge that one student was raped by another on campus. An item in the May 27, L.A. Times describes the situation and the reaction to it. “Some students and parents are concerned,” it notes, “that they were not told anything about the alleged incident. Some also were upset over what they saw as inaction on the part of the school district.”
School Funding Crisis
Since the Great Recession, which began in 2008, many states have suffered and continue to suffer school funding crises. As revenues plummeted, public education budgets became convenient targets for draconian cuts particularly in states that hoped to promote charters and school “choice” policies. Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, points the finger of blame for all the spending cuts at “Bad Leadership” by state legislators. He singles out Oklahoma, North Carolina, Kansas and Ohio, among others as particularly egregious offenders. Thankfully, California is not mentioned anywhere in the article. “Surveys show Americans are generally willing to pay higher taxes for education, especially if the money is used to pay teachers more and improve facilities and technology. Yet,” he concludes, “political leaders continue to slash taxes instead and redirect more funds to unfounded experiments like charter schools and voucher programs. It’s time to stop treating the symptoms of this disease and go directly to the cause. Vote these idiots out of office.”
Remember those suddenly popular fidget spinners that the “Ed News” highlighted in a couple of previous editions (see May 2 and May 12)? Well, apparently they are causing enough of a disruption and nuisance in classrooms that more and more districts are banning them and students are just as quickly petitioning to get them back. So writes Valerie Strauss on her blog for The Washington Post. If you are still unaware of what the little devices are, she describes them and includes a couple of pictures for your enlightenment. “Schools and individual teachers in Florida, Illinois, New York, Virginia and other states are banning them from classrooms, while others are taking the fidget spinners away from kids who seem too distracted by them — or are distracting others. According to Working Mother,” Strauss points out, “schools in at least 11 states have banned them and more are likely to do so.”
The Teaching Profession
An editorial in yesterday’s L.A. Times favors a new bill (AB 1220 by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego) that would extend the granting of teacher tenure in the state from 2 years to possibly 3 to 5. “Under current law, a school district has to decide whether to permanently hire a probationary teacher after two years on the job, which, given requirements for notice, actually means after 18 months. Considering that firing a permanent teacher is a long, expensive procedure ,” it explains, “that is stacked against the school district, 18 months to make such a decision is utterly inadequate. It takes most new teachers four years to reach their peak performance, numerous studies have found. In fact, the short timeline is, if anything, unfair to new instructors. A teacher who looks like an iffy prospect at 18 months might be rejected under the current do-or-die law; that same teacher might improve by leaps and bounds over the next year if he or she is retained. Assembly Bill 1220 would extend the probationary period by one more year, placing California in the same ballpark as almost every other state. And if a teacher’s skills still look wobbly in the middle of that third year, the school could extend probationary status by up to two more years, but would have to invest in considerable training to help the teacher improve.” English and Social Studies teachers Larry Ferlazzo of Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, offers Part 3 of his feature “Teaching Advice to Remember” on his “Classroom Q & A” column for EDUCATION WEEK. He solicited responses from a wide range of educators on that topic and prints a number of responses in his story from them and readers of his column. Here’s one example from a current teacher: “I don’t think I’ll ever forget that I am in the business of teaching human beings, not standards.” Ferlazzo includes links to Parts 1 and 2 of his series.
And finally, do you ever wonder how public school districts spend the money they receive? The “Market Place K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK takes you through the numbers via a series of graphs and commentary. As you may be aware, salaries and benefits take up the lion’s share of the total. “Total spending in the United States’ K-12 system stands at $634 billion,” it reports, “or $11,222 per student for the 2013-14 year, the most recent year where data is available, according to the Condition of Education 2017 report, published by the National Center for Education Statistics. Salaries and benefits make up a combined 80 percent of school spending, according to the report.”
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.