Ed News, Tuesday, June 6, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 “We humans can never learn everything. The purpose of human life 
 is not to learn everything. Rather it is to learn from every single walk of life 
and put that knowledge into practice in the pursuit of making human life a little better.” 
National Spelling Bee
Ananya Vinay, a 12-year-old girl from Fresno, won the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee held in Maryland last week.  It took 37 grueling rounds for the sixth grader to win the prestigious competition.  In an interview afterwards on the “New Day” program on CNN she was asked to spell “covfefe,” Pres. Trump’s nonsense word that he tweeted in the middle of the night last week.  She spelled it “cofefe.”  “Good enough” and “Close, you win,” the co-anchors goodnaturedly responded.  A story from The New York Times, with two videos from ESPN and CNN, has the delightful details.  “As national champion, [Ananya] won $40,000, a $2,500 savings bond, reference books and a Kindle e-reader,” it describes.  “The bee began on Tuesday with 291 contestants who were among the top .000026 percent of more than 11 million students who competed in classrooms, schools and local events around the country, according to contest organizers.”
The Teaching Profession
What are “The Best Cities to Live in if You’re a Teacher?”  Interesting question.  A new study from the group GoodCall has some intriguing answers.  “Analysts crunched the numbers for 689 cities,” the report states regarding its methodology, “and ranked them based on nine metrics in three overall themes:  Job availability and pay, How the area values education and Livability.”  The number one city is Bentonville, Arkansas (home of Walmart).  Top ranked in California is Laguna Niguel at #34.  The article includes 2 interactive maps of the “Top 100” and “Bottom 100” cities and a link to the full data list.  [Ed. note: I taught for 26 years, but did not LIVE, in Huntington Park, ranked #667.]         The teaching profession is becoming less and less desirable according to a commencement address delivered to graduates of the M.A. in Teaching Program at St. Mary’s College in Maryland.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, comments on and then reprints the talk given by Elias Vlanton.  It’s not a complete downer, as he does take some time to describe why the profession is still one worth entering, despite all the drawbacks, many of which he details.  “Vlanton, who taught social studies in Prince George’s County Public Schools for 16 years,” Strauss writes by way of introduction, “talked not just about the joys of teaching, but he also presented the unvarnished truth about the hardships educators must confront.”               The BATs (Badass Teachers Association) are back in the film making business.  This time they turn their ire towards Teach for America (TFA) and the harm the group is doing to students, unions and the teaching profession.  The short video (1:14 minutes), in the form of a fairy tale, comes courtesy of Steven Singer’s Twitter feed.
Charter Schools
When charter backers can’t win the verbal debate with their critics over the efficacy of their schools,they resort to trying to discredit them.  That’s exactly what happened to Rutgers University professor Julia Sass Rubin who published some of her critical research on charter schools back in 2014 and found herself the target of ethics violations from the New Jersey Charter School Association.  They couldn’t challenge her findings so they resorted to attacking the emissary.  The state ethics board and the university looked into the charges against Rubin and after an extensive review, she was absolved of all allegations according to a piece from NPQ (NONPROFIT QUARTERLY).  “Rather than dispute the findings with data of their own and allow the dialogue to go on based on the strength of the results,” it relates, “the charter association chose to attack the messenger.  They formally charged that by publishing her work, testifying before public bodies based on her findings and speaking as an advocate for public schools, she had violated ‘the New Jersey Conflicts of Interest Law, the Uniform Ethics Code, [and the] Rutgers Code of Ethics and Rutgers’s policies’ and should be sanctioned.”  Diane Ravitch had this to say about the situation: “This is a sordid story with a happy ending.  It tells how the deep-pocketed charter industry tried to silence and discredit a scholar who disagreed with them.”
Vouchers and School “Choice”
The corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies love to tout vouchers as a true form of democratic school “choice.”  Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, notes a bit of hyperbole in that notion since they are being pushed by a billionaire president and businessman and a billionaire Sec. of Education.  She references an op-ed in the L.A. Times by Randi Weingarten and Jonah Edelman that was highly critical of vouchers for basically being anti-democratic (see Friday’s “Ed News”).  In addition, Schneider reviews the early history of how vouchers were used to circumvent integration orders in the South the the 1950s and 60s.  “Note that the history of vouchers in the USA often involved closing the public schools and sending students to private schools using public money in order for states to avoid integrating the public schools.  In other words,” she writes, “vouchers to private schools not only did not help the public schools; it also reinforced the reality that private school choice is an easy vehicle for reinforcing segregation.  In the case of 1960s Louisiana, even though all parents in theory were ’empowered’ by receiving private school vouchers, the schools themselves had the final ‘choice’ as to whether or not a student was allowed to enroll.  Don’t think it cannot happen in 2017.”               2 letters appear in Sunday’s L.A. Times in reaction to the op-ed the paper ran on Wednesday from Randi Weingarten and Jonah Edelman (see Friday’s “Ed News”) arguing that vouchers are anti-democratic.  The first one isn’t buying their assertion and the second comments on Sec. DeVos’s lack of a commitment to making sure that schools that receive vouchers don’t discriminate against certain types of students.               Is this what voucher programs are intended to do?  An extensive investigative piece for ProPublica discovers that some families living in small towns in Vermont are using taxpayer money to send their children to expensive, exclusive, elite prep schools outside of the Green Mountain State.  “Vermont’s voucher program is a microcosm of what could happen across the country,” it explains, “if school-choice advocates such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos achieve their vision.  By subsidizing part of the cost of private schools in or out of state, it broadens options for some Vermonters while diverting students from public education and disproportionately benefiting wealthier families.”  The article also describes similar voucher programs in Indiana and Arizona which could serve as models for the proposed federal plan.                If a federal voucher program is approved and taxpayer money can be used for private schools, what protections will there be against those schools discriminating against certain types of students?  Very good question.  If any lessons can be learned from existing state programs, the answer is not particularly encouraging, according to a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  Federal anti-discrimination laws do not extend to private groups, organizations or schools which are free to discriminate against students based on their religion, race, ethnicity, disability, sex or sexual orientation.  “How far can private schools that take taxpayer-funded vouchers go in selecting students without running afoul of civil rights and antidiscrimination laws?  The answer is complicated—and less than reassuring,” the item maintains, “to those concerned about the rights of students of color, LGBT students, and children with disabilities.”
Betsy DeVos
DeVos is among a number of members of the Trump administration who are quite adept at not answering direct questions posed to them.  Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, offers a few examples from the Sec. of Education related to climate change, school discipline policies and vouchers.  “You might think that it would be a matter of course for the education secretary to provide direct answers to direct questions about education or education policy.  As it turns out,” Strauss begins, “that is often not the case with Betsy DeVos.”               DeVos appeared before a Senate education appropriations subcommittee this morning to testify about Pres. Trump’s proposed budget as it related to education.  She was grilled extensively by members of both parties about the steep cuts contained in the plan and the proposal to divert a good size chunk of money earmarked for the Dept. of Education into a federal voucher program.  The “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK reviews her testimony and the rough reception she got from several members of the committee.  “Republican and Democratic senators on the Senate education appropriations subcommittee expressed skepticism about cuts and eliminated programs in the budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Education,”  it describes.  “And Democrats sparred with DeVos over how the spending blueprint for fiscal 2018 handles Title I spending on disadvantaged students, and how a voucher proposal would handle issues of discrimination.”
Trump and Education
Diane Ravitch has a piece in The New York Review of Books about the proposed Trump/DeVos budget titled “The Demolition of American Education.”  She zeroes in on its impact on various education policies and the Dept. of Education and offers a litany of programs that are scheduled for big cuts or elimination.  “Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos’s proposed budget for the US Department of Education is a boon for privatization and a disaster for public schools and low-income college students,” Ravitch laments.  “They want to cut federal spending on education by 13.6 percent.  Some programs would be eliminated completely; others would face deep reductions.  They want to cut $10.6 billion from existing programs and divert $1.4 billion to charter schools and to vouchers for private and religious schools.  This budget reflects Trump and DeVos’s deep hostility to public education and their desire to shrink the Department of Education, with the ultimate goal of getting rid of it entirely.”
Teacher Evaluations
Dr. Mitchell Robinson has “Some Unpopular Thoughts About Teacher Evaluations” on the BATs (Badass Teachers Association) website.  He looks at the state of teacher evaluations today and is not happy with what he sees.  “With respect to teacher evaluation: I’ve been working on teacher eval for most of my career as a teacher, administrator, and teacher educator, and all I can say is that the current system is the worst I’ve ever seen,” he complains.  “If its goal was to get rid of the ‘bad teachers’ it has been spectacularly ineffective.  Every form of teacher eval winds up identifying between 1-3% of teachers as ‘ineffective’–yet we continue to spend precious money and time in the vain attempt to purge the system of these ‘bad teachers’.”  Robinson offers a couple of remedies to rectify the situation.                 The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is not real clear on what constitutes an “ineffective teacher” and offers little guidance on whether state or local officials should be involved in making that determination.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK delves into the issues involved.  It indicates that the chair of California’s state board of education is most likely to defer those key decisions to the state legislature.  “ESSA, which goes into effect this fall, does away with the ‘highly qualified teacher’ mandates under its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act.  It also bans the U.S. secretary of education from dictating the ways in which states grade their teachers,” the article explains, “a sore spot under the NCLB law.  At the same time, ESSA requires states to provide a single definition of ‘ineffective teachers’ in the plans they submit to the federal government and then describe how they will ensure that poor and minority students aren’t being taught by a disproportionate number of them.”  Be sure to check out the sidebar titled “Tracking Teacher Quality” which provides a concise comparison between NCLB and ESSA regarding how to evaluate teachers.
Climate Science Debate
An engaging story in The New York Times tells about a high school in Wellston, Ohio,a small, rural, pro-Trump town where a group of students challenged their science teacher who was presenting them  with lessons on global warming.  It broadens the topic to discuss how climate science is being taught in the nation’s schools using the quandary in Wellston as a case study.  “As more of the nation’s teachers seek to integrate climate science into the curriculum, many of them are reckoning with students for whom suspicion of the subject is deeply rooted.  In rural Wellston, a former coal and manufacturing town seeking its next act, rejecting the key findings of climate science can seem like a matter of loyalty to a way of life already under siege.  Originally tied, perhaps, to economic self-interest, climate skepticism has itself become a proxy for conservative ideals of hard work, small government and what people here call ‘self-sustainability.'”  Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweek for sending the article along with this comment: “Scary in many ways, but I love every word of this  story.  What a great teacher. What a great (as in well-written/well-told) story.”
As the standardized testing season and the school year draw to a close, a long-time elementary teacher in New Jersey, writing on Diane Ravitch’s blog, has a number of objections to the over-use of standardized testing in her state and, by extension in most other states, as well.  Her biggest objection is the huge chunks of time the assessments and the preparation for them take away that could be much better allocated to student learning.  “The public school testing frenzy is at an all-time high,” she complains, “and it is robbing our students of time to learn.  Take it from me, an elementary school teacher from New Jersey with more than 30 years of experience.  In an effort to be ready for the state-mandated PARCC tests, we are hurting the very students we most wish to help.  School administrators and teachers are tasked with ensuring that state-mandated tests are properly administered.  But the time it takes to plan and administer these tests takes away precious instructional time.”
Corporate “Reform”
And finally, Diane Ravitch, in her book “The Life and Death of the Great American School System,” has a chapter titled “The Billionaire Boys’ Club” in which she details some of the billionaire entrepreneurs and philanthropists from around the county who are proponents of market-based education strategies to remake (eliminate?) the traditional public school system.  A story in The New York Times titled “The Silicon Valley Billionaires Remaking America’s School” brings the names closer to home.  “In the space of just a few years,” the reporter relates, “technology giants have begun remaking the very nature of schooling on a vast scale, using some of the same techniques that have made their companies linchpins of the American economy.  Through their philanthropy, they are influencing the subjects that schools teach, the classroom tools that teachers choose and fundamental approaches to learning.”


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

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