Ed News, Tuesday, June 13, 2017 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“If you are still breathing, do not stop learning.”

― Lailah Gifty Akita

Graduation Rates Questioned
Tom Ultican, a public high school physics and math teacher in San Diego, questions the use of credit recovery courses to boost districts’ graduation rates.  He argues, on his TULTICAN blog, “These record setting numbers are the result of knuckleheaded political policy, cheating and credit recovery.”  Ultican believes that this policy achieves its goal of raising graduation rates but at a rather steep cost.  “Credit recovery has introduced a corruption into public education.  Online learning,” he complains, “is only better than no other alternative. It is lifeless and dull.  Some people claim there are ways to make it better, but I seriously doubt that it will ever match a classroom with a teacher to stimulate supervised dialog as a learning vehicle.  The push for credit recovery is a blatant scheme to impose privatized online learning.”  Diane Ravitch writes: “This is one of those brilliant posts that I am honored to share with you.”
The Teaching Profession
You may have seen this viral video already.  If not, check it out.  It has already received nearly 19.5 million views as of yesterday afternoon.  High school English teacher Trevor Muir shares with the world why “Teaching is Tiring! (And Worth it).”  The brief film (2:24 minutes) is dedicated to every past, present and future teacher.  It appears courtesy of the “Teaching Now” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  Enjoy!  
Profile of Nick Melvoin
Newly elected charter proponent Nick Melvoin will assume his seat on the LAUSD school board on July 1.  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times profiles Melvoin, one of 2 new members on the board giving pro-charter forces a 4-3 majority.  Melvoin discusses his ideas for education reform of the district and the article includes a separate piece with “The Top 5 Items on His To-Do List.”  Here’s one example: “5. A process that would put all schools under an accountability system similar to charters, which are supposed to show every five years that they are academically strong and financially sound.”
Betsy DeVos
DeVos seemed a bit muddled in her knowledge of federal education law during her confirmation hearing and now on her own positions on key political issues.  Last week she supported Pres. Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the pivotal Paris climate agreement but she didn’t appear to understand much about the matter.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, attempts to delve into the mind of our confused Sec. of Education to see if she can discern just what DeVos’ beliefs are.  Good luck in that endeavor!  Strauss reprints a letter to DeVos from 4 Democratic Senators attempting to get clarification of her stance on climate change and why the Heartland Institute is sending climate denial materials and lessons to the nations’ science educators and another letter from a single Senator to science teachers and their national organization.               A story in The New York Times suggests you can get some insights into what motivates Betsy DeVos by looking at how she was educated and where.  DeVos graduated from Holland Christian High School in 1975 (be sure to check out the yearbook photo of her during her junior year, included in the article).  The reporter for the story drops in on Holland Christian to discover what type of education it provided to a teenaged Betsy DeVos.  “Holland Christian is one of several western Michigan nonpublic schools that have helped shape Ms. DeVos’s views of elementary and secondary education,” the item describes, “and that her critics fear she will draw from to upend the nation’s public schools.  The private Christian school that she attended, another that she sent her children to and a hardscrabble private religious school that she has long supported have dominated her time, money and attention.”               Betsy DeVos delivered an address today to the annual convention of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the nation’s biggest charter group.  Her reception by the organization may not be as positive as you might imagine.  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK offers some things to look for prior to the actual speech.  While the charter community favors the Trump administration’s push for charters and school “choice” they will be affected by a number of the budget cuts Trump has proposed making to the Dept. of Education (see the Trump and Education section below) and they are not happy about that.  The article outlines several other areas of contention between charter proponents and the Trump/DeVos team.  
Charter Schools
After undergoing an audit ordered  by the Alameda County Office of Education,  2 Livermore, California, charter schools have been accused of misappropriating public funds.  The article in the EAST BAY TIMES says Bill Bachelor, former CEO of the charters’ management company, is the key culprit in the case.  “Analysis shows that the Tri-Valley Learning Corporation,” the piece relates, “which oversees the charter schools: Failed to disclose numerous conflict-of-interest relationships; diverted, commingled and/or misappropriated public funds, including tax-exempt public bonds totaling over $67 million with various private entities; and contributed to an environment of significantly deficient internal controls, according to a county statement. . . .  The audit states that internal controls were ‘so weak’ that Batchelor was able to divert $2.7 million of public charter school funds without any supporting documents, covering a span of five years.”  This is another prime example of why charters need much more accountability and transparency.  As a postscript, TVLC, the management company, announced last week it was closing the 2 charters before the end of this school year when a loan bailout failed to materialize.  Once again, students, parents, teachers and staff end up paying the price of someone else’s greed.  When are the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their political allies going to come to their senses?  For the Press Release about the audit from ACOE and a link to the full report (287 pages) click here.  Yeah it’s pretty long but if you are on summer vacation or about to be, it makes for some enlightening reading about what some charters are getting away with, at least until they are caught.               If you think California’s charter system is messed up, try reading about what’s going down in New Jersey.  The members of the school board of Clifton, NJ, have been against the opening of a charter in their district.  So what happens?  The New Jersey Dept. of Education forces Clifton to fund the school anyway and shoves it down the community’s throat.  And to make matters worse, the charter school belongs to a network that’s being investigated for allegations of fraud!  You can’t make this stuff up, folks!  That’s how democracy is practiced in the Garden state according to Mark Weber, aka the Jersey Jazzman.  “And so it continues with New Jersey’s insane charter authorizing system: Trenton [the state capital] mandates a school district must give up funds,” Weber complains, “to support a charter school that the district had no say in approving.  Worse, the district cannot exercise any oversight authority over the charter. . . .  It’s worth pointing out that, according to data from the Education Law Center, Clifton has suffered from persistent underfunding of state education aid under the Christie administration: cumulatively $73.8 million since 2010.  And yet the same administration mandates that Clifton taxpayers put up millions of dollars every year for a charter school the community may not even want.”  UNBELIEVABLE what charters can get away with these days.               Eva Moscowitz’s controversial Success Academy charter network in New York City won the 2017 Broad Prize for charter schools.  One has to wonder about the award given some of the conflicts made public about the schools.  The “Charters & Choice” column for EDUCATION WEEK has the details.  “A little over a year ago, the network was the focus of two New York Times exposés,” it points out.  “In the first, a school principal drew up a list of ‘got-to-go’ students which was leaked to the Times.  A few months later, a video that showed a teacher harshly disciplining a young student was provided to the Times.  Around the same time, a group of parents filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights against the network, claiming that it was violating the rights of students with disabilities.”
High School Reform
Should a high school diploma be based on credits earned or skills acquired?  Good question.  Maine is beginning an interesting experiment in “proficiency-based education” established by a state law passed in 2012.  THE HECHINGER REPORT describes what’s taking place.  “The law requires that by 2021, students graduating from Maine high schools must show they have mastered specific skills to earn a high school diploma,” it points out.  “Maine is the first state to pass such a law, though the idea of valuing skills over credits is increasingly popular around the country.  ‘Maine is the pioneer,’ said Chris Sturgis, co-founder of CompetencyWorks, a national organization that advocates for the approach in K-12 schools.”  The article profiles one 9th grade student at a regional high school in Maine and how she’s meeting the new requirements.
Trump and Education
Two members of Pres. Trump’s transition team that reviewed the Dept. of Education for the incoming president attempt to make the case that “Trump’s Education Cuts Aren’t ‘Devastating,’ They’re Smart,” in an op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  They mention several programs that are “ineffective” and scheduled for elimination.  What’s left unsaid is that the administration would like to channel the money saved into federal vouchers which have proved to be equally ineffective.  “Cutting costly, ineffective government programs isn’t the end of the world,” the authors claim.  It’s part of ‘[our] moral duty… to make our government leaner and more accountable,’ as Trump stated during a budget meeting in February.  His budgetary effort to cut waste includes the Education Department for good reason.”  I wonder if that same justification will be applied to “ineffective” voucher programs and charter schools that lack accountability and transparency?               Did Pres. Trump really say that?  While former FBI Director James Comey was testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, Pres. Trump was delivering a speech before a group of religious conservatives.  His comments regarding religion and schools are particularly troubling in light of the 1st Amendment and the president’s apparent ignorance of what it contains.  Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, also has a problem with what he said.  Strauss conveniently provides a video of the entire speech(34:47 minutes) so you can review Trump’s comments for yourself.
Teach For America
Gary Rubinstein’s Blog reveals that Teach for America is training a group of its prospective corps members at a “failing” school in Houston.  The J. W. Robinson Jr. Elementary School earned a “D” on Texas’ rating system and ranked 720th out of 1000 campuses.  It’s principal happens to be a TFA alum, as well.  “I’m not writing about this to trash this school,” he wants to clarify.  “I want the corps members who are working there and who are admiring this school to understand, though, that the bogus rating system that makes Robinson ‘failing’ is the same kind of rating system that is being used by all the supporters of TFA who want to declare a large percent of schools, like Robinson, failing.   It’s lies like this that have fueled the growth of TFA.  Without this growth, most TFA CMs wouldn’t even be in the program right now as it would be a much smaller program than it is.”
LAUSD Budget Unveiled
And finally, LAUSD Supt. Michelle King presented her proposed 2017-18 $7.9 billion district budget to the school board at their regular meeting today.  A story in today’s L.A. Times offers “Five Things to Know About L.A.’s School Budget.”  It addresses topics including future enrollment projections, possible budget deficits down the road, rising pension and benefit obligations and others.  The board plans to vote on the plan next week.


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

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