Ed News, Tuesday, June 20, 2017


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“The worth of a book is infinite.” 
Betsy DeVos
Betsy DeVos and the Dept. of Education (DoE) are at it again!  Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a story about how she was “delaying” (ending?) two Obama era regulations that would have curtailed abuses of student by for-profit colleges.  Now she’s announcing she’ll be cutting back civil rights enforcement at the nation’s K-12 schools, colleges and universities.  I guess civil rights are no longer a problem in this country according to Sec. DeVos.  The New York Times has the disappointing details about this latest action.  “The new directives are the first steps taken under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos,” it reports, “to reshape her agency’s approach to civil rights enforcement, which was bolstered while President Barack Obama was in office.  The efforts during Mr. Obama’s administration resulted in far-reaching investigations and resolutions that required schools and colleges to overhaul policies addressing a number of civil rights concerns.”  The announcement of this new direction came in a memo first published by ProPublica, which the Times reprints.               The Civil Rights Commission recently announced it will be looking into the civil rights practices of several federal agencies under the Trump administration including the DoE.  Maybe they could see what was coming (see above).  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK describes this latest development.  “The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent agency charged with advising Congress and the President,” it begins, “has launched a two-year investigation into civil rights practices at several federal agencies under the Trump administration, including the U.S. Department of Education. . . .  The panel is particularly concerned that the Trump administration is seeking to cut the budgets of the civil rights arms of these agencies.  And it is bothered by statements by some cabinet officials, including U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, that the commission says may demonstrate that the Trump administration isn’t going to take civil rights enforcement seriously.  (DeVos is, in fact, the only cabinet official the statement mentions by name).”  [Ed. note: This article references the story from the N.Y. Times (see above).]               There’s lots not to like about Betsy DeVos and her education policies, but she’s having a positive impact on one area: more and more Democrats are joining progressive organizations and mentioning her name can be a boon for fundraising or signing petitions for certain groups.  The full story from POLITICO, titled “DeVos Becomes Digital Lighting Rod for Democrats,” requires a paid subscription but you can read the beginning of it by clicking here.  “First it was Karl Rove.  Then it was the Koch brothers.  Now, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has taken over as Senate Democrats’ top online bogeyman,” it begins.  “POLITICO’s Maggie Severns reports that anti-DeVos statements, petitions and especially fundraising emails have become a staple of Democratic digital campaigns in 2017.  Emails citing DeVos are raising money at a faster clip than others and driving engagement from supporters.”
School “Choice” and Vouchers
School “choice” doesn’t seem to be the solution in the Detroit Public Schools, according to Nancy Kaffer, columnist for The Detroit Free Press.  She uses as an example one charter school from the city.  ” Detroit is home to some excellent schools.  This city’s children are as bright,” she concludes, “and hardworking as any in Michigan. And every parent in this city loves his or her children as much as you love yours.  Those teachers, parents and kids need all the help they can get.  School choice?  Not helping.” Be sure to check out the cartoon video (1:11 minutes) about Betsy DeVos and her security detail that leads off the piece.  It’s a hoot!               Christopher Lubienski is a professor of education policy at the University of Indiana and Sarah Theule Lubienski is a professor of mathematics education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  They co-authored an interesting book titled “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools” in 2013.  They’ve written a piece for EDUCATION WEEK discussing why vouchers aren’t working and they cite a number of research studies to buttress their premise.  “There is a disturbing disconnect between the predictable, negative effects that vouchers are having on students,” they maintain, “and the continued enthusiasm policymakers show for these programs despite the growing consensus that they are causing harm.  Do we, as parents, taxpayers, and voters, want to fund programs that elevate choice, but lead to detrimental outcomes for children?  Is choice a means or an end?  Do we want choice for its own sake, or do we want it to improve achievement for all children?”
PBS Airs One-Sided “School Inc.”
Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a couple of items about the biased pro-privatization, pro-charter, pro-school choice 3-part series on PBS titled “School Inc.”  The janresseger blog comments on the program and discusses a number of other reviews of this unbalanced documentary.  “The Public Broadcasting System has been airing a three part documentary, School Inc., on the local PBS stations that have chosen to pick up the program.  It is a piece of libertarian propaganda,” she complains, “and makes no attempt to balance its advocacy for privatized and unregulated schooling.  The film was created and is narrated by Andrew Coulson, who, for ten years before his premature death of brain cancer at age 48, served as director of the  libertarian, Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.”               If you are so inclined, the DAILY KOS has put together a petition that you can sign demanding that PBS air two additional programs in response to their airing of “School Inc” (see above). “I am outraged that PBS would air a right-wing propaganda video like Schools Inc. that attacks public education,” the petition is worded.  “If you are going ahead with this airing, please broadcast Assistant Education Secretary Diane Ravitch’s response to the film—and air the documentary ‘Backpack Full of Cash.'”  [Ed. note:  The ALOED Educational Film Series is trying to arrange a screening of “Backpack Full of Cash” on the Occidental College campus in the near future.  It tells the story of the how the corporate “reformers” are making a major effort to privatize the public school system.  You can find more information about the film on the official website by clicking here.  Click on “See the Film” to view the trailer (2:24 minutes).]  Add you signature to the petition.  I did.               Amy Shuffelton, Associate Professor of Cultural and Educational Policy Studies at Loyola University, Chicago, has a scholarly review of the propaganda piece “School Inc.” and wonders why PBS would run such a series.  Her commentary appears on the Phi Delta Kappan website.  “The series breezes past evidence and arguments,” she concludes, “that contradict its commitment to unfettered free markets in schooling.  Valuable though it is for PBS viewers to encounter a wide range of ideas, it also matters that arguments take account of all the available evidence.”
The Teaching Profession
Some 1000 teachers at 32 charter campuses in Chicago voted to merge their organization with the militant CTU (Chicago Teachers Union) which represents teachers in the Chicago Public Schools.  An additional vote by CTU members will need to take place in the fall before the planned association can be finalized, according to an item from IN THESE TIMES.  “The decision to formally merge the two locals came in response to the election of Donald Trump.  Realizing that education and workers’ rights were under threat,” one union leader suggested, “leaders and activists from both locals felt it was the right time to pursue a formal merger.”                 Nationwide, 18% of teachers are nonwhite.  Just over 50% of students are in that category.  11 states have committed to reach parity between the percentage of nonwhite teachers and students by 2040.  California is not among them.  The “Teaching Now” column for EDUCATION WEEK looks at the issue and wonders if that goal is realistic.  “A recent study found that low-income black students are more likely to graduate high school and consider attending college if they have just one black teacher in elementary school.  Another study,” it indicates, “found that black students are less likely to be suspended, expelled, or placed in detention by black teachers.”
La Cañada High Shifts Start of School Day
Students at La Cañada High School will be able to get 45 additional minutes of sleep when the new school year begins in the fall.  The La Cañada USD board voted to delay the start of school from 7:45 am to 8:30 am as a 1-year experiment.  A short story in Saturday’s L.A. Times about the action will not put you to sleep.  “The decision to try the schedule change for one year was made last month,” it reports, “in a special meeting to let board members review data from a survey of district parents and students.  Responses indicated overwhelming support for pushing back the schedule to allow teens more brain-nourishing sleep, according to board member Brent Kuszyk.”
LAUSD Closed Down Two Charters So They Changed Names and REOPENED
The LAUSD board voted not to renew the charters of two Celerity Education Group Schools for questionable financial dealings and the dubious use of school credit cards.  They will close on June 30, but presto, change-o, they will REOPEN on July 1 in the same buildings, with the same principals and with most of the same students.  How did they do that?  THEY CHANGED THE NAMES OF THE SCHOOLS!!!  Neat trick.  The author of the School Data Nerd blog is “a classroom teacher with experience in LAUSD and Charter Schools” and she/he tells this incredible tale.  “The charter management organization that oversees several schools in Los Angeles has been dogged by controversy, primarily surrounding their finances and board structure,” the author reminds readers.  “In October, the LAUSD board voted to deny the charter renewal for two of their schools: Celerity Dyad and Celerity Troika. Then, in January, Federal agents raided their offices.  And finally, in May, the state board refused to accept the appeal to keep those two schools open, meaning they will close down for good at the end of this month.  But celerity, after all, means quickness.  [Ed. note: It actually does.  I looked it up.  Surprise].  And the leaders of Celerity sure are quick on their feet to fill this hole.  While those two schools will close down, Celerity will open two new schools on July 1, which were approved by the state board before all of this bad press.”   Check out the sidebar timeline which lays out for you how all this played out over the past 8 months.  UNBELIEVABLE!!!
Here’s a great example why standardized test results should NEVER be used for any high stakes reasons.  Educational materials and testing giant Pearson really messed up some test scores in Mississippi for about 1,000 high school seniors.  Things got so screwed up that some students were able to graduate even though their scores didn’t warrant them doing so and other students failed to graduate even though they scored high enough to earn a diploma.  This is not the first time Pearson mucked up Mississippi’s testing protocols so the state’s Department of Education promptly cancelled its contract with the company.  Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, provides the troubling details of this fiasco.  
Teach for America
Just what exactly is Teach for America telling its new recruits about the state of public education today?  Gary Rubinstein, who went through the TFA program shortly after it began, writing on his Gary Rubinstein’s Blog, is rather skeptical of the message.  His essay is titled “What TFA Tells the New Recruits About ‘The System.'”  He critiques some of the training new cohort members receive.  He finds it of questionable value and lacking a measure of reality.  “To me these messages are not the sorts of things that are productive for new TFA corps members to be told to believe in their first days of institute.  I don’t think they should start with the premise that the system is broken,” he complains, “and a-la-Betsy Devos, it can’t get much worse, and then that the TFA teacher’s role is to somehow single handedly undo the deliberate decisions that have led to this.  Instead I’d rather they were told that teaching is very hard and that teachers all over the country are working very hard despite limited resources and that TFA teachers are going to fight alongside these other teachers and try to learn from them and hope that they can quickly become like those experienced teachers so they won’t increase educational inequity for their own students.”
Vision Impaired Students Take Part in National Competition
With so much negative news floating around the field of education these days, here’s a story to warm the cockles of your heart.  50 low-vision and blind student finalists from around the country and Canada, including 5 from California, gathered at USC on Saturday to participate in the Braille Challenge national competition for kids aged 6 to 19.  A great story in Sunday’s L.A. Times describes their experiences.  “During the day, students — divided into five age groups — proofread passages, interpreted charts and graphs, answered questions about selected readings, and transcribed other selections as quickly and accurately as possible. The younger age groups also completed a spelling test. . . .  To get to Los Angeles, the students first had to qualify in preliminary rounds, held January through March. In total, students from 22 states and two Canadian provinces competed in the finals Saturday.”
An Excellent Education
Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, discusses an interesting distinction.  He believes we are now trying to guarantee every student the CHANCE at an excellent education when we should really be guaranteeing them an EXCELLENT education, period.  “Imagine if, instead, we started from this proposition: every child in America will be provided with an excellent education,” Singer suggests.  “Sound impossible?  Maybe. But it’s certainly a better goal than the one we’re using.”  He explains what’s wrong with the current system and offers some hints how to attain his objective.
Charter Schools
Virtual, online charters have a poor reputation even from some charter advocates.  In South Carolina the online charters are a $350 million industry but more and more people are questioning just what kind of bang South Carolinians are getting for their buck.  An investigative piece in the Charleston Post and Courier discovers “disappointing returns” from the cyber charters in the state.  “Today, the state has five virtual charter schools that together enroll roughly 10,000 students, up dramatically from about 2,100 students nine years ago when the state’s first cyber schools opened.  A 2007 bipartisan bill fueled their growth by authorizing the state’s virtual schools program, and since then, taxpayers have footed the bill to the tune of more than $350 million.  Despite this hefty investment,” it points out, “online charter schools have produced dismal results on almost all academic metrics, according to state and district data.  On average, less than half of their students graduate on time.  At one cyber school, nearly a third of students dropped out last school year. Data from the S.C Public Charter School District, which oversees these schools, shows just one in two virtual students enroll for a full year. . . .  On almost every measure of student achievement, virtual schools lag behind their brick-and-mortar counterparts.”  That’s not much of a track record for an over third of a billion dollar taxpayer investment.  Keep in mind the online charter folks are the same “reformers” who want schools to be run like businesses.  If a private business was getting results that poor it would have been shuddered long ago.               A charter school in Washington, D.C., recently voted to become the first charter in the nation’s capital to unionize.  As the author of this article ironically points out, Cesar Chavez Public Charter School is named after the California champion of farm worker unionization.  Mike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blog relates the latest developments.  “When you think about it, it’s kind of amazing that for all these years, there’s been schools named after the renowned union leader, Cesar Chavez, that resisted unionization and collective bargaining rights for teachers.  Detroit’s Cesar Chavez Charter School was unionized back in 2013.  I’m remembering back 10 years ago,” Klonsky recalls, “debating with anti-union charter school backers and ‘choice’ advocates.  I pointed out back then, the hypocrisy of naming a charter school after a great union organizer like Chavez, where teachers were working without a contract, without a real voice in educational decisions, or without union representation.”
An Idea for College Rankings
Karin Klein, an editorial board writer for the L.A. Times who specializes in education issues, has an op-ed in yesterday’s paper with some suggestions for how to improve those college rankings in order to make them more user friendly and precise.  Her commentary features a recent Gallup poll with results from 95,000 college dropouts to people who earned PhDs who reflect on their post-secondary experiences.  “Colleges should poll their own students and alumni about their educational experiences on a regular basis.  And so that the results can be compared from one school to another,” Klein recommends, “the questions and methodologies should be standardized across schools.  Fewer cash-strapped students would attend private schools if they knew they were about as likely to be satisfied with a public university at less than half the price.”  You at least have to check out the photo, at the outset of the piece, of the message a student added to her/his mortarboard during graduation from CSU Sacramento.  It’s a classic!
Steve Zimmer Reflects
And finally, Steve Zimmer’s 8-year, two-term stint on the LAUSD school board will come to an end on June 30.  He spent the last couple of years as president of the board and is also an instructor in the Urban Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College.  He was defeated in a run-off election in May by charter proponent Nick Melvoin.  He sent out an email to friends and supporters reflecting on his service to the LAUSD and his painful defeat in the election.  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints his ruminations.  “This was no ordinary election.  We did lose and we did lose badly.  And the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and their wealthy funders won and won big.  But they did not win fairly and they did not win honestly,” he observes bitterly.  “The CCSA effort was precise in its science and its analytics.  They recruited or encouraged a group of the right candidates to keep me just under 50% in the March primary and then they waged a vicious negative campaign during the run-off.  It was the most expensive school board race in the history of the nation.  CCSA had a singularly unique mix of unlimited money, unbridled ambition and the complete absence of any moral or ethical code.  It was a perfect electoral storm.”


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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s