Ed News, Tuesday, June 27, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

The Independence Day holiday is next Tuesday, July 4.
The United States will be 241 years old.
       Inline image 1
[The “Ed News” will be taking a short break to enjoy the holiday. 
Look for the next issue on Friday, July 7.]
And now to the news.
“There is no nobler profession, nor no greater calling, 
than to be among those unheralded many who gave and give their lives 
to the preservation of human knowledge, passed with commitment and care 
from one generation to the next.”
Montebello USD Awards Questionable Painting Contract
A investigative piece in Saturday’s L.A. Times raises some questions about the awarding of a $2.5 million painting contract last year by the Montebello Unified School District to a company that didn’t submit the lowest bid.  “An internal document obtained by The Times,” it reveals, “shows that a district finance manager had become alarmed by what he saw as pressure to reward certain companies in the contract bidding. Kevin Lee wrote in notes of a meeting with other officials that he told them they were ‘very close to breaking the law’ as they discussed ways to structure the bid so Castlerock Environmental Inc. and another company would get the work.”
Betsy DeVos
Gail Collins is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times.  She recently conducted a reader poll to discover the “worst Trump cabinet member.”  The results are in.  The envelop please.  And the winner is  . . . . none other than the Sec. of Education, Betsy DeVos [ wild applause].  “DeVos really hates public schools — something you don’t find often in a secretary of education,” Collins points out.  “Her goal seems to be replacing them with charter schools, none of which will need much oversight because, you know, the choice thing.  Many readers noted that our secretary of education does not seem to be … all that bright.”  Collins includes a number of remarks from readers about their various choices. Most are hilarious.  [Ed. note:  Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweek for sending this out to all the Discussion Group participants.  I added this item for people who read the “Ed News” on the internet.]               Jennifer Berkshire turns her HAVE YOU HEARD blog over to Alicia, an educator who assists students at different levels to become better writers and consumers of information.  Alicia, interestingly, blames herself for the appointment of Betsy DeVos to head the federal Dept. of Education.  Her rationale for that position is rather intriguing.  “How are you or I responsible for the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education?  It was President Trump who picked her, which makes sense, as his own for-profit education company defrauded thousands of students.  But you and I also helped DeVos get to her position,” Alicia suggests.  “We’re implicated too, despite our protest of the selection of a woman who has used her financial and social capital to undermine public education.  My contribution to Betsy DeVos’ appointment is that I consistently failed to pay attention to what was occurring in public education.”  She goes on to further explain why she places the blame for DeVos’ appointment on herself. 34 Democratic U.S. Senators have serious concerns about how Betsy DeVos may or may not enforce civil rights policies in her Dept. of Education.  They’ve sent her a strongly worded letter expressing their apprehensions.  The Politics K-12″ column for EDUCATION WEEK discusses the note.  “The Democratic lawmakers point to recent actions taken by DeVos’ department.  Those include,” the story mentions, “a new policy surrounding Office of Civil Rights investigations announced by acting assistant secretary for civil rights Candice Jackson.  That policy, announced in an internal memo first obtained by ProPublica, calls for a lot less emphasis on examining individual complaints for evidence of  systemic discrimination.”  You can find a full copy of the 6-page letter by clicking here. Both California senators Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris signed the letter.
Health Care and Education
Last week, Senate Republicans made public their secret health care bill.  How will it impact education if passed in its current form?  That question is tackled by the “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  It discusses several areas where the legislation could have a direct effect on education policies and issues including special education funding, teacher health plans and mental health coverage.  “The Trump administration and congressional Republicans,” it begins, “are in the midst of trying to replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—better known as ‘Obamacare’—with big implications for the nation’s schools when it come to special education funding, teacher benefits, and more.”
Gov. Christie Removes State Board of Ed. Pres. and VP
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be out of office due to term limits after the Nov., 2017, gubernatorial election.  Ahead of that event he removed the president and vice president of the State Board of Education.  Observers interpreted this action as an attempt to keep control of the board after Christie leaves office according to a story on the NJ Advance Media website.  “The controversial moves on Monday and Thursday [last week] come as Christie attempts to remake the board with a flurry of nominations,” it reports, “before he leaves office, a tactic that has raised concerns about transparency and confounded the board’s former leaders. . . .  The state’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, accused Christie of attempting to ‘stack the board’ before he leaves office.”
Acute Teacher Shortage Plagues Arizona
An analysis by the Arizona Republic finds that 22% of teachers in Arizona lack the proper qualifications.  The problem is a severe teacher shortage that is causing many states to fill classroom positions with unqualified candidates.  “Many in that 22 percent did have a college education and teacher training, but had less than two years in the classroom, a time frame when they don’t qualify for the state’s full credential — a standard certificate.   Many others lacked even more basic qualifications,” it notes.  “Nearly 2,000 had no formal teacher training.  Dozens lacked a college degree.  Parents, educators and advocates argue the proliferation of teachers with less than full credentials harms student performance.”  The story describes one principal’s futile attempt to recruit qualified candidates and also profiles problems faced by a small rural school district.  
An opinion piece in U.S. News and World Report makes the argument to avoid investing taxpayer dollars in vouchers and instead direct the money to the public schools in order to improve education for all students in this country.  The author, Scott Sargrad, is the managing director for K-12 education policy at the Center for American Progress, a progressive public policy research and advocacy organization.  The op-ed is simply titled “Don’t Gamble on Vouchers.”  “The argument that policymakers should continue to experiment with vouchers is also a dangerous one.  While some studies have found some benefits for some groups of students,” he writes, “the most recent high-quality research has shown that vouchers have clear – and large – negative impacts on students.  From Indiana, to Ohio, to Louisiana, to the District of Columbia, voucher schemes have, on balance, harmed students – not helped them.”  Sargrad proceeds to review the research into voucher programs in those states and the District of Columbia.
Jay Mathews Admits Errors in His High School Rankings
Jay Mathews, education columnist for The Washington Post, has been compiling his “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” list for almost 20 years.  But Carol Burris, a former high school principal in New York and current executive director of the Network for Public Education (NPE), pointed out some errors in the data supplied by the IDEA Public Schools charter network in Texas that had boosted their ratings on Mathews’ list.  Burris’ findings ware highlighted  in the “Ed News.”  Matthews issues a mea culpa for the misinformation and explains how it all came about in his column for the Post, giving proper credit for the sleuthing Burris did to uncover the inaccuracies.  “The IDEA Public Schools charter network in Texas told me it provided incorrect numbers of Advanced Placement tests at six of its schools for the 2017 list published in May,” he writes.  “As a result, the five IDEA schools that were in the top 10 have dropped several places on the corrected list.  ‘We messed up,’ said IDEA founder and chief executive Tom Torkelson.”     A blogger who writes under the moniker “Democracy” agrees with Carol Burris’ criticisms of Jay Matthews’ high school rankings (see above) but reckons she didn’t go far enough. He believes that using AP classes and test results is not a true indicator of high school excellence.  “Democracy’s” essay appears on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  He dissects the content and quality of AP courses and questions the academic level of the exams.  “The primary reason many students take AP is not to ‘learn’ or to gain ‘college readiness,’ but to game the admissions process,” he suggests.  “Students feel like they have to put AP on their transcripts or they won’t get into the college of their choice. It’s all about ‘looking good,’ and boosting the grade point average.”
New Study Compares Charters and Traditional Schools
There are things for both sides in the debate between charters and traditional schools to hang their hats on in a new study about both types of schools in Oakland.  The findings were produced by Education Research Strategies out of Massachusetts based on data from the 2014-15 school year.  An article about the survey appears in Sunday’s L.A. Times.  “The research commissioned by a coalition of educational and philanthropic organizations focused on charter schools in Oakland.  It determined that they have received less public funding than Oakland’s traditional public schools,” the article suggests, “but that traditional schools have had a more challenging student population to educate.”  [Ed. note: The article in the print edition is much more detailed than my link to what appears on the paper’s website. I’m not quite sure why.]
How Are Schools Dealing With Students’ Social Media?
A short item on the “Ed Week Video” column for EDUCATION WEEK provides 2 videos (the first runs 8:09 minutes and deals with high school pupils.  The second lasts 2:03 minutes and talks with 2 middle school students) on how schools are monitoring their students’ social media posts without infringing on free speech and privacy rights.
Supreme Court Rules in Church-State Case
In a highly anticipated ruling regarding the 1st Amendment and the separation of church and state, The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday, the final day of its 2016-17 term, on a 7-2 vote decided in favor of a Missouri church.   The church wanted state funding to resurface its school playground.  The “Ed News” has closely followed this case and its possible ramifications for church-state relations.  The “Courts & Law” column for The Washington Post provides the details of Trinity Lutheran v. Comer.  “Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., brought the case because it was excluded from a state program that reimburses the cost of rubberizing the surface of playgrounds.  The church scored high in the grant process,” it explains, “but Missouri’s state constitution, like those in about three dozen states, forbade government from spending public money on ‘any church, sect, or denomination of religion.’” The article includes a video (3:54 minutes) reviewing the decision.               For additional analysis, the “School Law” column for EDUCATION WEEK also reports on the key U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued yesterday regarding the separation of church and state (see above).  It’s titled “Supreme Court Issues Narrow Ruling in Case With Voucher Implications.”  “The court decided the case on relatively narrow grounds,” it suggests, “that left the implications for state barriers to religious school vouchers and other school choice measures unclear.  The farther-reaching question underlying the case was whether state constitutional provisions that strictly bar government aid to religion violate religious freedom protections in the First Amendment.  Those state-level measures are considered among the last legal barriers to expanding vouchers and tax credits for use at private religious schools.”   Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented in the ruling.               Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, weighs in on the implications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer (see items above) as it relates to vouchers.  “Supporters of school voucher programs,” she points out, “are already cheering the decision as boding well for the expansion of school choice.  They are looking for that opportunity in a Colorado case the justices may agree to hear, Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas County School District.  In 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down a school voucher program, saying it violated  . . . . the state constitution.”               An editorial in today’s L.A. Times supports the Supreme Court ruling in the church-state case (see 3 pieces above) and was glad it was a narrow decision.  The item is titled “The Supreme Court Rules a Playground Isn’t a Pulpit.”  “On Monday, the Supreme Court decided a case that despite its mundane subject matter — the resurfacing of a preschool playground — was viewed by some conservatives as an opportunity for the court to radically redefine the constitutional relationship between church and state.  Fortunately,” it begins, “the court did no such thing.  That’s good news at a time when the culture wars over the role of religion in public life have become inflamed.”               Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, offers his analysis of the court decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer.  He headlines his commentary “Supremes Breaking Down Church State Wall.”  He reviews some of the language contained in the opinions and discusses the implications of the decision for vouchers and other policies.  ” The Supremes just punched a huge hole in the wall and a bunch of voucher-loving religious private schools are about to start sucking up public tax money through that breach.  A bunch of public tax money is about to disappear into a black hole,” he laments, “and we won’t know where it went or how it was used.  Education, religion, law, and American society will all be a little bit worse for it.”               Lily Eskelsen García, president of the NEA, has doubts whether the court’s decision regarding the use of public funds to help pave a church’s preschool playground (refer to items above) will open the door to vouchers or similar programs.  She believes the narrowness of the ruling could prevent such an outcome and she quotes from a footnote [#3] of the court’s ruling to support her case in her commentary for THE HECHINGER REPORT.  “In a 7-2 ruling, the justices ruled that while Missouri could not refuse a playground grant to a church solely due to the fact that the church is a religious institution,” she writes, “the court was not ‘address[ing] religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.’  In other words, the ruling was not a green light for school vouchers.”  You can read the entire opinion (53 pages) in the Trinity Lutheran v. Comer case by clicking here.  Footnote #3 is found on p. 14 of the main opinion (p. 18 of the complete document).               Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, has a different perspective on the significance of the key U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding the separation of church and state.  He makes the plausible argument that if churches can accept taxpayer money for various reasons, that could open the door to taxing church property, let’s say, or controlling what’s taught in church schools.  Think about it.  The court’s decision in the case could cut both ways as he clearly explains.  “Now that the state has been shown to be responsible to support the church, the reverse has also been proven: the church has responsibilities to support the state.  That’s right.  No more tax free status for houses of worship. . . .  What conservatives seem to forget,” he reminds readers, “is that the wall of separation between church and state wasn’t erected just to protect the state from influence by religion.  It also was set up to protect religion from the state.  Once you have money flowing from one to the other, regulations are soon to follow.”
Michigan’s Achievement District to Close
Michigan’s 6-year experiment with a state-run district for low achieving schools will close down at the end of the current school year due to  unproductive results.  The 15 campuses in the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) will revert back to the Detroit Public School Community District according to a report from Michigan Radio, part of the NPR digital network.  “The EAA was created in 2011 to turn around Detroit’s lowest performing schools,” it describes.  “But, according to Michigan State University education professor David Arsen, it fell far short of that goal.   ‘The EAA could fairly be regarded as a train wreck of educational policy,’ Arsen said.   Arsen says a rushed policy process, plus a lack of state investment, meant the EAA had little chance of turning around Detroit’s failing schools.   In the state’s latest rankings, two-thirds of the EAA’s schools were in the bottom five percent.”  So much for that failed corporate “reform” undertaking.  Tennessee, Nevada and a few other states have similar state-controlled achievement districts.
The Teaching Profession
And finally, which state in the union is doing the best job of destroying public education within its boundaries and  deprofessionalizing the job of teaching?  Stuart Egan, on his CAFFEINATED RAGE blog, makes the case for North Carolina.  He talks about the latest transgressions from the Republican controlled legislature, making veteran teachers extinct, by way of policies that are aimed at reducing salaries and benefits to the point that long-time teachers are pretty much forced to leave the profession.  “In the last four years, new teachers entering the profession in North Carolina,” Egan explains, “have seen the removal of graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights. While the ‘average”’ salary increases have been most friendly to newer teachers, those pay ‘increases’ do plateau at about Year 15 in a teacher’s career.  Afterwards, nothing really happens.  Teachers in that position may have to make career-ending decisions.”               What happens when first and second-year teachers are provided with a mentor?  Well, for one thing their students’ outcomes in math and English Language Arts improve considerably according to a new study.  A story in the “Teaching NOW” column for EDUCATION WEEK features the report from SRI Education, a nonprofit research institute headquartered in Menlo Park, California.  “In the evaluation, SRI studied teacher and student outcomes over a three-year period (2013-14 to 2015-16).  Researchers compared a group of teachers who received NTC [New Teacher Center] induction mentoring to a group of teachers who received the usual new-teacher supports provided by the district.   Both groups of teachers,” the piece explains, “had similar retention rates and ratings on instructional effectiveness.  The major difference was their students’ achievement—the students in grades 4-8 of teachers who received NTC mentoring for two years outperformed their peers in both English/language arts and mathematics.  Those students performed better than expected on state standardized tests, representing gains of about two to three-and-a-half additional months of learning in ELA, and two to four-and-a-half months in math, depending on the student’s grade level.”


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