Ed News, Friday, July 7, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“Education helps you to find beauty, but you are responsible to see it.” 

― Debasish Mridha

Charter Schools
An editorial in last Friday’s L.A. Times is critical of the CTA (California Teachers Association) for some of its actions in battling the expansion of charters in the state.  The paper lists some undertakings it hopes the union would back off from while, at the same time, noting there are areas where charters need oversight that the union can provide.  The item is titled “It’s Time For the Teachers Union to Stop Tilting at Charter School Windmills.”  “CTA resistance to charter schools, when well thought out and well-played, does have an important role in setting policy,” the editorial board points out.  “The union serves as a counterweight to a movement that has been allowed to grow without the necessary safeguards and oversight.”  Thanks to reader Don Hagen for sending this along.               On Independence Day the NEA (National Education Association) passed a resolution supporting accountability and transparency for charter schools at their 2017 Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly in Boston.  You can find the statement on the nea website by clicking here.  “The growth of separate and unequal systems of charter schools that are not subject to the same basic safeguards and standards that apply to public schools threatens our students and our public education system.  The purpose of this policy statement is to make plain NEA’s opposition to the failed experiment of largely unaccountable privately managed charter schools,” it reads, “while clarifying NEA’s continued support for those public charter schools that are authorized and held accountable by local democratically elected school boards or their equivalent.”               The “Teacher Beat” column for EDUCATION WEEK has a guest blogger attending the NEA Annual Meeting and reporting on some of its actions.  Stephen Sawchuk, an associate editor of ED WEEK, offers an analysis of the Policy Statement the organization passed regarding its stance on charter schools (see above).  “Under its new policy, the National Education Association will accept only charters that look a lot more like traditional public schools.
The policy statement,” 
he writes, “approved by delegates to the union’s annual convention July 4, allows the NEA to support only those charters that are authorized by school districts and are subject to the same open-records laws, safety rules, and accountability measures as other schools.  It would effectively rule out any charters run by private entities, including those operated by major networks of charters, such as KIPP, Achievement First, or Uncommon Schools.”               Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, uncovers the scam that are charter school lotteries.  Does the fact that some charters hold lotteries for admission prove that they take any and all students?  Not according to what Singer reports and even when they do, he demonstrates how they make a major effort to discourage certain types of students from entering their lotteries in the first place.  His commentary is titled “Charter School Lotteries–Why Most Families Don’t Even Apply.”               Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, thinks it would be a wise move for Democrats to call for a charter school moratorium in order to get in step with their labor and civil rights allies.  He reviews some of the previous actions by various groups and discusses what a moratorium would achieve.  “Democrats who continue to support charter school expansions under current circumstances,” Bryant concludes, “risk muddying the waters at a time when there should be clear differences with what Trump-DeVos want.  A moratorium on charter schools draws a bright line between a political regime intent on serving the privileged and a Democratic party that seeks to uphold labor and civil rights.  Democrats should step across that line.”
Forgetting and Remembering
How does the act of forgetting and remembering effect our memories?  A op-ed in The New York Times looks at the latest brain science to offer some insights.  Now please try to remember them.  The piece is titled “Forgot Where You Parked? Good.”  “The notion that forgetting is a hidden educational virtue goes back a century or more.  In a series of studies, the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus found that when people relearn information, they’re more likely to recall that information in the future,”  the piece notes.  “Research explains why forgetting delivers this memory boost.  Memories don’t fly out of our brains like sparrows from a barn.  Instead, our brain will make memories more or less accessible.  Some recollections, like the name of a close friend, are easily recalled.  Other details, like the color of your childhood bedroom, have been tucked into deep storage and are much harder — if not impossible — to retrieve.”  Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweek for unearthing this and remembering to send it to me.
New LAUSD Board Members Take Seats 
This week marked an important milestone in the history of the LAUSD school board.  Two new pro-charter members took their seats giving the panel a 4-3 charter proponent majority for the first time.  An article in Saturday’s L.A. Times offers a Q & A with Kelly Gonez who shares her ideas for education reform of the district.   The piece also includes “Gonez’s To-Do List.”  Here’s one example: “* Bringing different factions together for the sake of students.”  Gonez represents District 6 which covers the east San Fernando Valley and was formerly the seat of Monica Ratliff.  [Ed. note: The June 13th edition of the “Ed News” highlights a similar interview with new board member Nick Melvoin.]               This week, for the first time, charter proponents will hold a 4-3 majority on the LAUSD school board.  What does that shift portend for the board’s relationship with Supt. Michelle King?  The “Education Watch” column in Wednesday’s Times offers some key issues, in the form of 4 questions, to look for in the future between King and the board.  Here’s one of those questions: “What’s ahead for the teachers union?”               What kinds of issues will the new pro-charter majority on the LAUSD board be facing?  That question is addressed in an extended editorial in the same paper which explains what it expects from board members in regards to several critical issues including charter schools, the budget, board meetings and defining a clear vision for the future.  “Charters have stirred up most of the controversy [on the board in the past], but budget planning is by far the bigger area where the new board majority needs to step in,” the item suggests.  “The district is expected to face serious shortfalls within a couple of years, and kicking the can down the road, as it’s been doing, is not an acceptable strategy.  If the district wants to retain students, it needs the money to offer reasonable class sizes and enticing programs.”                It was big enough news to make the front page of yesterday’s Times.  Two new LAUSD board members Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, who were strongly backed by charter proponents, officially took their seats yesterday giving pro-charter members a 4-3 majority on the board.  What might be in store for the nation’s second-largest school district?  “Near the top of the pro-charter agenda is likely to be an easier process for approving new schools,” the item suggests, “and renewing existing charters, which advocates have long decried as too difficult.  They also want charters to take over more space on district-owned campuses.  Some hardcore charter backers have favored a more radical agenda: a massive charter school expansion or even using charters as the vehicle to dismantle the school system entirely.”               It didn’t take long for the new pro-charter majority to stamp their authority on the LAUSD school board.  Yesterday, at the panel’s first official public meeting of the 2017-18 school year, they chose charter proponent Ref Rodriguez as the new board president on a 4-3 vote as well as directing Supt. Michelle King to take a “students first” approach to any future initiatives.  A story in today’s Times describes what took place at yesterday’s meeting.  “The board’s charter-backed bloc,” it lists, “consists of Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, who were elected in May; Monica Garcia, who was reelected by winning a majority in the March primary; and Rodriguez, who was not on the ballot this year.”  George McKenna, Richard Vladovic and Scott Schmerelson are the other members of the board.
Public Education Heroes
Diane Ravitch’s blog chose the July 4th holiday to provide a list of groups and individuals who she believes are standing strong in support of public education.  You should recognize a number of the names as they have been highlighted on numerous occasions in the “Ed News.”  Here are just a few: “The BATs (Badass Teachers Association), Valerie Strauss, Mercedes Schneider, Carol Burris, NAACP, Black Lives Matter, Julian Vasquez Heilig, Jeff Bryant, FairtTest, Opt-Out New York and many others.   Ravitch has this comment about some of those heroes in Los Angeles: “Carl Peterson, Robert Skeels, Karen Wolfe, Ellen Lubic, Scott Schmerelson [she spelled his name wrong–I corrected it], and all the other parents and educators in Los Angeles who keep hope alive for the survival of public schools in that billionaire-ridden city.”
LAUSD’s “Credit-Recovery” Courses Questioned
An extended “Education” investigative feature in Sunday’s L.A. Times explores the murky world of “credit-recovery” courses being offered in the LAUSD to assist students who fall behind on the road to graduation.  The Times has been skeptical in the past about the program and several previous editions of the “Ed News” have highlighted stories and editorials in the paper about it.  This one goes into depth on the subject and emerges still unconvinced of the efficacy of the classes.  “Schools Are Boosting Graduation Rates by Offering ‘Credit Recovery.’  But What Are Students Learning?” the headline asks.  The story focuses on one student at Garfield High and his experiences with the program.  “Since 2015, [the student’s] sophomore year, the Los Angeles Unified School District has poured $30 million into intervention programs such as online and compressed ‘credit-recovery’ courses,” the item reveals, “to give students more, and often much speedier, ways to pull their grades up from failure.  But it’s hard to know whether students in these classes are getting the same level of education as they would in a regular class, or even as their peers in other credit-recovery courses.  The district lacks such records as how many students tried and failed to complete such courses, and how long it took them to finish a class.  Measuring the rigor of credit-recovery methods is difficult, too, because of a lack of consistency in how the programs are run from school to school.”
The Teaching Profession
The National Education Association (NEA), at its annual convention this week held in Boston, predicts a serious drop in membership for the near future.  The U.S. Supreme Court could take up a case that may make matters even worse according to a story in the “Teacher Beat” Column for EDUCATION WEEK.  “The National Education Association,” it explains, “is projecting a significant membership dip over its 2017-18 budget year.  And that may be only the beginning. . . .  The union anticipates legislation in the statehouses that would, for example, strip collective bargaining rights or prevent union dues from being automatically deducted from teachers’ paychecks, and as a result projects losing 20,000 full-time-equivalent active teachers and paraprofessionals.”               Despite an anticipated drop in union membership by teachers (see above), another story in ED WEEK offers a glimmer of hope.  It seems more and more teachers at charter schools are looking to join unions.  “Of the 6,900 charter schools nationally, only about 1 in 10 have unions.  That percentage has stayed steady in recent years,” it spells out, “even while charter enrollment has risen.  While largely symbolic for now, the recent big-city union victories could energize similar campaigns in other nearby charter schools, experts say.  Chicago, Philadelphia, and Sacramento have also seen upticks in organizing efforts among charter school teachers.”
Trump and Education
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the NEA (National Education Association), delivered the keynote address at the group’s 96th Representative Assembly in Boston this week.  One of her key themes was her mistrust of the education policies of the Trump administration.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, analyzes the speech and reprints the full text.  “The president of the country’s largest labor union, Lily Eskelsen García of the National Education Association, told delegates at her organization’s annual gathering,” Strauss begins, “that they would not work with the Trump administration because the president and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos could not be trusted to do what is in the best interests of children.”               Here’s a short Q & A about the Trump administration’s plans for school choice.  It appears courtesy of the “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK.  There are still few specifics at this points but some information can still be gleaned from various sources.   “President Donald Trump’s budget includes some new initiatives aimed at ramping up school choice,” it explains, “including $250 million for a private school voucher demonstration program, and allowing $1 billion in Title I money to follow students to the public school of their choice.  But, again, there are ton of questions—both big picture and nitty-gritty—about how those proposals would work.”
Proposed LAUSD Budget Cuts Restored
Last week the LAUSD board approved a budget that includes some $40 million in cuts to some programs (see the June 23 edition of the “Ed News).  This week almost all those reductions were restored.  A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times discusses the latest budget developments and wonders why the cuts were made in the first place.  “The planned $40-million reduction would have affected more than 700 campuses, about 70% of district schools.  The cut in the anti-poverty funds was about 16.5% at each affected campus,” it points out, “about $113 per student at most schools.  Now, all but 2% of the cut will be restored, officials said Friday, and the remainder could be added later as well.”
Personalized Learning Questioned
If you’re getting a little tired of READING articles in the “Ed News,”  you may wish to LISTEN  to co-hosts Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider discussing with a guest how personalized learning is disrupting public education on their podcast HAVE YOU HEARD.  The segment runs 35:24 minutes and is titled “Putting the ‘i” in Personalized Learning and the Disruption of Public Education.”               Sorry, back to the reading.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, is not enamored of personalized learning either (see above).  He likens the technique to a “bait and switch.”  “Personalized Learning is getting the hard sell these days.  It’s marketable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that nobody really knows what Personalized Learning is.  What it suggests,” Greene complains, “is something appealing, like Individualized Education Programs for everyone. . . .  An educational program custom designed for each individual learner.  Custom designed like a meal at a restaurant where you can choose the protein and spices and sauces and dishes and means of cooking and order exactly what you are hungry for.  But as Personalized Learning rolls out, that’s not what it’s like at all.” 
Lynwood USD Singled Out for AP Success
The Lynwood Unified School District, located south of downtown L.A., has a growing number of  minority and low-income Latino and Black students taking and PASSING Advanced Placement classes and exams.  An article in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes the district’s success and how it was achieved.  It focuses one one Lynwood High senior who has taken and passed a number of AP tests and is headed to Columbia University in the fall.  Her parents only progressed to the sixth grade.  “This year, Lynwood became one of two L.A. County school systems named to the College Board’s honor roll,” the story relates, “for significantly increasing their number of students taking and passing AP exams.  (The other was comparatively prosperous Arcadia Unified School District.) . . .  In 2013, 427 students at the district’s two comprehensive high schools took a total of 849 AP tests. This year, 823 students took 1,554 tests.  The scores aren’t yet in for this year, but the student pass rate has improved somewhat over the first seven years of the effort, from 20% to 25%.  The average pass rate in the United States is 22%.”                Advanced Placement news is not all rosy for students in California.  It appears over 840 exams taken by 540 students at Scripps Ranch High School in the San Diego USD will need to be retaken due to an inappropriate seating arrangement at the testing site.  Yes, you read that correctly. The students were not accused of cheating  but they were not seated per College Board and Educational Testing Service protocols according to a story in The San Diego Union-Tribune.  “Among new requirements [instituted 2 years ago], students taking the tests must be at 8-foot-long tables,” it describes, “so they have space between one another, and partitions are not allowed on the tables.  At Scripps Ranch this year, many students were at 6-foot tables with partitions, which previously had been allowed.”
Pasadena USD Battles Declining Enrollment
The Pasadena Unified School District has been trying to reverse declining enrollment for a number of years.  It is trying some innovative solutions to stem the decline including dual-language programs, an International Baccalaureate program at the high school and middle school level and more emphasis on the arts.  A piece in yesterday’s L.A. Times has the details.  “For many, the tinkering is paying off.  The number of families requesting to enroll children in the district rose last year — 365 out-of-district students were permitted to enroll and 169 students received approval to leave, according to Pasadena Unified spokeswoman Hilda Ramirez Horvath.   While overall enrollment, like that in other California districts, continues to decrease,” it mentions, “the rate of decline in Pasadena began to flatten about three years ago — a positive sign, said board member Scott Phelps.”
The U.S. Supreme Court and K-12 Education
The U.S. Supreme Court wrapped up its 2016-17 term at the end of June.  EDUCATION WEEK offers a review of the court’s decisions as they relate to education issues.  Among the topics covered include special education, religion and public schools, free speech and private schools.  “The U.S. Supreme Court had one of its most significant terms for K-12 education in several years,” the item points out, “even after it decided to remand to a lower court a case it had decided to hear about transgender rights in education.”  The drawings that accompany the article are well worth a gander.
School Diversity Pays Off
A new study out of UCLA finds that students who attend more racially diverse campuses feel safer and more comfortable with their peers.  The report is featured in a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  “The study is based on surveys from about 4,300 sixth-grade students in public urban schools in Northern and Southern California, including some in L.A. Unified.  A ‘diverse’ school is defined as one that has a relatively equal number of students in each of several racial groups,” it notes.  “That student body makeup may create a balance of power, the study suggests. . . .  Other studies have examined the effects of diversity on academic achievement.  But focusing on the emotional effects on children is important because their state of mind affects their ability to learn, the study’s authors say.”
Betsy DeVos
Humorist Andy Borowitz takes a pot shot at Betsy DeVos in his satiric column for The NEW YORKER.  He suggests that she’s the only person who can deal with the nuclear threats emanating from North Korea by devastating their math and science education.  Remember: this is comedy and purely for humor.  It’s short.  Try not to laugh too hard. “DeVos, who is expected to arrive in Pyongyang later this week,” Borowitz deadpans, “plans to throw a monkey wrench in North Korea’s swiftly advancing nuclear program by replacing its current system of training scientists with a dizzying array of vouchers, sources said.”
School Segregation Stubbornly Continues
You might believe that school segregation has been gradually fazed out after the U.S. Supreme court’s decision in Brown v Board of Education in 1954.  In fact, segregation seems to be getting worse!  Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, surveys what’s happened over the past 60+ years and why integration is going backwards in a piece titled “Where Did All the Integrated School Go?  Why Segregation is Still Bad.”  “After initial progress, our traditional public schools have been allowed to slip back into segregation.  In many parts of the country, they are actually more segregated today than they were at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s,” Singer painfully explains.  “According to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, from 2000 to 2014, school segregation has more than doubled nationwide.  That’s twice the number of schools comprised almost entirely of students living in high poverty and/or students of color.”  Singer includes a segment John Oliver did about school “Segregation” (17:58 minutes) on his show “This Week Tonight” back at the end of October.  It was highlighted in the Nov. 1, edition of the “Ed News” which goes to show how cutting edge and topical this blog is.  
School’s Out!
And finally, the 2016-17 school year is now over.  EDUCATION WEEK offers an album of images from students and educators illustrating impressions of that important day.  2 of the photos are from California.               Now that summer break is in full swing, 2 educators, writing on the BATs (Badass Teachers Association) website, identify “The 5 Phases of Summer” as seen through the eyes of a classroom teacher.  Does their view of “vacation” match your experiences?


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

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