Ed News, Friday, July 14, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“A teacher can kindle your mind and let you memorize information, 
but true education is often self-education.” 

LAUSD Board Pay Raises

Last Friday’s “Ed News” highlighted a story in the L.A. Times that day about an up to 174% pay increase for members of the LAUSD board of education.  An editorial in Wednesday’s paper urges readers not to be too angered by the increase because it believes the board deserves the raise “A very big pay raise is long overdue; in fact, this page said as much four years ago.  L.A. schools aren’t what they were a couple of decades ago,” the piece suggests.  “The board isn’t just responsible for the six or seven hours of daily lessons the district’s schools provide to more than 600,000 children and teenagers — a big job on its own.  It also oversees after-school care, parent centers and some basic healthcare.  It’s a major feeder of kids too, supplying more than half of the weekday’s nourishment for many of its students through the lunch program and the largest breakfast program in the nation.”  Question: I wonder how vociferous the editorial board of the Times will be in advocating for a substantial raise for LAUSD teachers?  I’m not holding my breath!               2 letters appear in yesterday’s Times in reaction to the paper’s story on Friday about the 174% salary increase for LAUSD board members (see above).  The first, like me, wonders if teachers, who also put in long hours doing critical work will get a similar substantial increase.  “While I appreciate the importance of providing a raise to Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education members because they have not seen an increase in years, what I do take umbrage with is not only the incredible jump in some of the salaries, but also some of the reasoning that I’ve heard involving the long hours these board members work, including nights and weekends.  Having been a full-time teacher,” the author pens, “I know that any passionate, responsible teacher’s day is often 10 hours long or more, and every weekend involves some sort of preparation and grading as well.  However, I also know I was never compensated with the wages one would expect for working these long hours.”  Hear! Hear!                2 additional letters appear in today’s Times regarding the sizable pay increase for LAUSD board members (see both items above).  The first one, from the wife of a former district board member, believes the increase is justified.  The second, from a retired teacher, is appalled at the amount:  “So, board members put in hard work day in and day out and therefore deserve an obscene salary increase of 174%.  They should try teaching.”
Self-Driving School Vehicles?
The era of self-driving vehicles may be fast approaching.  How might this major innovation in transportation effect education?  Can you envision a self-driving “bus” bringing students to and from their school?  Tom Vander Ark, on his “Vander Ark on Innovation” column for EDUCATION WEEK takes a peek into the not too distant future to predict what’s in store for student transportation.  “Considering the trends in autonomous vehicles, we can begin to imagine the rather dramatic ways that will impact education.  Here’s a plausible scenario of how urban pupil transportation will work in forward leaning districts in 2025.  The yellow buses have been sold off,” he envisions.  “The district contracts with the regional transportation districts for self-driving buses and vans (6-12 passenger) and with transport companies for pool cars (think Uber Pool with a background check hauling 3-6 passengers). . . .  For dedicated pupil transport, the vans and buses will have a monitor (usually a high school student or parent) riding along, trained to keep the peace and deal with emergency situations–student, transport or otherwise.  (You can remind the troublemakers that with facial recognition you can run, but you can’t hide).” Vander Ark refers to this as “swarm transport” and predicts how it will change schools of the future.
Betsy DeVos
3 letters appear in Wednesday’s L.A. Times in reaction to an editorial in Monday’s paper that upbraided Betsy DeVos for favoring for-profit colleges over students who were being exploited by predatory lending practices and other actions.  All 3 were very critical of the Secretary of Education over her decision to delay protections instituted by the Obama administration that were aimed at providing relief to students who were taken advantage of.  “Not only is DeVos not qualified on any level to propose educational policy,” the first one charges, “but by suspending Obama administration rules intended to provide relief to debt-laden students who were essentially defrauded by for-profit colleges, she also has proved herself prejudicial against students and honest institutions of higher learning everywhere.”               Is Betsy DeVos leaning toward instituting Dept. of Education regulations that offer more protections to the perpetrators of K-12 and college sexual assault over the victims?  It’s a tough call and highly speculative but a series of recent “listening sessions” she held offers some clues.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post is worried about where the Sec. of Education is headed on this critical issue.  “DeVos is considering rolling back guidance issued in 2011 which detailed how K-12 schools and colleges must handle sexual assault allegations,” Strauss explains.  “That guidance was, the Obama Education Department said, a clarification of the obligations that schools already had under federal law, known as Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funds.  Sexual assault survivors hailed the administration for providing them with long-overdue protections, while critics accused the Obama administration of federal micromanaging and pushing colleges to find students guilty.”               The term “vouchers” has a rather negative connotation as of late so proponents have taken to calling them “Education Scholarship Accounts” or tax credits.  Those terms  are much more palatable to the uninformed public.  Only problem is, whatever you call them, they still work like vouchers.  An article in The Progressive is titled “Four Things Betsy DeVos  Doesn’t Want You to Know About Education Tax Credits.” The author explains what tax credits are and how they compare to vouchers.   Upon reading the 4 items they sure sound like vouchers to me.  Here’s one example from the list: “#4 Education tax credit programs divert public money to religious indoctrination.”
Here’s a novel concept.  The newly appointed superintendent of the struggling Detroit Public Schools is recommending the district stop authorizing new charter schools and instead concentrate on improving the traditional campuses in the district.  DPS currently has 13 charters each of which are authorized for 5 years.  The Detroit Free Press has the story. “The push to focus on traditional public schools is happening during a time of academic turmoil in the district.  Students have been the worst-performing in the nation,” it notes, “among big-city school districts on a rigorous national exam.  On the state’s standardized exam, they don’t perform much better, with wide swaths of the student population failing the annual exam the last time results were released last summer.  Charter school students serving primarily Detroit students haven’t performed much better.”
Charter schools were originally conceived as incubators for educational innovation and experimentation.  They were going to operate under different rules than the traditional public school system and successful techniques and styles would be demonstrated for all to adopt.  Mark Naison, professor of History and African-American Studies at Fordham University, writing on the With A Brooklyn Accent blog, finds just the opposite is occurring in a brief essay titled “How Charter Schools Have Stifled Educational Innovation and Fought the Opt Out Movement.”  He focuses on the effect charters have had in New York City but his criticisms can certainly be applied nationwide.  “Although charter schools were originally promoted as a vehicle to encourage educational experimentation,” Naison begins, “their meteoric growth in influence has actually coincided with a REDUCTION in innovation in schools because those promoting them most have also pushed for national testing and test based accountability measures for rating schools.”               Why do charter schools seem to have inordinately high teacher turnover?  Rann Miller, a former charter school teacher in New Jersey, provides some answers and postulates, rather surprisingly, that charters actually like it that way.  ALTERNET provides the platform for his story.  “Teachers leave charters at significantly higher rates when compared to traditional public schools.  Among urban charter schools,” he acquaints, “it’s not uncommon to see teachers turning over at a rate of 30, 40 or even 50% a year.  I’ve witnessed first hand—and experienced—why this is such a problem, and what causes teachers to flee.  But I’ve also seen for myself that there are charter schools and networks that don’t mind high levels of teacher turnover.  Turmoil and churn work for organizations that are determined to control both the makeup and the mindset of their faculty.”  Diane Ravitch says about this item: “Read it all.  Quite a story.”               A controversy is brewing in New York over a proposal to allow charters to certify their own teachers, thus bypassing traditional state credentialing requirements.  If the regulations are approved, charters authorized by SUNY (State University of New York) could set their own qualifications for teacher certification.  Daniel Katz, chair of the Educational Studies Department at Seton Hall University, on his Daniel Katz, Ph.D. website, discusses the plan and why it’s not such a good idea.  “This system almost certainly appeals to charter school chains who rely upon a rapidly turning over cohort of new teachers,” he suggests, “some of whom stay if they adapt quickly to the in-house system, but most of whom eventually leave teaching altogether [Ed. note: See item above].  Shortening teacher preparation into 30 instructional hours and 100 classroom hours certainly makes it easier for these schools to recycle teachers at a rapid clip while not having to worry about regulations requiring them to retain teachers whose preparation experiences make them far more likely to want to stay in the profession – and whose accumulated coursework and classroom experiences may give them ideas of their own about how teaching and learning happen that might contradict the in-house model.”
Spotlight on Community Schools
Community schools, also known as “whole-child” initiatives, are gaining adherents as a way to deal with student poverty and the concomitant problems of absenteeism, lack of social and medical support and poor academics.  A profile in EDUCATION WEEK spotlights P.S. 123, a K-8 campus in Harlem, that adopted the community school model in 2013.  “Flooding impoverished schools with a range of services and resources is not new, and there’s still lively debate in education circles about whether it’s something schools should take on. . . .  The approach has been used in districts from Tacoma, Wash., to Cincinnati for several years,” it points out, “but the movement has picked up steam more recently amid a backlash against single-measure, test-based accountability and as an alternative to closing long-struggling schools.  It’s gotten robust support from the nation’s teachers’ unions.  And some states are looking to incorporate the features of community schools in their plans required by the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.”
New Style Parent-Teacher Conferences
Most of you are familiar with the traditional format of parent-teacher conferences: mom and/or dad show up for a formal meeting with the teacher of their child.  They discuss how junior is doing in class and teacher offers some suggestions how son/daughter can improve.  Mom/dad asks questions, teacher responds and the meeting is concluded.  As students/parents/teachers, we’re all aware of the routine.  However, a new style of parent conference called Academic Parent Teacher Teams (APTT) debuted in classrooms in Phoenix in 2009.  The “Teacher Beat” column for EDUCATION WEEK explains how APTTs work and how they were created by a former teacher.  The piece is titled “This Isn’t Your Mom’s Parent-Teacher Conference.”  “The revamped version of the parent-teacher conference,” it describes, “swaps private meetings for three 75-minute group meetings and one 35-minute individual meeting over the course of a school year. Teachers inform parents about the skills students need in order to master their particular grade, like subtraction or reading comprehension, and parents learn how their child is doing on those skills compared with other students.”
The Teaching Profession
Are you aware of what a high impact learning environment is?  It has to do with jettisoning traditional classroom setups and introducing a mixture of technology, innovative classroom design, teacher creativity and even importing some new furniture.  Is it possible that all of this could boost student engagement and improve achievement?  An item in the “Education Futures” column for EDUCATION WEEK introduces you tohigh impact learning environments.  It focuses on one school district in Texas that partnered with an educational services company to transform the way it teaches students and demonstrates how classroom surroundings can effect student achievement.  “It’s interesting how something as simple as an innovative approach to furniture creation coupled with the right technology has such a huge effect on student achievement.  As a result of this experiment,” the article concludes, “students can perform at a higher level, and teachers can enjoy the success that accompanies it.”              The teacher lecture is a standard of much pedagogy at the high school and college level.  Alfie Kohn, an ALOED Book Club author, explains why the technique can be deadly and what educators can do about it on his Alfie Kohn blog.  “To question the effectiveness of lectures is not to deny that teachers know more than students do, a common straw-man objection offered defensively by traditionalists.  Rather,” he writes, “it suggests that having someone with more information talk at those who have less doesn’t necessarily lead to that information’s being retained by the latter.  And the more ambitious one’s goal, cognitively speaking, the less likely one is to reach it by having students sit and listen. This is true because we are not empty receptacles into which knowledge is poured; we are active meaning makers.”
Are Our Schools Truly “Failing?”
Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, has a major problem with the characterization that our traditional public schools are “failing.”  He decries the use of standardized test scores to rate U.S. schools.  He believes that focusing solely on those results diverts attention from the larger issues of under funding and poor support (Singer labels it “strategic disinvestment”).  When corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies panic and fixate on test scores they tend to offer drastic solutions.  “The argument goes like this: Our Kids Are Failing!?  Quick!  Standardize and Privatize Their Schools! . . . .  The sad fact is that there are an awful lot of poor children attending public school. The U.S. has one of the highest child poverty rates in the industrialized world.  And despite spending a lot on our middle class and wealthy students,” Singer reminds readers, “we’re doing next to nothing to actually help our neediest children.  A large portion of U.S. public schools have been left to their own devices for decades.  What’s worse, when they struggle to meet students’ needs, we don’t swoop in with help.  We level blame.  We fire teachers, close buildings and privatize.”
Interview With Lily Eskelsen García
And finally, NEA Pres. Lily Eskelsen García sat down with EDUCATION WEEK for a wide ranging Q & A on a number of key issues facing her union including relations with Betsy DeVos, a looming Supreme Court case about agency fees and the NEA’s policy toward charter schools.  In response to a question about working with the head of the U.S. Dept. of Education, the union head answered this way: “We don’t trust these people.  We look at what they did to Michigan public schools.  DeVos destroyed them on purpose to create customers, so they were joyless, underfunded, overcrowded places that people didn’t want to work in, and they didn’t want their kids in those schools.  It was only to create a demand for what she calls the private charter industry.”  Sounds like fighting words to me!               Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, analyzes NEA Pres. Lily Eskelsen García’s comments about not being able to “trust” Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos which she delivered during her keynote address to her organization’s annual convention earlier this month and in a recent interview with ED WEEK (see above).  Bryant agrees she shouldn’t be trusted either as he headlines his essay “Why Teachers Don’t Trust Betsy DeVos, and Neither Should You.”  “Does Garcia’s contention that DeVos is simply not to be trusted have any validity? . . .  There are, in fact,” he answers, “numerous concerns that cast doubt on DeVos’s trustworthiness.”


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

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