Ed News, Tuesday, July 18, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“True education is the ultimate secret of a successful life.” 

― Debasish Mridha

Corporate “Reform”
Remember those astonishing “reforms” achieved by Michelle Rhee when she was chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools?  The corporate “reformers” like to tout what she achieved as proof of their agenda.  They still like to think she worked miracles during her tenure as head of the district.  The current issue of The Washington Monthly revisits those “successes.”  Unfortunately, most of the points made by the author, Thomas Toch, are questionable according to John Merrow in his THE MERROW REPORT and thus cast some doubt on the whole corporate “reform” movement.  Toch downplays the amount of cheating that took place on standardized tests in the DCPS and Merrow sets the record straight on that point.  “The fantasy that top-down, data-driven, test-centric ‘reform’ works is perpetuated by articles like Tom Toch’s.  Sadly, his piece has been widely distributed,” Merrow complains, “by the editorial pages of the Washington Post, influential blogger and co-founder of Democrats for Education Reform Whitney Tilson, and others.”  Merrow and a coauthor will provide a full rebuttal to Toch’s claims in the next issue of The Washington Monthly.  That should be interesting!  Merrow includes a link to the Toch article in his story.  Diane Ravitch calls Merrow’s piece a “marvelous post.”
Betsy DeVos
U.S. Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos will be speaking this week at the annual convention of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), the conservative group that brings state legislators together with representatives from the private business sector to draft model legislation it favors.  The gathering is in Denver and runs tomorrow through Friday. An article on the Chalkbeat Colorado website discusses DeVos’ appearance.  “While DeVos will find a friendly audience at ALEC,” it notes, “she’ll get a different greeting from liberal activists and union leaders who are seizing on the chance to protest DeVos’s agenda. . . .  DeVos shares ALEC’s support for charter schools and the use of tax dollars to pay for private school education through vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and education savings accounts.”  One of the groups DeVos founded helps fund ALEC and the organization has representatives on one of its task forces.               Jennifer Berkshire, writing on ALTERNET, has an important caveat regarding Betsy DeVos: focus on what she does, not on what little she says.  The head of the U.S. Dept. of Education holds very few press conferences and conducts limited interviews.  When she does, DeVos offers non-answers and engages in diversionary tactics.   DeVos only speaks before friendly audiences (see above) where she offers platitudes and few specifics.  “Her substance-free performances,” Berkshire bemoans, “are all the more remarkable given the fierce urgency with which DeVos has pursued her agenda since arriving in Washington.  Sidelining federal civil rights enforcement, rolling back protections for students who have been defrauded by shady for-profit colleges, meeting with a steady stream of ‘edupreneurs’ and flogging school choice at every turn—these have been busy days for the Secretary.”               The June 27th edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a letter sent by a number of Democratic U.S. Senators to Sec. DeVos  questioning her commitment to enforcing civil rights rules and regulations in her department.  DeVos responded in a letter to Sen. Patty Murray last Tuesday in which she explained how she planned to return the Office for Civil Rights to a more “neutral, impartial, investigative agency.” Murray sent a second letter on Friday again requesting some information from DeVos who had failed to provide it previously.  Their back-and-forth is reviewed in a piece on the POLITICO website.             Diane Ravitch’s blog was indignant at DeVos’ backing away from civil rights enforcement (see item above) claiming: “It is at a time like this that DeVos’s ignorance of education policy and history becomes embarrassing.  OCR is the Office FOR Civil Rights.  It was never a ‘neutral’ agency.  It led the way in the 1960s in forcing the integration of Southern schools.  It didn’t just investigate.  It threatened Southern districts that did not produce hard data about students and faculty integration.  No integration, no federal funding.  One can’t be ‘neutral’ about civil rights,” Ravitch concludes.  “The Office for Civil Rights is meant to enforce the law and protect the vulnerable–not to feign indifference.”             Betsy DeVos delivered her first major speech on special education at the Office of Special Education Programs Leadership Conference yesterday in Arlington, Virginia.   One has to seriously wonder if she knows what she’s talking about and whether she can truly be an advocate for students with disabilities.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, analyzes the speech and provides a full transcript for you to read.  “DeVos has promoted charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated — most of which do not enroll as many students as traditional public schools, percentage-wise, and many of which are not equipped to deal with special needs students.  Many charter schools,” Strauss notes, “counsel out students who can’t meet the academic demands, which is far from the promise of trying to ensure that every child gets a free and fair education.”
Trump and Education
The Trump administration’s voucher plan may be fading for this year.  A budget proposal in the House is missing several key components of the initiative as explained in the “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  Prospects in the Senate seem equally dim.  “U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos came to Washington primarily to do one thing: Use the power of her office to expand school choice, her passion for decades.  Members of her own party appeared to deal a major blow to that goal Thursday,” it begins, “when the House panel charged with overseeing education spending approved a bill that doesn’t include two of DeVos’ big budget asks: using an education research program to offer school vouchers, and allowing Title I dollars to follow students to the school of their choice.”               Pres. Trump rolled out his fiscal 2018 budget earlier this year.  It proposes a 13% cut for the U.S. Dept. of Education.  For a brief refresher on some of the highlights, the “Politics K-12” column for ED WEEK has a graphic and a short video (58 seconds) outlining the plan.  
LAUSD to Scrutinize Credit Recovery Courses
Are they a legitimate avenue to allow students to make up credits or a scam to help the district boost its graduation rate?  That question, probably not in those terms, is the focus of a $3.26 million grant from the federal government to assist the LAUSD in studying the efficacy of the its credit recovery classes.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes the grant and how the research will be carried out.  “L.A. Unified has dramatically expanded its online and in-person credit recovery programs since 2015,” it explains, “to come closer to its goal of a 100% graduation rate, drawing concern that not all graduates have achieved the same level of subject knowledge.  The results of this study, which will focus on roughly 3,000 students from about 15 high schools throughout the district, could answer some questions that critics have about how rigorous the online courses are.”
Personalized Learning is BAAACK
Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, views the newfangled Personalized Learning for what it really is:  a renamed idea for a failed technique from the past.  Only difference?  Now it has students learning from computers.  Singer views Personalized Learning as nothing more than warmed over correspondence classes from the 1980s.  “Sometimes it seems that education policy is nothing but a series of scams and frauds that becomes untenable in one generation only to pop up again 10 or 20 years later with a new name.  Take Personalized Learning, the latest digital product from the ed-tech industry to invade your local public school.  It’s cutting edge stuff.  Except that it isn’t,” he rails.  “It’s just the same old correspondence school nonsense of the 1980s thrown onto an iPad or a laptop.  It was crap back then, and it’s crap today.  But it sounds nice.”
Charter Schools
The corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies, like to tout the successes of the KIPP charter school network.  However, more detailed analysis yields some different results. KIPP would like to expand its presence in Philadelphia and triple its enrollment in the city.  So, how is it fairing in the City of Brotherly Love?  To be totally honest, not so well!  KIPP has 5 campuses in the city, 2 elementary, 2 middle and 1 high school.  Gary Rubinstein, on his Gary Rubinstein’s Blog, discovered the high school earned the lowest possible rating and some of the “positive” statistics quoted by KIPP don’t provide the complete data.   “I looked at the recent school report card for their one and only high school, KIPP DuBois High School.  Though they don’t have letter grades,” he writes, “they do have six levels with different symbols that are essentially an A to F scale.  That school got the lowest possible rating, essentially an F.  Not only were their test scores low, but they also got the lowest possible rating in ‘growth’ in math and reading, in other words the value-added for the school which reformers claim to take very seriously.”
Florida School District Ends Homework
The 42,000 student Marion County school district in central Florida, west of Daytona Beach, will be ending traditional homework for elementary students when they return in the fall.  Instead, Heidi Maier, the newly appointed superintendent, decided to encourage kids to read for 20 minutes each night.  Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, profiles Maier and her new action.  “The policy will apply to all elementary school students in the district — about 20,000 — but not to middle or high school students,” Strauss indicates.  “Maier, an expert on reading acquisition who started running Marion schools in November after serving as lead professor of teacher education at the College of Central Florida, said she is basing her decision on research showing that traditional homework in the early years does not boost academic performance but reading — and reading aloud — does.”
Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, is up in arms this time about test-based accountability and those politicians and corporations who promote it.  The former for not adequately funding and supporting traditional public schools and the latter for creating the materials based on high stakes standardized tests that students are bound to fail due to the lack of proper resources in the first place.  Now schools are labeled as “failing.”  It all becomes the proverbial vicious circle:  school budgets are cut by politicians, students do poorly on corporate designed tests so those same politicians divert even more money to charters and vouchers and in the end the traditional public schools cease to exist.  The “cowardly politicians and unscrupulous corporations,” as Singer portrays them, win in the end.  “In short, we need to stop worshipping at the altar of test-based accountability,” he implores.  “Schools can and should be held accountable.  But it cannot be done with standardized tests.  Moreover, we must stop ignoring the role of policymakers and business in this system.  They must also be responsible.  We are allowing them to get away with murder.”
California Teacher Pensions
Republican controlled states are more and more looking to whittle away at those traditional guaranteed teacher pensions like we have in California.  They’d like to transition educators into 401(k) plans.     Why make such a change?  GOP lawmakers are constantly looking at ways to save money at the state level, most likely so that they can provide more tax cuts to the wealthy 1%.  Nari Rhee is the director of the Retirement Security Program at the UC Berkeley Labor Center and co-author of a report comparing pensions to 401(k)s and how they would effect teachers in California.  She writes in an op-ed in today’s L.A. Times that the transition would take a serious bite out of teachers’ retirement pay.  “We compared current levels of CalSTRS benefits with the yield from an idealized 401(k),” she reports from her paper.  “We found that 86% of working teachers in California will get higher retirement income from the existing pension than they would from even a best-case-scenario 401(k).   In fact, a 401(k) plan would provide 40% less retirement income for the typical California classroom teacher compared with the current pension, which is consistent with rigorous studies in other states, including one commissioned by the Colorado legislature and another conducted in Texas.”
An Extended Examination of the PBS Documentary “School Inc.”
And finally, a number of PBS stations carried the one-sided, pro-charter, pro-voucher, anti-traditional public school documentary “School Inc.”  Several previous editions of the “Ed News” highlighted the outcry from public school proponents who assailed the biased nature of the film and demanded PBS provide equal time to air opposing points-of-view.  Valerie Strauss turns her blog in The Washington Post over to Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris who offer a detailed rebuttal to the original program.  “PBS (‘The Public Broadcasting System’) is known for its high standards and for its thoughtful documentaries that explain issues in a fair and well-informed manner.  But in this case, PBS broadcast ‘School Inc.,’ three hours of content funded by right-wing foundations and right out of the privatizers’ playbook.  The program was partisan, inaccurate and biased against public schools,” they point out.  “Not every PBS station aired this documentary, but many did.  The timing was fortuitous for Trump and DeVos, whose ‘school choice’ agenda aligns neatly with the philosophy expressed in ‘School Inc.’”


Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  

Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             

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