Ed News, Friday, July 21, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“Knowledge shows us a direction; education gives us power to walk.” 

― Debasish Mridha

New Commission to Look Into Improving L.A. Schools
A prominent, above-the-fold, front-page story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times talks about a new committee made up of business, civic and philanthropic leaders tasked with improving the schools in the LAUSD.  The advisory panel has already met in May and June and has so far been focusing on how to improve student attendance.  Its mandate will expand to other areas of district policies and procedures in the future.  The article goes on to speculate about any hidden agendas possibly regarding the continued tenure of Supt. Michelle King and also provides a list of the 11 members of the commission, none of whom represent teachers, administrators or other employees of the LAUSD.  “The lack of representation from any district labor groups concerns Juan Flecha, head of the administrators union,” it notes.  “The panel, he said, also seems ‘anemic’ in terms of strong educators and weighted with affluent Westsiders who might lack ‘knowledge of the mental health, social, and economic realities of the majority of the students the district serves.’”   I sure hope this isn’t just another thinly-veiled, charter expansion front group. 
Betsy DeVos
Malcolm, a special needs student with Down Syndrome who just completed third grade in North Carolina, “writes” a letter (with LOTS of help from his high school teacher dad) to Betsy DeVos about her seeming lack of knowledge about special education policy and his worry that she won’t be a strong advocate, as the head of the U.S. Dept. of Education, for students like him. (See Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” which highlighted DeVos’ first major speech regarding special ed., delivered earlier this week).  Malcolm’s dad, Stuart Egan, is the author of the CAFFEINATED RAGE blog.  Here’s an excerpt of what Malcolm “wrote” to Sec. DeVos:  “I am worried about some of the things that have happened in public schools since I have started going.  I am also worried about how students like me are being treated since you and President Trump have been in office.”  Certainly check out the photos of Malcolm that dad added at the end of this piece.  Diane Ravitch writes: “I hope she reads [the letter].”               Why are the billionaire Koch brothers supporting Betsy DeVos’ plan to eliminate public education?  The July 11th edition of the “Ed News” profiled the Koch brothers’ financial and political backing of a campaign in Colorado for vouchers and “school choice” which they would certainly like to see expand nationwide.  Jim Hightower, writing for SALON, outlines the alliance between DeVos and the Kochs in a commentary titled “Betsy DeVos’ Plan to Sell Out Public Schools is a Koch Brothers Dream Come True.”  “The DeVos couple are pushing plutocratic policies that reject our country’s one-for-all, all-for-one egalitarianism,” Hightower maintains.  “In particular, Betsy DeVos has spent years and millions of dollars spreading the right-wing’s ideological nonsense that public education should be completely privatized.  She advocates turning our tax dollars over to for-profit outfits — even to private schools that exclude people of color, the poor and the disabled, as well as to profiteering schools known to cheat students and taxpayers. . . .  As Wall Street banksters, drug company gougers, airline fee fixers and so many others have taught us over and over, most corporate executives are paid big bucks to take every shortcut, cheat and lie to squeeze out another dime in profits.  Why would we entrust our schoolchildren to them?”               DeVos delivered a much anticipated speech in Denver yesterday to the annual gathering of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) the organization that brings together conservative state legislators and corporate lobbyists to help craft model legislation on a variety of conservative topics.  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK has a summary of DeVos remarks to the ALEC convention.   “DeVos’ presence in Denver drew protests: On Wednesday, a crowd of protesters gathered in Denver outside the Hyatt Regency where the conference was being held, holding signs criticizing both ALEC and DeVos,” it explains.  “But at ALEC’s conference, DeVos was speaking to a sympathetic audience, and she emphasized their common ground.”             Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, was quick to analyze the address and was particularly struck by the comparisons DeVos invoked between herself and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  DeVos believes the two have similar philosophies of governing.  “To DeVos, public institutions are impediments to individuals who want freedom to access opportunities,” Strauss suggest, “and the traditional public education system, which has been the most important civic institution in America since its creation, is a failure that can’t be fixed.”  Strauss provides a full transcript of DeVos’ speech at the end of her column.               A teacher in Los Angeles, who goes by the pseudonym of “Jack Covey,” offers frequent comments on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  He turns his attention to an almost  line-by-line examination of DeVos’ talk yesterday to the ALEC convention (see 2 items above).  “You can’t celebrate Maggie Thatcher’s every man for himself, dog-eat-dog, rat-eat-rat Survival of the Fittest political philosophy at the beginning of your speech,” Covey complains, “and then, at the end of that same speech, state that you’re goal is to make it so that ‘every child in America – every single child – has an equal opportunity to a world-class education.’  The former directly contradicts and is opposed by the latter.  If there are going to be X number of winners, that means that there are also going to be approximately the same X number of losers.”               The exact date that DeVos was to address the gathered members of ALEC (Thursday) was not made public ahead of time.   A large group of protesters marched outside the hall on Wednesday to oppose her appearance and her policies on charters, vouchers and school “choice.”  Jeannie Kaplan, on her Kaplan for Kids blog, describes the rally and march organized to resist DeVos’ programs.  “Yesterday’s rally and march focused on the unqualified DeVos and her privatization and corporatization policies. . . .  With the help of Colorado’s unions, Colorado Resistance groups, and many other community groups,” Kaplan writes, “teachers from across the state joined with other union members, community supporters, students and parents to demonstrate and express their opposition to the direction ALEC-led lobbyists are pushing public education.”                Jennifer Berkshire believes that both Betsy DeVos and ALEC are working in lockstep to destroy public education.  “The ALEC agenda, indistinguishable from DeVos’ own, prizes school choice as an end unto itself,” she remarks.  “They envision a future where parents are freed—from the education monopoly, from regulation, from greedy unions, and most importantly, from schools—to navigate an education marketplace that abounds in choices.  It is also replete with money making opportunities, but that is not something that appears on the ALEC press releases.”  Berkshire also takes notice of the fact that resistance to the corporate “reform” and privatization movement is gaining steam.              AFT (American Federation of Teachers) Pres. Randi Weingarten took the gloves off in a blistering attack on Sec. Betsy DeVos at the union’s annual convention in Washington, D.C., yesterday.  DeVos used part of her talk to the ALEC conference to answer Weingarten’s blast.  Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, has selections from both womens’ speeches.  Their exchange neatly summarizes the two warring sides in the public schools versus privatization battle which is rapidly heating up.  “Earlier this month, 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 notes, “that they would not work with the Trump administration because the president and DeVos could not be trusted to do what is in the best interests of children.  She also labeled DeVos ‘the queen of for-profit privatization of public education.’  The two major teachers unions, which together represent several million people, have been quick to oppose the Trump administration.”  Strauss includes a transcript of Weingarten’s talk at the end of her article.
More Scrutiny for Credit Recovery Courses
Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a grant given to the LAUSD to study the efficacy of its credit recovery program.  Apparently, more questions are being raised about the classes beyond the LAUSD.  The NEA (National Education Association), at its recent national convention, held at the start of the month, approved a “new business item” to probe the value of online credit recovery programs (OCRP).  The “Digital Education” column for EDUCATION WEEK has a brief story about the growing concerns regarding OCRPs.  “There’s a real hodgepodge of actual online credit recovery offerings.  No one really knows how many students are enrolled in such programs,” it points out.  “Research to date has been decidedly mixed.  And even proponents of online learning have had some harsh things to say about the practice.  The education media is clearly starting to pay attention, too—in May, Columbia University’s Teacher Project and Slate.com published a harshly critical 8-part series on the topic.”  [Ed. note: The ED WEEK article has a link to the 8-part series in Slate.]
Testing and Value-Added Models
How fair is this?  According to Chalkbeat New Yorkover half of New York City teachers were evaluated using subjects and/or students they didn’t directly teach.  New York is not the only state where this is happening.  “New York’s evaluation system has gone through a number of substantial changes since it was first codified in state law in 2012,” it explains, “part of a nationwide push to connect teacher performance to student test scores, spurred by federal incentives.  Student assessments have comprised anywhere from 40 percent of the evaluation to essentially 50 percent, under a matrix system pushed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2015.  Most recently, New York stopped using grades 3-8 English and math state tests as part of the system, but teachers must continue to be judged based on some assessment.”                Is the use of student standardized test scores  and VAMs (value-added models) as a way to evaluate teachers losing favor?  A recent court ruling in May supported the Houston Teachers Union challenge to the use of VAMs as a way to evaluate teachers.  A story in the AMERICAN PROSPECT suggests that the use of those VAMs is beginning to fade.  The author of the item has an interesting history of the teacher accountability movement and believes it may take a slightly different approach in the future.  “WHILE THE FUTURE of using value-added measures in teacher evaluations is unclear, some researchers have been advocating alternative ideas.  One would be to use the statistical growth measures as a diagnostic tool,” she writes, “a preliminary screening test to help identify which districts, schools, and classrooms warrant closer attention.  The idea would be to think of using VAM like a doctor who diagnostically screens for major diseases.  If patients fail the screening test, they are given another, more careful measure.”
New High School Building Design
When Farmington High School in New Mexico needed a new main building and campus, the design company selected to build the project had one thing in mind: security.  They also wanted to make sure a welcoming atmosphere was also incorporated into the plan so it wouldn’t look like a prison or fortress to faculty, staff, students, parents and visitors.  A story in the Farmington Daily Times describes what is being created and, possibly, it can become a model for the future.  “Guests [walk] through a still-under-construction main building that thoroughly addresses those security concerns by funneling all visitors through a tightly controlled check-in point from which administrators can monitor the actions of everyone coming and going.  But once visitors to the building proceed past the main entry,” it lays out, “they enter a structure that features an abundance of warm, inviting spaces that make optimal use of natural light with floor-to-ceiling windows and open floor plans. The main hall, in fact, looks more like the headquarters of an ambitious Silicon Valley web start-up than a traditional American high school.”  [Ed. note: As a former high school teacher, it sounds VERY inviting!]  Construction is scheduled to be completed in December so that classrooms can be occupied after winter break in January.
Rafe Esquith
Acclaimed Hobart Ave. Elementary School teacher Rafe Esquith was removed from his classroom in April, 2015, and fired by the LAUSD in Oct., 2015, for allegedly using sexual language in front of his students.  Esquith claimed the action was retaliation for his criticism of various district policies and attempted to sue the district in Aug., 2015.  Mark Mooney, an L.A. Superior Court judge, upheld Esquith’s intent to sue and yesterday an appellate court panel confirmed the lower court ruling.  A piece in the L.A. Daily News reviews Esquiths’s case, explains the details of his lawsuit and discusses the 2 court rulings.  “Mooney’s ruling,” it points out, “meant that Esquith’s claims of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, the taking of items from his classroom, retaliation, age discrimination and unfair business practices remained in the case.  He also is seeking reinstatement to his teaching position.”  [Ed. note: Esquith spoke to an ALOED gathering on the Occidental College campus several years ago.]
Every Student Succeeds Act
Under the new ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) states are required to submit plans for implementing certain aspects of the law for approval by the federal Dept. of Education.  A number of states have complained about the scrutiny their proposals are getting from the DoE amid charges that the federal government is getting overly involved in aspects of education policy that ESSA promised to reserve to the individual states.  An article in EDUCATION WEEK details the complaints from certain states about the oversight.  “The back and forth between states and Washington over the Every Student Succeeds Act,” it begins, “has become more complicated than many had expected.  Although U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos took office in February pledging to let states seize control of key education policy decisions under the new federal K-12 law, her department’s responses to states’ ESSA plans have surprised—and in some cases irritated—state leaders and others.”
The Teaching Profession
And finally, Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, wonders why the school “reform” movement has lots of suggestions for improving education but almost never mentions INCREASING TEACHER SALARIES.  How unique and unusual is that concept!  “There are many suggestions for improving America’s public schools:  More standardized tests.  New academic standards.  Increase charter schools and/or allow kids to attend private schools with public money,” he lists.  “But one reform you hardly ever hear about is this: pay teachers more.  Isn’t that funny?  We’re willing to try almost everything else but that.”  Singer proceeds to review how much new teachers are paid currently and suggests what they should get paid.  Be sure to check out the photo that leads off his piece.  


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

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