Ed News, Tuesday, July 25, 2017 Edition


 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“Do not just accept but dare to question.” 

― Lailah Gifty Akita

Betsy DeVos
The July 18th edition of the “Ed News” mentioned how rarely Sec. DeVos holds press conferences or even sits down for a one-on-one interview.  A short item on the Poynter website details her avoidance of members of the media.  [DeVois] not in the news much.  She’s like a 5th grader avoiding eye contact with a science teacher whose test she flunked.  [On July 9] she did what was hailed by NBC as her first ‘network news interview on Megyn Kelly’s show,” it relates, “offering what appeared to be a brief and banal set of comments on charter schools.”               Betsy DeVos likes to tout how well school “choice” is working in Florida.  Only problem is the reality of the situation is much different than the Sec. of Education’s perceptions.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, describes how “The K-12 education system in Florida . . . is in chaos” but DeVos keeps promoting charters and vouchers.  Looks like those “alternative facts” are alive and well in the Trump administration.  “You don’t hear DeVos talking about the fact that Florida has for years had one of the highest annual charter closure rates in the country,” Strauss grumbles, “schools that were closed after financial and other scandal.  Or that there is no substantive evidence that voucherlike programs that have channeled billions of taxpayer dollars into scholarships for poor children to attend private and religious schools has boosted the students’ academic trajectories — even while there are no mandated consequences on these schools for poor results.”              The July 21st edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a rhetorical war that commenced last week between DeVos and AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten over various issues emanating from the Sec. of Education.  The conflict moved to the Twittersphere as outlined on Mike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blog who features some Tweets from both sides.  Klonsky tries to make sense of the squabble for his readers.  “I admit, it’s not much of a war,” he confesses.  “For those who have a hard time making any sense of this tweetspat,  let me try and break it down. Under the direction of Betsy DeVos, the DOE has become little more than an engine for driving school privatization, religious fundamentalism, racism and gender discrimination.  Trump’s appointment of DeVos to oversee this country’s public education system threatens a roll-back of every hard-won gain by the Civil Rights Movement in the past 70 years.”
Charter Schools
Get this.  Utah is contemplating a law that would allow charter management companies to acquire property for school sites or to expand existing ones through eminent domain. The Deseret News has the details.  “While schools operating under charter are considered public education, the charter developers are often private entities that own the school facilities,” it explains, “leaving the question of whether such an arrangement could fit within the state’s definitions for where eminent domain is permissible. . . .   The problem in a number of cases for charter schools has been with them seeking to use eminent domain to gather a small property to complete their planned footprint, where cities do not wish to exercise eminent domain for such a small purpose.”               The Phoenix New Times has an extended profile of how at least one charter school operates in the wild west of Arizona.  Allow me to introduce you to the Metropolitan Arts Institute, the topic of the exposé.  The charter, founded in the late 1990s, serves 250 students in grades 7-12 in Phoenix.  Be prepared for a long litany of problematic issues with policy, personnel and some bizarre behavior.  “In Arizona, there are two kinds of public schools: traditional and charter.  Traditional schools are governed by boards of directors elected by voters who live within a school district’s boundaries.  Charter schools are governed by boards whose members are appointed — sometimes by the person who runs the charter school.  And that’s a setup for plenty of conflicts of interest, nepotism, and secrecy.”  Matthew Baker, founder of the school, president of the board of directors and a poetry teacher is a real trip according to his description in the article.  Why is he dressed as a wizard and photographed washing a teenaged girl’s feet?  Beats me.               Shannon Ergun, a member of the BATs (Badass Teachers Association), makes a convincing case against charter schools and she cites several research studies to bolster her position.  She’d like to see more taxpayer resources earmarked for the local traditional public school rather than to charters and vouchers.  “What I see currently happening across the nation,” she writes, “is that schools for generations have been starved of funding while being asked to do more and more.  Educators and public schools are then blamed for failing based on a system of tests originally designed to prove that black and brown people are intellectually inferior (side note, do some research on the history of standardized testing and we can talk further on this issue).”  Be sure to check out the graphic that leads off her piece.         In some states influential charter associations are able to get favorable legislation passed because of significant campaign contributions to local and state legislators.  In Florida, things work a little differently.  It seems 3 powerful legislators themselves stand to profit from the charter industry so they’re only too happy to vote for bills that favor charters.  Doesn’t that raise some ethical and conflict-of-interest issues, you ask?  Absolutely, but the Sunshine state seems to turn a blind eye to that type of chicanery according to an investigative item in the Miami Herald titled “Some of Your Legislators are Profiting at the Expense of Public Education.”  “Florida’s broad ethics laws are a joke.  If they weren’t, they would protect Floridians,” it begins, “from legislators who profit from the charter-school industry in private life and have been actively involved in pushing — and successfully passing — legislation to fund for-profit private schools at the expense of public education.  Some lawmakers earn a paycheck tied to charter schools.”  Diane Ravitch writes: “This article . . . . describes the flagrant abuse of power that typifies charter legislation.”               Mark Weber, aka the Jersey Jazzman, knows why one “miracle” charter school is so “successful.”  Boys Latin Charter School in Philadelphia gets more funding than a comparable traditional public school and is able to get rid of students who don’t measure up. “Many charters have high student cohort attrition rates,” Weber points out, “meaning students leave the school before graduation — often returning to the public, district schools, which must take them no matter when they arrive at the schoolhouse door.  These same charters don’t backfill, so their cohort sizes shrink as they move toward their senior years.”  Be sure to check out the cartoon at the end of the article.  Diane Ravitch said this about Weber’s post: “You too can create a miracle school.  Pick your students carefully; create a few hurdles to winnow out the slackers; bid farewell to those who can’t keep up; get some deep-pocketed funders.  Simple.  A miracle!”
Trump and Education
Questions have been raised recently about how vigorously the Trump/DeVos team with enforce civil rights regulations in the Dept. of Education.  An assistant secretary for civil rights in Pres. Obama’s administration, Catherine Lhamon, is highly critical of what she’s seen so far and quite worried for the future.   Lhamon sits down for a Q & A with EDUCATION WEEK about her concerns regarding civil rights oversight in DeVos’ DoE.  “Under DeVos’ leadership,” it notes in the introduction, “the Education Department has halted the previous administration’s practice of regularly expanding probes into individual civil rights complaints to look for larger, systemic violations.  Early in her tumultuous tenure, DeVos joined Attorney General Jeff Sessions in rescinding Obama-era guidance on the rights of transgender students, and she recently said she plans to re-examine the previous administration’s guidance on sexual assault.”
Inglewood USD to Get New Superintendent
The troubled Inglewood Unified School District, under state control since 2012, will be getting a new leader according to a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  The district has seen a revolving door of 4 leaders in that period of time.  A veteran LAUSD administrator, Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, will be taking over the helm of the 12,570 student district which is 58% Latino and 39% Black. “Meléndez, 59, has been serving as head of the Office of Educational Services in the L.A. Unified School District.  She was also superintendent of Pomona Unified and Santa Ana Unified,” the item explains, “and she served as assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education in the U.S. Department of Education under President Obama.  Before joining L.A. Unified, she worked as the top education advisor to Mayor Eric Garcetti.”
Student Enrollment Projections
The “State EdWatch” column for EDUCATION WEEK features state-by-state elementary and secondary public school student enrollment projections through 2026 based on data supplied by the U.S. Dept. of Education.  19 states are looking at declines (California is one of those with a projected 2% drop).  32 states and the District of Columbia are anticipating increases of from 2% to 42%.  New Hampshire and Connecticut will experience the largest overall decrease of 14% while the District of Columbia (42%) and North Dakota (28%) will see the biggest gains.  You can find the full report (4 pages) titled “Elementary and Secondary Enrollment” by clicking here.  Both the ED WEEK article and the report feature a map with state-by-state projections.
Some Questionable State School Rankings
ALEC ( the American Legislative Exchange Council) the right-wing group that brings together conservative state legislators with business lobbyists to craft “model” legislation, issues an annual state-by-state “Report Card on American Education.”  Ratings are obviously skewed by the criteria used to determine the rankings.  ALEC uses 6 characteristics: “Academic standards, charter schools, homeschool regulation burden, private school choice, teacher quality, and digital learning – two of the factors composing the new education policy grade, charter schools and private school choice, were weighted more heavily because they represent the parent-centered, choice-driven future of education in the 21st century.  Our new GPA-based grading and ranking system compares the states based on how their education policies measure up to the demands of that bright future.”  You can find ALEC’s 21st annual report card (60 pages) by clicking here.  Arizona ranks #1, Florida #2 and Indiana #3.  California came in at #25 (page 12).  Diane Ravitch’s blog was highly disturbed by the ratings.  She went so far as to call them “hilarious” and asserts that “The world according to ALEC is upside down.”  Ravitch recommends readers check out “A 50 State Report Card”  (31 pages) from the NPE (Network for Public Education) which you can find by clicking here.  On it (page 5) Arizona earned an “F” (#48), Florida also earned an “F” (#44), Indiana “F” (#46).  California checked with a “D” (#31).  Here’s how the NPE determined its rankings: “Each state received an overall grade, as well as grades on each of the following six criteria: No High Stakes Testing, Professionalization of Teaching, Resistance to Privatization, School Finance, Spend Taxpayer Resources Wisely, and Chance for Success. The six letter grades, which ranged from “A” to “F”, were averaged to create the overall GPA and letter grade for each state. States are ranked by their GPAs in the list.”  Which rankings do you think are more reliable?
“Middle School Suicides Double as Common Core Testing Intensifies” is the very alarming headline on Steven Singer’s commentary for his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG.  Nations like South Korea and China, that score higher than American students on international tests, have similar problems.  “Here’s a high stakes testing statistic you won’t hear bandied about on the news,” he writes.  “The suicide rate among 10- to 14-year-olds doubled between 2007 and 2014 – the same period in which states have increasingly adopted Common Core standards and new, more rigorous high stakes tests.  For the first time, suicide surpassed car crashes as a leading cause of death for middle school children. . . . To be fair, researchers, educators and psychologists say several factors are responsible for the spike, however, pressure from standardized testing is high on the list.”
And finally, none other a publication than the venerable SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, in its most recent issue (Aug., 2017), takes up the subject of vouchers and the Trump administration’s plan to create some type of federal program to allow the spending of taxpayer dollars to send students to private or parochial schools.  The article reviews some of the scientific research on vouchers and concludes, as they did, that they don’t improve math and reading scores and, in most cases, the test results actually decline.  So why are Pres. Trump and Sec. DeVos so committed to vouchers?  Excellent question!  In addition, the story reviews voucher programs in different states and cities in the U.S. and even ventures far afield to Chile to assess how its extensive experiment with vouchers fared.  “To be sure, educational outcomes are a devilishly difficult thing to measure with rigor.  But by and large,” the piece maintains, “studies have found that vouchers have mixed to negative academic outcomes and, when adopted widely, can exacerbate income inequity.  On the positive side, there is some evidence that students who use vouchers are more likely to graduate high school and to perceive their schools as safe.”


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

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