The ED NEWS
A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues
“The desire for knowledge begins with searching and seeking.”
Last year the NAACP called for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools in the U.S. This week they look that action even farther. The venerable civil rights organization, founded in 1909, issued a report Wednesday, during their 108th annual convention taking place in Baltimore this week, calling for more accountability and transparency for charters. It also addresses needed reforms for traditional public schools. You can read the full report (40 pages), titled “Quality Education for All…One School at a Time” on the NAACP website by clicking here. “With the expansion of charter schools and their concentration in low-income communities,” it mentions, “concerns have been raised within the African American community about the quality, accessibility and accountability of some charters, as well as their broader effects on the funding and management of school districts that serve most students of color.” Carol Burris, writing on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, analyzes the report issued by the NAACP (see above) regarding charter and public schools. Burris reviews the recommendations contained in the study. “The task force [that researched and wrote the report] extended the discussion to the broader problems of public education in large American cities. No rational person,” Burris suggests, “would argue that the education of black and brown children in urban America is equitable, adequate and fair. But given the evidence of more than two decades, it is also clear that charters and choice are not a substitute for traditional public schools, the task force’s newly released report says, and many charters are desperately in need of reform.” Burris appends a copy of the full report at the end of her commentary. Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, reviews the report from the NAACP (see 2 items above) and predicts the charter industry will probably be alarmed over the civil rights group’s call for more accountability and transparency and an end to for-profit charters, among other recommendations contained in the report. “The NAACP isn’t the only civil rights organization critical of charter schools,” he mentions. “Groups such as the Journey for Justice Alliance, a coalition of grassroots community, youth, and parent-led organizations, and the Movement for Black Lives, a conglomeration of the nation’s youngest national civil rights organizations, have also expressed concern over the uses and abuses of students of color in charter schools.” Amid all the charter schools scandals in California and around the nation, why is the California Charter Schools Association fighting so hard against more accountability and transparency for their clients? Instead the CCSA is promoting what it calls the need for more “flexibility” and alternative approaches to combating fiscal mismanagement and fraud. A story from EdSource looks at some massive financial fraud at one charter chain, Tri-Valley Learning Corporation, in Northern California that was forced to close its doors and how proposed reforms of the entire industry are faring in the state legislature. “Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, is among those calling for more charter school transparency,” it notes. “For example, he told EdSource last week that charter schools need standardized financial management systems, such as common software, to share their data with the school districts that oversee their operations. . . . Representatives of the California Charter Schools Association disagree.” Can anyone explain to me why the CCSA is against this type of oversight?
Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, goes after one corporate “reform” and privatization group, the Center for Education Reform, that criticizes various organizations that support public education. The CER characterizes them as uninterested in improving the public schools and as supporters of the “status quo.” In addition, the CER suggests how people can identify the real reformsters (Greene refers to them as RRs) from the fake reformsters (FRs). Regarding “Education in General” Greene offers this example of the 2 groups as the CER distinguishes them: “Real reformsters don’t admit poverty as any sort of excuse. RR believe that the only accountability is accountability based on test scores. Parents should have control of who gets the money attached to their child. And innovation should happen because the US education sky is falling. Big fakes talk accountability without explaining it, ‘banter on’ about how poverty actually affects students, and try to claim pre-school as a growth for old, faily public ed instead of letting privatizers stake out that market unchallenged.”
The Teaching Profession
Why are so many valuable educators leaving the field thus contributing to a growing teacher shortage? There seems to be a number of reasons for this alarming phenomenon but high on the list is the impact of standardized tests on the profession. An essay on the EDUCATION NEWS (they almost stole my title!) website surveys this critical issue. “Learning Policy Institute identified inadequate preparation, lack of support, challenging working conditions, dissatisfaction with compensation, better career opportunities, and personal reasons for why teachers change careers,” the author relates. “From our own internal surveys ‘high-stakes standardized testing’ is the number one issue educators’ mention to us is why they are dissatisfied with the profession. In addition, there is no longer a ‘freedom to teach,’ if it falls outside of what is on a test or in the standards.” Do veteran teachers have any value or are they just over-paid, lazy and burned out? Some corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies would love to replace those veterans with Teach for America candidates since they get paid so much less, stick around for fewer years and tend not to make waves. A story in EDUCATION WEEK makes a strong case for why those veterans are indispensable to providing a quality education for students and guidance for new teachers. It’s titled “Demolishing the Myth of the Grumpy, Crusty, Burned-Out Veteran Teacher.” As a now retired 37-year veteran secondary Social Studies teacher with the LAUSD, it certainly resonates with me. Hundreds of teachers gathered in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to protest the Trump’s administration’s education policiesaccording to a story in The Washington Post. “Teachers, current and retired, parents, students, and their families,” it describes, “began converging about 10 a.m. near the Washington Monument to march in support of public education. Similar marches took place in 11 cities nationwide, including Detroit, Austin, Miami and Lincoln, Neb., according to the march’s website. Organizers say they are marching for equitable education funding, in support of college affordability and against the nearly 14 percent cuts to education that Trump has proposed. Hundreds of people joined the march in Washington despite temperatures climbing into the 90s and a heat advisory from the National Weather Service.” Is your district facing a teacher shortage? Are housing prices in your area rather high? What about offering adiscount on housing to try to attract more qualified applicants? The “Teacher Beat” column for EDUCATION WEEK describes how more and more states are resorting to such inducements to deal with a growing scarcity of educators. “It’s a common problem around the country, especially in growing cities: Housing prices are up and teachers’ salaries aren’t,” it mentions. “That leaves teachers with few options for affordable buying and renting. Many end up having to live far from the communities they work in. For some time now, cities have been experimenting with ways to ease the cost burden on their educators.” Detroit and Nashville are the latest cities to develop innovative ways to provide affordable, local housing for their new hires.
Vouchers and School “Choice”
School voucher proponents are fighting back against the charge, most recently leveled by AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten, that vouchers lead to more segregated schools. Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, takes up the issue of school segregation in both voucher and public schools. “School vouchers do lead to increased segregation (and so do charter schools, by the way, the method preferred by corporate Democrats). But many traditional public schools are, in fact, deeply segregated both racially and economically,” he points out. Does that mean that both systems – privatized and public – are equally at fault? Does it mean that both somehow get a pass for reprehensible behavior? No and no.” Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a piece in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN excoriating the Trump administration for promoting vouchers in the face of little or no evidence of their efficacy. Valerie Strauss features the story in her column for The Washington Post and points to another study that chronicles how Trump ignores scientific research to push his policy agenda. “Trump and DeVos are raising the don’t-listen-to-research bar to a new level,” she complains. “Both have bashed traditional public schools, calling them failures that perpetuate the ‘status quo,’ and continue to promote alternatives that have no substantial research base to prove their effectiveness.” Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, takes to task school “choice” advocates who were quick to criticize the speech AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten delivered to her union’s annual conference and the report issued by the NAACP about the need for charter reform (see “Charter Schools” section above). Bryant insists that corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies need to be aware of the problems their proposals are creating in regards to segregation and educational inequality. Bryant carefully reviews some of the research that demonstrates that charters and vouchers have led to the resegregation of many schools and reduced budgets for severely underfunded and poorly supported traditional public schools. “Public school advocates readily admit the systems they advocate for are often flawed, criticism from the well-intentioned is necessary, and intervention is often required to right what’s not working well for families and communities. Is it asking too much,” he challenges, “of school choice advocates to do the same?”
Betsy DeVos officially took her position as Sec. of Education in early February of this year. In her nearly 6 months on the job she’s accomplished very little of her agenda according to an analysis in EDUCATION WEEK. “When U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos came into office,” it begins, “many in the education community were terrified the billionaire school choice advocate would quickly use her new perch to privatize education and run roughshod over traditional public schools. Maybe they shouldn’t have been quite so worried. Nearly six months into her new job, a politically hamstrung DeVos is having a tough time getting her agenda off the ground.” If you don’t have time to read the full article at lease check out the nifty graphic, captioned “Progress Report, U.S. Secretary of Education,” about halfway through it that summarizes its conclusions. José Luis Vilson, math teacher and blogger out of New York City, makes the case for why “Betsy DeVos is Not My Secretary of Education” in a commentary for The Progressive. He references the speech she delivered to the ALEC conference last week (see the July 21st edition of the “Ed News”) and counters many of the points she made regarding school “choice,” vouchers, privatization, teachers unions and comparing herself to Margaret Thatcher, who served as Britain’s Education Secretary prior to becoming prime minister. “But let’s be clear: at the root of DeVos’s approach is the devaluation and eventual abolition of the public sphere,” he states succinctly, “which often goes together with tax cuts for the wealthy.” Is Betsy DeVos using the idea of school “choice” as a cudgel to drive a wedge between pro-school “choice” Democrats and those who support traditional public education? That’s the theory behind an essay in the NEW REPUBLIC. “Some Democrats, particularly in cities, have embraced the full school choice agenda,” it suggests. “Anthony Williams, the former Democratic mayor of Washington, D.C., appeared in an ad this year in support of DeVos, saying she ‘fought by my side’ for the District’s voucher program. Senator Cory Booker supported charters and vouchers as mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and sat on the board of Alliance for School Choice with DeVos. (He voted against her confirmation this year, but so did every Democrat.) In general, Democrats have stayed in the good graces of public school defenders by limiting their support to ‘public school choice.’ But now that the Trump administration is promoting charters as part of a broader school choice agenda, and civil rights groups are increasingly leery of charters, Democrats are facing pressure to oppose all privatization schemes.”
Learning From Your Mistakes
A once-a-month feature in THE HECHINGER REPORT looks at the science of learning and how it impacts schools. In this installment, the author looks at how students can learn from the mistakes that they make. It’s titled “To Err is Human–And a Powerful Prelude to Learning.” “Contrary to what many of us might guess, making a mistake with high confidence and then being corrected,” the author explains, “is one of the most powerful ways to absorb something and retain it. In recent years, cognitive scientists have done gobs of research on how making mistakes help us learn, much of it funded by the federal Institute for Education Science. Some findings make intuitive sense. Some are completely surprising. And many important findings that are relevant to teaching are not making it into the classroom, or penetrating very slowly.” She proceeds to review some of the important research and studies, both current and in the past, on the topic.
Is Public Education Valuable?
Simple question. Complex answer. The headline is the title of a piece for the “CTQ Collaboratory” column in EDUCATION WEEK. It’s written by Jessica Keigan, an English/Language Arts teacher at a high school in Colorado. Be sure to read the rest of her curriculum vitae at the end of the article. It’s most impressive and certainly qualifies her to address the question. Keigan is aware of the poor reputation the pubic schools get from segments of the general public. She believes much of it is undeserved but admits there’s plenty that can be done to improve the traditional public school system that’s been such a bedrock for this country for so long. “I am the first to say that the public education system is not perfect as it currently exists. Access to quality instruction needs to be expanded, so that all students have the same opportunities to thrive. The process of improving public education will be arduous, but there are clear, initial steps we can take. First,” she outlines, “our country needs to revisit the ‘certain inalienable rights’ promised to each of its citizens—not only for the sake of preserving the public school system, but also for the sake of ensuring an educated citizenry and a healthy democracy. It’s essential to consider what public services are necessary in order to provide equal access to opportunities to achieve health and happiness for all of the nation’s children. Second, we need to empower those most familiar with the system to lead the charge. Most importantly, we as citizens of this country need to engage in discussion about the value of education and consider how best to ensure that all kids are given the chance to learn.”
Public School Success Stories
Corporate “reformers” like to point out how instituting “business practices” led to the turnaround of a high poverty elementary school in Charlotte, North Carolina. Unfortunately, that misses the bigger picture of how Shamrock Gardens Elementary was able to improve. Valerie Strauss turns her blog in The Washington Post over to Pamela Grundy, whose son attended the school from 2006 to 2012, is a lecturer in history at Davidson College and a blogger and activist on education issues. “But Shamrock’s long-term accomplishments — and the difference the school makes in its students’ lives — are inextricably linked to the success of a 12-year effort to reintegrate the school racially and economically,” Grundy argues. “This endeavor has fostered increased parent involvement, student activities that reach beyond the narrow range of material measured by standardized tests, and the kind of supportive, joyful atmosphere that makes students want to learn and teachers want to stay. This is a crucial concept for those who wish to improve struggling schools. A school is not a business — it is a community that reaches well beyond its walls. Building schools that reflect the society we want our children to live in is a more daunting task than simply reorganizing internal operations and monitoring test scores. But it’s a necessary one.” She goes on to outline the long-term process that led to a turnaround success story. Need another traditional public school success story? This one is much closer to home. Check out what’s happening in Long Beach. Jeff Bryant, this time writing for The Progressive, visits Millikan High School in order to praise the positive things taking place in the Long Beach Unified School District.
LBUSD suffers many of the problems typical of large urban school districts, yet it has been able to surmount most of them. “Long Beach Unified School District has steadily improved its high school graduation rates—81 percent in 2013-14—and surpasses the rest of the state on key education measures,” Bryant points out, “such as daily average attendance rates, percentage of high school graduates meeting state college level course requirements, and percentage of nonwhite students taking Advanced Placement courses in high school.” Bryant spends some time at Millikan High and reports what he experiences. “President Donald Trump and his Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, have reinvigorated old conservative notions about a free-market approach that floods the education system with many more privately operated schools. But the teachers in Long Beach,” he concludes, “are showing that when given sufficient resources and supports to meet the needs and interests of students, they can get the job done. And it’s not make-believe.”
School Funding–A Roundtable Discussion
The question of how public K-12 education should be properly funded is an ongoing debate. EDUCATION WEEK invites 5 experts to weigh in on the topic of “Is School Funding Fair?” “The sad fact is that most states still fund schools according to how much states are willing to spend,” one of the participants relates, “usually based on last year’s budget, and then distribute funding to satisfy the demands of powerful political constituencies. Only a handful have enacted finance reforms driven by the actual cost of basic education resources.” Check out what they have to say about this critical issue and see what you think.
U.S. DoE Facing Staffing Problems
Why is the U.S. Dept. of Education having so much trouble filling key staff positions? Could it be that good, competent candidates just don’t want to work there carrying out the Trump/DeVos agenda? Today’s “MORNING EDUCATION” feature at Politico has a piece titled “Education Department Hiring Hits a Wall.” “The task of staffing the Education Department with fresh political faces appears to have hit a wall,” it explains. “Dozens of individuals have dropped out, frustrated by the drawn-out, rigorous hiring process. Those in the pipeline are wondering what’s taking so long. And fewer folks are throwing their hats in the ring, doubting whether the Trump administration’s pledge to dramatically expand private school choice options for working class families will ultimately go anywhere, according to multiple sources plugged into the hiring process.” Stephen Dyer, on his 10th Period blog, has some ideas why the Dept. of Education is so understaffed at this point (see above). A major part of the blame lies with Trump, himself, who has failed to put forward many names to take the jobs. “Only one other appointment has been made by the President to take any senior leadership positions at the Department [other than DeVos]. There are more Obama era holdovers than Trump appointees. Of 31 senior positions, only 2 are occupied by Trump appointees. Obama holdovers occupy 7 and the remaining 22 are vacant. That’s right. There is a 71 percent vacancy rate in senior level positions at the U.S. Department of Education,” Dyer disturbingly reports, “which is responsible for overseeing the education of roughly 74 million American kids.” Dyer includes a list of senior level positions that are still unfilled as of the date of his post. Be sure you read about the real motive, Dyer suggests, for the lack of appointments to the DoE.
School Violence, Bullying Decline
And finally, a report made public yesterday from the federal Dept. of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics finds that the incidence of violence and bullying has decreased in the nation’s public schools. The new numbers are featured in a brief story in EDUCATION WEEK. “Violence and bullying were more frequent in middle schools,” it relates, “than in high schools or elementary schools. . . . The report said the rate of violent incidents in middle schools dropped from 40 incidents per 1,000 students in the 2009-2010 school year to 27 incidents in 2015-2016. Bullying in middle schools was observed in 39 percent of schools in 2009-2010, compared to 22 percent last school year.”
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.