Monthly Archives: August 2017

Ed News, Thursday, August 24, 2017 Special Edition

The ED NEWS

 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                   Ed. note:  The “Ed News will, unfortunately, need to suspend publication for an indefinite period of time.  During a wonderful bike tour vacation in the California wine country with my two younger brothers last week I was involved in a rather serious crash when my bike hit an unseen pothole on a downhill stretch of road outside Sonoma and I went flying onto the pavement.   The paramedics were called and I was transported to the emergency room in Santa Rosa.  I sustained a broken little finger on my left hand which required surgery yesterday to ensure I’d have maximum function of the digit, a major gash on my left hand and chin, both requiring stitches and other cuts and abrasions on my lip, elbow, knee and arm.  I was able to finish the vacation by riding in the van and providing support and encouragement to my brothers and the other riders.  The tour ended Friday and my brothers and I returned to L.A. that evening.  I’ve been sporting a cast and bandages on my left hand since the accident and surgery which, obviously, makes sustained typing impossible.  My doctor believes the cast/bandages will need to remain in place for at least 4-5 weeks.  I’m in the process of recuperating now and am most anxious to get back on my bike, the tennis court and resume my gym workouts, yoga class and writing this blog.  Thanks for your patience and the “Ed News” will be publishing again soon.
 
 
                                                                                 http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://alumni.oxy.edu/s/956/images/editor/iModules%2520Tiger.jpg&imgrefurl=http://alumni.oxy.edu/s/956/index.aspx?pgid=254&h=535&w=589&tbnid=HpSKtombb69zFM:&zoom=1&docid=b__GuALUiVQjxM&hl=en&ei=eoUbVY37HJXhoASho4KgDg&tbm=isch&ved=0CCYQMygJMAk                                                                         
 
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog again in the near future.             
                 
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Ed News, Tuesday, August 8, 2017 Edition

       

The ED NEWS

A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 [The Ed News will be taking a break for some summer travel.  
 Look for the next edition on Friday, August 25.]
 

And now to the news.

“Education has multiple purposes, but learning how to ask essential questions 
and how to challenge dogma, tradition, and injustice 
in appropriate and constructive ways is its highest purpose.” 
Vouchers & Charters
The Trump administration is a huge supporter of vouchers or voucher-like programs to allow taxpayer dollars to be used at private or parochial schools.  So how successful are students that take advantage of vouchers?  The headline of an op-ed in Newsday provides a succinct answer: “On Vouchers, the Evidence is in, and it’s Not Good.”  Peter Montgomery, the author, is a senior fellow at People for the American Way, a progressive advocacy group founded by television producer Norman Lear in 1981.  “Evidence has been accumulating over the last two years,” Montgomery writes, “that many students in voucher programs have lost significant educational ground in math and reading.  One study released last year was actually financed by a pro-voucher foundation and conducted by a pro-voucher think tank, and even it found that voucher students in private schools did worse academically than their peers in public schools.”  He reviews several recent studies on voucher programs including the only federally-funded one, at least so far, in Washington, D.C.  Several of the inquiries were highlighted in previous editions of the “Ed News.”  Here’s Diane Ravitch’s take away from the article above: “Voucher advocates have generally dropped the claim that vouchers ‘save’ children or that nonpublic schools are superior to public schools.  Instead, they have retreated to advocating for choice. Consumerism is their fallback position.  Choice for the sake of choice.”               Ann Cronin, a retired English teacher in Connecticut, is thankful for the recent NAACP report (highlighted in the “Ed News”) that was critical of charter schools and urged them to become more accountable and transparent.  A friend of Cronin’s posed 2 key questions regarding charters back when the concept was still in its infancy.  Cronin returns to those queries on her blog, Real Learning CT, and suggests the NAACP Task Force study provides some interesting answers.  “The NAACP Task Force Report insists that children of color have the same rights as white suburban children,” Cronin concludes.  “How sad that in 2017 that right still needs to be demanded.  But it does.  The NAACP Task Force Report must be listened to and enacted in order to make real the civil rights of children.”   Is the charter school industry really interested in educating children or making a killing in the real estate market?  That’s the question tackled by Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, and you can probably guess his answer comes down on the latter idea.  Some shrewd businesspeople create separate legal entities to own the school buildings and then arrange to lease them back to the charter school thus raking in huge rental profits.  If the charter should close they “own” the buildings that were actually “rented” using taxpayer money and can sell them off for a sizable gain.  Clever scheme! Huh?  “Folks advocating for public education often miss this aspect of the charter industry,” Greene notes, “because it’s not really education related.  It is, however, big money related.  It’s why some critics of charters characterize them as more of a real estate scheme than an educational one.”  If you think this has to be an isolated situation, guess again.  Greene mentions several states where it’s fairly common practice.  “This is the most underreported story of the charter world: The big money is in the real estate,” Diane Ravitch complains on her blog, “not necessarily the students.”               If you take the above story one step farther you get charter management companies that “own” the school buildings buying and selling them to other investors in search of . . . .what?  Educational excellence?  Who are you kidding?  They are after PROFITS!  You appear skeptical that this could happen.  Read this next article and you’ll see it’s all too real.  The COMMERCIAL PROPERTY EXECUTIVE website has the details of the sale of a couple of charter campuses in Florida.  [Ed. note: I’m sure you’re thinking: “Dave, where do you find these sources?” Sorry, it’s a secret.  As a serious journalist, you know, I can’t reveal my sources.  Actually this one came from Diane Ravitch’s blog.]  Sadly, it seems, there is growing investor interest in these kinds of deals the story notes.  I always thought schools were in the business of educating students.  I guess I’m naïve–for some charter operators, it’s all about the PROFITS!  Here’s what Ravitch had to say about this issue: “My reaction on reading this story: revulsion.  It is stories like this that persuades me that the very concept of charter schools is wrong,” she laments,   “especially when they operate for-profit and when they are part of a corporate chain.  They are not about education; they are not about learning; they are not about children; they are about money and profit.  Allowing the education of American children to be distorted by this greedy industry is a blight on American society.”               The editorial board of the Charlotte News & Observer is highly critical of the voucher program in North Carolina. The $4,200 that families get can barely cover tuition at the least expensive schools and doesn’t come close to covering other expenses and the cost of high end private schools.  So what’s the point? The editorial believes that it’s simply a thinly veiled attempt to eliminate the public school system in the Tar Heel state.  “Parents with kids in public schools where arts and physical education programs are threatened, where the best teachers are leaving the profession to earn a better living, might point directly to Republicans in the General Assembly as the culprits,” it charges.  “This voucher program was little more than a slap at public schools, which Republicans have targeted since taking control of the General Assembly in 2011.  It is a bad idea that is getting worse, and getting more expensive, and the only positive in it is in the eye of the beholder – private school enrollment has gone up since the program started.”
 
LAUSD School Board Races Influenced by Large, Late Donations
Money can have a HUGE impact on election results even on seemingly mundane school board races.  Prime example: the May 16th LAUSD school board elections.  Some sizable donations arrived late in the campaign, from a local philanthropist and a wealthy businessman, that helped tilt the balance toward pro-charter candidates in two key races that, in the end, helped shift the board to a 4-3 majority for charter proponents.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes what took place.  The headline reads: “Late Donations From Eli Broad and Others Helped Charter Advocates Shift Power on L.A. School Board.”  “In all, outside groups — mainly charter backers and teachers unions — spent nearly $15 million, a record, on behalf of candidates in three school board races.  (The candidates spent $2.2 million on their own campaigns, with many contributors similarly invested for or against charters and unions.)  More than $1.4 million reached California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates after the deadline when the contributions would be disclosed before the election,” it reveals.  “CCSA Advocates spent much of its money directly.  It also funneled dollars to allied or affiliated groups, some with misleading names — Parent Teacher Alliance (which is not the PTA) and LA Students for Change, which was not a grassroots student group.”  Diane Ravitch had this reaction to the above item: “The billionaires strike again, intent on destroying public education and democracy, and opening even more privately managed, privately owned and nonunion charters.”
 
The Teaching Profession
Mercedes Schneider was invited to a screening of a brand new documentary film titled “Passion to Teach.”  It is produced by career teachers Sandria Parsons and Bart Nourse and celebrates the magic that takes place in thousands of classrooms around this country every day between talented, dedicated public school teachers and their students.  Schneider reviews the film on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29.  “The film focuses on the experiences of Connecticut middle school teacher, Amy Lake.  A central theme of Passion to Teach is the indispensability of the teacher-student relationship in fostering intrinsically-motivated, lifelong learning in students,” she enthuses, “and the symbiotic nature of the teacher-student dynamic as one that contributes to lifelong learning in career teachers.”  A 5-minute trailer leads off the piece.  You can view the official website for the film by clicking here.               Teaching is, and should be considered, a profession.  However, it seems more and more corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies would like to treat it as just another minimum wage job.  That way it saves them money for their charter or private schools and they make more PROFIT for themselves.  The co-authors of an essay for The BITTER SOUTHERNER website pose a simple question: “Are Teachers Professionals?” and they provide a simple answer: “Yes.”  They explain, in detail, why they believe that position. “You may feel that this month’s column is a rant from a couple of teachers who are tired of seeing their profession diminished in popular culture, as well as by state legislatures and the federal government.  We do appreciate a good rant, but our intent is deeper.  We hope that by making the case that teachers are indeed professionals, then we can move on to a harder question: Why aren’t they always treated as such?  All over this country,” they urge, “teachers need you to listen to their hard-earned professional judgment.  This might be more crucial here in the South, where teachers’ unions are nonexistent and right-leaning legislators continually move to privatize education, thus sending the message that business people are more knowledgeable about teaching and learning than those who have dedicated their lives to understanding teaching and learning.”               Betsy DeVos has apparently been working her “magic” in her home state of Michigan.  Her fervent support for charters, vouchers and school “choice” has decimated the teaching profession in the state according to a depressing story in ALTERNET.  It’s titled “No One Wants to Become a Teacher in Betsy DeVos’ Homestate.”  It’s subtitled The number of college students who want to become teachers plummets in Michigan, a state where the teaching profession has been under siege.”  Enrollment in teacher prep programs has declined 23% in the past 2 years and over 50% since 2008.  “Whether these numbers portend a coming teacher shortage is unclear.  But it does reflect,” the article points out, “a trend that has been ongoing for some time, said Abbie Groff-Blaszak, director of the Office of Educator Talent with the state Department of Education.  Not only are fewer aspiring teachers entering programs, but fewer are completing them, and there’s been a decrease in teaching certificates issued by the DOE.”  The story identifies several factors leading to the decline in teacher candidates in Michigan  Just imagine what the profession will be like once DeVos finishes working her sorcery on the rest of the country!  Yikes!               What do/did you think of the professional development at your school?  A new national survey of 6,300 teachers reports that most “Have ‘No Say’ About Decisions About Their Own PD,” according to a story on the “Teaching NOW” column for EDUCATION WEEK that features the poll.  “This creates a disconnect between the professional learning teachers want and what they receive.  Teachers indicated that they strongly prefer collaborative learning held during the work day and on campus,” it reports, “but just 25 percent of respondents said the majority of their PD takes place during school hours.  Nearly half said a majority of professional learning takes place on inservice days or in the summer.”               Jeff Bloom describes himself as a teacher, teacher educator and researcher.  On his Jeff Bloom’s Blog he explores “The Myth of Teaching & the Myth of the Teacher.”  He reviews some misconceptions regarding those 2 broad topics and probes why the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies are so intent on denigrating the teaching profession.  “Politicians and corporations have been battling it out for control of education in the United States for well over a century.  Why has there been such an interest in controlling education?  If you control education,” he explains, “you can control the population.  Corporations are interested in profits, and a true democracy is a threat to maximizing profits.  As corporate and political control has increased over the past few decades, teachers are under incredible pressure to conform to the demands.  From teacher education programs to their schools and school districts, the pressure to march in-step with the corporate agenda is incredibly intense.”
Some Businesses Get Tax Breaks That Impact Public Schools
Here’s an issue I wasn’t aware of.  EDUCATION WEEK looks at the situation in a story titled “Tax Breaks for Big-Box Stores Can Drain Money From Schools.” It explains how certain retailers are able to get substantial breaks from local property taxes based on a rather bizarre loophole called “dark store theory.”  Wait until you read what this entails and my use of the word “bizarre” may not seem so far fetched.  Any reductions in local tax assessments effect public schools and other community services directly.  “Local governments depend on property tax revenues to help finance schools, fire and police, parks, libraries, and roads,” the article mentions.  “That’s why assessors worry about the potentially sweeping impact the tax loophole could have on essential community services.  When big-box retailers prevail in lowering their assessments, it can shift more of the tax burden to homeowners and to smaller, local businesses which may not have the legal firepower to push back on how their stores are appraised.  Of course, schools depend on revenue generated from homeowners and local business owners as well, so the entire school finance ecosystem could see some form of impact.”  An interesting graphic accompanies the story that illustrates “The Costs of ‘Dark Store’ Tax Loopholes” in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Texas.
Work-Based Learning
Ever heard of “work-based learning?”  Neither had I.  It’s a growing trend that allows high school students to earn academic credit by working as auto mechanics, ski instructors, at financial investment companies or other positions as a story in THE HECHINGER REPORT details.  It focuses on a program in Vermont and follows several students who are involved in work-based learning.  “Work-based learning programs are slowly gaining traction in Vermont and other states,” it mentions, “as schools consider ways to better prepare students for college and careers. Educators and experts say such programs may engage disengaged students, increase graduation and attendance rates, and help students develop career goals at an earlier point in their lives.”
 
Transgender Student Sues Her Private School
A transgender 8-year-old filed suit against her former Orange County private school claiming it wouldn’t let her be the girl she wanted to be.  An article in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes the situation and the subsequent suit.  “The lawsuit, filed last week in Orange County Superior Court, alleges that Heritage Oak Private Education in Yorba Linda would not let Nicole, who goes by Nikki, dress as she chose, use the bathroom of her choice and go by female pronouns,” it notes.  “The complaint contends that the school violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a California law that outlaws a broad range of discrimination, including by sex or sexual orientation, and that it fraudulently advertised itself as nondiscriminatory and focused on the ‘whole child.’”  Interestingly, the young girl will be attending an Orange County public school this year.
 
Trump and Education
Now that the GOP “pledge” to repeal and replace Obamacare has gone down to defeat, the Trump administration turns to another one its pet policy initiatives–tax reform.  Just like ending Obamacare had some serious education ramifications, tax reform has the same.  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK identifies “Five Big Things at Stake for Educators in GOP’s Quest for Tax Reform.”  This issue has received scant attention during the first 6 1/2 months of the Trump administration but you can expect that to change as the Republicans pivot from a stinging healthcare failure to tax reform.  You may be surprised at what that policy includes.  Here are 2 of the 5 things from the list that could be part of any formal proposal: “1) The State and Local Taxes Deduction and 2) The Classroom-Expenses Deduction.”  The piece explains the effect on education of each of the 5 items. 
 
Finding and Retaining Good Principals 
The problem of hiring and retaining good teachers is a major concern for many school districts.  The same can be said for principals.  When a good one comes along you’d like to keep him/her forever.  What should a district do to find and keep those good principals?  Jody Spiro, director of education leadership at the Wallace Foundation, has “4 Things Districts Can Do to Find (and Keep) Good Principals.”  Her commentary appears in EDUCATION WEEK.  6 large, urban districts (none from California) received grants from the Wallace Foundation to implement a program devised by the organization for selecting and keeping strong school leaders.  Here’s one of the suggestions from Spiro’s list: “• Don’t forget about preservice training.”
 
The Solar Eclipse 
And finally, on Monday, Aug. 21, portions of the U.S. will be treated to a total solar eclipse.   In Los Angeles, a little less than 70% of the sun will be covered.  That happens to be a school day and some districts will have already commenced the new school year.  (The LAUSD begins classes on Aug. 15.)  So, how are schools planning to deal with this rare phenomenon?  Some are turning it into teachable science lessons and others are closing for safety reasons since staring directly at the sun for any length of time is extremely dangerous. Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, discusses how various districts are dealing with the eclipse.  Her piece includes statements put out by superintendents to parents and students about the decisions they have taken and what their schools are planning to do.    You can find information about how the eclipse will appear in Los Angeles on the timeanddate website by clicking here.  As of the publication time of this edition of the “Ed News,” the LAUSD has a brief item on their website with educational links about the eclipse provided by NASA.  Happy viewing.  The last time an eclipse of this type swept across the entire U.S. was in 1918.  
*Dr. Prince is president emeritus of Hampshire College and before that had a distinguished career as a professor and administrator at Dartmouth College.  He has held numerous leadership roles in civic and community organizations including the American Bar Association, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Joyful Child Foundation, Five Colleges, Inc. and Friendship Public Charter Schools. He is the author of Teach Them to Challenge Authority.
                                                                                 http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://alumni.oxy.edu/s/956/images/editor/iModules%2520Tiger.jpg&imgrefurl=http://alumni.oxy.edu/s/956/index.aspx?pgid=254&h=535&w=589&tbnid=HpSKtombb69zFM:&zoom=1&docid=b__GuALUiVQjxM&hl=en&ei=eoUbVY37HJXhoASho4KgDg&tbm=isch&ved=0CCYQMygJMAk                                                                         
 
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             
                 

Ed News, Friday, August 4, 2017 Edition

The ED NEWS

A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“Public education is not broken. It is not failing or declining. The diagnosis is wrong, 
and the solutions of the corporate reformers are wrong. Our urban schools are in trouble 
because of concentrated poverty and racial segregation. But public education is not ‘broken.’ 
Public education is in a crisis only so far as society is and only so far as this new narrative of crisis has destabilized it.” 

― Diane RavitchReign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement 

 
School “Choice” & Charters
The satirical newspaper the ONION offers a parents’ guide to selecting the best school for your child.   Here’s one example from the list: “Math Immersion School    In order to impart a rigorous and well-rounded math education, students are only permitted to speak in numbers and equations.”                Here we go again!  A Florida charter will be shutting down before it even officially opens its doors.  Why?  Scheduled to begin classes on Aug. 10th,  Legal Academy Charter, a pre-K to 6 school in Brevard County failed to meet minimum health, safety and insurance requirements.  Students who were planning to attend the campus will have to find other arrangements.   I wonder if the local public school is still in existence and has room?  WKMG News 6, the CBS affiliate in Orlando, has the story.  The article leads off with a short video (2:01 minutes) about the closure.  “The charter school’s contract with Brevard Public Schools,” the article states, “will be reviewed for termination on Aug. 8, BCPS officials said.  The school district said it is prepared to help students and families who are now without a place to go on the first day of school.”               Another charter in Florida is closing due to 2 consecutive years of earning an “F” grade in school performance based on the state’s rating system.  So what happens?  The campus will reopen this coming school year as a private school and will accept vouchers from students.  Neat trick!  Huh? The school in question this time is the Orange Park Performing Arts Academy in Clay County which serves 170 students in grades K-5.  The CLAY TODAY website provides the details of this hocus pocus.  “The district was required to close the failing charter school,” it points out, “as outlined in the state’s accountability system for charter schools that receive two consecutive “F” school grades, as was the case with OPPAA. . . .   In its first year of operation, the school received a “D” followed by “Fs” in 2016 and 2017.”  If the public schools are considered to be “failing” and ought to be closed what does this campus qualify for?  Just asking.               The above 2 items demonstrate how badly corporate “reform” is fairing in Florida but wait, things could be getting even worse.  Steven J. Klees, Professor of International Education Policy in the College of Education at the University of Maryland, describes a bill recently signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott that critics are calling “the death of public education” in the Sunshine State.  His post on the reasons why Florida House Bill 7069 is now law and what it entails appears on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  It’s titled “Florida: The Wild West of the Privatization and Testing Industries.”               There apparently is some funny business surrounding the proposal by SUNY, the State University of New York, to allow the charters it authorizes to provide alternative certification programs for the teachers its charters hire.  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post over to Carol Burris who discovers some hanky panky “between charter schools, political donations and teacher certification in New York.”  Burris does some diligent digging to connect the dots that link those 3 pieces of a rather convoluted puzzle.  In addition, she describes the SUNY plan for charter school teacher certification and how it compares to educators who want to work in the traditional public schools of New York.  They are quite different and the question Burris addresses is WHY.  Her answers are rather educational!  “It has become increasingly difficult for charter schools to attract and retain teachers.  They are presently allowed an uncertified teacher rate of 30 percent [!].  The solution, however, is not to lower certification standards even more,” Burris suggests, “but for charter schools to attract and retain teachers by improving working conditions so that teachers want to stay.  Such changes would be in the best interest of charter school students, as opposed to a fast-track certification that is in the best interest of those who so generously give to the governor’s campaigns.”
 
Democrats and Education
Following the strategy of Pres. Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” the Democratic party last week unveiled their “Better Deal” in an attempt to attract more middle and working class voters.  It covered a number of important topics but, sadly, was practically silent on the critical issue of public education.  Jeff Bryant, writing for ALTERNET, believes the party is missing a golden opportunity and offers 5 reasons why they should emphasize their agenda for improving public education rather than trying to avoid it.  Here are 2 examples from his list: “3. Support for Education Unites Labor and Civil Rights,   5. Democrats Need a Clean Break from the Party’s Education Past.”  Bryant provides detailed rationales for each suggestion.
 
What is ALEC Really Up To?
ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the organization that brings conservative state legislators together with business lobbyists to craft model legislation, deals with a number of important public policy issues.  Chris Taylor, a rare Democratic member from Wisconsin, likes to keep tabs on what the group is up to.  He attended the 44th annual conference recently held in Denver where Betsy DeVos was the keynote speaker and headlines his story in The Progressive “ALEC’s Attack on Public Education: A Report From the Frontlines.”  “I did not sneak in; I was a registered guest.  As a Democratic member of the Wisconsin state Assembly,” he mentions, “I have been going to ALEC conferences for years—to see for myself how this rightwing group crafts model legislation to advance the interests of its corporate and ideological funders.  The issue of the moment for ALEC is public education—that is, undermining it.  ALEC members are foaming at the mouth for the now-endless opportunities to further privatize public schools, long a central goal.”  Taylor reviews DeVos’ speech to the group and why ALEC members are so intent on privatizing the traditional public school system and how they intend to achieve that goal.
 
Illinois Gov. Vetoes School Funding Bill
Illinois’ Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, is doing everything he can to try to destroy the public school system, particularly in Chicago and the rest of his state.  Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, reports on Rauner’s latest assault on public education.  “The bill, SB1, would have ended a two-year budget feud between Democratic lawmakers,” she relates, “who are a majority in the state legislature, and the Republican governor had Rauner signed it.  It would have gone a long way toward reconstructing the state’s highly inequitable school funding system.  Illinois is nearly last among states in how much it invests in public education, and when it does send funding to school districts, the poorer ones get less than wealthier ones.  In fact, the difference in education funding between wealthier and poorer districts is the widest in the country.”
 
The Teaching Profession
The start of any new school year can be particularly nerve-racking for both teachers and students.  Even during a 37-year career in the classroom, I always had butterflies in my stomach the evening before and during the first day of school.  Nancy Barile is a National Board-certified high school English/Language Arts teacher and a college professor in Massachusetts.  She offers some hints and suggestions for “Calming Those Back-to-School Jitters” of her students on the “CTQ Collaboratory” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  Here are 2 examples from her list of 5 concerns her students have articulated to her: 1. “I’m afraid I’ll get lost.”   4. “I’m afraid I won’t make friends.”               Have you ever had to spend money out of your own pocket for school supplies?  If so, how much?  Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a short video of a teacher in Oklahoma basically, panhandling on the street collecting donations for school supplies.  A story in the “First Person” column for ED WEEK, by the executive director of a nonprofit that helps raise money for school supplies, details how the problem of teachers spending their own money is all too common and needs to be addressed.  “It’s incumbent on parents, school districts, and policymakers to remember that sometimes the problem right in front of you is the one most fixable.  Parents must urge their local school districts and state legislatures to adequately fund education, including by providing supplies to students who need them.  Teachers must continue to make noise about the supplies they need the most,” the author writes, “and which districts have the greatest needs.  No matter what changes we make on major policies, teachers—and their ability to both teach and make learning exciting for children—remain the most important component of education.  We should not let a lack of basic supplies keep them from doing their jobs.  We owe better funding to our children as well as our teachers.”              In the field of education “What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring?”  That’s the question tackled by Elena Aguilar, a veteran K-12 educator, coach, consultant and author, out of Oakland, Calif.  Her short commentary appears in “The Art of Coaching Teachers” column for ED WEEK. She begins by detailing the difference between coaching and mentoringand why it’s important to clarify the two.  “The key difference between mentoring and coaching in schools,” she suggests, “lies in the purpose for the support and the formality around the process.  Coaching is far more formal than mentoring, and has a more expansive end goal.”             What is Finland doing that makes it a paragon of public education?  5 Teachers of the Year from around the U.S. spent 3 days in the Scandinavian country and they discovered some valuable lessons according to a piece in the “Teaching Now” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  Two of the educators who made the trip, Jitka Nelson from Indiana and Amber Vlasnik from Nebraska, passed on some of their insights into what makes Finland such a model for excellence.  “Nelson and Vlasnik said the teachers left with the impression that Finnish schools are doing a lot of the same things U.S. schools are: The major difference is that teachers are held in higher regard.   Teacher preparation programs are rigorous and selective,” they mentioned, “and there’s only about a 10 percent acceptance rate, Nelson said.  Because of that, teachers are not evaluated through standardized test scores. . . .  And teachers in Finland have the autonomy to decide what and how to teach in their own classrooms.”
 
Science Education
Renowned astrophysicist and TV personality Neil deGrasse Tyson, in a recent Tweet, blamed our public education system as the reason why the American public is so ill informed about important science issues and policies like evolution, student vaccinations and climate change.  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, begs to differ. Bryant goes back into history to show this isn’t the first time science education has been held responsible for some perceived shortcomings of our knowledge including when the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 set off a frenzy of finger-pointing and blame.  “Today, when public schools and science teachers aren’t contending with the continued bashing by lawmakers and policy leaders,” he contends, “they have to address an around-the-clock onslaught of propaganda and “false news” which their still highly-impressionable students encounter every day.”
 
Corporate “Reform”
How successful have the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies been in changing the face of education in this country?  According to an analysis from NPQ (NONPROFIT QUARTERLY) that uses Detroit as an example,  the answer is a resounding “Not very!”  The “reform” crowd and their ilk made some mistakes and believed pouring millions of dollars into the effort was all that was needed.  The shuddering of their group Excellent Schools Detroit at the end of June demonstrates their failure to make substantial strides with Detroit’s public schools.  “Having the ability to invest billions is not enough to guarantee success.  That’s one of the lessons a growing list of mega-donors and large foundations,” the piece explains, “is learning from their efforts to transform and improve public education.  In many cases, the initiatives they have launched have been more disruptive than effective.  Missing from much of their work has been a recognition of the need to work with families and communities and a willingness to engage in the often-messy work of building success from the bottom up.”               Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, is feeling no sympathy for the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies.  With Pres. Trump in office, Betsy DeVos holding the job of Sec. of Education and both the U.S. House and Senate under Republican control, you’d think they would be celebrating all the major legislation on school “choice,” charters and vouchers that could have passed into law by now.  “They should be dancing in the streets.  But somehow they just don’t feel like dancing. . . .  It’s the way the Trump administration is going about it,” according to Singer.  “You see, he’s being – gulp – honest.  He’s actually saying what he means.  He’s throwing back the curtain exposing all the racist, classist, capitalist motivations behind corporate education reform.” Things are not going so well for the “reformers” on a number of fronts as Singer lays out.
 
Betsy DeVos
The Trump administration’s proposed budget includes big cuts for the Dept. of Education and the shifting of billions of taxpayer dollars to voucher-like programs.  It also includes about $8 million to pay for 6 months of protection by the U.S. Marshals Service for Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos.  A short item in the  “Morning Education” feature at POLITICO has the brief details. (You’ll have to scroll down a ways to find the paragraph.)  “The past four Education secretaries,” it points out, have been protected by the Education Department’s own small security force.”  I wonder where the money for this current protection is coming from?                It may be hard to believe but Betsy DeVos has been the head of the U.S. Dept. of Education for 6 months.  Does it seem likes it’s been much longer, or is that just my impression?  Valerie Strauss, on blog for the Washington Post, takes DeVos’ first half-year in the position to review what she has accomplished in both K-12 and post-secondary education policy.   “DeVos is a Michigan billionaire who has labored tirelessly for decades to promote school choice, or alternatives to traditional public schools,” Strauss indicates, “and is seen by critics as the most ideological and anti-public-education secretary in the more than 40 years of the department’s history.  She has made clear her K-12 priority is expanding charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated — and vouchers or voucher-like programs,  which use public money to pay for private and religious schools in different ways.”
 
Pearson Cuts 3,000 Jobs
London-based publishing giant Pearson, PLc, announced it is cutting 3,000 jobs, reducing its annual dividend and shifting to more digital learning products as its traditional print education business continues to slump according to Bloomberg.  The staff reductions equate to about 10% of the company’s total work force.  “The cost-savings campaign is the latest in London-based Pearson’s efforts to revive earnings amid a transforming education market.  The company,” the article points out, “which sold the Financial Times and its stake in the Economist in 2015 to invest in its education business, announced 4,000 job cuts last year and also reduced thousands of jobs in 2013 and 2014.”
When Parents Request Their Child’s Classroom Be Changed
And finally, Dr. Marcus Jackson, an elementary school principal in Atlanta, addresses the touchy issue of what to do when parents request a change of classroom for their child at the start of a new school year.  His comments take the form of a letter to parents and appear courtesy of the BATs (Badass Teaches Association) website.  He discusses the detailed process of how classroom rosters are created and offers some suggestions for parents of what to do before approaching the principal for a change.

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

Ed News, Tuesday, August 1, 2017 Edition

The ED NEWS

 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“Qualifications do not always define a true education. 
Qualifications are like obtaining a valuable candle 
while a true education is the essence of light that the candle will reflect. 
The ultimate purpose of qualifications is to find a great job, 
and the ultimate purpose of education is to create a great life.” 

― Debasish Mridha

The Teaching Profession
Have you got 55 seconds to spare?  If so, check out this video from CNN about a third grade teacher in Oklahoma who stood on the side of a road outside Tulsa with a sign asking for donations for school supplies.  Teresa Danks has been teaching since 1996, has a masters degree, earns $35,000 per year and is forced to spend $2,000-$3,000 a year for school supplies because of inadequate funding and poor support for public education in her state.  Sad?  No TRAGIC!               Why do some corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies in the media keep making the point that teachers don’t need to be certified?  Is it so they can reduce salaries to near minimum wage level and thus earn more money for themselves?  I’ll leave that answer to my readers.  Anyway, Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, dismantles a piece in Forbes by two college professors with NO K-12 public school teaching experience who make the case for hiring non-certified teachers.  Greene includes a link to the offending article and identifies “18 dumb things” that it contains.  Here’s one example from Greene’s list and his response:  “8) If we want schools to hire better teachers, we should expand, not contract, the pool from which schools may draw.  What was that part about not raising the pay for teachers?  But let’s not expand the pool by making teaching more attractive– let’s just open up the job to anybody with a warm pulse.”  I can’t resist including the final line from his story:  “That’s 18 dumb things in one short article.  I suppose Forbes could get better articles if they paid less and let anybody write for them.”  Touché!              By the calendar it’s the height of the summer but for some, the next school year is right around the corner (the first day of classes in the LAUSD is Aug. 15–exactly 2 weeks from today).  What do teachers typically do with the “time off” they have during the summer?  You might be surprised and then again you may not by the list of things that Janice Little Strauss of the BATs (Badass Teachers Association) comes up with after a little help from her friends.  Her essay is titled “What Teachers REALLY Do During Their Summers ‘Off’?”  Here are just a couple examples from her list of over 50 items: “14. Write curriculum  15. Research and create new classroom activities, projects and teaching aids  16. Develop rubrics for extended projects and short term projects”                Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, makes an interesting argument why he shouldn’t be considered a superherojust because he teaches.  He explains what superheroes do and why he is unable to achieve similar things.  He describes what he accomplishes as an every day educator and hopes those will stand on their own merits.  “I get to see students grow.  I get to nurture that growth.  I get to be there for young ones who have nobody else.  It’s a wonderful feeling.  I know I’m making a difference.  So, yes, I’m no superman.  I have no special powers,” he humbly concludes, “no superhuman abilities.  I can’t fix all of our social problems all by myself.  But I help to make the future.  That’s why I do what I do.  Thank you for letting me do it.”  [Ed. note:  I’ve shared this with readers before and it’s certainly apropos given what Singer writes.  I have a plaque on my desk at home that I picked up on a recent trip to Vancouver, Canada.  You can view a picture of it below:]
 
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Charter Schools
Do graduates of charter schools graduate from college at much higher rates than students who attend traditional public schools?  An article from The Alumni website makes that claim.  However, Gary Rubinstein’s Blog quickly counters that rather hard to believe assertion.  Rubinstein includes a link to the item from The Alumni and titles his rebuttal “The Alum-Lie.”  He demonstrates how their statistics claiming such a high graduation rate leave out some key points.  “The summary of the report says that they have tracked the students at nine charter networks and found that graduates of those charters have between 25% and 50% of those students also graduate college.  Since a commonly quoted statistic is that only 9% of low income students graduate college, these networks seem to be getting between three and five times the rate of college completion.  The major flaw in this report . . . . is that while the 9% statistic is for ALL students who enter schools,” Rubinstein points out, “these 25% to 50% numbers are only for the students who complete 12th grade at the schools.”  Sneaky!  As always, Rubinstein does some meticulous checking into data that’s available publicly that The Alumni article seems to have ignored.  Diane Ravitch has this to say about Rubinstein’s work: “A great post, vintage Rubinstein. Read it.”               Diane Ravitch’s blog posted a letter from Matt Schuman who was fired from his position as a charter school teacher in New York City for joining a union.  One of the original goals of charters was that they would be non-union, ostensibly so they would not be bound by certain rules that they felt stifled innovation.  As time has gone on, the real reason for the anti-union stance has become clear–charters don’t want to pay teachers what they deserve and they want to exploit them regarding working rules and conditions.  Plain and simple!  Don’t buy any other justifications for not allowing teachers to organize.  Ironically, the school that he was terminated from is The Charter High School for Law and Social Justice which serves about 220 students in 9th and 10th grade.  “The Charter High School for Law and Social Justice (“CHSLSJ”), has been in the news for anti-union behavior,: Schuman reports.  “Specifically, the management of the school (via its principal and president of the board) terminated eleven of fifteen members covered by the collective bargaining unit.  The only four members retained had no overt association with our union activities.  During CHSLSJ’s first year, my colleagues and I voted to unionize with the U.F.T., not only because we wanted protection, but because we genuinely believed a fair and efficient contract would help this new school build up its infrastructure in positive ways that would impact, both short and long-term, the inaugural classes of scholars and their family-members.”  Schuman references an article in his story and footnotes it at the end about the abrupt firing of the 11 teachers that appeared in the New York Daily News.  If you are interested in reading further about this situation, you can find it by clicking here.                Some previous issues of the “Ed News” have highlighted the brewing controversy that would allow the charter committee at SUNY, the State University of New York, to hire uncertified teachers to staff its charters and provide alternate certification to them on its own.  Carol Burris writing on Diane Ravitch’s blog, explains why that’s a bad idea and why the committee should be ashamed of itself for even proposing it.  “In a nutshell, turn up at a charter school door with a bachelors’ degree,” Burris complains, “and you can become a certified teacher in weeks.”  Burris reviews some of the proposed regulations and includes a link to the full document (12 pages) 
 
School “Choice” & Vouchers
Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, explains why the whole concept of school “choice” parents always having the option of “voting with their feet” if they don’t like how their charter is operating just doesn’t work in the context of education reality.  “A parental foot vote carries no weight.  And since parents get their foot votes by trading away actual votes for board members, access to any transparency about school management or finances, and in some cases even simple access to people in charge, it’s a lousy trade. The only thing they can do is that bipedal vote thing,’ he charges, “and as we’ve seen, [that] doesn’t carry much weight.  “Vote with your feet” is just a nicer way for charter operators to say ‘Take it or leave it.'”                 Why do the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies often refer to the traditional public schools as “government schools?”  Is it a form of dog whistle politics to rile up the their right-wing base?  An op-ed in The New York Times attributes a rather dark, sinister meaning to the phrase.  The author of the piece plumbs the depths of U.S. History to explain that point and how it connects to the present via charters and school “choice.”  Her commentary is titled “What the ‘Government Schools’ Critics Really Mean.”  “The attacks on ‘government schools’ have a much older, darker heritage.  They have their roots in American slavery, Jim Crow-era segregation, anti-Catholic sentiment and a particular form of Christian fundamentalism–and those roots are still visible today.”  Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweek for sending this along. He describes it as “stunningly horrifying.”                 In the same vein as the item above, Jennifer Berkshire, on her HAVE YOU HEARD podcast, interviews Nancy McLean on the origins of school “choice” and vouchers and traces them back to the segregationist South and the era of Brown v Board of Education decided by the Supreme court in 1954. The audio segment (25:14 minutes) is titled “The Long Crusade Against Public Schools.”  McLean is a Duke University professor of History and Public Policy and has a new book out “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical’s Rights Stealth Plan for America.”                Peter Greene makes the seemingly counter intuitive argument “Why Churches Should Hate School Vouchers.”  You would think that religious schools would be falling all over themselves to promote vouchers as they could become the recipients of millions of dollars of taxpayer funding for their campuses.  Greene warns them to beware of what they wish for as there are unforeseen ramifications to accepting those dollars.   Greene’s commentary appears, as always, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  “Even before I was a cranky blogger, I was telling folks that religious institutions should be right out there resisting vouchers,” he conveys, “and that if school vouchers with no regard for the church and state wall ever became law, churches would rue the day just as much as anyone, if not more. . . .  It’s important to remember that the separation of church and state is not just for the state’s benefit– it protects churches as well.”
 
2 Former LAUSD Board Members Speak Out
Former LAUSD board Pres. Steve Zimmer lost his bid to retain his seat during the May election and Monica Ratliff chose not to run again and lost a race to join the L.A. City Council.  They sat down for separate interviews that appear in yesterday’s L.A. Times where they talked about the pleasure they got from the positive strides the district made during their tenure on the board.  In addition, they expressed concerns for the future of L.A. schools.  Both address a question about challenges the LAUSD faces from the growth of charters.  Here are their responses:  Zimmer“We have crossed — or are about to cross — a threshold where the loss of revenue to the district as a result of students leaving for charter schools has an effect on the quality of education for families that choose L.A. Unified-operated schools.  At the same time, there are still areas where there are legitimate reasons to create new charters.”  Ratliff“I’m very concerned about the proliferation of charters.  I think someone at the level of state government needs to take a look at the fact that right now you can put a charter anywhere, even if there is a successful charter next door.”
School Leadership
When was the last time you heard or read about a principal who also teaches at his/her school?  In a small, rural district in western Maryland the principals have been doing principal-type things as well as teaching classes for at least 20 years.  The “District Dossier” column for EDUCATION WEEK describes these double-duty school leaders and the benefits they bring to their individual campuses.  “The teaching principals are not filling in for teachers when they are absent: teaching is a part of their job,” it reports.  “They’re the regular math, science, and reading teachers in their schools.  Teaching principals are assigned to schools with fewer than 150 students, and the positions are often a starting point for new principals who then move on to bigger schools without the teaching requirements.”
 
Kern High School District Settles Lawsuit 
And finally, 3 years ago a group of parents filed suit in Kern County Superior Court against the Kern High School District claiming their children and others were singled out for discipline simply because they were students of color.  Last week the district agreed to settle with the plaintiffs.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times has the details of the case and its resolution.  “The district settled the suit in Kern County Superior Court this week,” it relates, “promising to create new discipline policies with help from experts on unconscious racial bias and to schedule continued training for teachers on less punitive techniques to minimize disruptions.  Most of the 19 petitioners will get $5,000 each to further their or their children’s education. . . .  The district did not admit to any wrongdoing, and said it agreed to the settlement in order to stop spending money on legal fees.”
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Dave Alpert (O’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.