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