Ed News, Friday, August 4, 2017 Edition


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.

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

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