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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.             
                   

Ed News, Friday, July 28, 2017 Edition

 The ED NEWS

 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 “The desire for knowledge begins with searching and seeking.” 
Charter Schools
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?
 
Corporate “Reform”
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
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.”
                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, Tuesday, July 25, 2017 Edition

The ED NEWS

 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“Do not just accept but dare to question.” 

― Lailah Gifty Akita

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

The ED NEWS

 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 
“Knowledge shows us a direction; education gives us power to walk.” 

― Debasish Mridha

New Commission to Look Into Improving L.A. Schools
A prominent, above-the-fold, front-page story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times talks about a new committee made up of business, civic and philanthropic leaders tasked with improving the schools in the LAUSD.  The advisory panel has already met in May and June and has so far been focusing on how to improve student attendance.  Its mandate will expand to other areas of district policies and procedures in the future.  The article goes on to speculate about any hidden agendas possibly regarding the continued tenure of Supt. Michelle King and also provides a list of the 11 members of the commission, none of whom represent teachers, administrators or other employees of the LAUSD.  “The lack of representation from any district labor groups concerns Juan Flecha, head of the administrators union,” it notes.  “The panel, he said, also seems ‘anemic’ in terms of strong educators and weighted with affluent Westsiders who might lack ‘knowledge of the mental health, social, and economic realities of the majority of the students the district serves.’”   I sure hope this isn’t just another thinly-veiled, charter expansion front group. 
 
Betsy DeVos
Malcolm, a special needs student with Down Syndrome who just completed third grade in North Carolina, “writes” a letter (with LOTS of help from his high school teacher dad) to Betsy DeVos about her seeming lack of knowledge about special education policy and his worry that she won’t be a strong advocate, as the head of the U.S. Dept. of Education, for students like him. (See Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” which highlighted DeVos’ first major speech regarding special ed., delivered earlier this week).  Malcolm’s dad, Stuart Egan, is the author of the CAFFEINATED RAGE blog.  Here’s an excerpt of what Malcolm “wrote” to Sec. DeVos:  “I am worried about some of the things that have happened in public schools since I have started going.  I am also worried about how students like me are being treated since you and President Trump have been in office.”  Certainly check out the photos of Malcolm that dad added at the end of this piece.  Diane Ravitch writes: “I hope she reads [the letter].”               Why are the billionaire Koch brothers supporting Betsy DeVos’ plan to eliminate public education?  The July 11th edition of the “Ed News” profiled the Koch brothers’ financial and political backing of a campaign in Colorado for vouchers and “school choice” which they would certainly like to see expand nationwide.  Jim Hightower, writing for SALON, outlines the alliance between DeVos and the Kochs in a commentary titled “Betsy DeVos’ Plan to Sell Out Public Schools is a Koch Brothers Dream Come True.”  “The DeVos couple are pushing plutocratic policies that reject our country’s one-for-all, all-for-one egalitarianism,” Hightower maintains.  “In particular, Betsy DeVos has spent years and millions of dollars spreading the right-wing’s ideological nonsense that public education should be completely privatized.  She advocates turning our tax dollars over to for-profit outfits — even to private schools that exclude people of color, the poor and the disabled, as well as to profiteering schools known to cheat students and taxpayers. . . .  As Wall Street banksters, drug company gougers, airline fee fixers and so many others have taught us over and over, most corporate executives are paid big bucks to take every shortcut, cheat and lie to squeeze out another dime in profits.  Why would we entrust our schoolchildren to them?”               DeVos delivered a much anticipated speech in Denver yesterday to the annual gathering of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) the organization that brings together conservative state legislators and corporate lobbyists to help craft model legislation on a variety of conservative topics.  The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK has a summary of DeVos remarks to the ALEC convention.   “DeVos’ presence in Denver drew protests: On Wednesday, a crowd of protesters gathered in Denver outside the Hyatt Regency where the conference was being held, holding signs criticizing both ALEC and DeVos,” it explains.  “But at ALEC’s conference, DeVos was speaking to a sympathetic audience, and she emphasized their common ground.”             Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, was quick to analyze the address and was particularly struck by the comparisons DeVos invoked between herself and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  DeVos believes the two have similar philosophies of governing.  “To DeVos, public institutions are impediments to individuals who want freedom to access opportunities,” Strauss suggest, “and the traditional public education system, which has been the most important civic institution in America since its creation, is a failure that can’t be fixed.”  Strauss provides a full transcript of DeVos’ speech at the end of her column.               A teacher in Los Angeles, who goes by the pseudonym of “Jack Covey,” offers frequent comments on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  He turns his attention to an almost  line-by-line examination of DeVos’ talk yesterday to the ALEC convention (see 2 items above).  “You can’t celebrate Maggie Thatcher’s every man for himself, dog-eat-dog, rat-eat-rat Survival of the Fittest political philosophy at the beginning of your speech,” Covey complains, “and then, at the end of that same speech, state that you’re goal is to make it so that ‘every child in America – every single child – has an equal opportunity to a world-class education.’  The former directly contradicts and is opposed by the latter.  If there are going to be X number of winners, that means that there are also going to be approximately the same X number of losers.”               The exact date that DeVos was to address the gathered members of ALEC (Thursday) was not made public ahead of time.   A large group of protesters marched outside the hall on Wednesday to oppose her appearance and her policies on charters, vouchers and school “choice.”  Jeannie Kaplan, on her Kaplan for Kids blog, describes the rally and march organized to resist DeVos’ programs.  “Yesterday’s rally and march focused on the unqualified DeVos and her privatization and corporatization policies. . . .  With the help of Colorado’s unions, Colorado Resistance groups, and many other community groups,” Kaplan writes, “teachers from across the state joined with other union members, community supporters, students and parents to demonstrate and express their opposition to the direction ALEC-led lobbyists are pushing public education.”                Jennifer Berkshire believes that both Betsy DeVos and ALEC are working in lockstep to destroy public education.  “The ALEC agenda, indistinguishable from DeVos’ own, prizes school choice as an end unto itself,” she remarks.  “They envision a future where parents are freed—from the education monopoly, from regulation, from greedy unions, and most importantly, from schools—to navigate an education marketplace that abounds in choices.  It is also replete with money making opportunities, but that is not something that appears on the ALEC press releases.”  Berkshire also takes notice of the fact that resistance to the corporate “reform” and privatization movement is gaining steam.              AFT (American Federation of Teachers) Pres. Randi Weingarten took the gloves off in a blistering attack on Sec. Betsy DeVos at the union’s annual convention in Washington, D.C., yesterday.  DeVos used part of her talk to the ALEC conference to answer Weingarten’s blast.  Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, has selections from both womens’ speeches.  Their exchange neatly summarizes the two warring sides in the public schools versus privatization battle which is rapidly heating up.  “Earlier this month, the president of the country’s largest labor union, Lily Eskelsen García of the National Education Association, told delegates at her organization’s annual gathering,” Strauss notes, “that they would not work with the Trump administration because the president and DeVos could not be trusted to do what is in the best interests of children.  She also labeled DeVos ‘the queen of for-profit privatization of public education.’  The two major teachers unions, which together represent several million people, have been quick to oppose the Trump administration.”  Strauss includes a transcript of Weingarten’s talk at the end of her article.
 
More Scrutiny for Credit Recovery Courses
Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a grant given to the LAUSD to study the efficacy of its credit recovery program.  Apparently, more questions are being raised about the classes beyond the LAUSD.  The NEA (National Education Association), at its recent national convention, held at the start of the month, approved a “new business item” to probe the value of online credit recovery programs (OCRP).  The “Digital Education” column for EDUCATION WEEK has a brief story about the growing concerns regarding OCRPs.  “There’s a real hodgepodge of actual online credit recovery offerings.  No one really knows how many students are enrolled in such programs,” it points out.  “Research to date has been decidedly mixed.  And even proponents of online learning have had some harsh things to say about the practice.  The education media is clearly starting to pay attention, too—in May, Columbia University’s Teacher Project and Slate.com published a harshly critical 8-part series on the topic.”  [Ed. note: The ED WEEK article has a link to the 8-part series in Slate.]
 
Testing and Value-Added Models
How fair is this?  According to Chalkbeat New Yorkover half of New York City teachers were evaluated using subjects and/or students they didn’t directly teach.  New York is not the only state where this is happening.  “New York’s evaluation system has gone through a number of substantial changes since it was first codified in state law in 2012,” it explains, “part of a nationwide push to connect teacher performance to student test scores, spurred by federal incentives.  Student assessments have comprised anywhere from 40 percent of the evaluation to essentially 50 percent, under a matrix system pushed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2015.  Most recently, New York stopped using grades 3-8 English and math state tests as part of the system, but teachers must continue to be judged based on some assessment.”                Is the use of student standardized test scores  and VAMs (value-added models) as a way to evaluate teachers losing favor?  A recent court ruling in May supported the Houston Teachers Union challenge to the use of VAMs as a way to evaluate teachers.  A story in the AMERICAN PROSPECT suggests that the use of those VAMs is beginning to fade.  The author of the item has an interesting history of the teacher accountability movement and believes it may take a slightly different approach in the future.  “WHILE THE FUTURE of using value-added measures in teacher evaluations is unclear, some researchers have been advocating alternative ideas.  One would be to use the statistical growth measures as a diagnostic tool,” she writes, “a preliminary screening test to help identify which districts, schools, and classrooms warrant closer attention.  The idea would be to think of using VAM like a doctor who diagnostically screens for major diseases.  If patients fail the screening test, they are given another, more careful measure.”
 
New High School Building Design
When Farmington High School in New Mexico needed a new main building and campus, the design company selected to build the project had one thing in mind: security.  They also wanted to make sure a welcoming atmosphere was also incorporated into the plan so it wouldn’t look like a prison or fortress to faculty, staff, students, parents and visitors.  A story in the Farmington Daily Times describes what is being created and, possibly, it can become a model for the future.  “Guests [walk] through a still-under-construction main building that thoroughly addresses those security concerns by funneling all visitors through a tightly controlled check-in point from which administrators can monitor the actions of everyone coming and going.  But once visitors to the building proceed past the main entry,” it lays out, “they enter a structure that features an abundance of warm, inviting spaces that make optimal use of natural light with floor-to-ceiling windows and open floor plans. The main hall, in fact, looks more like the headquarters of an ambitious Silicon Valley web start-up than a traditional American high school.”  [Ed. note: As a former high school teacher, it sounds VERY inviting!]  Construction is scheduled to be completed in December so that classrooms can be occupied after winter break in January.
 
Rafe Esquith
Acclaimed Hobart Ave. Elementary School teacher Rafe Esquith was removed from his classroom in April, 2015, and fired by the LAUSD in Oct., 2015, for allegedly using sexual language in front of his students.  Esquith claimed the action was retaliation for his criticism of various district policies and attempted to sue the district in Aug., 2015.  Mark Mooney, an L.A. Superior Court judge, upheld Esquith’s intent to sue and yesterday an appellate court panel confirmed the lower court ruling.  A piece in the L.A. Daily News reviews Esquiths’s case, explains the details of his lawsuit and discusses the 2 court rulings.  “Mooney’s ruling,” it points out, “meant that Esquith’s claims of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, the taking of items from his classroom, retaliation, age discrimination and unfair business practices remained in the case.  He also is seeking reinstatement to his teaching position.”  [Ed. note: Esquith spoke to an ALOED gathering on the Occidental College campus several years ago.]
 
Every Student Succeeds Act
Under the new ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) states are required to submit plans for implementing certain aspects of the law for approval by the federal Dept. of Education.  A number of states have complained about the scrutiny their proposals are getting from the DoE amid charges that the federal government is getting overly involved in aspects of education policy that ESSA promised to reserve to the individual states.  An article in EDUCATION WEEK details the complaints from certain states about the oversight.  “The back and forth between states and Washington over the Every Student Succeeds Act,” it begins, “has become more complicated than many had expected.  Although U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos took office in February pledging to let states seize control of key education policy decisions under the new federal K-12 law, her department’s responses to states’ ESSA plans have surprised—and in some cases irritated—state leaders and others.”
 
The Teaching Profession
And finally, Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, wonders why the school “reform” movement has lots of suggestions for improving education but almost never mentions INCREASING TEACHER SALARIES.  How unique and unusual is that concept!  “There are many suggestions for improving America’s public schools:  More standardized tests.  New academic standards.  Increase charter schools and/or allow kids to attend private schools with public money,” he lists.  “But one reform you hardly ever hear about is this: pay teachers more.  Isn’t that funny?  We’re willing to try almost everything else but that.”  Singer proceeds to review how much new teachers are paid currently and suggests what they should get paid.  Be sure to check out the photo that leads off his piece.  
           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, Tuesday, July 18, 2017 Edition

 The ED NEWS

 A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“True education is the ultimate secret of a successful life.” 

― Debasish Mridha

Corporate “Reform”
Remember those astonishing “reforms” achieved by Michelle Rhee when she was chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools?  The corporate “reformers” like to tout what she achieved as proof of their agenda.  They still like to think she worked miracles during her tenure as head of the district.  The current issue of The Washington Monthly revisits those “successes.”  Unfortunately, most of the points made by the author, Thomas Toch, are questionable according to John Merrow in his THE MERROW REPORT and thus cast some doubt on the whole corporate “reform” movement.  Toch downplays the amount of cheating that took place on standardized tests in the DCPS and Merrow sets the record straight on that point.  “The fantasy that top-down, data-driven, test-centric ‘reform’ works is perpetuated by articles like Tom Toch’s.  Sadly, his piece has been widely distributed,” Merrow complains, “by the editorial pages of the Washington Post, influential blogger and co-founder of Democrats for Education Reform Whitney Tilson, and others.”  Merrow and a coauthor will provide a full rebuttal to Toch’s claims in the next issue of The Washington Monthly.  That should be interesting!  Merrow includes a link to the Toch article in his story.  Diane Ravitch calls Merrow’s piece a “marvelous post.”
Betsy DeVos
U.S. Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos will be speaking this week at the annual convention of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), the conservative group that brings state legislators together with representatives from the private business sector to draft model legislation it favors.  The gathering is in Denver and runs tomorrow through Friday. An article on the Chalkbeat Colorado website discusses DeVos’ appearance.  “While DeVos will find a friendly audience at ALEC,” it notes, “she’ll get a different greeting from liberal activists and union leaders who are seizing on the chance to protest DeVos’s agenda. . . .  DeVos shares ALEC’s support for charter schools and the use of tax dollars to pay for private school education through vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and education savings accounts.”  One of the groups DeVos founded helps fund ALEC and the organization has representatives on one of its task forces.               Jennifer Berkshire, writing on ALTERNET, has an important caveat regarding Betsy DeVos: focus on what she does, not on what little she says.  The head of the U.S. Dept. of Education holds very few press conferences and conducts limited interviews.  When she does, DeVos offers non-answers and engages in diversionary tactics.   DeVos only speaks before friendly audiences (see above) where she offers platitudes and few specifics.  “Her substance-free performances,” Berkshire bemoans, “are all the more remarkable given the fierce urgency with which DeVos has pursued her agenda since arriving in Washington.  Sidelining federal civil rights enforcement, rolling back protections for students who have been defrauded by shady for-profit colleges, meeting with a steady stream of ‘edupreneurs’ and flogging school choice at every turn—these have been busy days for the Secretary.”               The June 27th edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a letter sent by a number of Democratic U.S. Senators to Sec. DeVos  questioning her commitment to enforcing civil rights rules and regulations in her department.  DeVos responded in a letter to Sen. Patty Murray last Tuesday in which she explained how she planned to return the Office for Civil Rights to a more “neutral, impartial, investigative agency.” Murray sent a second letter on Friday again requesting some information from DeVos who had failed to provide it previously.  Their back-and-forth is reviewed in a piece on the POLITICO website.             Diane Ravitch’s blog was indignant at DeVos’ backing away from civil rights enforcement (see item above) claiming: “It is at a time like this that DeVos’s ignorance of education policy and history becomes embarrassing.  OCR is the Office FOR Civil Rights.  It was never a ‘neutral’ agency.  It led the way in the 1960s in forcing the integration of Southern schools.  It didn’t just investigate.  It threatened Southern districts that did not produce hard data about students and faculty integration.  No integration, no federal funding.  One can’t be ‘neutral’ about civil rights,” Ravitch concludes.  “The Office for Civil Rights is meant to enforce the law and protect the vulnerable–not to feign indifference.”             Betsy DeVos delivered her first major speech on special education at the Office of Special Education Programs Leadership Conference yesterday in Arlington, Virginia.   One has to seriously wonder if she knows what she’s talking about and whether she can truly be an advocate for students with disabilities.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, analyzes the speech and provides a full transcript for you to read.  “DeVos has promoted charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated — most of which do not enroll as many students as traditional public schools, percentage-wise, and many of which are not equipped to deal with special needs students.  Many charter schools,” Strauss notes, “counsel out students who can’t meet the academic demands, which is far from the promise of trying to ensure that every child gets a free and fair education.”
 
Trump and Education
The Trump administration’s voucher plan may be fading for this year.  A budget proposal in the House is missing several key components of the initiative as explained in the “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK.  Prospects in the Senate seem equally dim.  “U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos came to Washington primarily to do one thing: Use the power of her office to expand school choice, her passion for decades.  Members of her own party appeared to deal a major blow to that goal Thursday,” it begins, “when the House panel charged with overseeing education spending approved a bill that doesn’t include two of DeVos’ big budget asks: using an education research program to offer school vouchers, and allowing Title I dollars to follow students to the school of their choice.”               Pres. Trump rolled out his fiscal 2018 budget earlier this year.  It proposes a 13% cut for the U.S. Dept. of Education.  For a brief refresher on some of the highlights, the “Politics K-12” column for ED WEEK has a graphic and a short video (58 seconds) outlining the plan.  
 
LAUSD to Scrutinize Credit Recovery Courses
Are they a legitimate avenue to allow students to make up credits or a scam to help the district boost its graduation rate?  That question, probably not in those terms, is the focus of a $3.26 million grant from the federal government to assist the LAUSD in studying the efficacy of the its credit recovery classes.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes the grant and how the research will be carried out.  “L.A. Unified has dramatically expanded its online and in-person credit recovery programs since 2015,” it explains, “to come closer to its goal of a 100% graduation rate, drawing concern that not all graduates have achieved the same level of subject knowledge.  The results of this study, which will focus on roughly 3,000 students from about 15 high schools throughout the district, could answer some questions that critics have about how rigorous the online courses are.”
 
Personalized Learning is BAAACK
Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, views the newfangled Personalized Learning for what it really is:  a renamed idea for a failed technique from the past.  Only difference?  Now it has students learning from computers.  Singer views Personalized Learning as nothing more than warmed over correspondence classes from the 1980s.  “Sometimes it seems that education policy is nothing but a series of scams and frauds that becomes untenable in one generation only to pop up again 10 or 20 years later with a new name.  Take Personalized Learning, the latest digital product from the ed-tech industry to invade your local public school.  It’s cutting edge stuff.  Except that it isn’t,” he rails.  “It’s just the same old correspondence school nonsense of the 1980s thrown onto an iPad or a laptop.  It was crap back then, and it’s crap today.  But it sounds nice.”
 
Charter Schools
The corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies, like to tout the successes of the KIPP charter school network.  However, more detailed analysis yields some different results. KIPP would like to expand its presence in Philadelphia and triple its enrollment in the city.  So, how is it fairing in the City of Brotherly Love?  To be totally honest, not so well!  KIPP has 5 campuses in the city, 2 elementary, 2 middle and 1 high school.  Gary Rubinstein, on his Gary Rubinstein’s Blog, discovered the high school earned the lowest possible rating and some of the “positive” statistics quoted by KIPP don’t provide the complete data.   “I looked at the recent school report card for their one and only high school, KIPP DuBois High School.  Though they don’t have letter grades,” he writes, “they do have six levels with different symbols that are essentially an A to F scale.  That school got the lowest possible rating, essentially an F.  Not only were their test scores low, but they also got the lowest possible rating in ‘growth’ in math and reading, in other words the value-added for the school which reformers claim to take very seriously.”
 
Florida School District Ends Homework
The 42,000 student Marion County school district in central Florida, west of Daytona Beach, will be ending traditional homework for elementary students when they return in the fall.  Instead, Heidi Maier, the newly appointed superintendent, decided to encourage kids to read for 20 minutes each night.  Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, profiles Maier and her new action.  “The policy will apply to all elementary school students in the district — about 20,000 — but not to middle or high school students,” Strauss indicates.  “Maier, an expert on reading acquisition who started running Marion schools in November after serving as lead professor of teacher education at the College of Central Florida, said she is basing her decision on research showing that traditional homework in the early years does not boost academic performance but reading — and reading aloud — does.”
 
Testing
Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, is up in arms this time about test-based accountability and those politicians and corporations who promote it.  The former for not adequately funding and supporting traditional public schools and the latter for creating the materials based on high stakes standardized tests that students are bound to fail due to the lack of proper resources in the first place.  Now schools are labeled as “failing.”  It all becomes the proverbial vicious circle:  school budgets are cut by politicians, students do poorly on corporate designed tests so those same politicians divert even more money to charters and vouchers and in the end the traditional public schools cease to exist.  The “cowardly politicians and unscrupulous corporations,” as Singer portrays them, win in the end.  “In short, we need to stop worshipping at the altar of test-based accountability,” he implores.  “Schools can and should be held accountable.  But it cannot be done with standardized tests.  Moreover, we must stop ignoring the role of policymakers and business in this system.  They must also be responsible.  We are allowing them to get away with murder.”
 
California Teacher Pensions
Republican controlled states are more and more looking to whittle away at those traditional guaranteed teacher pensions like we have in California.  They’d like to transition educators into 401(k) plans.     Why make such a change?  GOP lawmakers are constantly looking at ways to save money at the state level, most likely so that they can provide more tax cuts to the wealthy 1%.  Nari Rhee is the director of the Retirement Security Program at the UC Berkeley Labor Center and co-author of a report comparing pensions to 401(k)s and how they would effect teachers in California.  She writes in an op-ed in today’s L.A. Times that the transition would take a serious bite out of teachers’ retirement pay.  “We compared current levels of CalSTRS benefits with the yield from an idealized 401(k),” she reports from her paper.  “We found that 86% of working teachers in California will get higher retirement income from the existing pension than they would from even a best-case-scenario 401(k).   In fact, a 401(k) plan would provide 40% less retirement income for the typical California classroom teacher compared with the current pension, which is consistent with rigorous studies in other states, including one commissioned by the Colorado legislature and another conducted in Texas.”
 
An Extended Examination of the PBS Documentary “School Inc.”
And finally, a number of PBS stations carried the one-sided, pro-charter, pro-voucher, anti-traditional public school documentary “School Inc.”  Several previous editions of the “Ed News” highlighted the outcry from public school proponents who assailed the biased nature of the film and demanded PBS provide equal time to air opposing points-of-view.  Valerie Strauss turns her blog in The Washington Post over to Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris who offer a detailed rebuttal to the original program.  “PBS (‘The Public Broadcasting System’) is known for its high standards and for its thoughtful documentaries that explain issues in a fair and well-informed manner.  But in this case, PBS broadcast ‘School Inc.,’ three hours of content funded by right-wing foundations and right out of the privatizers’ playbook.  The program was partisan, inaccurate and biased against public schools,” they point out.  “Not every PBS station aired this documentary, but many did.  The timing was fortuitous for Trump and DeVos, whose ‘school choice’ agenda aligns neatly with the philosophy expressed in ‘School Inc.’”
 

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.