Admiral Rickover and the Roots of “Reform”

March 1, 2015 Leave a comment

Since I retired I have volunteered as a teacher for several courses in the Adult and Continuing Education program at Dartmouth and served on their curriculum committee. One of my students in a course I offered on public education policy asked if I would be a “guest lecturer” on a course he will be offering on Admiral Hyman Rickover in the fall. I was dimly aware that Admiral Rickover had several outspoken ideas bout public education in the late 1950s and early 1960s… but until I read his book Education and Freedom I didn’t realize that he could be characterized as one of the “fathers of school reform”. Rickover asserted in the late 1950s that “education is the most important problem facing the United States today” and “only the massive upgrading of the scholastic standards of our schools will guarantee the future prosperity and freedom of the Republic.”

Rickover based his conclusions about our failing public education system on international comparisons, comparisons that predated the standardized assessments used today but came to the same conclusions: we were falling hopelessly behind and in the future our economy would suffer and our power would diminish unless we took immediate action.

Rickover’s solution to this crisis: adopt the superior European model whereby our country reverses the movement away from the “traditional school” where the best minds are culled out and educated separately to the “permissive school” where all children are given options at the secondary level. Rickover characterizes this movement toward permissiveness as a decision made by “the American education establishment” with “no evidence… of a clear mandate from the American people to make this far reaching and disastrous change”. The permissiveness he decries is the result of adopting Dewey’s progressive ideas that advocated a “…pure “democratic” education which insists on the inefficient, time-wasting comprehensive school”.

Rickover bases his ideas for reform on the assertion that “Our forefathers wished to remove all unnatural, that is man-made barriers to the free development of man and to the full growth and exercise of his faculties”. In his mind, the introduction of “adjustment” (his term for heterogeneous grouping) was reminiscent of the French revolution where the guillotine was wielded to make everyone else “more equal”…. and the “educationists” were the ones wielding the blade.

Near the end of this life Rickover established the Center for Excellence in Education whose high-minded mission is “to nurture high school and university scholars to careers of excellence and leadership in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and to encourage international collaboration between and among leaders in the global community“. This mission is congruent with the broadest aspect of his thinking in the late 1950s and the thinking of many of today’s school reformers… but some form of sorting and selecting is implicit in the thinking of those who advocate “excellence” and those who advocate for the expansion of deregulated for-profit charter schools. Nurturing those who want to pursue STEM studies is unquestionably good, and providing opportunities for children of engaged parents is also good… but in order for our schools to improve across-the-board and for our democracy to thrive going forward we need to have fully engaged learners in ALL schools… and that requires less sorting and selecting and more efforts to reach disaffected parents and children.

Oh… and one more thought about the crisis Rickover foresaw: the students he was concerned about were those of my generation.  And, as it turns out, the Russian education system he touted at the time he was writing turned out to be far weaker than he believed and the other systems he touted have not turned out or held onto the great minds as he predicted.  As long as our country continues to provide an opportunity for all children to succeed it will continue to develop the minds of all children and be a magnet for those who seek opportunity. If and when we sort and select like our “competitors” we will quickly cede our leadership in innovative and creative thinking… and that’s when we will fall behind.

 

For Profit Colleges Are The Real Villain

February 28, 2015 Leave a comment

wgersen:

Cathy O’Neill gets it completely right in this post, which includes the stunning report that for-profit Corinthian “…obtained $1.4 billion in federal grant and loan dollars in 2010 alone, more than the 10 University of California campuses combined for that same year” and this great quote: “When education becomes a profit center, things go awry: admissions counselors become salespeople, students become consumers to be wrung for every last dime, and administrators become executives who cash out while students and taxpayers are left with the tab.” And we want to “reform” monopoly public schools by replacing them with deregulated for profit charter schools?

Originally posted on mathbabe:

Scott Walker has recently made waves in Wisconsin by surreptitiously attempting to change the mission of the University of Wisconsin, and by threatening to remove $300 million of federal aid to the University of Wisconsin, citing the “laziness of professors” as a problem in need of a solution. On the one hand, he’s right to say there’s a crisis in higher education. But on the other hand, he has the wrong villain.

Instead of focusing on state schools like U of W, we should be investigating the toxic for-profit college industry. For-profit colleges have mushroomed in the last decade and tend to represent themselves as a solution to a very real problem; namely, that it’s become increasingly difficult to get a good job out of high school.

People who have been told to get a degree to pull themselves out of poverty are often faced with two options: enrolling at…

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Common Core vs. State Standards

February 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Reading “Happy Talk History”,Timothy Egan’s NYTimes column yesterday, and “Who Should Decide How Students Learn About America’s Past”, Jacoba Urist’s Atlantic post earlier this week reminded me how important it is to have a uniform set of academic standards for our country, standards that we can find broad agreement on and expect all our students to master. Both columns address the legislative debacle in Oklahoma where a fundamentalist Christian member of the House in Oklahoma introduced a bill to defund AP History because it was too critical of America and to put in its place a curriculum that emphasized the Christian roots of our country. Happily the bill was ditched after the committee voted 11-4 to advance it, in large measure because of the huge national embarrassment the legislation created for the state.

But I fear the re-write of history by Oklahoma’s legislature is a sneak preview of what will happen if the federal government gives States “flexibility” to set their own standards and devise their own accountability measures. The reauthorization of No Child Left Behind intends to do just that and, in doing so, will presumably address the concerns of both those who believe we are testing kids too much and those who believe the federal government is imposing its will on states through the Common Core. If States like Oklahoma are giving the chance to write their own curriculum Common Core opponents may have regrets… and yes, I know the Common Core is limited to Math and Reading but if states are allowed to set standards what will preclude them from setting standards in science that deny global warming and question evolution or setting standards in history that gloss over the troubling past we have with regard to slavery and the treatment of native Americans. And those who believe we are placing too much emphasis on tests may rue the day Andrew Cuomo’s “reforms” are put in place instead of those advocated by Arne Duncan… and Cuomo’s test-based “reforms” may be tame compared to what comes out of the midwest or south. Indeed, it is not too hard to envision a “testing” race analogous to an “arms race” or “the war on drugs”… a testing race where states try to outdo each other by setting every increasingly impossibly high standards to prove they are more rigorous than their neighbors.

I am not at all unhappy to see Arne Duncan’s wings clipped, but AM disappointed that President Obama used Race to the Top as his signature “education reform”. Instead of insisting that states use computers to administer standardized tests he could have insisted that states use technology to help each student develop individualized learning plans. Instead of moving toward a one-size-fits-all curriculum mode he could have gone where Vermont is headed. The inability of Congress to modify NCLB created a crisis early in Obama’s administration, a crisis that was amplified by the economic crisis the nation was facing. Obama wasted both his political capital and capital investment on Race To The Top… and that, more than anything, led to the pushback against the federal government that is being addressed in the reauthorization. He’s sowed the wind and is reaping the whirlwind.

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Cuomo Arousing Sleeping Giants

February 27, 2015 Leave a comment

When I was Superintendent in Dutchess County NY the union president at the time lamented the fact that the younger members of the union had no appreciation for the battles she and her generation fought to secure the wages, benefits and working conditions that were a “given” in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The grassroots political activism of the unions was nascent and the sound economy at that time made it relatively easy to achieve collective bargaining agreements that both the taxpayers and the unions found acceptable. As a result parents, taxpayers, and teachers unions experienced a relatively positive relationship and public education was viewed in a generally positive light.

Since that time, and especially since the implementation of universal standardized testing that resulted from the passage of No Child Left Behind, the public has been fed a steady diet of reports that “public schools are failing” and the only solution is to close them down and turn them over to the states. The “failing schools” meme was not enough for some politicians, however. Governors like Scott Walker and Andrew Cuomo assigned blame for the “failing schools” on “incompetent teachers” who are protected by “union contracts”… and instead of advocating the passage of laws that would streamline dismissal procedures for administrators or enable local school boards to remove arguably excessive and complicated procedural protections, Mr. Walker and Mr. Cuomo sought to eliminate unions altogether and impose invalid means of evaluations that would presumably identify the “incompetent teachers” whose performance was responsible for the low standardized test scores.

This tactic worked for Scott Walker in Wisconsin: he’s eviscerated the public employee unions in his state and imposed irrational and irresponsible teacher evaluation methods with the full support of the legislature and yesterday used that “crushing victory” as evidence that he can take on ISIS. Andrew Cuomo is about to see if he can pull off a similar tactic in NYS… but in doing so he is awaking two sleeping giants: the teachers unions and public school parents.

Those union members who have been inactive for decades are seeing that their jobs threatened and their existence challenged and they are getting aroused. And, as noted in an earlier post, without prompting from the unions the parents organizations in schools across NYC and the state are getting aroused as well. And as videos like the one I linked to earlier today are circulated more and more parents will see how Mr. Cuomo’s “reforms” designed to address a “crisis” ultimately undermine local control and local schools.

Both Governor Walker and Governor Cuomo are arousing progressive-minded voters to realize that they need to find candidates to challenge the conservative and neoliberal leaders who are stripping unions of their contractual rights, parents and board members of control of their schools, and voters of their opportunity to weigh in on the direction their states are headed…. and democracy is taking a beating as a result.

200+ Blog Posts in a 22 Minute Video

February 27, 2015 Leave a comment

I posted this on Facebook on Thursday afternoon, shared it with Diane Ravitch at the same time, and now offer it here… If you want the philosophical basis for privatization, the “playbook” for privatization, and the consequences of privatization, click on this link… it summarizes at least 200 of my blog posts:

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2015/02/school-closure-playbook-billionaires-exploit-poor-children-chicago.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+NakedCapitalism+%28naked+capitalism%29

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A Letter from the Teachers at PS 321 in Brooklyn

February 26, 2015 Leave a comment

wgersen:

My grandson’s school, PS 295, also sent a letter opposing the bill. Here’s hoping more and more schools and school boards actively oppose this!

http://www.ps295.org/pta/cuomo-reforms-bad-for-students-teachers-and-schools/

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

I received a letter from the teachers at PS 321. I have a direct connection to the school, as a member of my family is a student there. He loves school. He is in third grade. He is working on an essay whose topc he chose. He is researching “the Silk Road.” Last year, in second grade, he wrote about bioluminescence (I had to look it up.) this obviously a wonderful public school.

References in the letter are to Liz Phillips, the principal.

Here is the link: http://ps321.org/letter-from-ps-321-teachers/

Letter from PS 321 Teachers

February 23, 2015

Dear PS 321 Families,

It is with heavy hearts that we, the teachers at 321, reach out to you to ask for your help.

Governor Cuomo has proposed major changes to teacher evaluations in New York State. We want to let you know, from a teacher’s perspective, the changes this law could bring to…

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The Federal Government’s Leap from Charters to Vouchers

February 26, 2015 Leave a comment

The reporting on the wrangling going on in Congress relative to the reauthorization of NCLB plays up the Republicans-vs-Obama meme but misses several overarching points, which is unsurprising given the obfuscatory nomenclature being used by the legislators. Two articles, one by Erin Richards of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and another by Emma Brown of the Washington Post are long on the Duncan/Obama vs. House Republicans theme.

The Post article looks at the reauthorization through the national lens, quoting Arne Duncan’s characterization of the cuts to impoverished urban school districts as “devastating” and providing a chart that shows how the reduction in spending would play out in 33 such districts. It focussed on how the passage of the law would provide “Title 1 portability” allowing federal funds to be used wherever a child is enrolled in school and “…strip the federal Education Department of much of its current power, giving states far more latitude to decide how to define and intervene in struggling schools.”

The Journal article covers the portability issue but has less emphasis on Duncan-vs-the-House and more on how the cuts would impact Milwaukee schools, who stand to lose $159 million over six years if the new legislation passes. It also included more detailed description of the latitude that States would get as a result of the shift of power away from Washington:

Measuring student performance in schools would be left up to the states, the Common Core State Standards would be explicitly voluntary, (though they already are in Wisconsin and many other states) and the education secretary would not be able to encourage states to adopt educational standards by offering grant money or friendly agreements on other matters.

The House bill would continue annual, statewide testing requirements but states would have more authority to decide how to intervene in struggling schools and how to assess teachers. The federal government’s authority would be more limited.

As noted in the opening paragraph of this post, these article missed several overarching points:

  • Duncan’s pro-charter policies laid the groundwork for the notion of “portability”. By encouraging the expansion of private-for-profit charters within districts he effectively encouraged intra-district portability undercutting the notion of community schools and complicating a means of providing coordinated social services based on the students’ residence.
  • The Duncan/Obama “power grab” was a consequence of Congress’ inability to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, whose problems could have been solved legislatively since 2007 but didn’t because of the Republicans’ desire to move in the direction this bill will take them.
  • The term “Title I Portability” is Newspeak for Vouchers. Both articles use caveats to describe the term. The Journal writes: “Critics say Republicans are trying to open the door for federal funding to eventually follow low-income children into private, religious schools” and the Post writes: “…many Democrats see it as a first step toward federal vouchers that would allow students to use federal funding for private school enrollment.” As noted above, the door was opened and the first step taken when Duncan encouraged the spread of charter schools that allow intra-district portability. The obvious next step that is intended by this new wording is to allow the funds to go wherever the student enrolls.
  • Giving STATES the authority to decide how to intervene in failing schools, set standards, design assessments, and determine how teachers are evaluated is a giant step backward. One way States will “intervene” in failing districts is to provide them with vouchers. Indeed, as the Journal article notes, the concept of portability is already in place in many states and with 31 Republican Governors the notion will spread quickly across the country. When States set standards expect to see a de-emphasis on “controversial issues” like global warming, wars, evolution, and AP History and an emphasis on American Exceptionalism and junk science. And when States are allowed to develop assessments and evaluate teachers expect an expansion of VAM and a decline in the number of unionized teachers.
  • Giving STATES more authority to determine how to allocate funds to disadvantaged students is irresponsible given the fact that all but five states have been sued at one time or another for having unfair funding formulas.
  • The Journal quotes Duncan as characterizing the House bill as being “..like reverse Robin Hood. You’re stealing from the poor to give to the rich” and later adding “When you’re moving scarce resources from poor districts to wealthy districts, what problem is that trying to solve?“. Reporters need to point out to Mr. Duncan that by enabling the expansion of for-profit deregulated charters he was doing the same thing! “Robin Hood in Reverse” is when “CEOs” of low performing charter schools and their shareholders make more money than urban superintendents and the teachers in those schools.

These overarching consequences are overlooked because they don’t fit neatly into a “Obama-vs-Republican” context… which is too bad because this oversight will lead to more inequality and less opportunity for children raised in poverty. Here’s hoping a voice outside of the Obama/Duncan sphere will speak up and point out the flaws in both the current RTTT and the proposed federal legislation.