“Washington State Should Not Lose it’s NCLB Waiver”, one of yesterday’s blog posts by Diane Ravitch, included a petition a group of Washington public education leaders intend to send to Arne Duncan appealing for him to rescind his decision to withdraw WA’s waiver because the State legislature failed to pass a law requiring VAM as part of teacher evaluations. The petition will include a link to a web site that will provide indicators that WA’s schools are not “failing” and includes several salient points on the way the tests are designed.
The petition misses one key point, however: NCLB and especially RTTT are expropriating policy areas that rightfully belong to State and local boards. I am no constitutional lawyer, but I seem to recall that the constitution gives states the authority to determine the kind of schooling their children need. Brown vs. Board of Education, which some might construe as an invasion of “states rights” wasn’t an EDUCATIONAL issue: it was a civil rights issue. NCLB and RTTT are different. When NCLB passed the State and local boards effectively ceded key decisions to the federal government. The Federal government would establish categories for the classification of schools and dictate the use of standardized tests as a key means of classification. RTTT took this a step further and, in doing so, flagged the overreach on the part of USDOE.
I think the The letter writers should have used their petition as an opportunity to explain to Duncan (AND Obama AND Congress) that STATE and LOCAL Boards set policy, not the Federal Government. Hopefully RTTT’s overreach will become evident to voters in ALL states and public education can get the testing genie back in the bottle.
Yesterday I had a chance to spend time with my granddaughter who just started Kindergarten in a rural Vermont school… and I found that fear is part of the hidden curriculum in public schools. When I asked her about her first week of school she told me about her music lesson and then told me that her class spent time in the basement so they could “hide from bad guys”. She explained to me that this basement foray occurred after hearing the teacher explain 9-11, which, according to my kindergartner, was “a bunch of bad guys attacking us”. While I am not certain what was explained to the kindergartners or what the intention of the lesson was, I AM certain what was taken away from the lesson: be afraid… be very afraid!
This morning Diane Ravitch’s blog reported that San Diego schools decided to return the armored vehicle they received from the Pentagon. But my granddaughter’s report helped me understand why a school district might think receiving a grenade launcher, and M-16, or an armored vehicle might seem reasonable. When kids (and parents) are fearful, grenade launchers might protect them from “bad guys”… oh, and as for playing outside after school? Maybe it’s not such a good idea. After all, “bad guys” lurk out there as well.
I learned with dismay that my niece’s school district in OH is going on strike. As a former Superintendent, I always avoided taking sides in labor relations, advocating that both sides seek a settlement instead of a “victory”. While I am not familiar with all the details, there some facts that seem especially problematic:
- The board talked to the press about the offer before the teachers did
- The board offered binding arbitration and the teachers refused
- The board wants “merit pay” to be included as at least an “option” for the teachers to consider
- The teachers want to cap class sizes
- The teachers want to retain their current health benefits while the Board wants to offer a lump sum in lieu of benefits— presumably to get the money they need to provide the additional “merit” compensation
There are some political realities to strikes that are also problematic.
- BOTH SIDES LOSE SUPPORT DURING A STRIKE: To paraphrase Al Shanker: “When the board calls the teachers “greedy, lazy, good-for-nothings” and the teachers call the Board members “hard-headed, heartless, know-nothings” the public believes them both.
- AND…. BOTH SIDES NEED TO KEEP THE EYE ON THE PRIZE: Ultimately, both parties presumably want to pass a HIGHER budget if the board is serious about giving teachers performance pay and the teachers want to cap class size. A long strike with angry exchanges will make budget passage a challenge.
- THE MEDIA LOVE CONFLICT: Facts will take a holiday during the strike and the media will ultimately decide “what the strike is about”… and it will not be a nuanced perspective on the issues, it will be a series of sound bites. A cautionary note: if the editors of the newspaper or the owners of TV and radio stations take the board’s side the public’s support for the teachers could diminish quickly…. and, based on my reading of Diane Ravitch’s reports from OH it seems the OH media have taken the side of fiscally conservative Boards and “reform” politicians against “unions”. Social media may be the best hope for the teachers to “make their case” to voters… but only if the reach extends beyond parents.
- MANY MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC HAVE SEEN THEIR PAY AND BENEFITS DIMINISH: As noted in many previous posts, many middle class voters have lost the benefit packages corporations offered in the past and this has turned many voters against teachers who “traded” higher compensation for better benefits.
- ARBITRATION IS PERCEIVED AS A “FAIR WAY” TO SETTLE LABOR DISPUTES: I trust that the Uniserv representative is ready to explain to voters in my niece’s community why the teachers decided to avoid arbitration as a means of reaching an agreement…. because if it doesn’t the public may be inclined to have sympathy for the Board.
As readers of this blog know, I believe merit pay is a losing proposition (see “Merit Pay: An Agreeable Fantasy” previously published in Education Week for details), especially merit pay that is linked in any way to test scores. Furthermore I believe that having manageable class sizes and a wide array of course offerings and support services is essential for ALL school districts, not just the most affluent ones.
I HOPE this turns out well for the parents, students, and community members in my niece’s community… but fear that both sides may be seeking a “victory” where a “settlement” is needed.
I just read an article in the Deseret News announcing that there is now bi-partisan support for Pre-K funding since the House just passed a “compromise” bill that
“… offers vouchers to low-income families that will allow them to obtain child care from their choice of providers, including faith-based organizations, according to a statement released by the Education & the Workforce Committee.”
Will the Senate OK this compromise?
If so, will Obama sign it?
If the answer to these questions is “Yes”, remember, you read it here first over a year ago when your humble blogger predicted that the only way bi-artisan support for Pre-L was possible was through some form of vouchers…. I concluded that article with this paragraph:
Our country needs earlier educational programs for children born into poverty. It needs programs that are staffed by teachers with a strong background in early childhood education and programs that are coordinated with other publicly funded social services. My fear is that the federal government will promote the practical and politically feasible solution to the need for child care instead of the program needed to close the divide between rich and poor families. Using public funds to support the existing loosely regulated preschools in place would be a missed opportunity…. unless the opportunity to have public schooling be “…this market kind of thing” is more important that the opportunity to have all children begin public schooling with a strong background.
I hope someone in the Senate names this for what it is: a backdoor means of getting vouchers for public education.