Getting Our Priorities Straight

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Huffington Post features a blog post by Diane Ravitch titled “What Matters More Than Test Scores” that underscores the misplaced priorities in our country. She repeats several of the themes from her blog and her latest thinking, focussing primarily on how we’ve overemphasized standardized achievement tests and underemphasized the kinds of child and parent supports needed for children raised in poverty.

Here’s what I believe: Testing can be used to persuade our taxpayers and parents that our “government schools” are failing thereby setting the stage for deregulated for profit schools to get a foothold. As noted in an earlier post, we were told we were “falling behind the Russians” when they launched Sputnik in the 1950s and told we lived in “A Nation At Risk” when the Japanese economy was thundering in the 1980s… and now we’re “losing our economic competitiveness” in the 2010s because China’s students are outscoring us on arguably bogus and meaningless standardized tests… and during this sixty year period the drip-drip-drip of the meme of “failing public schools” has penetrated the American psyche to the point where the public seems willing to turn over our schools to the private sector. When that day comes, inequality will be even worse than it is now.

Bottom line: We’re not spending money wisely when we fund deregulated for-profit schools and fail to provide food, clothing and shelter for our infants and toddlers. When we rank 131 out of 184 nations in providing prenatal care programs something is amiss in our priorities.

Fear Sells

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch posted a press release from K12 announcing the launch of a new online product targeting prekindergarten students. K12 is a largely discredited online learning company that has recently lost contracts to some school boards because alert parents and faculty members have pointed out to board members that the K12 program is demonstrably unsuccessful. Given the parental and teacher pushback against this program and the political pushback by local school boards, K12 is doing direct marketing to parents with this kind of push:

…Educators across the U.S. have identified kindergarten-readiness as an educational priority, and even the President of the United States has made kindergarten-readiness a national issue. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there is a robust body of evidence and research demonstrating that high-quality, early learning programs help children arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed in school and in life.

Nothing like telling your prekindergarten child that they need to get screen time so they can arrive at school “ready to succeed in life”… but K12, their privatization cronies, and political leaders all know that fear sells  because… it’s worked in the past.

I remember as an elementary student being told that the Sputnik launch proved we were falling behind the Russians… and hearing as a Superintendent in Maine in the early 1980s being we were a “Nation at Risk” of falling behind the Japanese… and now hearing over and over again about how we are losing our economic competitiveness because of poor public schools and falling behind China. In college I read a lot of George Orwell’s essays so I know where this is coming from…. and having worked in public schools as an administrator for over 35 years I know the most engaged parents are fearful that their kids won’t get into the best colleges and THAT fear has launched many supplemental after school programs.

K12 and the privatizers know that fear sells, and the preschool parent market is a good place to go because there is no one to counter the worthlessness of their online packages… and so we have a generation of students moving from Baby Mozart to K12 to corporate charter schools…  and who knows what kind of products to help them achieve “success” in the future.

Peter Greene: Charter Bait and Switch

October 15, 2014 Leave a comment


This should be no surprise to regular readers of this blog… efficiency is the enemy of true reform in public education since it reinforces the factory model that it is premised upon… and deregulated for-profit charters are coldly efficient, which makes taxpayers and politicians happy since they can save money without compromising results.

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

Do you remember when the charter school idea was first circulated in 1988? Do you remember how the idea was sold in the 1990s? We were told that charters would save the taxpayers millions or billions because they would be lean and efficient: no central bureaucracy.

Surprise! Now charters are suing in Néw York and DC for the same funding as real public schools, you know, the ones that are required to accept English language learners, kids with disabilities, and unmotivated kids.

And guess who is siding with them to drain more money out of the public schools: the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Peter Greene says this is classic bait and switch.

The bait? Charters will save money and get dramatic results for the neediest kids.

Says Greene::

“So here comes the switch. We pitched charter schools as more economical, more efficient, lower-cost alternatives. Now that…

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NYTimes Omits Key Information

October 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Mokoto Rich’s latest NYTImes article on Philadelphia schools describes the continuing plight of the district due to the lack of money. This paragraph offers a look at the general and particular impact of the funding shortfall on the schools:

Such is the state of austerity across Philadelphia, where this fall, the schools almost did not open on time, and the district has eliminated 5,000 staff positions and closed 31 schools over the last two years. Feltonville (MS with roughly 800 students)… has lost 15 teachers, two assistant principals, two guidance counselors, an office secretary, three campus police officers, 10 aides who supervised the cafeteria and hallways, and an operations officer, who oversaw most of the school’s day-to-day logistics.

The article is primarily about the conflict between the teachers union and the board that oversees Philadelphia schools over the ongoing negotiations needed to balance the budget and the State’s funding formula which is the underlying cause of the problem. What is NOT mentioned, however, are the huge tax breaks the current Governor and mayor offered to businesses locoed in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the state… and those lost resources are as much a factor as the funding formula itself.

I’ve written several blog posts on Philadelphia schools, which is where I got my start as a middle school math teacher in 1970. I am saddened every time I read an article that described the funding problems the school faces and the draconian measures the district has taken to close the funding gaps. In my judgment, every single article about funding problems should contain at least one sentence describing the tax breaks business have received because that is a far better source of revenue than squeezing money out of sin taxes on cigarettes and diminishing salaries that are already 20% lower than those of nearby school districts.

And here’s a cartoon that shows the Philadelphia situation: substitute “Philadelphia Schools” for the cat at the bow of the boat and you get the picture….


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Maybe We Should Wait on Pre-K

October 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s post yesterday evening describing the testing protocols or preschoolers in TN makes me wonder if universal pre-K is a good idea given our current mindset. Pre-Kindergarten programs are currently a blank slate and I despair to imagine what efficiency-minded “educators” like Arnie Duncan will write on it. Given the chance, I think Duncan will be touting privatized solutions and, as noted in earlier posts, it would not be surprising to see vouchers proposed as the best solution. Worse of all, TN’s practice introduces even younger children to the “efficient” practice of grouping by age cohorts and using standardized tests to determine their “readiness” to enter the next level at factory schools who seek “ready-to-learn” widgets. Maybe we should wait to promote Pre-K until we are disabused of the notion that the private sector can run things better than “the government” and that we can measure learning with a standardized test.

Teaching Fear

October 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Yesterday as I was driving into town from our home in rural NH with my wife I observed that cars were waiting at the end of dead-end streets and fairly long driveways to meet elementary school children as they got off the school bus. We recalled our disembarking from the bus and that of our children when we lived in situations where the bus picked them up and could only recall a handful of times that we met our children at bus stops and could recall no times when we were met by our parents at bus stops. I lamented that the parents who waited daily for their children were implicitly teaching their children fear and dependence: by waiting for them on a sunny fall day they were conveying the idea that it was unsafe for them to be outdoors on their own— even to walk from the bus stop to their home.

I read a CBS news account this morning that Baltimore County is installing an “integrated camera network (that) gives police an inside view of school buildings” in each of its schools and is “on a fast track to outfit middle and high schools, with an additional $9.5 million of improvements, including a card identification system.”

An incident in one of the schools in the district serving well over 100,000 students prompted the action which will require over $10,000,000 in equipment and an unreported amount in personnel cost… assuming someone will be watching the footage on a daily basis and/or notifying parents when a child fails to swipe a card at the entrance or exit of the school.

Here’s what concerns me: as relatively well off as Baltimore County is, I’m sure that teachers would rather see $10,000,000+ spent on additional teaching staff, guidance staff, and classroom upgrades than cameras and security staff. And once the cameras and security staff are in place there is very little chance that they will be kept in disrepair or cut from the budget. If taxpayers want to provide security in schools they should be willing to pay for it in a separate budget so that security dollars are not forced to compete against instructional and support dollars.

Public education has always included a hidden curriculum… and increasingly fear of “the other” and the acceptance of 24/7 surveillance is now part of the hidden common core.

Technology’s Paradoxes

October 14, 2014 Leave a comment

As one who believes that technology could be a means of leveling the playing field between affluent schools and schools serving children raised in poverty, I was simultaneously disheartened by, in agreement with, and intrigued by a recent post by Jesse Irwin in Model View Culture titled “Grooming Students for a Lifetime of Surveillance”.

I was disheartened because technology is currently dis-equalizing and technology is currently being misapplied. The dis-equalizing effects of technology on instruction are summarized in this paragraph:

Education technologists also continue to widen the digital divide between affluent and economically oppressed. Despite an industry-wide insistence that technology is not being developed to replace educators in the classroom, many poor school districts faced with massive budget cuts are implementing experimental blended learning programs reliant on “adaptive” and “personalized” software as a way to mitigate the effect of large class sizes on student learning. This means that students who attend costly private schools or live within rich school districts that can afford to employ more educators and maintain smaller class sizes receive much more personalized instruction from their teachers. Instead of receiving much-needed interaction and personalized learning directly from educators, poor students living in disadvantaged communities receive instruction from educational software that collects their data (which is likely to be sold), and have less individual instruction time from teachers than their affluent counterparts.

The dis-equalizing of instruction also extends to internet access. Affluent schools are not bound by the E-rate mandate to filer the internet because they do not qualify for that funding. Thus, a student in an affluent district is more likely to have access to ALL the information available and not the information that a district or federal officer deems “suitable”.

I was in agreement with the overarching theme of the article: our current use of technology overemphasizes regulation and monitoring and, consequently IS conditioning students to accept surveillance and screening as a way of life. Not only are we screening the content available to them by filtering the internet, but we are also increasingly monitoring their behavior out of school and gathering data on them that, arguably, should be shared with law enforcement.

I was intrigued because as I read the post I saw many paradoxes: instances where policy makers need to determine boundaries between the data collected in school and the data shared with other agencies and vendors. Some examples:

  • CYBER-BULLYING: If schools are expected to deal with issues of cyber-bullying that most often occurs outside of school, shouldn’t they have the ability to monitor social media that students use? And once teachers and/or administrators start monitoring social media, what is their responsibility if they see a picture of one of their students with a beer can? a bong? naked? Do they call the police? Child services? Parents? As of four years ago when State legislatures were passing laws on cyber-bullying there were no clear answers to these questions.
  • ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE DATA: Schools can now determine how much time a student spends on homework that is assigned “on-line” and/or computer-based classwork that is assigned in class. Shouldn’t teachers use that data the same way they currently use graded homework and classwork assignments? Also, programmed instruction modules based on hierarchical content (e.g. Khan Academy curricula) provide a means for teachers to identify where students are “stuck” and where their intervention is needed. Shouldn’t a technologically savvy teacher use that kind of data?
  • ACADEMIC INSTRUCTION DELIVERY:  The whole notion of “flipped instruction” that provides the lecture as homework and classroom discussion and/or Q and A as means of delivering instruction can only work if students watch the lesson at home. This, in turn, requires the monitoring of off-campus activity by the student.
  • GENERIC DATA COLLECTION AND USE: As noted in previous posts on analogous issues, schools already collect massive amounts of data on children, data that could be put to good use if it were more readily available to classroom teachers. A case in point: if IEPs were made available in a secure network to mainstream teachers it would provide an effective means of two-way communication between the school and the teacher.
  • PAYING FOR TECHNOLOGY: School districts can’t get good software for a low price unless there is some kind of quid pro quo… and the quid pro quo is often the ability to collect marketing information on the students. FERPA, written in 1974, never envisioned the kind of massive data collection that is possible today and technology advocates haven’t figured out how to purchase the tools that many students have at home. FERPA needs to be reworked, a daunting task given the complex questions involved and the dysfunctional legislature.

Addressing these and other paradoxes will be crucial if we want to use technology to truly individualize instruction and to level the playing field. By dodging these questions we are increasing the digital divide and preparing our students for a world where they will be surveilled 24/7.