Lest anyone think this blogger and others are paranoid about the intentions of Venture Capitalists I offer two articles for your consideration today and a recently completed study tomorrow.
Brett Dickerson’s blog post, “Investors Ready to Liquidate Public Schools” describes how legislators in Oklahoma plan to liquidate public school assets like school buildings and pension funds. How will this happen? Dickerson suggests they will use the Bain Blueprint:
- Offer to buy out a profitable company that has little or no debt.
- Silence the work force by tricking them into thinking life will be better with the new owners.
- Once the purchase is complete, fire the workforce.
- Liquidate the pension fund.
- Liquidate the company for the cash value of its paid-for property.
- Leave the host community in financial ruins.
Translated to public education it works like this:
- Compliant legislatures reduce funding for public education.
- Weakened by fewer funds, the schools who serve the poor and have more social problems to address begin to struggle the most, first.
- Use compliant, big corporate media to convince the public that the underfunded schools that serve the poor are wild, dangerous places. Editors love “teacher knocked out by student” stories.
- Once the public is convinced that those scary urban “jungle” schools are hopeless, pass legislation that allows corporate charters to take over and convert public property to their profitable use.
- Pass laws that allow charters to be black boxes where the public has no idea how their tax money is being used.
- Charters regiment children of the poor in ways that prepare them to be compliant service workers who don’t expect to have a voice.
- Use big corporate media to convince the public that charters are doing better even though they are not.
If this sounds familiar, you’ve been reading about Newark, NYC, Columbus OH, Milwaukee WI, etc, etc. Dickersons suggests this CAN be stopped IF “educators, concerned parents, and concerned community members can rally to maintain local, democratic control of public schools.” he enumerates several “Ifs” that need to occur:
IF educators can successfully counter the investor propaganda that parents are the only true stakeholders in a child’s education, then raiders can be opposed successfully. The oldest to the youngest and richest to poorest members of every community are the true stakeholders in public schools and public education.
IF local, democratically elected school boards can stay empowered to make decisions for the local public schools, then this raider process can be resisted.
IF all stakeholders can successfully press legislators to listen to them instead of paid, professional lobbyists hired by large, investor-owned charter corporations, then we can resist the raider attempts.
Forbes magazine writer Randall Lane’s article in the latest edition of that magazine offers five inter-related policy actions our nation could take to move us to the top five in the international ratings: teacher efficacy, universal pre-K, Common Core standards, blended learning (incorporating technology into how students are taught) and school leadership (training and empowering principals). Lane had two researchers determine the cost to implement these five policies with the help of multi-billionaires who gained their wealth through shrewd investment or inheritance. The cost for implementing these “five big ideas” turned out to be $6,200,000,000,000 spread over 20 years. BUT, the wealth managers determined that if these were implemented successfully it would yield a payback of $225,000,000,000,000 spread over 80 years. Details on how these figures were derived are blurry, but Forbes seemed to give them credibility… probably because they think that wealthy people are better than, say, school superintendents or business officials, at doing calculations involving public school policy Finally, Lane had these five concepts and the funding realities reviewed by “leaders” of “four key constituent groups”:
…the federal government (represented by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan), state government (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo), the teachers unions (American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten) and local school boards (D.C. public schools chancellor Kaya Henderson).
Needless to say, THIS deck is hopelessly stacked. Three of the members, Duncan, Cuomo, and Henderson, are “reformers”. Furthermore, I would argue that the DC Board of Education is hardly “representative” of school boards across the country. The head of the NSBA would be a better representative of the issues facing school boards than an urban school superintendent whose district depends on congress for its funding…. but Forbes is showing its anti-democratic colors by choosing the “CEO” instead of the elected Board. Finally, pitting the three reformers against the AFT union head (as opposed to the NEA’s newly elected head or a progressive education advocate like, say, Diane Ravitch) assured that they would reinforce the “union vs. reform” meme and get some kind of politically bland pushback, especially since one of the issues the group was going to discuss was how to spend a boatload of money…. and when Forbes put this group of three “reformers” and one union president eager for money together in one room, they got a lot of platitudes and slogans…. and no acknowledgement that in order to improve schools we need to improve the lives of children before they set food in school and during the time they are in school.
The NYTimes “Texas Tribune” offers periodic reports on the political developments in that state, which often involve education policy. This week’s Texas Tribune featured an article titled “As Curriculum Changes, Thousands of Students Will Advance Despite Failing Grades”. The article reviews the legislation in TX that required students to receive a passing grade on their examinations in order to get promoted from one grade level to another, legislation that has not substantially changed the promotion rates from their current levels of 1.5% at grade 5 and 1% at grade even though 9% of the students failed the tests. So 100,000 students failed the test yet roughly 80,000 of them got promoted anyway.
The article then goes on to report that the State Superintendent he intended to waive the requirement that the test be passed because he expects even MORE students to fail in the coming year because “… instruction (is) not rising to the level to provide (the) kind of learning (that will be tested). We have moved the bar significantly higher than it has ever been, and the system needs time to catch up.”
There are several wrongheaded ideas at play here, not the least of which is the notion that a single test should be the basis for determining if a student succeeds or fails in school. The subtlest and most profound wrongheaded idea is that a student’s learning should be based on age-based grade cohorts. It implicitly assumes that there is an intellectual growth rate that matches a student’s age which is, on its face, untrue. Do we expect all students to physically mature at the same rate? If a physician determined that a group of students was shorter than other students in their age range would we use that medical measurement as a basis for determining whether those students should be held back? I would urge the Texas legislature to answer this set of questions, which are taken from my “About” page:
- Why do we group students in grade levels based on their age?
- Why do we group students within a particular grade level based on their rate of learning?
- Why do we group students at all?
- Why does school take place in a limited time frame?
- Why do we believe there is “one best way” to educate ALL children?
All of these practices are in place because the school-is-a-factory is so ingrained that we cannot conceive of a different method for organizing education…. and these practices result in “efficiency” in the factory school. Some states, Vermont for example, are starting to replace the conception of schools as a factory with a new mental model, one that acknowledges that all students have different needs, learn in different ways, and learn at different rates. They realize the absurdity of measuring “quality” by giving standardized tests to students grouped in “grade levels” and recycling “new ideas” and “reforms” based on ways to run the factory more efficiently. Instead, they are mandating that each rising 7th grade student develop a Personalized Learning Plan in concert with their parents and school staff. The PLP would be reviewed annually and used to determine the individual student’s success.
But, you might argue, TX is much bigger than VT and much more diverse. How could they possibly accomplish this? If the staff and technology applications being used to boost test scores were instead assigned to guidance and support services ANY state or school district could implement PLPs and EVERY state or school district would move toward a truly individualized approach to learning. This CAN happen if states adjust their paradigms instead of the cut scores on standardized tests.
A few days ago I wrote a post on the battle over the AP History curriculum in Jefferson County, a battle that ultimately ended with the school board withdrawing its idea of establishing a task force to review the AP History curriculum. An article in today’s NYTimes, “Paying Respects, Pentagon Revives Vietnam, and War over Truth“, describes the “history” the Pentagon is writing about Viet Nam . It “…largely describes a war of valor and honor that would be unrecognizable to many of the Americans who fought in and against it” by glossing over the Mai Lai massacre, failing to mention several key actions and hearings held in Congress, and downplaying the protests that happened in our country when citizens learned about the government’s lies. The article made me appreciate even more the importance of making certain that history is viewed from ALL perspectives and emphasized the reality that there are many people in power who DON’T want to history to remember certain facts. That thinking, in turn, led me to make this comment:
In the coming years those who want to see history to be something more than “good guys” vs. “evil guys” will ned to be constantly vigilant, for there are people with huge sums of money who want things to be simple and straightforward. A case in point is the kind of oversimplified and antiseptic history the Koch-brothers-funded Jefferson County (CO) school board wanted students to learn. Instead of having students learn about the complicated and often questionable actions the US government and the role the protest movements played in changing the course of history they hoped to focus American history on “patriotism”. Thankfully the students and teachers in that district stood up to this effort… but the money that funded this is still out there and it is being used to elect folks who do not want us to have full and complete information about the past or what is going on today.
I’m 67 and I find myself reading about or hearing reports about events I lived through and being bewildered. When large segments of a narrative are removed from a story the conclusions can be manipulated. That, I fear, is precisely what the plutocrats and politicians want to happen. Our country, our country’s leaders, our reporters, and our voters all make mistakes. To paraphrase George Santayana, If we don’t learn ABOUT those mistakes we cannot learn FROM those mistakes.
Earlier this week Diane Ravitch had multiple blog posts in one day on Bill Gates and the Common Core. While I am unalterably disgusted by the way plutocrats are privatizing public education, I can’t help but think of the New England response to bad news, which is: “It could have been worse”. Thank goodness Thiel, the Waltons, the Kochs, or some multi-billionaire fundamentalist Christian didn’t decide to underwrite the Common Core… or for that matter that we overlook the need FOR a common set of standards to define schooling. With that notion in mind, I offered the following rejoinder to one of the posts on Monday:
The news recently offered two reasons why some kind of national standards are important: the recent curriculum review underway in Jefferson County CO and Texas. If State or local school boards get to decide what constitutes history and avoid the use of AP tests because they inaccurately depict history we’re in trouble. If State or local boards get to decide what gets taught in science based on scripture we’re also in trouble. Some content can’t be decided on a state-by-state or district-by-district basis and must be understood by all students. The founding fathers wanted church and state separated and God did not design the universe in seven days. In an ideal democracy (which we are clearly falling short of as a nation) a team of national academic leaders would formulate a set of basic content standards that would be used as a framework to define state standards that would, in turn be deliberated upon and adopted at the State board level by boards elected by the public. I believe Bill Gates is as frustrated as we are by the fact that this kind of deliberative process cannot happen because education has been politicized. He, though, has the money to play by the new rules that govern politics. While I am not happy at the notion of a squillionaire underwriting the content standards needed in this country, I AM happy for at least two items the common core does NOT include: e.g. units on patriotism and intelligent design.
This is an abbreviated version of what I wrote in an earlier post outlining the ideal presidential education platform regarding the Common Core:
- …Unfortunately, the Common Core was developed without any meaningful input from classroom teachers and, to make matters worse, once it was issued the authors of the Common Core were not responsive to the revisions recommended by teachers, academics, and child psychologists. We should not scrap the Common Core because we need to make certain that students across the country learn the facts about health, science, and history. But instead of unilaterally imposing these standards from Washington, we should use the Common Core as the basis for the development of a standard curriculum for each state. If elected I will require each state to create Standards Teams to use the Common Core as the basis for the creation of a rigorous but realistic set of State standards. The Standards Teams will include curriculum content experts from state universities, representative classroom teachers, and developmental psychologists.
I don’t believe the common core will go away any time soon and will likely be with us when candidates re vying for the nominations in each party. Going forward, we need to make sure e don’t end up with something worse than we have now…. and given the list of supposed contenders for the Presidency it’s easy to see how things COULD get worse.