Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

The Oligarchs Are Winning the PR Battle

October 22, 2014 Leave a comment

The NYTimes headline reads “Nation’s Confidence Ebbs at a Steady Drip” and Peter Baker, the author of the piece, fails to connect the dots and come to the obvious conclusion:  the steady loss of confidence is a victory for the oligarchs who started the “government is bad” meme and kept the drumbeat going with every chance it had… and the combination of  inept political leadership and diminishing government resources is paying off! Anything with a “government” label attached is ipso facto incompetent and anything run by the private sector in a marketplace free from regulations is ipso facto superior. So those who own and operate deregulated corporations are benefitting and the rest of us are suffering…. especially the children raised in poverty who are left being in those “government schools” and whose parents get fewer and fewer benefits… unless they work for a company that pays them minimum wages in which case they “earn their food stamps” (sic).

And as we come to a national and local elections that are bought and paid for by the “dark money” of the oligarchs, voters are staying home in droves because the system is rigged so that the primary elections yield only mirror image candidates. Getting the government confidence back on track will require an investment by taxpayers… but getting that investment requires faith that the spending will be worth it. When you vote in a couple of weeks, select the candidate who is willing to break this vicious circle. It’s the only way “government schools” will rebound.

State Takeovers Haven’t Worked

October 21, 2014 Leave a comment

Recently elected Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s op ed column in yesterday’s NYTimes is a case study of why State takeovers of urban districts have failed… but Baraka downplays major reason for the State’s failure, which is inadequate funding. Instead, Baraka emphasizes the loss of local control as being the primary reason for Newark’s persistent failure. While I agree that the loss of local control is detrimental and the restoration of an elected Board is necessary, it will be insufficient without a corresponding increase in State funding…. and if I were Baraka I’d be looking for a substantial increase in the range of well over a billion in capital spending a millions in annual spending.

In the column Baraka recounts the history of the State’s takeover, which he insinuates was linked to a 1994 NJ Supreme Court ruling on inequitable funding in the State. He recounts the endless cycle of experimental programs that were abandoned if they failed to achieve breakthrough success levels. He also recounts the way a recent $100,000,000 grant from Facebook magnate Mark Zuckerberg was wasted on a merit pay program and the current mismanagement of the schools by State appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson.

One citation in Baraka’s essay jumped out at me: Over the years, the court-ordered remedies for Newark’s schools were eroded or ignored. A $6 billion schools construction program never materialized. He wrote these two sentences near the beginning and never returned to this fact later…. and this is the kind of promise that was the underpinning of most state takeovers. One of the rationales for State takeovers of urban districts was that the local boards were corrupt and that in their effort to provide patronage jobs and construction contracts to cronies the locally elected boards ignored the needs of children. As part of their takeovers the States promised new schools, more funding, and better programs for children. Instead, urban school systems served as de facto patronage for hedge-funders seeking profits for new schools and the facilities were closed or sold to developers seeking to gentrify neighborhoods. The patronage shifted from the cities to the States and while children didn’t benefit from the changing of the guard the state political leaders did.

While I DO believe restoring local control is imperative… I think it is more important that STATE money be provided to upgrade the facilities in Newark (and as noted in an earlier post Zuckerberg’s $100 million won’t come close to helping) and to increase the operating budget so proven programs like those Baraka advocates can be funded. Without more funding Newark schools– and all schools under the control of the State— will not improve.

What If We Abandoned Standardized Tests?

October 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Valerie Strauss used her Washington Post column earlier this week to share FairTest’s proposal that we declare an indefinite moratorium on standardized testing so that districts could “…cut back their own test mandates (and) provide time and incentives for states and districts to revise their assessment and accountability programs.”

The most compelling argument for discontinuing the standardized testing regimen is offered in the concluding paragraph:

NAEP shows that overall gains in reading and math (since the advent of standardized testing) have just about halted. Progress toward closing achievement gaps has also slowed. Test-and-punish programs are wreaking havoc in many urban neighborhoods by contributing to school closures and resulting community destabilization.

A few days ago I shared a DRAFT of the ideal education platform in this blog that suggested a similar action. From my perspective the discontinuation of standardized testing with the exception of NAEP would give states the chance to use the Common Core as the basis for developing their own sets of standards and engage school leaders and parents in a dialogue about what measures are most important. This is echoed in FairTest’s proposal, which is summarized in the final sentence of the blog post:

The new (accountability0system would provide much stronger evidence of learning and progress, reveal far more about whether programs are working, and improve rather than undermine teaching and learning, for our most vulnerable children.

In closing, here is a reprint of the campaign position I would hope SOME Presidential candidate will take in the run up to 2016. Which ever candidate does so will get at least one volunteer in NH who will knock on doors and make phone calls.

  • Discontinue the use of standardized tests as the primary metric for rating schools. By now parents, teachers and voters are fully aware of the misuse of standardized testing in our public schools. They realize how demoralizing this testing is for teachers, school communities, and—most dishearteningly— for students. The use of standardized achievement tests to rate schools is narrowing the curriculum by pushing out subjects that cannot be tested inexpensively. This emphasis on testing dehumanizes the school by making the preparation for tests the focal point of classroom instruction. Worst of all, the testing provides the public with misleading, meaningless, and seemingly precise data that fails to measure the true value of schooling. The test results do accomplish one thing: they help persuade the public that our public schools are failing. If elected I will suspend the testing mandated by Race To The Top and issue a waiver exempting school districts from all tests mandated by No Child Left Behind. In place of these tests, I will direct the Secretary of Education to work with practitioners, post secondary institution leaders, and business leaders to devise an accountability framework that each state will use to develop their own unique means of measuring school effectiveness. One size does not fit all in the classroom, and we’ve learned the hard way that one size does not fit all in public schools.

Obama Could End Testing Today

October 18, 2014 Leave a comment

I was frustrated to read a Christian Science Monitor article titled “As Overtesting Outcry Grows Education Leaders Pull Back on Standardized Tests” for several reasons. The comments and/or questions following quotes from the article will provide some insights into my frustration:

As the outcry against the overtesting of American children has grown, state and local education leaders – in a move endorsed by President Barack Obama– have announced a new focus on dialing back the volume of standardized testing and dialing up the quality.

“I have directed [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan to support states and school districts in the effort to improve assessment of student learning so that parents and teachers have the information they need, that classroom time is used wisely, and assessments are one part of fair evaluation of teachers and accountability for schools,” Mr. Obama said in a statement Wednesday night.

Wait a minute! He’s supporting an improved assessment of student learning that is linked to a “fair evaluation of teachers and accountability for schoolsAs long as teacher and school evaluations are linked with STUDENT test results districts will have a de facto incentive to test students early and often. And hasn’t the President read ANY of the research on VAM? There IS no valid means of linking test scores to teacher performance!

Whether a student faces a large number of tests is not solely determined by federal or state testing mandates, but is largely the product of local district decisions, concludes a report released Thursday by the Center for American Progress.

Wait a minute! As noted frequently in the blog, Race to the Top was a de facto mandate that States adopt the Common Core and also adopt standardized tests that had to be used, to quote the President, “as one part of fan evaluation of teachers and accountability for schools”. While the number of standardized tests administered throughout the year IS a local decision, the administration of a minimum number of high stakes tests is not… and the consequences of administering such tests is described above.

“As states and districts work to clear out unhelpful, unnecessary tests, it would be a grave mistake to stop annual statewide standardized assessments,” noted the Education Trust, a nonprofit working to close achievement gaps for disadvantaged students. “Parents deserve to know how their students are performing … when compared to their peers.”

We know how the comparisons will play out right now: well funded schools serving affluent students will outperform underfunded schools serving children raised in poverty. This isn’t a mystery. It’s been true for at least fifty years. How will MORE assessments help us unless we provide ALL students with the same level of programming and opportunity as the students in the most affluent schools receive?

More than 30 state and urban school leaders endorsed the new statement of principles, which supports Common Core aligned state testing. Among them was John King Jr., the education commissioner in New York. The state recently received a federal waiver to avoid double-testing 8th grade math students, and has offered grants to districts to help reduce nonessential testing.

When John King pushes back on the legislature’s unwillingness to provide equitable funding to public schools and pushes back on Governor Cuomo’s decided favoritism toward deregulated for profit charter schools and disavows VAM, he can be singled out as a school chief pushing back against testing.

Two paragraphs DID hit the nail on the head:

“Hollow pledges to ‘review the entire array of assessments’ are insufficient. In the short run, we need … an elimination of test-based consequences for students, teachers and schools,” said a statement from FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, applauded the state and local leaders’ effort to reduce testing and ensure high quality, but said in a statement that it “addresses the symptoms, not the root cause, of test fixation…. It’s unconscionable that everything about our schools, our kids and our teachers is reduced to one math and one English high-stakes standardized test per year” under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Finally, and most importantly, President Obama could end this madness. He ignited the over testing with Race to the Top: he can end it abruptly by eliminating all standardized tests except NAEP, which is minimally disruptive to schools and provides the most statistically significant findings. I hope that at least one candidate running for President will make a pledge to do that… otherwise the factory model will persist and we will continue to sort and select students based on their parents education and income and the wealth disparity will increase.


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.

Dismantling the Post Office… and Public Schools

October 13, 2014 2 comments

The Angry Bear blog post today, the first of a three part series from 2012 by Steve Hutkins, describes the blueprint developed by businessmen to dismantle the US Post Office (USPS)… a blueprint that is being used by businessmen today to dismantle public schools. Like the USPS, the public schools are often the major employer in small towns across our country and, like the USPS, they are “run by the government” making them ipso facto “inefficient”. There is one major difference between the USPS and public schools: the USPS is centralized and its budget is adopted in Washington DC while the public schools remain decentralized with their budgets adopted locally. When budgets are determined from afar, the employees in the local post office are faceless, making it easier for elected officials to vote budget cuts because their impact is not directly understood. When a school board votes to cut a teacher, everyone in the community knows the teacher whose job is in peril and knows of several children whose educational experience will be diminished.

Here’s another potential common point: both the USPS and public education need to transform their mission in the face of technology. Email has eliminated lots of first class mail and companies like UPS and Fed-Ex are able to provide delivery services faster and less expensively than the USPS because they don’t have the legacy costs of that organization and they don’t have to respond to democratically imposed restrictions. A similar revolution in education is emerging as low cost and arguably effective but unarguably less expensive direct instruction can be provided by on-line instruction. Had the USPS seen the loss of revenue from first class mail coming, it could have shifted its focus away from delivering mail toward delivering parcels and perhaps preserved its standing as an invaluable institution. Had the democratically elected officials seen this trend coming they could have enacted legislation that would help level the playing field between the USPS and its competitors. Because of this lack of foresight, communities are experiencing the loss of middle class incomes provided by the USPS, the closure of a public institution, and the creation of several part-time and/or lower paying jobs.

There is a chance for public schools to begin redefining their mission and purpose and to integrate the advances in technology into their practices…. but time is running out and the business strategies that underly the elimination of the USPS are at work now to eliminate another local institution: the public school.

Hail to Jefferson County Students!

October 10, 2014 Leave a comment

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.