A few weeks ago Time magazine hit the news stands with this horrific cover:
When the article came out progressive bloggers went ballistic and Facebook was full of links to send letters to the editors of Time to decry their cover, which stated (wrongly) that is was impossible to fire a teacher. Having written several posts on this topic, I clicked on the AFT’s link and sent a letter explaining the reality of the situation, namely that teachers have a probationary period that is typically three years and that some of the teachers who “opted out” of the profession were, in fact, counseled out. Because of this, the reality is that 98% of the teachers are doing well in their work even though this fact vexes politicians like Andrew Cuomo.
My daughter in Brooklyn who shares my frustration at the bashing of public education sent me a link to this blog post from Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, who dedicated most of the space to a well researched letter to Time in response to their reprehensible cover. Written by Nancy F. Chewning, assistant principal of William Byrd High School in Roanoke, VA, the letter includes the following points, some of which I have not made in my earlier posts decrying the bashing of teachers:
- Aspiring teachers are held in low esteem on campuses
- Teachers make substantially less than others with an equal education
- The OECD reports that “American teachers work far longer hours than their counterparts abroad.”
- No other professions are held to a 100% standard- Only teachers!
- And this gem: “According to a new study from the Journal of Patient Safety, 440,000 people per year die from preventable medical errors. In fact, this study found that medical errors were the third leading cause of death in the United States today.” Are we closing hospitals because of this? Are doctors losing tenure because of this?
- The NEA [National Education Association] ranks 221st in terms of lobbying expenditures… WELL behind banks, military, and other professions— like doctors– who are not depicted as “Rotten Apples”
The letter describes the money teachers spend on their own supplies and to provide their students with food, school supplies, and clothing. It describes the time teachers spend advocating for their children outside of school. It describes the responsibilities teachers are asked to assume for the well-being of their children. And it describes the devastating impact poverty has on the children in Roanoke, VA, impact that is felt in every district that serves children who are raised in poverty across the country.
I wish some political leader in our country would stand up for public education and especially for the teachers who work tirelessly to help children raised in poverty…. but it’s easier to blame teachers than to blame poverty because “fixing” poverty requires the redistribution of wealth and (gasp) spending money on people in our country who are in need. Here’s hoping the silence about poverty ends as we consider who to elect for President in 2016.
Common Dreams featured an article by Robert Shetterly on USDOE whistleblower Jon Oberg who learned about and investigated the Department’s links to TBTF banks and those bank’s links to politicians. The first half of the article explains the importance of getting a college degree in our economy and the devastating effect of student debt on individuals and our economy. Shetterly emphasizes that this debt is not evenly distributed among college graduates: it falls heaviest on those from less affluent homes. And the amount of debt we are talking about is huge: $1,180,000,000,000!
The average liability per student—whether they earn a degree or not—is nearly $30,000. The poorest 25% of the student population—people with less than $8,000 in assets—own 60% of that debt. How does that debt shape—or should we say engineer?—the direction and quality of their lives, their ability to contribute as citizens and creators of culture? How does that debt narrow the choices available to them, making their young lives into a burden rather than an adventure? College and advanced degrees have always been promoted as the key to advancement, good jobs, and upward mobility. Today, college education is still promoted with those claims, but the key has been thrown away. The student graduates into a lock box of debt.
But the students loss is the bankers’ gain, and the bankers, who want to keep the money flowing, use some of their profits to make sure the loopholes that allow them to make high interest private loans to students in place. Compounding the problem is that the USDOE uses some of the revenue from student loans to fund its own operation.
The article concludes with a persuasive argument for forgiving all of the student loans, noting that we spent at least a trillion on the war in Iraq without raising taxes and neglecting to point out the obvious: we bailed out TBTF banks who are profiting from these loans! His penultimate paragraph reads:
One trillion given to students and the promise of free higher education would revitalize this country and be repaid many times over. Our country’s greatest asset is the energy and creativity of our young people. Why allow that energy to be siphoned off to increase the wealth of a handful of millionaires? Isn’t that a form of cultural suicide?
It IS a form of cultural suicide and one that I am ashamed to see happening to an entire generation so that my generation doesn’t have to pay taxes. Forgive the debt and if you need the money to close the deficit or engage in wars in the Middle East, raise my taxes. If you had to raise my taxes to fund wars, you might not spend that money in the future.
The New York Times is finally noticing that parents are pushing back against standardized testing… and with some coaching might begin to recognize that the whole standardized testing movement is based on simplistic and wrongheaded thinking.
Today’s paper features an article by Lizette Alvarez describing the parent pushback against the wide array of mandated standardized tests in FLA, testing that expanded greatly as a result of Jeb Bush’s initiatives a decade ago that was compounded by RTTT. I left a comment that was just under the 1500 character limit that made the following points:
- Standardized tests do not measure the quality of education,
- The new test results are lower because of the way they are scaled
- Using those tests to measure teacher performance is invalid and simplistic.
- Using test as the primary measure for “quality” will increase the focus on testing in the classroom.
- Politicians love standardized tests!
Standardized tests do not measure the quality of education: States have administered standardized tests for decades and the results are always the same: affluent districts serving the children of well educated parents always outscore the financially strapped districts serving children raised in poverty. The new test will be no different EXCEPT that there will be more failing students and schools.
The new test results are lower because of the way they are scaled: The new Common Core tests expand the number of “failing” schools because they are scaled to an artificial and idealized standard that assumes all students will graduate from high school ready for college instead of being scaled to the mean scores of an age cohort as they have been in the past. As a result, more students are “failing”, more schools are “falling”, and more districts are “failing”. Whether this is a bug or a feature depends on the extent to which you believe that politicians are in cahoots with squillionaires who are investing in for-profit charter schools and technology companies. For now, I’m on the fence. I think some politicians listen to investors but I also believe some politicians are naively convinced that schools CAN be measured based on test scores and test scores CAN improve if kids and teachers work harder. They believe this in large measure because considering the alternative might require them to raise taxes to provide more support for children raised in poverty.
Using those tests to measure teacher performance is invalid and simplistic: The value-added methodology that uses test scores to measure “growth” of students, teachers, and schools is a statistical artifact. There are reams of scholarly articles that undercut the validity of this approach. I’ve written about this frequently on this blog… enough said.
Using test as the primary measure for “quality” will increase the focus on testing in the classroom: When test results are used to evaluate teachers, to determine if schools will be closed, and to determine if entire districts will be taken over by the state or turned over to for-profit entrepreneurs, it is not surprising that they become the focal point in every classroom…. and as noted in a post earlier today, when those districts are strapped for money they cut everything BUT test preparation activities.
Politicians love standardized tests! They love the tests because they yield precise data that is inexpensive to collect and prove that schools are failing because of “bad teachers” and if the TEACHERS are the problem the fix for “failing schools” is inexpensive and fast: replace the “dead wood” teachers with new (and less expensive) teachers. Voila!
It is heartening to see that the Times is reporting on this nascent movement among parents… but somewhat distressing to see them reporting on this a month after the dust-ups in FLA and a week after a close election in that state and in several other states where “reform minded” governors got elected. Maybe after a spring of rebellion on tests some Presidential candidate will stand up against the test-and-punish approach and begin supporting the importance of public education and the effects poverty has on learning.