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Been there, done that….

January 13, 2012

In reading today’s reports I found that I had written about or lived through nearly every issue…

Texas education leaders want post-secondary schools to focus on job training as opposed to seeking traditional degrees. Doing so will assure the students a job, which is key when students amass debt doing their college years. I have mixed feelings about this. As a Drexel graduate I greatly appreciated the cooperative work-study program. It provided me with salaried assignments in two major corporations for eighteen months, providing me with enough income to pay for my college tuition, room and board. Now, however, Drexel students would be hard pressed to attain that leave of income and businesses have moved toward internships as opposed to paid cooperative work-study assignments. Also, employment ebbs and flows for skilled laborers… just ask several former machinists who live in the Upper Valley. Learning a skill for a specific job in 2014 is not likely to help you much in 2024, especially if the job can be outsourced to a lower paying company in the Far East or to a computer… again… ask several former machinists who live in the Upper Valley. Finally, public school teachers are generally disdainful of jobs that require the use of one’s hands instead of one’s mind: the jobs they know and value are ones that are in offices or hospitals and require lots of schooling. Therefore strong students are encouraged to attend college… and the article is talking about getting more strong students into training programs.

The Chicago students are going to be attending school 7 1/2 hours per day starting next year according to today’s report in the NYTimes… because logic dictates that more of the same kind of schooling will result in higher test scores. My brief encounter with a longer school day in Maryland in the mid 1990s (to offset 14 snow days) showed that adding time didn’t add value, especially at the lower grade levels where students were wiped out during the last 45 minutes of the school day. Better: have every school offer an onsite structured after-school child care center.

The agreeable fantasy of merit pay lives on in the minds of Bloomberg and Cuomo neither of whom heeded my article in EdWeek in March 2010, which was drawn from the “Race to the Top: NO” White Paper on this blog page. Ay yi yi!

The Fixes column in today’s NYTimes describes the LIFT program, which has served 50,000 clients in five urban communities. The LIFT model resembles the kind of wraparound services envisioned in the White Paper on waivers. The program acknowledges that poverty erodes the spirit of people and diminishes their aspiration and recognizes the power of mentoring. Instead of thumping the drum for merit pay Bloomberg and Cuomo should expand programs like LIFT.

“Run Schools Like A Business” has been the battle cry for decades, and was the subject of the following comment I submitted in response to Paul Krugman’s NYTimes editorialNever underestimate the political belief that “running government like a business” is the answer to every social problem. Take a look at public education where politicians in BOTH parties have adopted the business model across-the-board: reduce the measurement of effectiveness to something easy-to-quantify-but-beside-the-point; outsource schooling to de-regulated non-union for-profit enterprises; eliminate defined benefit pensions; reward “superstar” CEO-Superintendents with lavish contracts while outsourcing custodial and food services to low-paying for-profit enterprises; fire bad teachers and reward good teachers with money that will come from— well, we haven’t figured that out yet but we’re sure there’s LOTS of places money can be saved. Taxpayers value the notion that schools are “full of waste” and want to believe that painless cost cutting is possible… and the taxpayers resent the benefits and job security in the public sector that were typical in the private sector until the 80s… and politicians in both parties capitalize on these attitudes.

THIS JUST IN: online learning is less expensive than traditional or blended learning according to an EDWeek Blog. Oh… but the Fordham report didn’t know whether the student outcomes were comparable…  The source of the savings? “…virtual schools can often reduce those costs by increasing the student-teacher ratio or by reducing teacher salaries by hiring only part-time teachers or paraprofessionals, said the report, spending an average of $2,600 per student, compared to an average of $5,500 per pupil in a blended learning environment.” There you go, Mr. Krugman! Lets run it like a business!

A T.H.E. Journal article has a raft of predictions regarding technology use for 2012… and I found all of them heartening. One issue that many districts and schools will face, however is bandwidth! If teachers and kids are going to be using handheld mobile devices I’m not sure that there is sufficient bandwidth to make these ideas possible.

This Orlando Sentinel article validates the Agreeable Fantasy article referenced above… districts serving poor children pay less for teachers than districts serving affluent kids… and where do you think the better teachers work? We have merit pay!

Linda Darling-Hammond’s article on redlining in the Nation echoes the points I made in the White Paper on Waivers and is further evidence that the business model prevails in congress… We know that more services (and therefore more $$$) is needed to help schools serving kids in poverty but it’s a lot easier (and a lot less expensive) to believe in the business fairy.


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