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Archive for April, 2013

The Sad Reality of Pre-School Funding

April 29, 2013 Comments off

President Obama’s pleas for more funding for pre-school education made a big headline… but I see a train wreck on the horizon when “new” federal money is used to backfill cuts made at the State level. Today’s Huffington Post headline article“Preschool Funding Reached State of Emergency in 2012”, describes how states, strapped for funding for regular education programs, made deep cuts in preschool education in 2012:

Funding per student for state pre-school programs has reached its lowest point in a decade, according to “The State of Preschool 2012,” the annual yearbook released by Rutgers University’s National Institute for Early Education Research. “The 2011-2012 school year was the worst in a decade for progress in access to high-quality pre-K for America’s children,” the authors wrote. After a decade of increasing enrollment, that growth stalled, according to the report. Though the 2011-2012 school year marks the first time pre-K enrollment didn’t increase along with the rate of population change.

Assuming Obama puts together a package that Congress will adopt (an admittedly HUGE assumption), the money won’t do anything to EXPAND preschool education: it will, instead, RESTORE preschool where states made cuts in previous year. Preschool education is one of many programs that everyone can agree on but no one can figure out how to institute. My wish: Congress would spend more time working on ways to solve problems they agree on and less time making “the other side” look bad for their positions and principles they disagree on. Both parties are so intent on making the other party look bad that neither party can achieve anything. In the meantime, the recent sequester is putting 70,000 more preschool children out on the streets…. but the airplanes are going to run on time!

 

Finding a Middle Ground.

April 29, 2013 Comments off

Three recent posts (here, here, and here) by Diane Ravitch pose the question: Can We Find a Middle Ground? The responses so far are running 2-to-1 against… and the commenters seem to believe that the level of contentiousness between privatizers and public school teachers, administrators, and boards is so high that dialogue is an impossibility. My contention is that we are not debating the right issue: if we REALLY want to reform schools in the true meaning of the word, we need to abandon the factory model and use technology and individual attention from adults to personalize instruction. Here’s the comment I made at the conclusion of the third posting:

These paragraphs, which advocate a different debate about schools from the one taking place in the media, are taken from the “About” section of my blog:

“Discourse on public education is stuck in a rut because the public thinks of public schools as factories. When I shared this observation with some colleagues a few years ago, their response was “So what? Everyone knows that! What difference does it make”. Their rejoinder was partially true. First, NOT everyone knows that schools are modeled after factories. Secondly, the notion that school-is-a-factory is so ingrained that we cannot conceive of a different method for organizing education. Finally, it DOES make a difference because when we unwittingly accept the notion that schools can only be organized like they are today we avoid asking questions like:

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 they result in “efficiency” in the factory school… and until we change our minds about how schools are organized, until we replace our conception of schools as a factory with a new mental model, we will continue 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.”

My belief: the parents who are opting out of testing are rebelling not against testing, but against the factory model of schooling that treats their child like a widget instead of an individual. Those parents are talking among themselves and may soon find themselves attending home-school collaboratives that emphasize caring and cooperation instead of the for profit factory schools the privatizers are opening that emphasize competition.

The privatizers are not bent on “destroying” public education: they are bent on providing the status quo factory school model efficiently. In doing so they are using the business model that calls for outsourcing, downsizing, making extensive use of technology, and minimizing employees’ wages pensions and benefits. If we want to engage privatizers and the politicians who pander to them in a discussion we need to question the status quo and question their goal of efficiency instead of questioning their means of achieving efficiency using the current model in place.

Productivity in Public Education

April 28, 2013 Comments off

Diane Ravitch posted today on the “Skunk Works” in Michigan, a group of  the Governor selected from “…like-minded allies from far-right think tanks” to help him formulate “…a “value” school, with fewer teachers to save money”. The post was short and disparaging, but, I fear, failed to address this whole problem from a businessperson’s perspective. My comment did try to look at the issue in that way:

If you think like an economist or businessperson, the logic works like this:

==> If I can get the same product (as measured by standardized tests) for a lower cost and employing fewer people, I’ve increased the productivity of a bureaucratic government monopoly and reduced my taxes. What’s not to like?

To counter this logic we need to attack the metric: standardized testing… because given the nature of standardized tests combined with the kind of by-the-book (or computer) instruction advocated by for-profit folks it is likely that scores will NOT decline but staffing and costs WILL. I believe we need to emphasize the message that standardized tests are an incomplete and ineffective measure of learning.

I am uncomfortable with demonizing philanthropist/businessmen in part because, like Deming, I believe people don’t fail, systems do. In public education, the linchpin of the businesss-model accountability “system” is standardized testing… and anyone who’s worked in schools knows that they are full of flaws and of limited value in measuring either individual performance or school performance. They do provide precise information but not accurate information. Time to change the system… not reinforce it.