Archive for December, 2013

Undercutting the “Reform” Narrative

December 31, 2013 Comments off

Today’s WSJ editorialized against the newly appointed NYC Chancellor Carmen Farina, calling her “…a competent steward of the education status quo” in marked contrast to the “…radical reform ideas” proposed by her predecessors who worked under Michael Bloomberg. And what were those radical reform ideas?

…more competition (charter schools) and more accountability (measuring school and teacher performance in part by how well students do on tests). Ms. Fariña is said to favor collaboration, rather than competition, among schools. Collaboration is a nice word, but it will achieve nothing if all it means is accommodating the demands of unions for less school choice and less accountability while demanding more money.

If charter schools and standardized tests had done anything to improve the overall performance of students by ANY metric a retreat from that direction would be appalling and would make perfect sense. No such evidence exists. Indeed, the metrics used to measure school performance have not changed appreciably during the Bloomberg years, and he has had control of the schools for over a decade. Holding children raised in poverty, over 40% of the school population, to high standards without providing more support for their learning before they enter school is foolish. diBlasio’s idea of taxing the affluent NYC residents to underwrite the costs of universal prekindergarten was one of the ideas that got him elected. much to the consternation of those WSJ readers who will have to foot the bill. Unsurprisingly, the WSJ decried this as “income redistribution” instead of providing the level playing field needed to ensure social mobility: 

But no amount of wealth shifting will raise the lifetime prospects of kids who can’t read or can only do 8th-grade math before they drop out of school. The education reform agenda is about reducing income inequality the old-fashioned American way—upward mobility and economic opportunity. By accommodating the education status quo, Mr. de Blasio will make the income gap even larger.

The WSJ offers no evidence that Bloomberg’s “education reform agenda ” provided “more upward mobility and economic opportunity” because the evidence contradict this: income inequality GREW during Bloomberg’s term of office as did the opportunities to advance economically. But no matter, the WSJ is not interested in “reform” anyway: they like things just the way they are and will continue to sell  the big lies their readers believe in.

Unfortunately, the WSJ’s big lies are painless to adopt and require no sacrifice on anyone’s part— except those unfortunate enough to be born into poverty. Worse, the WSJ’s big lies are difficult to undercut because the narrative that accompanies them is embedded deeply in the psyche of WSJ readers. The WSJ readers believe that government is inefficient and the “private sector can do it better”; believe they can have quality public services without paying taxes; and who believe it is possible for a poor child to improve his or her lot in life by applying themselves or “getting three consecutive high quality teachers”. Their magical thinking is supported by faith and not by evidence and, as one commenter notes, even data-mongers have difficulty overcoming faith-based beliefs. Those of us who want to help children raised in poverty need to change the perception that we oppose accountability. We should use the unarguable evidence provided by the testing regimen that charters, union-busting, and school-closing are NOT working and the higher expenditures in suburban districts DO make a difference.

Broadband Deficit Hurts Education Opportunity

December 30, 2013 Comments off

Last evening my daughter and son-in-law were visiting and we played an old-school game called Facts in Five that my daughter recalled playing when she was in JHS in the eighties. The game requires players to fill in a 5X5 grid that has letters running down the vertical column on the outside and categories running across the horizontal column on the top. The categories are things like “American authors”, or “Colleges”, or “Adjectives with 5 syllables”. Players try to fill in the grid in a 3 minute interval. When players read out their responses, they receive credit for each unique response. As we tallied scores last night, there were dozens of instances where we needed to determine the nationality of a particular author or whether a person was alive or dead or some factual element regarding an answer. In the “old days”, many of these kinds of debates required thumbing through reference books  or dictionaries…. but last night the answers came quickly through the use of my son-in-law’s cell phone which connected to our dsl.

I share this anecdote because it struck me as exemplary of the kind of ready information that is UN-available to many students and citizens as I read an article in today’s NYTimes titled “US Struggles to Keep Pace in Delivering Broadband Service”. The article featured a picture of Riga, Latvia, with a caption that read: “The capital city of Latvia, Riga, has an average Internet speed that is at least two-and-a-half times that of San Antonio“… oh… and the article report the cost is one fourth of San Antonio’s. Why? Because other countries subsidize the service, recognizing the importance of broadband to economic competitiveness. In our country, which protects the internet providers, we actually pass laws that make it difficult for consumers to acquire broadband in their homes. These two paragraphs summarize the sad state of affairs in our country.

Leticia Ozuna, a former San Antonio councilwoman who worked on the municipal broadband effort, said that in her former district in South San Antonio, some 70 percent of households had no Internet service. Often, she added, students gather at night in the parking lot of the Mission Branch Public Library to do homework using the library’s free Wi-Fi connection, long after the library itself has closed.

San Antonio’s power company has a largely unused fiber-optic network that local government offices have been using for high-speed Internet service for years, but a Texas law prevents the city from using the network to give low-cost service to consumers.

The article cites several examples of cities that have invested in broadband but kept the price prohibitively high for consumers, contrasting them to Korea where broadband is widely available. As the somewhat trivial “Fact-in-Five” incident illustrates, having even dsl provides a marked advantage in information gathering over books… and if I wanted to share information like MOOCs or Khan Academy and didn’t have broadband I would be at a complete loss.

And here’s what’s maddening: the conservative think tanks who excoriate the US education system using test data don’t see why we should use “horse race” data on band width to rank economic opportunities afforded through broadband:

“Some people like to look at it as a horse race,” said Harold Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, “but I’m not sure that’s the right way to look at it.” He added, “We’re not at the starting gate, we’re not at the finish line. We’re somewhere in the middle of the race.”

It’s OK for us to be “in the middle of the race” when it comes to providing learning tools but completely unacceptable for us to be in the middle of race when it comes to education? What’s wrong with this picture?

No Common Ground on Common Core

December 28, 2013 Comments off

I’ve written several blog posts on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) trying to strip away the contentiousness in an effort to find a common ground… but I have come to the same conclusion as blogger Bill Boyle whose recent post title, “The Myth of Neutrality and the Common Core”, describes the state of mind on the issue.

For those of us who worked in public education over the past four decades the debate over the common core echoes debates that go back to Dewey and Terman. The fundamental question is whether there are a set of facts that all children need to know by a certain point in their schooling or if schools should provide children with the tools they need to seek out information on their own. Terman, the father of standardized testing, believed there was a core set of measurable content that all  children should know at a certain point in their life and he designed metrics to determine if the children were making sufficient progress. Dewey, on the other hand, felt that children had a natural inclination to learn and, given the time and opportunity and coaching, would ultimately develop the skills needed to gain the knowledge necessary to succeed in life. As noted in earlier posts, Terman’s ideology clearly won out over Dewey’s, in large measure because it mirrors the beliefs in our country that standardization and efficiency are more important than diversity and creativity.

Boyle asserts that the the CCSS was written by corporatists: people who want to privatize public education and who intend to use the inability of students to pass normative tests to buttress the claim that students are attending  “failing public schools” that can only be fixed by introducing the efficiencies that exist in the private sector. And Boyle has evidence to support this contention. The folks who want to make a profit from public schools, though, are shrewd. they have got the endorsement of some professional organizations and some college professors and DID engage SOME teachers in row development and review of the standards. Moreover, the profiteers have done an outstanding job of public relations, not long because they have outright control of some media outlets but also because they are free to spend money on promotion. Public education must scrupulously account for every dollar they spend, and there isn’t a public school system in America who could budget 1% of what Exxon Mobil and the Chamber of Commerce spent to place advertisements for the Common Core in major media outlets.

What annoys Boyle, me, and the other writers whose articles are linked in his post is that there is no evidence whatsoever that the creation of a Common Core curriculum will address the greatest problems facing schools, which is the difficulties faced by the children raised in poverty. Worse, the institution of the Common Core and the testing regimen that accompanies it will only reinforce the outdated and outmoded model of schooling in place today: the model based on Terman’s premise that all children develop intellectually at the same rate and in the same fashion. This premise has been proven false for decades and is clearly wrongheaded based on the self-evident differences among children in terms of their physical growth. Instead of spending millions to reinforce the status quo it would be better to use those funds to develop a truly individualized system of education, a system that is possible now more than ever.

Here’s the irony of the effort to make education profitable by introducing more tests: we will evolve into a two or three tiered system whereby some students will attend expensive private schools, other students will be stuck in the factory model we’ve had in place for decades, but an ever expanding number of students will drop out of schooling altogether and enroll in home schooling collectives rather than have their kids subjected to the testing regimen or go needlessly into debt to pay for K-12 schooling.