Archive for March, 2014

Zombie Ideas

March 31, 2014 Comments off

Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NYTimes, “Jobs and Skills and Zombies”, describes the “skills gap” as a zombie idea,

…one of those things that everyone important knows must be true, because everyone they know says it’s true. It’s a prime example of a zombie idea — an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die.

As I noted in a comment I left, there are other zombie ideas that deserve to “be killed by evidence”. Here’s what I wrote:

Here’s what’s really appalling: this zombie idea is used to support the need for the Common Core and the standardized tests that accompany them. Because of the alleged “skills gap” students are being given tests that are unrealistically difficult to pass and the results of these tests are used to support another zombie idea: American schools are failing! And who makes out well because of these zombie ideas? The oligarchs who use it to justify low wages and use it to privatize public schools.

Here’s what’s happening: if the evidence is disagreeable it gets contradicted by the voices of those Krugman calls “important people” and the repetition of the message from these “important people” becomes conventional wisdom that is very difficult to refute.

Opt Out Movement Getting Traction

March 30, 2014 Comments off

Friday’s NYTimes featured an article that acknowledged that parents were starting to send up to the standardized test regimen… and not just parents in “...the world of affluent white parents and celebrated schools, where children are largely destined to succeed.” As the article accurately notes, we have a two class system in public education: one that prepares students for test and one that embodies the principles of progressive education, and

… progressive education — with its excited learners immersed for months in astronomy or medievalism or Picasso — (is only in) the province of those able to send their children to some of the best private schools, or with the means to live in places with leading public schools.

Progressive minded educators who value equitable opportunities for all learners find it appalling that children raised in poverty are herded into schools where test-preparation is the sole emphasis. Children raised in poverty attend underfunded schools have often eliminated programs like art, music, and PE and de-emphasized untested areas like social studies and science. Moreover, the parents of children raised in poverty are often not as engaged as parents “with the means to live in places with leading public schools”, NOT because they care less about their children’s education, but because they are working hard to eke out a living. or, in some cases, coping with stressful health problems like addiction and mental health issues. The profiteers look at the “marketplace” of public education and see that imposing change is easiest in an environment where pushback will be limited… and so they have aggressively introduced for-profit schools in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods where they know parents are relatively disengaged in the life of the school. MAYBE the over testing imposed by NYS and RTTT will make it clear to these parents that their children are being denied the same opportunities as children in affluent “leading public schools”.

The article concluded with a paragraph describing State Commissioner John King’s thoughts about the testing issue:

Even the tests’ vocal advocates cannot entirely embrace the kind of instructional sentiment the exams have unleashed. In a recent letter to school superintendents, John B. King Jr., the state’s education commissioner, discouraged administrators from making placement and promotion decisions based solely on the tests. Speaking by telephone last week, Dr. King told me, “I worry that there’s a pedagogical mistake made in believing that if there’s more test prep, students will do better on the test.” In those fears, he hardly stands alone.

This paragraph prompted me to enter the following comment:

Sorry… but Dr. King’s letter discouraging “…administrators from making placement and promotion decisions based solely on tests” flies in the face of his assertion (and Duncan and Obama’s assertions) that teacher’s performance evaluations MUST be based on standardized tests. if Dr. King wanted NYS teachers to avoid teaching to the test he should firmly oppose the federal mandate that standardized test results be used to measure teacher performance… and if he believes teachers are making a “pedagogical mistake” by teaching test prep he should compare notes with Common Core author and ETS Chair David Coleman who is changing the SAT because of concerns he had that the test prep industry was improving student performance by prepping students for the test. “Reformers” like Dr. King and David Coleman advocate standardized tests to lend credence to the bogus charge that US schools are failing which, in turn, provides cover for the privatization of public schools.

Put another way: what teacher WOULDN’T try to teach-to-the-test if their public evaluation was based on how their students did on the test? You can’t administer “high stakes” tests and then complain that teachers are making a “pedagogical mistake” by teaching to that test. The best way to handle this is to give formative and summative testing back to the teachers and give more support to the children raised in poverty whose performance-as-measured-by-whatever-test will persistently be lower than children whose parents “have the means to live in places with leading public schools.”

Charts Depict Depressing Reality

March 30, 2014 Comments off

How bad is the inequality problem in our country? A look at the charts in this Demos post, “America’s Class System Across the Life Cycle” answers that question… and the answer isn’t heartening. Matt Breunig, the blogger who posted the charts, offers no solution to the problem, but several commenters note that an improved education system and improved social services would be an essential first step. And where would the funding for this come from? A look at Chart 10 (see the bottom of this post) provides an answer: establish an estate tax that limits inheritance to, say, $1,000,000. As Bruenig notes, “…rich adults get some extra help, usually mid-life, in the form of inheritance and other wealth transfers from their rich parents. The wealthiest 1 percent (in the SCF survey, which is less wealthy than the real 1 percent no doubt) have inherited an average of $2.7 million, 447 times more than the least wealthy group of adults.”

Is a small group of individuals receiving an average of $2,700,000 in lightly taxed inheritance placing them at a distinct advantage? Did these inheritors earn this? Couldn’t much of this money be used to help provide social services and educational support for those children in the least wealthy households? This was the premise Bill deBlasio just tested and sadly— but predictably– the legislators in NYS blocked. Is this thinking out of the mainstream and un-American? Paul Krugman’s column in Friday’s NYTimes quoted from a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt in 1910:

“The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power,” and (he) followed that statement with a call for “a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes … increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.”

At the conclusion of the article Krugman writes:

We don’t know how much of that wealth is inherited. But it’s interesting to look at the Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans. By my rough count, about a third of the top 50 inherited large fortunes. Another third are 65 or older, so they will probably be leaving large fortunes to their heirs. We aren’t yet a society with a hereditary aristocracy of wealth, but, if nothing changes, we’ll become that kind of society over the next couple of decades.

The chart below suggests that we might already BE “That kind of society” now… and if we aren’t yet, the 12 charts in the posting by Bruenig will convince you of the urgency to do something like deBlasio advocated and to do it quickly!