Archive for September, 2014

Testing and Censorship

September 29, 2014 Comments off

Frank Bruni’s Sunday NYTimes column, “The Wilds of Education“, opens with these questions:

WHEN it comes to bullying, to sexual assault, to gun violence, we want and need our schools to be as safe as possible.

But when it comes to learning, shouldn’t they be dangerous?

Isn’t education supposed to provoke, disrupt, challenge the paradigms that young people have consciously embraced and attack the prejudices that they have unconsciously absorbed?

Isn’t upset a necessary part of that equation? And if children are lucky enough to be ignorant of the world’s ugliness, aren’t books the rightful engines of enlightenment, and aren’t classrooms the perfect theaters for it?

Bruni used these questions to lament the censorship of some reading materials, grade inflation, the tendency for students to avoid taking difficult courses, and the stance some “liberal” institutions took last Spring when they dis-invited “controversial” graduation speakers.

As one who is opposed to the standardized testing regimen, it struck me that the narrowing to the curriculum that results from high stakes testing was overlooked in Bruni’s examples of how schools avoid thought-provoking and disruptive thinking. By insisting that standardized tests are the primary means of measuring student and school performance, public schools are increasingly narrowing their curriculum and constantly reinforcing the notion that there is one and only one answer to questions… and by limiting instruction to those areas where one and only one answer is applicable the increasingly prescribed curricula are NOT promoting the provocation of disruptive thinking or challenging “…the paradigms that young people have consciously embraced and attack the prejudices that they have unconsciously absorbed?” 

This may have been lost on Mr. Bruni, because based on his previous writing about education he seems to have in consciously absorbed the paradigm of education as measurable by test results… a paradigm that needs to be abandoned if we are sincere about wanting “…to provoke, disrupt, challenge the paradigms that young people have consciously embraced and attack the prejudices that they have unconsciously absorbed?”

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Daily News Editorial: Disingenuous or Naive

September 29, 2014 Comments off

Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter seem to be getting a lot of mileage out of the fact that the idea for charter schools came from Al Shanker… and they are using it as the basis to call for an end to what they call “The Charter School Wars”. To their credit, Kahlenberg and Potter do not seem to be shills for charters in general: they include the factual findings without equivocation and do note that many charter schools are developed solely to turn a dollar. What they fail to point out, though, is that if there is a “war” going on it ISN’T between “public schools” and “charters” per se. The conflict is between non-profit public schools and for-profit privatization of a public service… and the for-profit charters are acting the same way as the ruthless for-profit vulture capitalists work. They prey on the weakest, they use money to buy political influence, they seek deregulation and aggressively use that to pay the lost wages possible, and they pay their CEOs grossly more than taxpayers would ever allow any employee to earn. If charter schools played by the same rules as public schools, emerged to meet the needs of students who struggle in public schools, and didn’t seek political favors (e.g. like Eva Moskovitz’ Success Academy’s demand for free rent for space in schools that required the relocation of existing students), there would be no “charter war”.

As I noted in an earlier blog in response to a story by Kahlenberg and Potter, “school reform” and the generic term “charter schools” has been expropriated by those in the business community who want to take over public education and turn it into something that can yield a handsome profit. Unlike Shanker’s vision for teacher run charters that change the way schooling is provided to needy children, though, privatized charter’s are top-down hierarchical organizations that focus on engineering the traditional factory model of schooling, treat teachers as replaceable parts on the factory floor, and sort and select students. If the media thought Al Shanker was indignant in the 70s and 80s, I cannot imagine what they would think of him today.

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Presidential Education Platform – Part III

September 28, 2014 1 comment

I live in New Hampshire, the state that holds the first presidential primary in the nation. The presidential election is two years from November, but because we hold the “first-in-the-nation” status NH is already being visited by potential presidential candidates from both parties who are making an effort to differentiate themselves from each other and from the candidates running on the opposite party. After working in public education in six different states for over 35 years, serving as a consultant in several VT and NH districts for the past two years, and writing this blog for nearly three years, I have some thoughts on what an ideal education platform might look like. I also have some ideas on where the funds might come from to pay for the ideas incorporated in these “planks”, which I will include at the conclusion of each of the three posts. 

I am publishing my ideal education platform over a three day period, written as if it were being presented by the candidate. I welcome any feedback or editorial comments you might want to offer. In a recent blog post Jeff Bryant asserts that “Both anecdotal information and empirical data drawn from surveys confirm that voters don’t just value public education; they want candidates who will support classroom teachers and oppose funding cuts to public schools”. If that is true in November 2014, I have reason to believe it will be even more so in 2016. Here is the final section of my ideal presidential platform:

Post-Secondary Education

  • Reduce the interest rates on student loans to 1% above the rate the Federal Reserve charges to banks: The USDOE, loan servicers, and “too big too fail” banks are charging post-secondary students and graduates exorbitant interest rates and when the students are unable to pay the loans their credit ratings are ruined for years. Linking the student loan interest rates to the interest rates the Federal Reserve charges to banks will relieve students of their debt burden, make college more affordable, and help the economy grow. If elected I will limit the interest rate on student debts to 1% above the rate the Federal Reserve charges to banks.
  • Deny loans and grants to failing for-profit institutions: The Department of Education has aggressively supported the closure of “failing PUBLIC schools” but has done nothing to penalize propriety schools who failed to graduate a majority of students, who willfully mislead applicants and misrepresent their graduation and job placement rates, and who made arrangements with lending institutions to offer undergraduates student loans from multiple servicers. This practice has damaged the credit ratings of tens of thousands of former students and cost taxpayers billions to bail out the banks whose loans were guaranteed. If elected I will deny federal loans and grants to for-profit post-secondary institutions who made bad loans and forfeit the loans students took out to attend those schools.
  • Provide grants to States to reduce the cost of public post-secondary education institutions. Public colleges are now collecting only 3% more revenue per student as they collected 25 years ago. Yet tuition costs are skyrocketing. Why? Because the federal government has shifted the costs for many federal programs to the states and drastically reduced federal funds. Because of this state tax burdens have increased and legislatures have responded by shifting the costs to post-secondary students by raising the tuitions of state-funded schools. This has the effect of leaving economically disadvantaged and minority students in the lurch, contributing to the inequality in our country and eroding our sense of community. EVERY child is entitled to have access to a high quality education and EVERY citizen should share in that cost. To make the cost of post-secondary education affordable I will establish revenue sharing grants with states to help lower the cost of public post-secondary education.

How Can This Be Funded?

People ask me how we can possibly pay for these initiatives. Here’s the truth of the matter: The funds we need for education are being spent elsewhere. We must use dollars now going for wars and tax breaks for businesses to fund education for the next generation of Americans. We are paying billions of dollars a year for wars and we haven’t raised a dime to cover their costs. We are currently offering millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations and then allowing them to locate offices overseas to avoid paying income taxes. If we can raise billions for wars without raising taxes and allowing businesses to increase their profits, we should be able to raise billions for school districts to provide modern facilities, modern technology, high-speed internet connections, and MOST OF ALL, well qualified and highly dedicated teachers.  

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