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Testing and Censorship

September 29, 2014 Leave a comment

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 Leave a comment

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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Presidential Education Platform – Part II

September 27, 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 section of my ideal presidential platform:

Public Education through Grade 12

  • Provide up to 50% of the funds needed to offer full day voluntary pre-kindergarten programs to children raised in poverty. Researchers, teachers, school board members, and politicians all know that the first five years of life are crucial. We’ve known this for decades but we have done nothing to help financially struggling parents provide support for their children and we have provided only minimal federal support for the health, education, and welfare of children born in the wrong zip code. If elected I will recommend to Congress that the federal government match the funds raised by any state that offers voluntary full-day pre-kindergarten programs to children born in poverty.
  • Redirect all Federal funds to constitutionally underfunded districts: Over the past several decades all but five states have been sued over inequities in school funding. At the same time federal funds have been allocated to every district in the country, even the most affluent. If elected I will take steps to see that in states where legislatures have not responded to court decisions calling for changes to the funding systems, all federal funds, including funds for handicapped children in affluent districts, will be redirected to those districts that state courts identify as being short-changed. If State legislatures fail to provide every child with an equal opportunity, the federal government has a responsibility to do so.
  • Fully fund Special Education: The late Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords championed full funding for the federal government’s share of the special education services they mandated and withdrew from his party when President Bush did not keep his promise to include full funding for special education in the No Child Left Behind legislation. Every school board member, school administrator, teacher, parents, and taxpayer wants to see this promise kept. If elected I will submit a budget that calls for full funding of the federal government’s share of special education and make certain that any legislation that increases federal special education funding will have a hold-harmless provision to make certain the additional federal funds provided to school districts are used to improve instruction.
  • Revise the Common Core: Recent actions by state legislatures (g. Texas) and local school boards (e.g. Jefferson County, CO) underscore the need for a common set of standards for education. The Common Core, underwritten by extraordinarily wealthy businessmen, was developed in response to this legitimate need. Unfortunately, the Common Core was developed without any meaningful input from classroom teachers and, to make matters worse, once it was issued the authors of the Common Core were not responsive to the revisions recommended by teachers, academics, and child psychologists. We should not scrap the Common Core because we need to make certain that students across the country learn the facts about health, science, and history. But instead of unilaterally imposing these standards from Washington, we should use the Common Core as the basis for the development of a standard curriculum for each state. If elected I will require each state to create Standards Teams to use the Common Core as the basis for the creation of a rigorous but realistic set of State standards. The Standards Teams will include curriculum content experts from state universities, representative classroom teachers, and developmental psychologists.
  • Discontinue the use of standardized tests as the primary metric for rating schools. By now parents, teachers and voters are fully aware of the misuse of standardized testing in our public schools. They realize how demoralizing this testing is for teachers, school communities, and—most dishearteningly— for students. The use of standardized achievement tests to rate schools is narrowing the curriculum by pushing out subjects that cannot be tested inexpensively. This emphasis on testing dehumanizes the school by making the preparation for tests the focal point of classroom instruction. Worst of all, the testing provides the public with misleading, meaningless, and seemingly precise data that fails to measure the true value of schooling. The test results do accomplish one thing: they help persuade the public that our public schools are failing. If elected I will suspend the testing mandated by Race To The Top and issue a waiver exempting school districts from all tests mandated by No Child Left Behind. In place of these tests, I will direct the Secretary of Education to work with practitioners, post secondary institution leaders, and business leaders to devise an accountability framework that each state will use to develop their own unique means of measuring school effectiveness. One size does not fit all in the classroom, and we’ve learned the hard way that one size does not fit all in public schools.
  • Provide high speed internet to every school and every home in America. Internet access should be viewed as a public utility and should be provided to every home and school in America. Technology holds great promise in education, but it will only be a viable tool for learning when everyone has equal access to content on the web. Furthermore, any provision or regulation that allows internet and content providers to “tier” the speed of delivery will make the digital divide and the social and economic divisions even worse than they are today. We have thousands of people who need work and thousands of homes and schools that need high-speed internet access. The solution is clear: if elected I will create jobs to provide high-speed internet service to all citizens.

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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Fun With Medical Science!

September 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Two recent blog posts on medical breakthroughs waved some caution flags for me, particularly in light of the “science” used to measure teacher performance.

Science World Report posted a brief article describing how “Brain Scans Help Detect Early Childhood Reading Problems“. The researchers conducted brain scans of Kindergarten students as they began to read and “…discovered that the developmental course of the children’s white matter volume predicted their ability to read.” The researchers motives are seemingly pure. They “…hope… that understanding each child’s neurocognitive profiles will help educators provide targeted and personalized education and intervention, particularly in those with special needs.” 

The Mathbabe, Cathy O’Neill, wrote about the use of biomarkers to predict human behavior in a post ominously titled “When Your Genetic Information is Held Against You”. In the post she describes three different studies on the use of these biomarkers and writes:

Studies like this are common and I don’t see a reason they won’t become even more common. The question is how we’re going to use them. Here’s a nasty way I could imagine they get used: when you apply for a job, you fill in a questionnaire that puts you into a category, and then people can see what biomarkers are typical for that category, and what the related health risks look like, and then they can decide whether to hire you. Not getting hired doesn’t say anything about your behaviors, just what happens with “people like you”.

As I noted in a comment I left for the Mathbabe, it ISN’T hard to conceive a LOT of ways this data could be misused in education, particularly in light of the way data is used now. We use test data to measure teacher performance, test data to decide college and graduate school admissions, and “reformers” are recommending we make more and more “data driven” decisions about student placement and school and teacher performance.

The Mathbabe concludes her post with this paragraph:

In the best case scenario, we would use such knowledge strictly to help people stay healthy. In the worst case, we have a system whereby people are judged by their biomarkers and not their behavior. If there were ever a case for regulation, I think this is it.

I try not to be a Luddite when it comes to science and technology… and I try to be optimistic about the ability of our legislators to make ethical decisions… but I’m afraid that the potential profitability of the brain scans, the skepticism the public has for regulations, and the power that money has in our legislatures will conspire to bring about the worst outcomes in this area. I hope my fears are unjustified.

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New Mexico: Cody Reports on Effort to Intimidate Parent Activists

September 26, 2014 Leave a comment

More on the intimidation of a NM school board member who spoke out against “reform”.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Anthony Cody writes here about a new low in efforts to silence parents who oppose corporate reform.

Kathy Korte is a member of the Albuquerque school board who is active in an organization called Stand4KidsNM. This group has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. It opposes high-stakes testing and supports public schools. The group held a demonstration and invited political candidates from all parties. Only the Democrats showed.

A state legislator then filed a formal complaint with ten state attorney general, claiming that the group had violated state law and demanding that Stand4KidsNM register as a PAC.

But that wasn’t all.

As Cody writes, “But this is not the only effort to silence Korte. A nationally known GOP “opposition researcher” by the name of Tim Killeen put in a request in August for disclosure of “any and all emails and letters sent to APS board member Kathy Korte that…

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Presidential Education Platform – Part 1

September 26, 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. 

Over the next three days I will publish my ideal education platform, 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. With that in mind, I share the first section of my ideal presidential platform, printed below: 

Overarching Messages

  • Return governance of public schools to state and local school boards: No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have stripped state and local boards of their ability to define their curriculum and establish accountability measures. They mandated a de facto national curriculum and de facto national standardized tests. These national tests are designed so that most local schools will be defined as “failing”, paving the way for them to be taken over by for-profit charter chains. If elected I will appoint a Secretary of Education who will immediately suspend Race to the Top and all standardized tests mandated by the federal government. This will help restore governance to State and local school boards and diminish the impact of standardized tests on public schools.
  • Restore dignity to the teaching profession: By increasing the number of for-profit charter schools and supporting de-regulation, the US Department of Education has effectively expanded the number of untrained and non-certified teachers in our classrooms. If elected I will insist that States and local boards employ only highly qualified teachers by penalizing states that fail to do enforce regulations requiring certified teachers in every classroom so and offering scholarships to teachers who seek certification in areas where highly qualified teachers are scarce.
  • Eliminate all public funding to for profit and religiously affiliated K-12 schools: Public education was never intended to be profit driven. Nor was public education intended to incorporate religious training. Boards of education who oversee public schools funded by taxpayers are answerable to the public and, like all public institutions, cannot make a profit or advocate for religion. That is how it should be. For-profit schools do not answer to the public: they answer to shareholders. Religiously affiliated schools do not answer to the public: they answer to an unelected governing board who share a common religious perspective. We should not allow taxpayers dollars to line the pockets of shareholders or teach our children that one religion is superior to another. If elected I will stop the flow of taxpayer dollars to shareholders and to religious instruction of any kind.
  • Give EVERY child a chance to succeed in public schools: Our current education system punishes students born in the wrong zip code. Some of my opponents want to offer vouchers to students so they can choose better schools than those found in their neighborhood. But those same opponents want to make sure those vouchers cannot be used to attend a school in a nearby town or neighborhood where wealthy children live. We cannot sustain the American Dream of economic advancement for each succeeding generation unless we make sure the most financially challenged school districts in our nation have the same services, courses, and facilities as the most financially blessed school districts in our nation. If elected, I will advocate that we allocate federal funds in such a way that we can restore the American Dream.
  • Reinforce the notion that public education is a right and not a consumer item. My opponents want to provide parents with vouchers and a wealth of “data” so they can “choose” a public school they way they choose laundry detergent. Our President and my opponents want to provide college bound students with “data” on public and private college costs so they can choose a college the same way. Here’s what’s wrong with that idea: public education is NOT a consumer item. It is a right that every citizen should have. Over the past three decades have redirected public funds away from education and toward businesses. If elected I will recommend legislation that creates incentives for state legislatures to restore public education funding and post-secondary funding to 1980 levels.

    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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