Archive for September, 2014

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 Comments off

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 Comments off

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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