Archive for February, 2015

1500 Characters that Rebut NYTimes Editorial

February 22, 2015 1 comment

As readers of this blog realize, I have written thousands of words over the past three years expressing opposition to NCLB and its misbegotten step-sister RTTT. Thus, when I read today’s NYTimes editorial calling for a continuation of the testing regimen put in place as a result of NCLB, I wanted to fill the comment box with my reaction… but, alas, was limited to 1500 characters.

Here’s what I found especially maddening about the conclusions of the Times: they identified the underlying problems with NCLB but failed to address them in their solution! For example, they ordered the following insights:

Congress missed a chance to fix this problem when it failed to reauthorize the law as scheduled in 2007. Had lawmakers taken up the matter, they could easily have reduced the overemphasis on test scores by giving some weight to other indexes, like advanced courses, the strength of the curriculum and college admission rates. Instead, Congress did nothing and left it to the Department of Education to address the problem as best it could through administrative means.

Although the federal law required only one math and one English test per year, it led to a wave of over-testing that swept this country’s schools during the last decade. Some school districts reacted to the fear of being labeled “failing” by adding layers of practice tests, effectively turning education into mere test preparation.

In the end, though, instead of advocating the use of a different metric, the Times bemoaned the fact that Congress was intending to shift the responsibility for accountability to the states while unquestioningly accepting the premise that only annual testing mandated by the Federal government would provide the “basic policy tool kit…essential for improving schools”.

After reading the flawed logic and faulty assumptions that led to bad conclusions, I decided to offer a shortened version of the bill I’d lie to see Congress undertake:

Over 12 years of testing has proven what we already knew beforehand:
==> Schools serving children born in affluence outperform schools serving children born in poverty
==> States that spend more on schooling outperform states who spend less
==> If tests are used to punish and reward teachers and schools, teachers will focus all their time and energy on boosting test scores

We’ve also learned that:
==> State legislatures have no penalty if they do not address funding disparities that state courts deem unconstitutional.
==> State departments and the federal government do not have the wherewithal to “take over” failing schools

If we wanted to use federal legislation to improve “failing” schools, we would: ==> Direct ALL federal funds, including those for special education, to districts whose budgets are constitutionally underfunded.
==> Require each state to convene a team of public school teachers, administrators, school board members, 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
==> Provide funds to develop preschool programs to serve children raised in poverty with wraparound support.

Most importantly, we should abandon the belief that vouchers and/or deregulated for-profit schools are the answer. If we want top tier schools for all we will need to spend more: more for teachers; more for social services; and more for technology.

Why Is Andrew Cuomo Pushing an Education ‘Cure’ That’s Worse Than the Disease? | The Nation

February 21, 2015 Comments off

Why Is Andrew Cuomo Pushing an Education ‘Cure’ That’s Worse Than the Disease? | The Nation.

This article gives an excellent overview of how standardized testing has changed the tone of public education. As one who gave what I hoped were motivational speeches at the beginning of the year, it saddens me to think that the speeches today are about metrics…. but that is the world we live in thanks to NCLB and RTTT… and here’s hoping we learn from the experience of Germany!

Money For Stadiums, Money for Corporations… but NO Money for Public Services

February 21, 2015 Comments off

Joe Nocera’s column in today’ NYTimes bemoans the fact that billionaire owners of football teams are employing “The LA Gambit” to extort funds from local taxpayers to build stadia in their communities. How does this gambit work? Well it seems that Los Angeles, the second most populous city in the US, lacks a professional football team. Billionaire owners whose teams are housed in “outdated” stadiums and want to make as much profit as possible tell the town fathers that they need some kind of tax breaks or outright subsidies to build a brand new stadium or they might just move their team to another venue. The threat is clearly NOT an idle one as several owners over the decades have done just that.

But as I noted in a comment I left on Nocera’s article,

The “LA gambit” has been played out in the states, cities, and communities for decades… and the taxpayers and public sector has paid the price. When a corporation announces it’s plans to open a new facility, states, cities and counties across the country open their wallets to lure them offering taxpayer subsidized incentives and infrastructure upgrades on the pretext that the new warehouse/factory/office will bring jobs and money to the community. And it’s even worse when an existing business threatens to leave a community… all kinds of incentives and tax breaks are made available! And who ends up suffering? The publicly funded services who are told there is no money left in the budget for them! Virtually every Republican governor has this gambit in their playbook…

For example, Scott Walker managed to find money in the WI state budget for a basketball arena and to offer a tax cut while cutting funds for schools and colleges. But Walker is not alone and, alas, as noted in earlier blog posts, this is nothing new. Why write again about it? Because until the public is aware of this misleading shell game they will continue to believe that governors have “no choice” but to cut budgets for schools and services, to defer major maintenance projects, and to pony up money for “investments” that do not pay off in the long run. If won see this happening in your community or state, please let your elected officials know you are wise to their game.

Empathy Interventions Far More Effective Than Expulsions in Preschool

February 21, 2015 Comments off

What should be self-evident is often seen as counter-intuitive because we are seemingly conditioned to seek fast, cheap, and easy solutions to problems. As an article in today’s NYTimes suggests, it’s possible that there is a way to address the problem of pre-school misbehavior that require times and complex coordinated efforts but, in the long run, would cost no more than what we are spending now. In “Empathy, Not Explusion, for Preschoolers at Risk, Sara Neufield reports on the positive impact “early childhood mental health consultants” have on the expulsion rates in schools and, more importantly, how they train and support adults surrounding the child instead of blaming the child for his or her misconduct.

In the article Neufield shadows early childhood mental health consultant Lauren Wiley as she works with teachers and parents to help them see that their assumptions, interactions, and behaviors contribute to the misbehavior of at risk children. In effect, Ms. Wiley is developing self-awareness in the adults in the life of the child in an effort to help the adults develop self-awareness in the child, self-awareness that will cause the child’s behavior to change. While some will likely view this as a form of “cultural imperialism”, it is evident that Ms. Wiley and the early childhood mental health consultants do NOT intend to brainwash children or adults but rather to help them deal with mental health issues.

While this program has proven to be effective, it operates on a shoe string and is not widely known:

The partnership receives $200,000 a year in state money to provide early childhood mental health consultation free to any agency that requests it, as capacity allows, along with $270,000 in federal funds to consult in home visitation programs. The partnership says last fiscal year it provided consultation to 59 programs and assisted 139 home visitors and supervisors reaching 1,490 families. A little money goes a long way. But with resources few and needs great, the work is not heavily promoted, and many who could benefit don’t know it exists.

Programs like the one described in this article will be expanding because under the nation’s newly reauthorized child care funding legislation, states must develop plans to reduce preschool expulsions and proven, cost effective programs like the provision of mental health consultants should be replicated. But for this program to really make a difference, much more funding is needed:

If the consultation approach is going to spread, proponents say it’s necessary to standardize and monitor quality. There is also a need to build a workforce with skills and knowledge in mental health, child development, cultural awareness, family dynamics and trauma. The biggest barrier, researchers say, is simply the shortage of government funding.

From my perspective, the colleges should incorporate “… skills and knowledge in mental health, child development, cultural awareness, family dynamics and trauma” in their mandated curriculum for all those enrolled in teaching programs and state departments should be more robust so that the standardization and quality control can be done at that level as opposed to the federal level. Incorporating mental health skills and knowledge in undergraduate and graduate curricula will not have any direct costs to schools and the cost to increase state department staffing is minimal. The cost to provide support to all of the families and children who need mental health services IS substantial… but it could be obtained by redirecting the funds being spent to provide annual assessments that ultimately prove what we already know: children who come from dysfunctional and/or poverty stricken backgrounds perform worse on standardized tests than children who come from highly functional and/or affluent homes. Why continue proving a well known fact when we could use those funds to provide mental health services to children who need it?

Ideology and Metrics: If We Value Earnings We De-Value Idealism

February 20, 2015 Comments off

An op ed piece in today’s NYTimes has this understated headline: “Ideology Seen as Factor in Closing in University of North Carolina System”. UNC’s public colleges, particularly the flagship university in Chapel Hill, have been highly regarded institutions and very competitive for out of state applicants. But once the Republican majority finishes it’s cuts to its university system’s programs I doubt that it will remain academically strong… nor will it draw the kinds of idealistic students who thirst for knowledge and understanding for its own sake.

In what can only be called a naked ideological purge, an advisory committee appointed by the Republican led legislature has issued a report with “cost saving” recommendations:

The advisory group’s report, which is likely to be considered by the full Board of Governors next Friday, recommends closing the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at Chapel Hill; North Carolina Central University’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change; and East Carolina University’s Center for Biodiversity.

The advisory panel wanted to make it clear this was NOT a political issue:

Jim Holmes, the chairman of the advisory group, said the three centers were not doing much work and were not encouraging multidisciplinary efforts as intended. “This is not a political issue or a political report,” he said. “Everybody wants to make it that.”

But liberal organizations see this move for what it is:

“It’s clearly not about cost-saving; it’s about political philosophy and the right-wing takeover of North Carolina state government,” said Chris Fitzsimon, director of NC Policy Watch, a liberal group. “And this is one of the biggest remaining pieces that they’re trying to exert their control over.”

The “cost cutting” cover bodes ill for universities in Republican controlled states across the country. And,  if the Obama administration’s proposal to measure the effectiveness of college degrees based on post-graduate earnings takes hold the “low wages” of liberal arts programs will only make the political cover worse. If we as a nation adopt the philosophy that the value of a college education should be measured based on the earnings of graduates ten years later, I expect to see centers like those in North Carolina closing across the country. After all, those who work in anti-poverty programs, political outreach, and environmental protection organizations will not earn nearly as much as those who major in business, engineering, and science… and tenured professors in those programs can be axed and replaced with adjuncts in career oriented programs or maybe even outsourced to for-profit institutions!

As noted on many occasions in response to the misguided Obama proposal for evaluating the effectiveness of colleges, we should avoid placing a higher value on earnings than we place on idealism.

“Like-mindedness”: What Private School and Vouchers Are REALLY About

February 20, 2015 Comments off

The Huffington Post yesterday ran a short post by Rahel Gebreyes titled “Public Schools Outperform Private Schools Nationally, But is There More the to Equation” that included a link to a talk given by University of Illinois professor Christopher Lubienski on the same topic. Lubienski has written a book that explains why public schools outperform private schools based on an analysis he conducted of two large-scale databases that control “…for additional background factors, like socioeconomic status and parental education levels, that could skew the data.”

Gebreyes’s concluding paragraphs explain why it is that parents seek out an expensive private education:

University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Gloria Ladson-Billings suggested that it’s more about the lasting connections one can forge at a private institution.

“One of the things that you are buying when you send your kids to private school is you are buying like-mindedness,” she said. “You’re buying the opportunity to put your kids around kids who have parents who have some similar values and conceptions.”

This is precisely the reason that public funds should NOT go toward private education. One of the primary purposes of public schooling, the hidden curriculum, is to transmit a common set of values to children. Because our constitution forbids the funding of religion, the values public schools teach are secular, though they are arguably grounded in a combination of Puritanism and capitalism. Over the past five decades this set of secular values has come under attack from many different factions. Fundamentalists wish public schools were more explicitly tied to “Judeo-Christian” values. Protective parents wish their children were not exposed to the “drug scene” in middle and high schools. Politically conservative parents wish their children were not “indoctrinated” with “liberal ideas” promoted by members of teachers unions. And, alas, some parents do not want their children being exposed to students of different races and cultures. As I’ve written before on this blog, having attended public schools in three different states and graduated from a multi-racial and multi-ethnic high school, I believe I learned as much from being exposed to classmates with different backgrounds as I learned in the classroom.

One of the reasons politicians advocate vouchers is to enable parents to segregate their children from “those other children whose parents don’t share my values”. Worse, I believe that some politicians use vouchers as a means of  re-segregating schools. We’ve had a longstanding “agreement” parents who want to segregate their children from those whose parents do NOT “have some similar values and conceptions” must pay for it themselves. Too, we’ve had an “agreement” that those schools operating on the basis of parent-paid tuitions could operate under a different set of rules than public schools. At the same time, we’ve had an “agreement” that secular public schools would be the only schools funded with taxes because it was in the public interest to offer uniform public education opportunity to all children. The recent injection of “vouchers” is undercutting this longstanding agreement… and should vouchers prevail it will exacerbate the trend toward polarization that is already in place.

Why? Here’s what few journalists, educators, politicians, or parents want to acknowledge: vouchers have a seamy past. While many libertarian and conservative politicians promote vouchers as a means of introducing market-based “reform” into public education citing Milton Friedman’s economic theories as the basis for their thinking, operationally vouchers became a reality in the “segregation academies” that emerged after the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. While those academies were found to be unconstitutional, the desire for their existence has not diminished in the southern states. Moreover, the northern states have largely sidestepped the need for the debate on vouchers because of the economic segregation that exists.

The high-minded verbiage in our written constitutions call for all children to have an equal opportunity to advance socially and economically and so long as we use taxes to fund public schools housing students with diverse backgrounds we will be able to sustain the democracy our politicians claim is in place today. Vouchers that fund private for-profit schools and sectarian schools will move us away from that ideal…. and for that reason we should be wary of efforts to divert public funds to provide parents with the opportunity to “…put (their) kids around kids who have parents who have some similar values and conceptions.” 

The Third Way’s Preposterous College Accountability Proposal

February 19, 2015 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed article by Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler, two administrators from “The Third Way” which the Times identifies as “a centrist institute”. “How to Hold Colleges Accountable” the Third Way’s solution to “the well known” problems with college is wrong in many ways:

  • It overlooks the fact that college tuitions have skyrocketed in large measure because virtually every states in the union has trimmed their funding for post secondary education forcing those institutions to either increase tuitions or cut programs.
  • It overlooks the fact that more and more colleges are relying on low paid adjunct staff instead of tenure track teachers, a factor that contributes to the lack of solid teaching in colleges.
  • It overlooks the fact that colleges are offering “luxurious dormitories (and) lavish student activity centers” because students and parents expect those to be a part of the college experience… not because they want to spend money foolishly.
  • It advocates that colleges be measured based on the earnings of graduates ten years later… thereby reinforcing the notion that the mission of college should be career preparation and not the development of thoughtfulness as Frank Bruni rightly advocated in yesterday’s newspaper.
  • It oversells the value of data reporting. Cowan and Kessler assert that “More informed student choice would put pressure on colleges to focus on academic outcomes rather than on student amenities and athletics. This data could be broken down by gender, race, income and major.” As noted above, “student amenities” are an important consideration for most middle class parents and if they don’t know the impact of NCAA championships in major sports they need to read ESPN.

They are right on one point: Congress should take taxpayers off the hook for student loans. As Cowan and Kessler note:

Right now, no matter how high tuition climbs, there is always a federal loan to make up the difference between price and aid.

Just as new mortgage laws require banks to hold on to some of the mortgages they issue before bundling and selling the loans — so that they have an incentive to avoid making bad loans — so too should colleges be held responsible for a portion of student-loan defaults, which stood just shy of 14 percent in 2013.

When students default, colleges should have to cover some portion — maybe 5 percent of the yearly principal and interest — to share some of the burden; right now, the taxpayers are on the hook for 100 percent. Colleges that genuinely focus on educating low-income students should not be punished for doing so, but high-turnover schools that consistently enroll students while failing to graduate them should be pushed out of business.

So from this non-centrist’s perspective, the best way to hold colleges accountable is to regulate for-profit schools that “consistently enroll students while failing to graduate them”, forgive the loans those colleges gave to misled students, and seize all their assets before they are “pushed out of business”. At the same time, the federal government should institute some kind of hold-harmless funding requirement to states whereby the amount allocated for state schools would have to remain constant in order for the state funded colleges to offer student loans. Finally, colleges who employ a majority of their staff as adjuncts should not be eligible for loans. Those actions would restore funding accountability to state governments, implement staffing accountability to colleges, and end the usurious loan practices for-profit colleges put in place.