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Archive for July, 2017

How Betsy DeVos, the Koch Brothers and Donald Trump Are Selling Our Schools to the Highest Bidder

July 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Here’s the key paragraph from Jim Hightower’s article, written in his inimitable style:

This self-absorbed cabal of spoiled plutocratic brats intends to abandon our nation’s core democratic principle of “We’re all in this together.” If they kill that uniting concept, they kill America itself. Their agenda includes killing such working class needs as minimum wage and Social Security and privatizing everything from health care to public education.

Does anyone really think corporate profiteers are going to educate our children well? – 2017/07/23

Source: How Betsy DeVos, the Koch Brothers and Donald Trump Are Selling Our Schools to the Highest Bidder

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An Merging Perspective as an Austerity Mindset Emerges: School Funding as Fee For Service

July 25, 2017 Leave a comment

I had a second takeaway from Jeff Bryant’s recent Common Dreams article that dealt with two mindsets emerge from austerity budgets. The first mindset is the sense that school children are a burden on taxpayers. Thus, schools should be funded at a minimal level to relieve businesses and taxpayers. The second mindset is that cost shifting to parents is acceptable for schools the same way it is acceptable for other services like trash collection,

While I’ve written many posts about the first mindset, it dawned on me that the second mindset is more subtle and more insidious. As we slowly adopt a fee-for-service mindset for schools, differences in services a community offers for schools will increasingly reflect a community’s wealth. This is already underway in New England. Just as the garden clubs in affluent small towns in New England make sure the medians and small public spaces are lined with flowers, parents in those same communities will make sure their schools provide excellent opportunities for their students. When I drive through small towns where the garden clubs beautify their communities I appreciate their effort and have no expectation that every town should have the same kind of flower beds because beautification is nice but not necessary. But when I drive through small towns with decrepit schools and forlorn playgrounds, I invariably feel dismay.

A Swedish School with One Rule Offers a Disruptive Perspective on the Workplace and Schools

July 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Lisa Gill, a corporate consultant who reimagines workplaces, wrote a post last week describing Glömstaskolan, a uniquely designed and operating school located south of Stockholm. A schools whose pillars are “collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication“, Glömstaskolan is designed to provide opportunities for flexible learning spaces for large group instruction and tutorial sessions, and everything in between. It offers specialized spaces as well: a music room is in the centre of the school (with soundproof walls, of course); a green room to make films, 3D printers, and a concrete jungle outside.

As Ms. Gill writes, the school has one rule which is (roughly translated): “I want it to be good for you and I will do what makes you good.” From my perspective, it is roughly equivalent to the Golden Rule, which is a common thread through all religions: ‘Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself.’ In the case of Glömstaskolan, Ms. Gill cites the inspiration as coming from elsewhere and can be applied as a means of developing a student directed self-imposed discipline code: :

It’s a mantra inspired by football coach Pia Sundhage, who led the US women’s football team from 2008 to 2012, resulting in two Olympic gold medals. You can engage students (and indeed teachers) in a thoughtful discussion about any behaviour by using this one rule. For example, as winter was approaching, children began to ask if they were allowed to have snowball fights in the yard. Teachers encouraged the students to think about it in relation to the rule and so they began discussing options — maybe it would be ok if there was a predesignated area where it was ok to throw snowballs, supervised by a teacher… Of course throwing ice would be dangerous so that wouldn’t be ok… And so on. It’s a very adult-to-adult approach, giving students the freedom to influence how things are so long as they accept the responsibility for the outcomes.

And the approach extends to faculty members as well, who need to change their approach if they hope to succeed in the unorthodox structure of the school. Ms. Gill cites the work of a “visiting architect, Peter Lippman, who consults in the operation of the school. Mr. Lippman’s philosophy about the two most important questions we should ask in life serve as an overarching governance principle. Those two questions:

1) Why?, and 2) Why not? Most schools (or indeed institutions) never bother to ask these questions yet children ask them all the time! This was how the snowball fight situation arose — why couldn’t they have snowball fights? Because they’re dangerous. So what if measures could be taken to make them safe? Then there’s no reason why not.

Ms. Gill shows how these questions applied to practices applied to children who like to learn lying on the floor instead of at a desk, and “standard practices” like parent-teacher conferences and weekly newsletters. As an organizational consultant, Ms. Gill offers several lessons she learned from visiting Glömstaskolan, which are summarized below:

1. Workplace design — Give people a choice about where and how they work and you’ll see them thrive.

2. Minimum Viable Bureaucracy — Could you scrap your rules and policies in favour of just one principle as Glömstaskolan have done? If that’s too radical, you could take inspiration from the WD-40 Company which asks each employee to take a learning maniac pledge and each year asks employees worldwide to vote for the stupidest HR policy. If the leadership team can’t justify or clarify a policy, they kill it. In other words, they ask Lippman’s questions: “Why?” and “Why not?”

3. Social pedagogues — Ms. Gill described “social pedagogues” as individuals who work with children who are out of sorts. She poses the question: “What would a social pedagogue look like in an organisation? As our work becomes more complex and dependent on collaborating with others, our social needs are increasingly important. Companies like Spotify or self-managing healthcare organisation Buurtzorg (14,000 employees, 0 managers) are choosing coaches over managers — individuals who support and liberate the potential of individuals and teams, rather than control or micromanage them.” What if schools did the same thing?

4. With great freedom comes great responsibility — There are so many stories of ‘difficult’ children failed by the rigidity of traditional schools who have thrived in alternative schools where they are given more freedom. What if ALL schools began with the assumption that children who are given freedom are more willing and able to accept responsibility?

5. Talk about what’s under the surface — The teachers at Glömstaskolan have learnt to talk about previously taboo interpersonal issue, which has led to new depths of communication and collaboration as a team.

Organizational theorists have much to offer public schools in countries like Sweden… but in our country, obsessed with test results and competition, it seems unlikely that concepts like “collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication” will gain traction and, alas, even more unlikely that the one rule we would follow would be: I want it to be good for you and I will do what makes you good. 


 

Algebra is Your Friend… AND It Might be the Most Subversive Subject Taught in Schools Today

July 23, 2017 Leave a comment

Several years ago (far more than I like to think), my older daughter was bemoaning the fact that she had to take algebra, which seemed pointless to her. My response to her lament was to point out several examples of how “algebra was her friend”, some of which were included in the Futurism post from three years ago written by Jolene Creighton. And while the mathematical aspect of algebra is important, as Ms. Creighton notes in her post, the cognitive elements of algebra are even more important. She writes:

You won’t use algebra for your job, so why should we teach kids how to do it? At least, that is the argument so many people seem to be concerned with. Why should we raise people to be intelligent, productive members of society—why raise them to be problem solvers and critical thinkers who are able to respond to a multitude of issues—when, really, all we need them to be is consumers and participants in our capitalist society?

If we want people to only be capable of the bare minimum, if we don’t want to encourage them—be they blue collar factory workers or white collar stock brokers—to explore the universe around them, to put down the smartphone and try using their brain…well, then I guess we shouldn’t bother teaching them algebra. Hell, if that’s our goal, we shouldn’t really bother teaching them anything.

I’ve always believed that algebra was the gateway to metacognition. It helps students think about thinking and to reduce their thoughts into symbols that they can manipulate… and in so doing come to the realization that they are not their thoughts. In that context, algebra might be the most subversive subject offered in our schools today!

Billionaire Elon Musk Knows What Schools Need to Do–and They Are Already Doing It

July 22, 2017 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch points out the obvious to anyone who follows public education policy closely (which seems to exclude CNBC and Elon Musk): many schools already implement Mr. Musk’s ideas… and they are the schools who serve children raised in affluence.

Source: Billionaire Elon Musk Knows What Schools Need to Do–and They Are Already Doing It

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In the World of Economic Development, Parents are on a Par with Criminals

July 22, 2017 Leave a comment

Blogger Jeff Bryant seems to find especially egregious examples of government leaders’ declarations about the value of public education. In a post published by the Education Opportunity Network and picked up by Common Dreams Mr. Bryant reports on a presentation given by alderman Joe Roddy in St. Louis Mo. advocating the construction of a new high-end apartment building in that city:

In a slide show titled “How the City Makes & Spends Money,” Roddy, a Democrat mind you, laid out a hierarchy of those who “make money” for the city at the top and those who cause the city to “spend money” at the bottom. At the top of his slide were businesses. In the middle were residents with no children and retirees. And at the very bottom – in the tier of city dwellers who place the biggest financial burden on government – were “criminals and residents with children in public school.”

When told that some might take offense at equating families with children needing free public schools to criminals, Roddy countered that the project would “target tenants who are young professionals without children. Attracting that demographic to the city is crucial, he says, and after the tax abatement ends, the revenue windfall for the city will be significant.

As Mr. Bryant notes, Mr. Roddy is not the only local politician in a city or town with a diminished tax base who views economic development as the way out of the woods and simultaneously views children as a drain on their budgets. But Mr. Roddy and his counterparts across the country should face an economic reality: the significant windfall that they expect to occur never happens! After decades of tax cuts for businesses, one would hope that politicians would recognize that as soon as a tax abatement expires the business receiving that abatement will leave the area if the abatement is not extended. Walmart, for example, has no stake in a community where they locate their store, and neither does a huge corporation. Businesses do not answer to voters, they answer to shareholders and shareholders in, say, Los Angeles or New York City— or China— do not care about the taxpayers in St. Louis and certainly don’t care about the parents and children in that state. So as tax revenue diminishes in these revenue starved cities and towns, who picks up the bill? Parents! Mr. Bryant highlights some of the worst cases of cost shifting to parents, and it is far worse than I would have guessed:

According to an annual report, known as the Backpack Index, that calculates the average cost of school supplies and school fees, parents will have to pick up more of the tab if they want their children to participate fully in school.

The annual cost to parents is significant at a time when the majority of school childrencome from households in poverty: $662 for elementary school children, $1,001 for middle school children, and $1,489 for high school students.

A detail highlighted by NBC’s report on the Backpack Index notes that the biggest spike in direct costs to parents comes from fees charged for activities like school fieldtrips, art and music programs, and athletics. These fees far exceed costs for items like backpacks, pens, and graphing calculators.

Families with children in elementary schools can expect over $30 on average in school fees. For children in middle school, the average cost of fees climbs to $195 for athletics $75 for field trips, and $42 for other school fees. In high school, the fees spike much higher to $375 for athletic (often called “pay to play fees”), $285 for musical instrumentals, $80 to participate in band, and $60 in other school fees. Also in high school, the fees extend to academic courses including participating in Advanced Placement classes, which more schools emphasize students participate in. The average fee for testing related to these courses is $92 and the costs of materials to prepare for these tests, as well as SAT tests, tops $52.

I highlighted the phrase “if they want their children to participate fully in school” because it is a major contributor to the economic divide that has emerged in the past decades. State and local taxpayers are loathe to see their “hard-earned dollars” underwrite “frills” like field trips, extra-curricular activities, and athletics…. and as Mr. Bryant’s analysis intimates the list of “frills” can go on and on. School districts in affluent communities can cut these “frills” and the parents in those communities who invariably have the economic wherewithal to do so and who “want their children to participate fully in school” will willingly chip in to cover the costs of these frills.  Parents in communities like St. Louis, where 68% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch, though, will not be able to pay the fees required to have their children participate fully in school. Sadly, many politicians and voters will blame those same parents for their unwillingness to help their children succeed.

Mr. Bryant concludes his article with a description of the NC legislature’ recent budget, which “…set aside millions for a massive expansion of a private school voucher program” while continuing to starve public education of the funding it requires to allow children to participate fully in school. When 27 states spend less on education than they did in 2008 it’s not hard to understand why our schools “are failing”… but its very hard to believe that we are “throwing money” at the problem!

 

Charlotte NC Newspaper Article Illustrates How Game is Rigged… But Doesn’t Say So

July 21, 2017 Leave a comment

The title of Keung Hui’s article in the Charlotte News Observer poses this question: “NC Public School Enrollment Falls As More Choose Other Options. What Does That Mean?”. Unfortunately the article doesn’t explicitly give the right answer, which is: “It means the system is now rigged against public schools”… but it does offer lots of evidence to support that response. These quotes, for example:

Keith Poston, president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, says the expanded choice is part of a concerted political strategy to paint the public schools as failing. As an example, he cited the state’s school performance grades – A through F – that are largely based on the passing rates of students on state exams.

“It’s not an accident that we’re seeing an increase in scrutiny of public schools through testing and grades, which tell us nothing more than the socioeconomic status of the students at the school, and those same test grades are being used to justify providing more private options,” Poston said…

“There are very powerful and well-funded interests that are seeking to profiteer off public education at the same time that our public schools are being tested and stigmatized by school performance grades,”

Lawmakers have made a number of education-related changes including:

  • Lifted the cap on the number of charter schools and made it easier for them to expand their enrollment. Charter schools are taxpayer-funded public schools that are free from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow;
  • Created a voucher program to help families who meet income guidelines pay for tuition at private schools;
  • Created programs for parents of special-needs students to pay for their child’s tuition at private schools and cover other education-related expenses;
  • Made it easier for home-school students to take classes from people who are not their parents.

Natalie Beyer, a Durham school board member, said the state has been pursuing a privatization agenda in education that’s moving taxpayer dollars away from democratic oversight.

“It’s alarming for taxpayers because in North Carolina we have state law that has created a separate-but-unequal loosely regulated system of (charter) schools,” Beyer said. “When I look at any measure of student achievement, statewide or nationally, all the research shows the best investment is in a high-quality public school system.”

Mr. Hui presents the facts to support the conclusion that the legislature has rigged the system against public schools. The standardized tests will rate 50% of the public schools as “failing”, and those will be the schools serving children raised in poverty. State funds formerly directed exclusively to public schools governed by elected boards are now being given to parents who enroll their children in private schools. Private schools are deregulated, which means they are allowed to hire non-certified teachers, not required to offer free-and-reduced meals, not required to admit students with IEPs, and not required to meet building codes and transportation codes that apply to public schools. And the lack of “democratic oversight”, mentioned in passing, means that many charter chains are governed by out-of-state “edupreneurs” who have no abiding interest in the children they serve beyond an assurance that they pass the state tests and follow whatever discipline codes they put in place.

Not only did Mr. Hui not draw the obvious conclusion that NC’s system is rigged against public schools, he used language that implicitly identified schools as a commodity:

Traditional public schools still educate the majority of students, with their 1.4 million children representing 82.1 percent of the state’s K-12 students. But the market share was at 86.6 percent in the 2010-11 school year.

This kind of reporting reinforces the perspective of profiteers who want voters to conceive of public schools as competing in a marketplace. When education reporters use this kind of terminology, it is further evidence that the cards are stacked against public education because the “marketplace” favors deregulated private schools overseen by profiteers who answer to shareholders over tightly regulated “government schools” overseen by elected officials who answer to voters.

And to further reinforce the profiteers, Hui concludes his article with this quote from Darrell Allison, president of Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a pro-choice, pro-privatization advocacy group who said:

When our backs are against the wall, when we’re forced to change, that’s where innovation comes from. That’s where creativity comes from. I’m betting on our traditional public schools and our non-traditional public schools.”

What Mr. Allison is implying is that competition will yield innovation and creativity, one of the articles of faith of the profiteers. But innovation and creativity are hard to come by when your primary focus is on improving test scores that are based on socio-economics. It’s even harder to come by when you have to educate all the children who reside in your county and you have to do it with less money. So what does it mean that “NC Public School Enrollment Falls As More Choose Other Options”? The answer is clear: the game is rigged against NC Public schools.