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Open mindedness Essential for Democracy and Capitalism but Under-emphasized in test-driven schools

June 30, 2018 1 comment

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DC Miracle Story Evidence of Traction of “Fake News”

June 30, 2018 Comments off

A few days ago AP writer Ashram Kahlil wrote an article titled “DC’S Public Schools Go from Success Story to Cautionary Tale“, a story that was picked up by NPR and some other mainstream news outlets. But alas, Time magazine is unlikely to run a cover story with Michelle Rhee sitting on a dunce stool or holding a broken broom.

In 2008, both Time and Newsweek offered overs depicting then rising star Michelle Rhee, the no-nonsense DC Superintendent who pledged to clean up the public schools in that city by implemented a test-and-punish policy that garnered support among those who thought schools needed to be operated using a no nonsense “business” approach and negative attention from anyone who actually worked in schools and realized that instead of a clean sweep their schools needed new floors, new lighting, and more money.

Since 2008, funding for schools has diminished, in some cases in real dollars and in all cases in terms of actual funding… and the consequences of test-and-punish has not been the improvement of test scores but rather the expansion of corruption in the administration of those high stakes tests. And DC has had its eyes blackened badly. As Mr. Kahlil reports:

As recently as a year ago, the public school system in the nation’s capital was being hailed as a shining example of successful urban education reform and a template for districts across the country.

Now the situation in the District of Columbia could not be more different. After a series of rapid-fire scandals, including one about rigged graduation rates, Washington’s school system has gone from a point of pride to perhaps the largest public embarrassment of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s tenure.

This stunning reversal has left school administrators and city officials scrambling for answers and pledging to regain the public’s trust.

A decade after a restructuring that stripped the decision-making powers of the board of education and placed the system under mayoral control, city schools in 2017 were boasting rising test scores and a record graduation rate for high schools of 73 percent, compared with 53 percent in 2011. Glowing news articles cited examples such as Ballou High School, a campus in a low-income neighborhood where the entire 2017 graduating class applied for college.

Then everything unraveled.

An investigation by WAMU, the local NPR station, revealed that about half of those Ballou graduates had missed more than three months of school and should not have graduated due to chronic truancy. A subsequent inquiry revealed a systemwide culture that pressured teachers to favor graduation rates over all else — with salaries and job security tied to specific metrics.

The internal investigation concluded that more than one-third of the 2017 graduating class should not have received diplomas due to truancy or improper steps taken by teachers or administrators to cover the absences. In one egregious example, investigators found that attendance records at Dunbar High School had been altered 4,000 times to mark absent students as present. The school system is now being investigated by both the FBI and the U.S. Education Department, while the D.C. Council has repeatedly called for answers and accountability.

It takes a long time to inculcate a culture of support, but a culture of fear can be implemented rapidly… and once that culture is in place it is hard to change. And that culture is especially hard to change when “salaries and job security tied to specific metrics” and those metrics can be manipulated by those who will be damaged the most: the administrators and politicians who based their careers and campaigns on their ability “…to improve public education.”

And who implemented this culture that resulted from salaries and job security tied to specific metrics?

As Mr. Kahlil reports in his closing paragraphs… it was none other than Michelle Rhee:

Critics view the problems, particularly the attendance issue, as an indictment of the entire data-driven evaluation system instituted a more than a decade ago when then-Mayor Adrian Fenty took over the school system and appointed Michelle Rhee as the first chancellor. Rhee’s ambitious plan to clear out dead wood and focus on accountability for teachers and administrators landed her on the cover of Time magazine holding a broom. But now analysts question whether Rhee’s emphasis on performance metrics has created a monster.  

Readers of this blog know the answer to that question: there is no doubt that the test-and-punish methods supported by Ms. Rhee and her follow reformers created a monster… but it’s serving their purposes: it is creating the impression that public schools are not only “failing” based on those test scores, but they are now “corrupt” because of the actions of a handful of administrators whose continued employment required them to boost them.

And here’s one fact that remains the same today as it was in 2008: the teachers who work in poverty stricken urban and rural districts like DC are giving their hearts and should to the jobs and the administrators in those same schools are being over backwards to support them. But a cover article lionizing public school teachers and principals is not nearly as compelling as one showing that an inexpensive one-size-fits-all solution is the best way to fix schools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standardized Test Metrics and “Shooter Drills” Support Ethos of “Pure Capitalism”… and that Ethos Diminishes Kindness

June 29, 2018 Comments off

Medium blogger Umar Hague provides consistently thought-provoking posts about the source of our nation’s ill-being… and his post earlier this mont titled “The Origins of America’s Unique and Special Cruelty” was no exception. The picture at the top of the post, seen below, shows a group of school students hiding under bullet proof blankets during an active shooter drill.

In a paragraph near the beginning of the post, Mr. Haque poses this question:

What motivates the kind of spectacular, unique, unimiaginable, and gruesome cruelty that we see in America, which exists nowhere else in the world?

See that pic above? It’s kids huddling under bulletproof blankets, doing “active shooter drills”. That’s what I mean by “unique and spectacular cruelty”. No kid should — ever — have to be traumatized and victimized like that, and indeed, even kids in Pakistan and Iran aren’t.

My answer goes something like this. Americans, you must remember, grew up in the shadow of endless war. With two “sides” who championed atomic individualism, lionized competition and brutality, and despised weakness and fragility. And thus, America forgot — or maybe never evolved — the notion of a public interest. Each man for himself, everyone against everyone himself. So all there is left in America is extreme capitalism now. Few championed a more balanced, saner, healthier way of life, about a common good, about virtue, about a higher purpose. And in that way, America has become something like, ironically enough, a mirror image of its great enemy, the Soviet Union. It is a totalist society, run by and for one end — only a slightly different one: money.

And shooter drills are designed to instill fear and paranoia, two elements that support what Mr. Haque calls “Predatoy Capitalism”:

…because most of America is now managed by and predatory capital — even its healthcare, media, and education — there is little room, space, opportunity, chance to discuss and suggest and educate people about higher ideals, values, and purposes. For example, on the BBC, I can watch endless documentaries by academics on everything from Renaissance art to French literature — but in America, I’m stuck with Ancient Aliens, poverty porn, police-state reality shows. What is that going to teach me, show me, induce in me — except ignorance, paranoia, resentment, and spite?

The result is a kind of impoverishment we don’t often discuss. A lack, or deficit, of civilizing mechanisms. You see, in other countries, things like media, healthcare, and education, do more than just “provide a service”. Because they’re public goods, are also things that bind people together, connect them with history, bring out their better selves — not just their inner predator. Through them, by treating each other with care and respect as we share them, we learn what it is to be gentle, civilized. They educate us, in that way, about what is to be kind.

All spiritual paths talk about the need for us to love our neighbors as ourselves and treat each other the way we want to be treated. The Buddhist teachings take things a step further: they emphasize the need for people to avoid ingesting toxins, which not only include food but also media… for the Buddha realized that when individuals consume toxic news and engage in toxic conversation they are poisoning not only their own well-being, they are poisoning the well-being of the community. These are not the lessons we are teaching in our school… nor are the lessons that are currently available to the general public who perceive everything through the lens of predatory capitalism.

Which brings us to the ultimate reinforcement of the notion of predatory capitalism: standardized tests. Tests used to sort and select students and sort and select schools reinforce the concept that the only the fittest survive and the only way to get ahead is to position yourself so that you can get into the best schools possible and “beat out the competition” on some kind of metric like tests that presumably measure “intelligence”, or “aptitude”… and soon things like “emotional intelligence” and “grit”. Perform well on these assessments and you and/or your school will advance in the world… Perform badly, and you can stay at home and watch “Ancient Aliens, poverty porn, police-state reality shows.”

 

 

The Failure of Ed Reform

June 28, 2018 Comments off

As always, the Math Babe destroys the arguments for VAM using her own counter-weapons of math destruction… Alas, though, as noted in many other posts on my blog, the ESSA will give VAM new life in many states where the legislators see the test-and-punish method as a means of proving that public schools are “failing”….

mathbabe

I’ve got a new Bloomberg View column out about the failure of the Gates Foundation’s Education Reform:

Here’s How Not to Improve Public Schools

My other Bloomberg columns are listed here.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Combining Federal Departments Will Be Sold as “Efficiency”… and Efficiency is the Enemy

June 28, 2018 Comments off

A few days ago the Trump administration floated the idea of combining the Labor Department and the Education Department… which is a bad idea on at least two counts.

First, the combination underscores the business-minded assertion that the sole purpose of education is to provide trained employees for the workforce, overlooking the reality that public education today is viewed as the primary means of providing social and medical services to large groups of students.

Secondly, the notion of combining these departments in the name of efficiency will undercut the social responsibility of businesses and ultimately undercut the functioning of democratically elected school boards. How so?

This consolidation will be inevitably sold to the mainstream media and voters as a move toward more efficiency in government. But efficiency is the enemy of socially responsible business, the enemy of most voters, and the enemy of democracy. After all, it is efficient to offshore jobs to save costs associated with wages and benefits. It is efficient to replace workers with robots and truck drivers with driverless vehicles and drones that deliver packages. It is efficient to avoid the costs associated with environmental regulations. It is efficient to replace defined benefit pensions with self-funded 401ks. It is efficient to provide a stipend for health insurance instead of paying taxes to assure that everyone has coverage. And at the end of a long list of examples…. it is efficient to replace democratically elected school boards with CEOs who answer to shareholders seeking profits instead of the well being of the community where their business is located.

Whenever you hear that a business or government agency is doing something in the name of efficiency, keep this in mind:

  • No one ever added jobs to an organization in the name of efficiency,
  • No one ever added wages and benefits to employees in the name of efficiency
  • No one ever increased regulations that protect employees and the environment in the name of efficiency
  • And no one ever advocated open governance in the name of efficiency.

Efficiency is the enemy of social responsibility.

Technology and Surveillance: A Chilling Combination That COULD Be Undone

June 27, 2018 Comments off

Will Richardson who writes the Modern Learners blog, had a thought provoking post a few days ago titled “EdTech is Driving Me Crazy, Too“. In the post, Mr. Richardson described the ways that education technology could be used to transform the way instruction is delivered to schools, but lamented the ways that education technology is actually being used in schools. He is especially concerned with the use of technology as a surveillance tool:

More often than not, ed tech is something done to the student rather than done in service of the student. And there’s no better example of this than a new tool called “Emote” that preys on our current fears around the socio-emotional state of our students and sets a whole new bar for “helicopter educating” (which, I’m sorry to say, is not the first time that phrase has been uttered.) John Warner in Inside Higher Ed does a great job of teasing out the insidiousness of Emote, an app which makes it easier for the adults to record any time a particular student looks depressed or sad or anxious. As Warner notes:

When a child arrives in school, if they are observed to be angry or upset by a staff member, this is logged into the app. Later, a teacher may see additional evidence, creating another alert. The goal, according to Emote CEO Juilan Golder, is to prevent “escalation.” Student behavior can also be tracked longitudinally. Maybe a student is grumpy or sleepy every Monday, suggesting something is amiss at home. The app will know.

No one will be shocked, either, to hear that the CEO says “There’s more interest than we can handle at this point.”

This example of what technology can do leads to the inevitable question about technology in general: is there a limit to what we want technology to do? Just because technology makes it possible to track a student 24/7 doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Don’t children today deserve a chance to be free from adult supervision? Just because technology makes it possible to track a students attentiveness in completing work doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Don’t children today deserve a chance to daydream? Mr. Richardson posits that education technology devoted to surveillance of all kinds is currently make things worse for students, and when that technology is combined with the narrowed test-driven curriculum it makes public schools toxic. Quoting John Warner again, Mr. Richardson writes:

There is mounting evidence that school is demonstrably bad for students’ mental health. The incidence of anxiety and depression are increasing. Each year, more students report being “actively disengaged” from schools.

Mr. Richardson suggests that instead of developing more apps that track how poorly students are doing relative to our definition of “success” based on test scores, we might provide students with an app to tell us how we’re doing in addressing their needs:

But how many therapists or prescriptions or apps could we get away without if we attacked the mental health issues our kids are experiencing through a different lens, one that starts with the premise that we’re the ones that are broken, not the kids? What if we rewrote the script and put mental health above “achievement” or “success” as measured by grade point averages, the number of AP classes we offer, college acceptances, and other “narrow path” measures?

And if you really want to get crazy, why don’t we create an app for students so they can track every time our “narrow path” narrative makes them anxious or stressed, or every time we deny them the agency to pursue learning that matters to them, or hint at their value as humans by the test scores or GPAs they get, or whenever we deny them fundamental democratic rights, or refuse to act in ways that suggest that we are the problem and not them? We could call it “Ed-mote” or some other silly Silicon Valley play on words, and the software would send DMs to superintendents and principals when an intervention is required, like an immediate two-hour play period for everyone in the school. (We could also, by the way, encourage them to track the many positives about their school experience as well.)

Too bad Mr. Richardson isn’t interested in making a lot of money. I think his idea for such an app would be very helpful in transforming our schools into Summerhill-like institutions instead of the imprisoning institutions they are devolving into thanks to technology.

Henry Giroux Names the Crisis in Public Education: “…The Precondition for the Rise of an American Version of Fascism”

June 26, 2018 Comments off

An opening sentence in a paragraph in a recent Truthout article by Henry Giroux, a reliably thought provoking writer, provides an accurate synthesis of the consequences of the neoliberal “reform” movement. He describes the last three decades as:

…a neoliberal script for the social abandonment of public goods, the termination of the democratic ethos and the precondition for the rise of an American version of fascism.

This succinct synopsis is presented in the context of the wildcat strikes that emerged during the past school year in West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma, wildcat strikes that not only regained some ground for the teachers in those states but also regained some public support for the work teachers do. He concluded that paragraph with this:

What is particularly promising about these widespread protest movements is that they have the potential to move public consciousness toward a wide-ranging recognition in which the assaults on public schooling will be understood as part of a larger war on schools, on youth, and on the very possibility of teaching and learning, and that these struggles cannot be separated.

Mr. Giroux senses that when States like AZ, WV, and OK ravage the wages, benefits and working conditions of teachers it resonates with those voters who have been similarly treated by the corporations that cast them aside in the name of profits:

Protests against the gutting of teacher salaries, pensions and health care benefits are not simply about school budgets. They are also about a larger politics in which big corporations and the financial elite have waged a war on democracy and instituted polices that produce a massive redistribution of wealth upward into the hands of the ruling elite. Energized young people and teachers are creating a new optics for both change and the future.

Mr. Giroux concludes his compelling essay with this call to arms that is at once radical and optimistic. His heading for the concluding paragraphs, which is the source of the excerpts provided below, is “A Mass Movement to Resist Neoliberalism”:

The teacher strikes and walkouts point to a grassroots movement that will no longer allow the apostles of neoliberalism, the Republican and Democratic parties, and the financial elite to ruthlessly take apart public education. Implicit in the current walkouts and strikes is the necessity of such groups to learn from each other, share power and work to create a mass-based social movement. This type of social formation is all the more crucial given that no one movement or group organized around singular issues can defeat the prevailing concentrated economic and political forces of casino capitalism. Given the public support the striking teachers have received, it is crucial that such a struggle connect the struggle over schools to a broader struggle that appeals to parents who still view public schooling as one of the few avenues their children have for economic and social mobility. At the same time, it is crucial for the striking teachers to make the case to a larger public that without a quality and accessible public education system, the protective and crucial public spaces provided by a real democracy are endangered and could be lost.

…If American society is to offset the deeply anti-democratic populist revolt that has put a fascist government in power in the United States, progressives and others need a new language that connects the crisis of schooling to the crisis of democracy while at the same time rejecting the equation of capitalism and democracy. The attack on public schooling is symptomatic of a more profound crisis that involves the extension of market principles to every facet of power, culture and everyday life. Public schooling is under siege along with the values and social relations that give viable meaning to the common good, economic justice and democracy itself.

Striking teachers have recognized that any radical call for educational reform demands more than a call for salary increases, adequate pensions and school resources. Demands for radical educational reforms also necessitate what Martin Luther King Jr. once called a “revolution of values.”

This would suggest a radical reworking of the language of freedom, autonomy, equality and justice that refused to be articulated with the neoliberal spheres of privatization, consumer culture, deregulation, and a politics of terminal exclusion, disposability and the acceleration of the unwanted. Schools can no longer be viewed as zones of political, economic and social abandonment.The striking teachers across the nation are making clear that everyone has the right to live in both an educated society and a democracy, and that you cannot have one without the other. Hopefully, they can learn from past historical battles while leading the struggle to merge a number of different movements for a radical democracy….

The striking teachers hopefully will turn a moment into a movement, and in doing so, make clear that there is no contradiction between the struggle for quality public schools and fighting other injustices such as poverty, mass incarceration, unchecked inequality, massive student debt, systemic violence, escalating militarization of society and the war on the planet…  The brutal neoliberal fascism of the moment can only be defeated if teachers, young people and grassroots activists develop alliances and develop new topographies for addressing the root causes of the current brutal despotism and loss of faith in democratic institutions — that means a strong anti-capitalist movement.

The struggle over public education has ignited new modes of criticism that contain the potential to build a mass movement from the bottom up and translate single-issue demands into wider expectations for social change and alternative visions for a democratically socialist United States. Hopefully, this movement will continue to be guided by the kind of energy and insight that Ursula K. Le Guin once articulated: “We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.

If we do not foster an environment of justice and freedom in our public schools, we will lost the ability of students to imagine such a world. We are already creating an environment in schools where teachers are expected to read from scripts to prepare students for standardized tests that are used to sort them into social classes. Can such an environment coexist with an environment where justice and freedom are taught?