Archive for August, 2018

Loyalty Versus Discernment: We Need a Blend of Both

August 28, 2018 Comments off

Like most voters who follow politics, I am deeply troubled by the dysfunction at both the State and national levels of government, a dysfunction that I believe is the result of a difference in core values between both parties. The press has emphasized some key distinctions between the GOP and Democrats on several political positions. In general the GOP is in favor of restricting abortion, immigration, and spending on social programs while the Democratic party if more expansive on each of the issues. The GOP favors fewer government regulations and, therefore, more individual rights while the Democratic party supports regulatory oversight by the government.

But where the parties increasingly differ is in their perspectives on the world.

The GOP values loyalty above all else: loyalty to party positions; loyalty to fellow party members, and  loyalty to whatever hierarchical order is in place. Their thinking is that if an individual applies themselves they can and will succeed. There is no need for government intervention in any area, especially in the marketplace which naturally identifies winners and losers. Their core conviction is that deregulated capitalism is superior to deliberative democracy.

The Democratic party values discernment: a willingness to examine all issues– even social ones— scientifically and analytically and, through a process of trial and error, develop laws that will help everyone achieve a state of well-being. Government intervention, can and should level the playing field for all of its citizens and businesses, especially those who are disadvantaged for whatever reason. Their core conviction is that deliberative democracy requires an informed electorate who will vote based on objective facts.

Over time, the GOP’s loyalty has devolved into a suspicion of everything the government does– including data collection and scientific research, and blind faith in the marketplace. At the same time, the Democratic party has tied itself in knots trying to find the least objectionable and most evidence-based course for the government to take: a middle way between the increasingly libertarian and faith-based thinking of the GOP and the voters who want something else, be a more humanitarian approach to helping those in need or the application of rigorous analysis.

Over the past several years it is evident that voters value loyalty over discernment. The GOP loyalists are completely unwilling to move from whatever position they hold even when evidence demonstrates that the position they hold is wrong and damaging to the well-being of voters. The GOP position on climate change is exhibit A and it appears that their positions on health care, environmental regulations, and public education may result in subsequent evidence of ill-conceived policies that ultimately damage the well-being of voters.

In the meantime, opponents to deregulated capitalism and supporters of government intervention– which I believe should be the defining principle of the Democratic party– keep presenting data that undercuts the premise that the marketplace will fairly identify winners and losers and the premise that government regulations are unnecessary. The Democratic party, instead of seeking loyalty to the principle that good government and good governance are needed, relentlessly seeks a middle ground that they hope will persuade a majority of voters to support them and question their loyalty to “the marketplace”.

As the title of this post indicates, in order to advance as a democracy, we need a blend of both loyalty and discernment. GOP voters should be open to accepting evidence that some regulation and government intervention is necessary. Democratic voters should be open to the fact that some GOP voters and legislators will not be persuaded to change their minds under any circumstances making it impossible to find a “middle ground” unless they compromise their principles. With this fact in mind, they need to clearly oppose deregulated capitalism and support good government and good governance and generate the same degree of loyalty for THAT position as the GOP has generated for deregulated capitalism and opposition to the government.

Instead of fighting over hot-button issues like racism, abortion, LGBTQ rights, and gun control, the parties should move their arguments to a higher level and debate what role they want the government to play in the lives of individuals and what government action needs to be taken to regulate the effects of the marketplace.



No One Ever Remembered a Teacher for Raising Standardized Test Scores

August 28, 2018 Comments off

A very sweet essay… something I hope the “reformers” read and take to heart as school opens… And here’s a corollary: no one ever remembers the best algebra lesson they had, but they do remember a field trip or activity that connected with them at the heart level.

Source: No One Ever Remembered a Teacher for Raising Standardized Test Scores

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Restorative Justice and Resources Will Make Schools Safe: SROs Not So Much

August 27, 2018 Comments off

Truthdig contributor Lidwina Bell wrote a short op ed piece titled “Schools Need Resources, Not School Resource Officers” that concluded with this:

Resource officers are a resource only by name. What would it look like if our schools were actually resourced?

In a well-resourced school, students are safe because staff can invest in their well-being. “Accountability” isn’t separated from a student’s ability to heal, thrive, and uplift the whole community. And students don’t wind up in jail or with a record for routine school incidents.

One SRO can cost up to $97,000. Instead of hiring officers that see students as criminals, schools can use that money for real school resources — mental health workers and restorative justice practitioners, to name a few — who build students up rather than push them out.

The article outlines many points made in previous posts on this blog: that SROs tend to criminalize discipline violations that put students on the path to prison; that restorative justice is superior to suspensions and/or arrests; that schools receiving funds for SROs could use those funds to help provide needed counseling services; and, implicitly, that solutions to the problems of school violence cannot be counteracted by imposing order with police. It can only be solved by cultivating an orderly environment through caring adults.

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The Hard Bigotry of NCLB: State Takeovers Undercut Democracy in Predominantly Black Districts

August 27, 2018 Comments off

One of the phrases that George W. Bush coined when he was Governor of Texas that he used to sell the nation on No Child Left Behind was “the soft bigotry of low expectations“. This captured the fundamental idea of federal legislation since NCLB: the reason that inequity existed in public schools was NOT an issue of inequitable funding. Rather, the inequities in public education were the result of inequitable expectations. Children were not failing. Schools where teachers did not expect enough were failing and if those schools changed their mindsets children would flourish. So NCLB set out to identify and reward successful schools as measured by standardized test scores with the intention of using the programs in those schools as models for “failing” schools.

This paradigm was appealing to politicians because it meant that inequitable funding was not the issue! Thus, it was unnecessary for them to raise and direct more funding to schools serving underprivileged children. Instead, funds would be directed to “successful schools” that would replace the “failing schools”.

What happened over the next decade, though, was unsurprising to anyone who knows how norm-referenced standardized tests work: the “highly successful” schools were all found in well-heeled districts serving affluent children and the “failing schools” were all found in property poor districts serving underprivileged children. But instead of looking at the test results and concluding that property poor districts serving underprivileged children needed more money, NCLB’s baked in conclusion was that these failing schools needed to be taken over by the states and turned over to (ka-ching) private for profit schools.

But when states took over districts, where were local school boards replaced with state operated appointees? Rutgers political scientist Domingo Morel explored that question and came up with a disturbing answer: districts serving minority children! As reported in a recent NY.Chalkbeat post, research in his forthcoming book showed that as of 2017, 33 states had takeover laws and by then 22 states had actually taken over school districts. And what happened when the States took over school districts? Here’s what Diane Ravitch reported:

A chart from Morel’s work shows that in the rare event that a majority white district is taken over by the state, 70% keep their elected school board.

In a majority Latin district, 46% keep their elected board.

But when a majority black district is taken over, only 24% retain their elected school board.

The NY.Chalkbeat article featuring an in-depth interview with Mr. Morel leads to one inevitable conclusion: when NCLB began closing schools and replacing them with for-profit charters, the hard bigotry of racism replaced the soft bigotry of high expectations and democracy in majority black districts was undercut. If we ever hope to end racism, we need to examine the way we implement laws that are intended to be even handed and face the reality that in order to establish equal opportunities we need to establish more equitable funding for schools.

NYTimes Article Headline SHOULD Read “Data Gathering on Student Loan Defaults Favors Bankers and Profiteers”

August 26, 2018 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed article by Ben Miller, the senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress. titled “The Student Debt Problem is Worse Than We Imagined“. After reading the article, though, I think a more appropriate title would be “Data Gathering on Student Loan Defaults Favors Bankers and Profiteers”.

As Mr. Miller explains in the article, by statute the current default rates for students are based on the first three years, and that leads to some misleading data:

At that time (i.e. after three years), about one-quarter of the cohort — or nearly 1.3 million borrowers — were not in default, but were either severely delinquent or not paying their loans. Two years later, many of these borrowers were either still not paying or had defaulted. Nearly 280,000 borrowers defaulted between years three and five.

Federal laws attempting to keep schools accountable are not doing enough to stop loan problems. The law requires that all colleges participating in the student loan program keep their share of borrowers who default below 30 percent for three consecutive years or 40 percent in any single year. We can consider anything above 30 percent to be a “high” default rate. That’s a low bar.

Among the group who started repaying in 2012, just 93 of their colleges had high default rates after three years and 15 were at immediate risk of losing access to aid. Two years later, after the Department of Education stopped tracking results, 636 schools had high default rates.

Mr. Miller reports we are now at a point where “…these borrowers owed over $23 billion, including more than $9 billion in default.” And which colleges have failed to get over the low bar set for defaults?

For-profit institutions have particularly awful results. Five years into repayment, 44 percent of borrowers at these schools faced some type of loan distress, including 25 percent who defaulted. Most students who defaulted between three and five years in repayment attended a for-profit college.

The secret to avoiding accountability? Colleges are aggressively pushing borrowers to use repayment options known as deferments or forbearances that allow borrowers to stop their payments without going into delinquency or defaulting. Nearly 20 percent of borrowers at schools that had high default rates at year five but not at year three used one of these payment-pausing options.

But here are three points what Mr. Miller’s article DOESN’T make:

  1. Based on the recent history of the mortgage collapse, should the student loan debt be uncollectible the BANKS will not be vulnerable, TAXPAYERS will be!
  2. We now have a Secretary of Education who wants to DEREGULATE the for-profit schools, making it possible for them expand their misleading advertising which will expand their student bodies and income without any oversight.
  3. When the bubble inevitably bursts, the profiteers who underwrite these for-profit institutions will keep the money they’ve “earned”.

I suggest the NYTimes redo their headline so that readers who skim the newspaper get a quick understanding of what is really going on.

What If We Heeded Arthur Camins’ Article in 2010? Would “Reformers” Have a Leg to Stand On?

August 26, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch wrote a cross-post from a blogger who writes as “Rage Against the Testocracy” on the limitations of standardized testing. Among the comments was one from high school teacher and blogger Arthur Camins that included a link to an article he originally authored in 2010 for the Gheens Institute for Innovation, Institute Insights, an article that was more insightful than the cross post. Mr. Camins’ article advocates the use of formative assessments instead of summative assessments, advocates the need for clearer and more precise learning objectives, and advocates the need for collaboration among teachers in the same way that physicians collaborate to advance medicine and develop sound diagnoses. The article begins with these questions:

What if we shifted the balance of our assessment attention from the summative to the formative—assessment that can be used every day to support learning?

What if we could more precisely identify where each student was along the pathway to learning?

What if we could be more accurate at sorting out the nuances in his or her gaps in understanding?

What if we focused most of our assessment attention on becoming better at interpreting daily data from regular class work and used that evidence to help students move their own learning forward?

I think we would become better at seeing the whole student and responding to his or her individual needs. Assessment would be a support instead of a threat. In the end, students would perform better on the summative tests.

Unfortunately no one paid attention to Mr. Camins in 2010 when the article was written nor did it get appropriate attention in 2014 when Valerie Strauss reprinted it as part of her Answer Sheet in the Washington Post.

I hope it isn’t too late to consider his points in 2018… for if they had been heeded in 2010 we might have moved away from placing so much weight on standardized test results and used the energy and money wasted on that enterprise to help make teaching more professional and personal and less robotic and algorithmic.

Libertarian Reformers Have a Plan for Urban Education: Replace Elected School Boards with an Invisible Hand

August 25, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch has featured three posts in recent days describing the plans of hedge funders Reed Hastings and John Arnold to take over urban education in the coming 6-10 years. Mr. Hastings, who has long opposed the inefficient operation and oversight of schools governed by elected boards, and John Arnold, who believes individuals and not employers or the government should control pensions, are peas in a pod. They both have unyielding faith in the ability of the invisible hand of the marketplace to winnow out winners and losers and both believe any government interference in the marketplace dilutes its ability to do so. And how do they intend to identify “winners and losers” in this case? While their plan assumes that standardized test scores will be the metric, it’s possible— no, make that probable— that returns on investment will determine success. Why? Because the governing bodies of these new “portfolio schools” Hastings and Arnold envision will be governed by profit seekers who will ultimately be driven by their returns on investment and not on test scores. In the end, if an enterprise fails to provide educational results it won’t matter. ECOT in Ohio, for example, has been hugely unsuccessful for children who enrolled in the “school” if test scores are the metric. The investors, though, are very happy with the product even tough it ultimately failed to deliver on its purported mission.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with all privatization schemes: their accomplishment of public goals matters far less to investors than their profits. And to compound matters in the case of public eduction, their public goal, to lift standardized test schools, it a fools errand to begin with. To paraphrase Pete Seegar:

Where have all the schoolyards gone?

Gone to investors everyone!

Where will the children learn?

Where will the children learn?