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“You’re Worth $1 Trillion. Why Do You Need Our $3 Billion?” Angry New Yorkers Confront Amazon Execs at City Council Meeting

December 14, 2018 Leave a comment

MAYBE the public is waking up to the impact of these kinds of tax breaks for corporations… I hope that if Amazon IS rejected in NYC that the city will redirect the $$$ they wanted to “invest” in Amazon into their sagging infrastructure… it will pay back a whole lot more in the long run than Amazon

Source: “You’re Worth $1 Trillion. Why Do You Need Our $3 Billion?” Angry New Yorkers Confront Amazon Execs at City Council Meeting

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Categories: Uncategorized

“Knowledge Building”, Like Test Scores, Correlates with Poverty

December 13, 2018 Leave a comment

Forbes education writer Natalie Wexler’s recent article, “Why Knowledge Building Curricula Matter More Than School Choice” overlooks several fundamental realities. Contrasting the positions of “choice” critic Diane Ravitch and Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the pro-charter Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Ms. Wexler analyzes school choice to the choice one can make when purchasing toothpaste. She asserts that such a choice is bogus because:

…the vast majority of schools—especially at the elementary level—offer the same dangerously flawed approach, regardless of whether they’re charters or not.”

And what is that “dangerously flawed approach?

Government ratings focus on annual reading and math scores, just as the toothpaste ratings focused on yearly cavity rates. Schools can sometimes boost test scores in the elementary years by focusing on comprehension “skills.” But, as cognitive scientists have long known—and as few educators, education professors and education reformers are aware—the most important factor in comprehension is background knowledge. In high school, when the classwork and the tests start assuming more knowledge and vocabulary, things fall apart.

Kids with highly educated parents arrive at school with more knowledge and vocabulary and continue acquiring it outside school… (and) that enables them to get higher test scores, because they’re better able to understand the reading passages. But their schools get the credit, regardless of whether they actually provided the knowledge.

In Ms. Wexler’s world, the lack of a curriculum based on knowledge-building is the problem, a problem that she believes is slowly being addressed:

The good news is that several elementary curricula that do focus on building knowledge have recently been developed, and an increasing number of schools—in both the charter and traditional public school sectors—are adopting them. But they still constitute only a small fraction of the total, and school rating systems, which place primary weight on test scores and little or none on curriculum, don’t help parents find them.

But Ms. Wexler’s world, like that of E.D. Hirsch, the founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation, poverty is an immaterial exogenous factor and test scores that measure “core knowledge” replace those that (presumably) measure academic achievement. And that world, devoid of the realities of poverty and politics, has nothing to do with the real world public education lives in.

Ms. Wexler concludes her essay with this analysis of the school choice debate:

I agree with Pondiscio that it’s unfair for wealthier parents to have the ability to choose a school while lower-income parents don’t. And I agree with Ravitch that charter schools have drained resources from traditional public schools and made it harder for many to succeed. But I also think that, given the far more fundamental problems with our education system, those issues are largely beside the point.

Unfortunately, by viewing the “fundamental problem with our education system” as being the lack of a curriculum based on “knowledge building” Ms. Wexler overlooks the REAL fundamental problems, which are the underlying disparities in preparedness for school caused by poverty and the overriding desire to use standardized testing to measure “school effectiveness”.

Teaching is Not the Job I Took on in 1970… It’s Far More Demanding and Far Less Rewarding Intellectually and Financially, and Far

December 13, 2018 1 comment

At the end of last school year, teachers in at least six states rose up to protest their wages and working conditions. Why? A story at the beginning of the school year identified the cause in a from page article:

….The country’s roughly 3.2 million full-time public-school teachers (kindergarten through high school) are experiencing some of the worst wage stagnation of any profession, earning less on average, in inflation-­adjusted dollars, than they did in 1990, according to Department of Education (DOE) data.

Meanwhile, the pay gap between teachers and other comparably educated professionals is now the largest on record.In 1994, public-school teachers in the U.S. earned 1.8% less per week than comparable workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a left-leaning think tank. By last year, they made 18.7% less. The situation is particularly grim in states such as Oklahoma, where teachers’ inflation-adjusted salaries actually decreased by about $8,000 in the last decade, to an average of $45,245 in 2016, according to DOE data. In Arizona, teachers’ average inflation-adjusted annual wages are down $5,000.

Whether EPI is left leaning is immaterial since numbers do not lean to the left or the right: they only go up and down and, in the case of relative wage comparisons, cannot be skewed. And anyone who argues that a decline in salaries has been offset by higher spending on supplies or improvements in working conditions would be wrong: spending has declined absolutely in a majority of states and the consequences are obvious in all school districts except those that serve the most affluent children:

The decline in education funding is not limited to salaries. Twenty-nine states were still spending less per student in 2015, adjusted for inflation, than they did before the Great Recession, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, leaving many public schools dilapidated, overcrowded and reliant on outdated textbooks and threadbare supplies.

To many teachers, these trends are a result of a decades-long and bipartisan war on public education, born of frustration with teachers’ unions, a desire to standardize curricula and a professed commitment to fiscal austerity. This has led to a widespread expansion of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, and actions such as a move in the Wisconsin legislature in 2011 to strip teachers’ pensions and roll back collective bargaining rights. This year, Colorado lawmakers voted to raise teachers’ retirement age and cut benefits.

But what Time Magazine fails to mention is its complicity in this “…decades-long and bipartisan war on public education” that “…led to a widespread expansion of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated“. These covers from a decade ago illustrates how Time and Newsweek, then even more widely read than they are today, covered public schools:

Contrast that with the three covers Time used to at long last recognize how teachers have been short-changed over the past 25 years:

Teaching is much harder now than ever, and yet we continue to celebrate billionaires who fund charter schools and lionize tyrants like Michelle Rhee who promise to sweep “dead wood” out of schools…. and we then wonder why it is increasingly difficult to find college graduates who want to enter teaching.

As one who sat across from the NEA and AFT for decades, it might be surprising to see MY thinking on this issue: the best hope for public education is an expansion of unions. I can recall discussing the stagnation of unions in the late 1990s with the union president in an upstate New York school district. She was lamenting how difficult it was to find younger teachers who were willing to put in the extra hours necessary to take on leadership roles in the school and especially saddened to find the more and more of the new teachers we were hiring were not enthusiastic about paying their dues. She recalled the strikes that unions led in the late 1960s and early 1970s in NYS that led to the (then) decent wages, benefits, and working conditions. MAYBE data like that gathered by EPI and stories about teachers like those featured on the September 2018 Time magazine covers will restore the teachers’ collective understanding of how unions helped them achieve the levels of compensation and begrudging respect of the communities they served. There was no agency shop when unions first formed… there was only mis-treatment by heavy-handed boards and legislators that compelled teachers to band together. MAYBE 2019 will be the year that teachers re-form unions to push back against school “reform”.

Florida: Governor-Elect Appoints a Public School Hater as Commissioner of Education

December 12, 2018 Leave a comment

Welcome to the club, Floridians… and here’s the way out: two years ago NH’s newly elected Governor appointed a home-schooling businessman to head the State’s schools and he, the Governor, and the Tea Party Republicans introduced a raft of bills from the ALEC playbook and refused to fully fund the formula to provide $$$ for schools. In November, the GOP lost control of the House and Senate. Our state is now going to have a couple of years to get things back in order. With the recent referendum restoring voting rights to felons who have served their sentences you should be able to get some pro-Government pro-public education State representatives in 2020. Who knows… you might even be able to conduct an election that counts everyone’s votes! 

via Florida: Governor-Elect Appoints a Public School Hater as Commissioner of Education

Inequality at the Center of Chicago Charter School Strikes

December 11, 2018 Leave a comment

This Common Dreams article is an excellent companion piece to Paul Buchheit’s article. It offers substantial evidence that “reformers” who offer privatization as the solution are in fact looking at deregulated for profit charter schools as a cash cow that will enable them to sidestep not only government regulations but also the wages, hours, and working conditions unionized teachers won for teachers over the past several years.

Source: Inequality at the Center of Chicago Charter School Strikes

Categories: Uncategorized

Paul Buchheit’s Alarming Look at the Inequitable World We Live in Now… And Our Children Will Live in Tomorrow

December 11, 2018 Leave a comment

The Inequality to be Suffered By Our Children” Paul Buchheit’s latest post for Common Dreams, describes the increasingly privatized world we live in and how that environment is impacting the world today and in the future for our children… and it is a disturbing reality. As always, Mr. Buchheit pulls no punches, offering this lead paragraph to set the stage for his essay:

The fortunate ones will not be suffering. In the past eight years, the richest 5% of Americans have increased their wealth by $30 trillion — almost a third of total U.S. wealth — while the poorest 50% have seen their average wealth drop from $11,500 to $9,500. There is ample evidence for a nation soon to be made even more unequal by the transfer of wealth from rich baby boomers to their children and grandchildren, who will have done little if anything to earn it. The middle class will be further crippled by the ongoing growth in inequality. Unless progressive policies are demanded by American voters, most of our children and grandchildren will suffer from the continuing expansion of a Great-Depression-like wealth gap that already “dwarfs” the rest of the developed world.  

Mr. Buchheit then offers several illustrations of how privatization of public services, an idea endorsed by both political parties, prevents the suffering of the most affluent Americans while adding onto the suffering of everyone else. And what is the income of  “the richest 5%”? A quick Google check indicates it could be anywhere from $130,000 upward based on a statistical calculation. But one chart in Wikipedia indicates how the income of the highest wage earners is unbelievably higher than that: As this chart illustrates, the top 400 wage earners have colossal earnings compared to the top 1.5%, whose earnings approach $1,000,000 per annum. And Mr. Buchheit cites studies and analyses that show that more and more of the wealth at the top is being transferred to heirs, many of whom are transferring it completely out of our economy through tax shelters.

These children of the ultra rich, though, are joined by their colleagues in the top echelons when it comes to displacing public services though privatization… and it isn’t hard to see where this is leading us:

The kids (raised in top earning households) will never have to worry about health care. They’ll continue their parents’ trend of paying ‘concierge’ doctors to visit their mansions or yachts, where emergency rooms are equipped with heart monitors, ultrasounds, x-ray machines, and blood analyzers. If a hospital stay is required, they might look into a $2,400 per day penthouse hospital suite complete with butler and grand piano.

In case of fire, they can follow the example of Kanye and Kim and hire a private firefighting service.

For security, the already proliferating private police forces are certain to fill the protection needs of the kids with newly-acquired estates. But private officers tend to be undertrained compared to public police; their acts of aggression are rarely reported; and in some states private forces are not even subject to investigation through the Freedom of Information Act.

And since the individuals who make these stratospheric wages are unwilling to share their largesse to provide services for everyone else by paying their fair share of taxes, public services are diminishing and more and more middle class children will experience the kinds of hospitals, schools, and emergency services that poor children encounter today.

Mr. Buchheit concludes his essay with this sobering news for those who see the Democrats as the group that can turn our current system around:

Democrats have not been the answer to all this. Both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were buddies with Wall Street; Obama spent public money on drone warsClinton decimated the safety net and increased mass incarceration.

Greater equality of wealth and opportunity can only be achieved through progressive policies, now and in 2020. That is the hope of people who care about the needs of society rather than one’s position on a billionaire list.

Mr. Buchheit didn’t say so, but as readers of this blog know both President Clinton and President Obama advocated the privatization of public schools and public services as a means of “reinventing government” and playing into the overarching message of Ronal Reagan that government is the problem and running-government-like-a-business is the solution. Here’s hoping that Mr. Buchheit’s message about the need to expand progressive policies reaches a large audience.

 

 

Good News For Underachievers (and the Well-Being of Students): Straight A’s Do NOT Translate to Success in Life

December 10, 2018 Leave a comment

In writing this post, I initially thought I would title it “This Just In: Grades Don’t Matter” because I thought that the lack of a correlation between high grades and “success” was as self evident as, say, the correlation between poverty and test scores. But I went with the title above because, as one who was labelled an “underachiever” because I failed to earn straight A’s in middle school I think it better reflects the reality of the mindset of public education when I attended school in the 50s and 60s, a mindset that persists today.

The post was prompted by an article in the Sunday NYTimes by Adam Grant titled “What Straight A Students Get Wrong”, and the “what” is that in the final analysis the grades you earned in high school and college do not matter once you get in the real world. In his op ed, Dr. Grant describes counseling a distraught college junior who had just received her first A-, a blot on her academic record that she was certain would doom her to some kind of second class citizenship in the future. Dr. Grant then revealed what underachiever like me have known for decades and used to comfort ourselves (or rebut our parents):

Getting straight A’s requires conformity.Having an influential career demands originality. In a study of students who graduated at the top of their class, the education researcher Karen Arnold found that although they usually had successful careers, they rarely reached the upper echelons. “Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries,” Dr. Arnold explained. “They typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”

Dr. Grant then offers a long list of individualists who did poorly in school but made a name for themselves in their chosen areas of interest: Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He could have provided a much longer list, but those three clearly made the point.

He concludes his essay with advice for universities, employers, and students, suggesting to students that they recognize that “…underachieving in school can prepare you to overachieve in life” and that getting a B might be the best thing for them.

I wholeheartedly agree. As a high school student I never aspired to be valedictorian, perhaps because I did not (and still do not) have the temperament needed and did not (and still do not) see the point in it. As a parent I celebrated the first B my children brought home in high school because I knew that they would no longer be able to become valedictorian and would, therefore, be able to dedicate their time to other pursuits… ones that satisfied their curiosity and not the needs of the schools.

There is a place for evaluation in school. Students need to master fundamental math skills and need to be coached to become good communicators. And once students have these baseline skills in place— and certainly by the time they are in college– there is no need for assigning letter grades or numeric grades. Narrative descriptions of a student’s performance are far more beneficial to the student and compel the teacher to get to know each student in their class deeply.

Alas… binary pass-fail grades on fundamentals and narrative descriptions once a student has progressed to higher levels of education do not yield rankings, and without rankings there can be no “competition” and without that, well, what? I suppose some will posit that without competition our “economic system” will collapse. I prefer to believe that without competition the well-being of children will improve and our political system will improve. Evidently I am not alone in this belief. The renegades who did not conform in school and spent their time working on computers send their children to Waldorf Schools and Montessori programs where doing things and being human is valued more than getting good grades and conforming to a system that measures skills needed in the early 20th Century. Maybe it’s time to re-think grades altogether… in doing so we would necessarily be re-thinking school.