Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

Public Funds Pay for Religious Schools That Teach Bogus Science, History, Theology… and “White Centric” Ideology

May 6, 2021 1 comment

Derrick Black and Rebecca Holcombe wrote an op ed for USA Today describing how public funds are now being used to “educate” children in religious schools who teach bogus science, history, and theology. How so? Several states have created systems whereby parents are given de facto vouchers to enroll their children in whatever schools they choose— including religiously affiliated schools who offer instruction that is anti-science and, in some cases, racist. Here’s a paragraph from their essay that offers some specific examples: 

Far too many of these schools also use textbooks that routinely espouse anti-science and white-centric ideology. For instance, as the Orlando Sentinel reported, some Florida voucher schools teach students that dinosaurs and humans lived together, that God’s intervention prevented Catholics from dominating North America, that slaves who knew Jesus Christ were better off than free men who did not, and that most Black and white Southerners lived in harmony until power-hungry agitators stirred up conflict. 

While the GOP rails against the 1619 curriculum that interprets historic facts differently, they advocate for school choice that would use public funds to promote the teaching of history that is untethered from facts and, as the example above indicates, racist. Worse, once public funds are dedicated to the tuition for these children, Mr. Brown and Ms. Holcombe foresee the day when these funds would be used to upgrade the facilities. But they also note that the direction charter advocates are headed is not a direction the public supports: 

This choice movement may wrap itself in the rhetoric of meeting individual students’ needs and giving them the same opportunities as wealthy students, but unregulated vouchers and public religious charter schools would subvert the overall public will to the whims of an ideological minority.

The saving grace is that an overwhelming majority of families and taxpayers have no interest in this bizarre education world. And if courts and advocates push them there, only one rational choice remains: End charter schools and publicly financed private school tuition altogether.

I find it hard to believe that the Catholic church hierarchy would argue on behalf of funding schools who teach that “God’s intervention prevented Catholics from dominating North America” and cannot believe the leadership of any mainline denomination would advocate funding schools that promote the idea that slavery was ever acceptable and dinosaurs and humans lived together in the world. Maybe the day will come when religious leaders will speak out on behalf of science, mainstream theology, and democracy. If they do so, maybe the whims of the ideological minority that now controls “school choice” will no longer be honored. 


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A HUGE Challenge for Public Education: Spending Money Wisely

May 5, 2021 Leave a comment

As readers of this blog realize, I served as a public school superintendent for 29 years from 1981-2011. During that time period, there was not a single year when I received hundreds of thousands of dollars I did not ask for and at least ten years where I had to make agonizing choices about where to make cuts. Anyone who is serving as a school superintendent now is going to have a very difficult decision to make: how to spend thousands of unasked for money in a way that will compensate for the classroom time children lost.

A recent article by Frederick Hess and Pedro Neguera in The Hill surprisingly captures the dilemma schools face in the coming months. I use the word “surprisingly” because I seldom agree with Mr. Hess’ thinking. He tends to support the ideas of “reformers” in terms of testing, viewing tests as a means of sorting and selecting students and “ranking” schools and teachers. But in this article, he and Mr. Neguera see things in a commonsensical fashion. Instead of viewing tests as necessary for determining how far behind children have fallen, they see them as necessary to get a sense of each student’s personal well-being:

Schools also need to figure out just how their students have been affected by the pandemic, in terms of academic progress and social and emotional well-being. Educators must gauge where students are at, not primarily for purposes of state data systems or teacher evaluation, but so they can determine what students actually need. The question should not be whether testing is good or bad, but how assessment can help schools and educators instruct and support kids.

Well IF the tests ARE used for anything other than formative reasons— for helping schools and educators instruct and support kids, testing is BAD. But when testing IS used to help schools and teachers instruct and support kids, when the results are used solely for that purpose, then testing is GOOD.

While the writers do not say so explicitly, their essay makes it clear that the funds should NOT be used to create new positions that will continue indefinitely and sustain the pre-pandemic paradigm of schooling. Rather, the unasked for funds should be used to expand partnerships with community arts organizations and mental health agencies who might support the efforts of public schools going forward.  Most crucially, they see that this might be a once in a generation opportunity to engage the disengaged. They write:

There’s a particular need to make schools engaging for all those students who were bored or tuned out even before the pandemic, and who now find little joy in socially distanced classrooms and cafeterias. Part-time instructors to teach the arts, music, electives, vocational classes, and more can be hired (without committing to permanent new staff positions or benefits) to supplement traditional classroom instruction, provide more ways to reengage students, and enliven a sanitized school day. Where such arrangements require waivers, districts should seek them — and unions should grant them.

The cheap shot against “the unions” notwithstanding, this is a great idea. There ARE a wealth of community artisans who are willing and able to work with children and who have been overlooked by schools in the past. By engaging artists in the schools and children with the arts it would be possible to markedly improve the engagement of students whose focus before the pandemic was learning how to do well on standardized tests.

And Mr. Hess and Neguera also offer some imaginative ideas for how to use these unasked for funds to change the teaching profession and increasing parental engagement:

There’s also an opportunity to use the next two years to start rethinking the teaching profession. Schools need to ask how they can most effectively use talented staff, which may mean reallocating responsibilities so that educators can spend more time doing the things that make a bigger difference for kids. Schools should, for instance, use relief funds to turn great reading teachers or counselors into twelve-month employees, so that they — and others with crucial skills — can get paid this summer to help students rather than tend bar or paint houses.

Finally, there’s a crying need for parent-help centers that can provide essential support to parents nervous about sending their kids back to school, confused by online instruction, or struggling with keeping their kids clothed and fed. Such centers, especially if staffed by parent volunteers, could be a cost-effective way to forge partnerships with parents and community.  

It is heartening to see the founder of the Conservative Education Reform Network espousing progressive ideas that focus on student and community engagement as opposed to boosting test scores. MAYBE something good will come of the pandemic after all

Critical Race Theory Opponents Overlook Inconvenient Truth: The “Traditional” History Curriculum Produced Graduates Who Formulated the Theory!

May 4, 2021 Leave a comment

Michelle Goldberg’s recent op ed essay, Why the Right Loves Public School Culture Wars, describes how the right wing of the GOP party manages to engage the grassroots in local elections by keeping the focus on contentious— and largely trumped up— issues like “Critical Race Theory”. As Ms. Goldberg accurately notes, “critical race theory” belongs in quotes:

…because the right has transformed a term that originally referred to an academic school of thought into a catchall for resentments over diversity initiatives and changing history curriculums.

And in one of the unintended ironies of the GOP, their party is using the opposition to this bogeyman they created to cancel the canal culture. And here is another irony: the people who developed “Critical Race Theory” were educated in public schools that never included it in their curriculum! I am a case in point.

I attended public schools in SE Pennsylvania in the 1950s and early 1960s, graduating from HS in 1965. The history my age cohorts and I were taught is identical to the history the anti-CRT crowd wants to see offered in public schools. We learned that explorers were brave men who sailed West to find gold, to spread the gospel, and bring glory to their homelands. We learned that the Founding Fathers were patriots who fought for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness throwing off the British overlords who wanted to impose taxes on them without offering them a voice in how those funds would be used. Once freed from British rule, these men wrote a Constitution whose precepts and laws were timeless and inviolable and our country began to expand westward conquering the wilderness and the savage Indian tribes who roamed the countryside. After a bloody Civil War that put an end to slavery and brought our nation together. In the 20th Century we joined our European allies in two Wars against powers intent on ending Democracy. As we left high school, we witnessed the passage of laws that would end racism and poverty, the conclusion of a massive infrastructure project that would link our nation through the completion of an interstate highway system, the launching of an initiative that would place a man on the moon within a decade, and the placement of troops across the globe that would prevent the further spread of communism.

Like many of my cohorts, once I left high school to attend college and/or travelled across the country and the globe, I began to see that what we were taught in school was incomplete. It was at best a glossed over narrative designed to make us feel good about the country we lived in and the economic system that made it possible for us to thrive. At worst it was propaganda designed to perpetuate the status quo. When I attended college in Philadelphia and student taught in the urban schools I saw for myself that MY experience was wildly different from that of the high school students in my classroom. A I became acquainted with my colleagues and mentor on the faculty I saw that MY experience was different from their as well. In my 20s, I lived through the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr, Bobby Kennedy, the riots that ensued and the subsequent turmoil of the 1968 election. Later I experienced the disillusionment of the Watergate break-in that was the subtext of the 1972 election, the release of the Pentagon Papers, and the misbegotten ending to the Viet Nam conflict. During this same time period, I was teaching in Philadelphia schools and attending graduate school part-time before getting a Fellowship to pursue my doctoral degree in education administration. It was during my tenure as an intern in an affluent suburban Philadelphia school district that it became abundantly clear that the system was inherently unfair and that race played a major role in that unfairness. The closer I looked, the more clear the inequity became. And conversation with friends and colleagues who served in Viet Nam or who were raised in less fortunate circumstances that I had made it even clearer that we needed to make some changes to the system if we ever hoped to have EVERY child experience life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Restoring the history curriculum of the Father-Knows-Best era will not prevent many Americans from concluding that the current system is racist, misogynistic, imbalanced, and in need of improvement. Sanitizing history cannot change the facts…. and cynicism about schooling can often emerge when students dig deeper into the stories they were told in history class and discover that the history books they read left out uncomfortable truths. If we hope to address divisiveness that exists, we need to learn about it and discuss it early and often. The solutions to the problem cannot be found otherwise.

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