An article by Kate Taylor in today’s NYTimes explicitly emphasized the fantastical notion that “failing schools” can be “turned around” in three years and implicitly highlighted the flaws in the “reformer’s” notion that grading schools will help school improvement.
The notion that a “failing school” can miraculously change in three years is rebutted by Megan Hester, a principal associate at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, an organization that is working closely with community organizations involved in the turnaround effort. She said,
“There’s no school improvement initiative in the country that shows long-term success that showed improvement within two or three years.”
Giving schools the time they might need… “is at odds with the political cycle and the political attention span.”
But politics is everything in NYC schools and since mayors are elected every four years and it took Mr. de Blasio a year to get his leadership team in place he needed to set a three year timetable. In my judgment, the mayor missed a teachable moment and picked the wrong battle at the outset. In his first months in office he could have taken on the wrongheaded idea that labelling schools as “failing” based on test scores when the effects of poverty account for nearly all the variance in those scores. He could have emphasized that when a school is labelled as “failing” it is difficult to recruit students and even more difficult to recruit teachers. And while the article points out these realities, it does not explicitly link the realities to the flawed idea of classifying the schools as “failing”, an idea the “reformers” love because it enables them to close the schools and replace them with for-profit charters that repackage the schools, draw engaged parents and hire new teachers, but make no difference whatsoever when it comes to test scores or graduation rates.
Improving schools and addressing the effects of poverty takes time and requires more resources. That combination is a poison pill for politicians… but it is the only medicine that will cure the ills of public education in urban areas. Until a politician is willing to explain this to voters and voters are willing to listen the vicious cycle of “failing” schools for children raised in poverty will continue.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune ran an article earlier this week detailing one of the focal points of the Republican’s debate on public education: Bible study! The first five paragraphs describe their thinking on this topic:
Members of the GOP this week debated and ultimately embraced an addition to the party’s platform that encourages public high schools to teach elective courses about the Bible, one of several moves that contributed to Republicans’ broad shift to the right.
Several GOP delegates said that they aren’t seeking to inculcate schools with Christianity, but they are trying to make sure that young people are acquainted with a document that has played a significant role in shaping Western culture.
“This is not designed to teach religion in the schools as a means of proselytizing,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group, and a GOP delegate from Louisiana who supported the Bible-in-schools provision. “You can’t really fully understand the American form of government and society without some understanding of the Bible.”
Others said they want to give students a way to understand biblical allusions in Shakespeare and other literature, or want to honor U.S. history and the nation’s founders.
“The first Congress of the United States in 1789 called for the distribution of Bibles for all children in the United States at that time,” said Kansas delegate Kris Kobach. “This was an important principle that the Founding Fathers chose to embrace.”
I only hope that if the Bible is mandated that progressive-minded educators will emphasize the New Testament teaching of Jesus on caring for those with the most needs.
Two quotes from Jeff Bryant’s Common Dreams article makes all the money I donated to Bernie Sanders and the time I spent working on his campaign worth it. First this one from Diane Ravitch:
The Sanders supporters teamed up with Clinton delegates, including Randi Weingarten, the leader of the American Federation of Teachers, to deliver a platform that “now takes a stand against the high-stakes testing regime, opposes school closing based on test scores, opposes evaluating teachers by test scores, and emphasizes the importance of democratically-controlled public schools,” as education historian Diane Ravitch writes on her personal blog.
And this quote from Peter Greene:
As Greene explains, whereas the original platform’s “definition of Bad Charter was just ‘a for-profit charter’ … This new language defines a Bad Charter as one that does not have democratically-elected governance, does not serve the exact same population as the local public school, and that ‘destabilizes or damages the health of that local public school.’ In other words, the new language offers a much broader understanding of when a charter school is Not Okay than the draft did.”
This change was attributed to Sanders’ appointees and was fought tooth and nail by the “reform” crowd.
Here’s a summary and a link to the complete article:
Earlier this week my colleague Richard Eskow reported on the impact the populist progressive movement led by Bernie Sanders and others is having on the Democratic Party Platform to be voted on at the party’s national convention in Philadelphia later this month.
Charles Blow’s column in today’s NYTimes is the first one I’ve read that speaks the blunt truth about what is needed to address the racism in our culture.
Interpersonal racism, when it exists, is only one part of the equation. Another part is systemic, structurally racist policies, and yet another is class conflict between the police and the poorest, most dangerous communities they patrol, and between those who are better off and those who are not. That strand is nearly absent from this conversation altogether….
(T)his issue is about everyone. We have areas of concentrated poverty in our cities in part because of a long legacy of discriminatory urban policies. We don’t sufficiently address the effects of that legacy, in part because it is rooted in a myth of racial pathology and endemic poor choice. We choose to be blind to the policy choices our politicians have made — and that many have benefited from, while others suffered — while simultaneously holding firmly to the belief that all of our own successes and comforts are simply the result of our and our families’ drive, ambition and resourcefulness. Other people lack physical comforts because they lack our character strength.
Mr. Blow offers lengthy quotes from the police chiefs in Dallas where five police were assassinated protecting Black Lives Matter demonstrators and Baton Rouge where police murdered an unarmed black man. Both chiefs lamented the low pay their police forces receive and the increased expectations placed on the police because social services and schools are short-changed. Blow concludes with this indictment:
You may think that you are not a part of this, but you are wrong. That’s just a lie that your willful ignorance and purposeful blindness perpetuates, to protect your conscience. This is absolutely about you, many, many of you. There are more bloody hands than meet the eye.
Mr. Blow is absolutely right. We need more resources for under-resourced communities and under-resourced families. We need to dig into our pockets and pay more taxes. We need to stop being resentful of public employees who have benefits and pensions that the “free market” denies to most employees and ensure that all Americans get health care and social security. We need to ensure that everyone has the food, clothing, and shelter they need even if it reduces the profits of the corporations.
Unfortunately neither Presidential candidate is advocating this… one wants to build walls and one wants to have more “conversations”… We don’t need walls or talk: we need higher taxes at all levels.
Big Data and Little Children: A Potent Combination for Learning… or Marketing… or Controlling – Part One
Thanks to two links to posts by Robert X. Cringely provided by Naked Capitalist blogger Lambert Strether I now have a better understanding of the history of and potential of Big Data as it applies to public education. The posts are lengthy and detailed, but not so technical I felt overwhelmed… and clearly written enough that I could see some promising… and frightening… links between Big Data and public education and see how my own experiences in public schools linked to the evolution of Big Data.
Part One of Cringely’s synopsis of Big Data provided a history of data collection from the beginning of mankind to 1996. Outlined below are some excerpts from that first post that I found pertinent. The first one describes where we stand today in terms of data being collected about us as citizens… and why that data is being collected:
Wherever you are in the world, computers are watching you and recording data about your activities, primarily noting what you watch, read, look at, or buy. If you hit the street in almost any city, surveillance video can be added to that: where are you, what are you doing, who or what is nearby? Your communications are monitored to some extent and occasionally even recorded. Anything you do on the Internet — from comments to tweets to simple browsing — never goes away. Some of this has to do with national security but most of this technology is simply to get you and me to buy more stuff — to be more efficient consumers. The technology that makes all this gathering and analysis possible was mainly invented in Silicon Valley by many technology startup companies.
Cringely’s post also includes the most concise definition of Moore’s Law I’ve read:
Moore’s Law. As computers were applied to processing data their speed made it possible to delve deeper into those data, discovering more meaning. The high cost of computing at first limited its use to high-value applications like selling airline seats. But the advent of solid state computers in the 1960s began a steady increase in computing power and decrease in computing cost that continues to this day — Moore’s Law. So what cost American Airlines $10 to calculate in 1955 was down to a dime by 1965, to a tenth of a penny by 1975, and to one billionth of a cent today.
This effect of Moore’s Law and — most importantly — the ability to reliably predict where computing cost and capability would be a decade or more in advance, made it possible to apply computing power to cheaper and cheaper activities. This is what turned data processing into Big Data.
Cringely’s history of data collection showed how an alliance between American Airlines and IBM in the 1950s led to the development of main frame computing and that, in turn, evolved into increasingly faster and cheaper means of collecting and processing data, leading to the development of “business intelligence” by software pioneer Oracle:
Oracle… enabled… not just more flexible business applications, but whole new classes of applications including human resources, customer relationship management, and — most especially — something called business intelligence. Business intelligence is looking inside what you know to figure out what you know that’s useful. Business intelligence is one of the key applications of Big Data.
(Amazon founder Jeff) Bezos — a former Wall Street IT guy who was familiar with all the Business Intelligence tools of the time, wanted a system where the next time you logged-in the server would ask “are you still looking for long underwear?” It might even have sitting in your shopping cart the underwear you had considered the last time but decided not to buy. This simple expedient of keeping track of the recent past was the true beginning of Big Data.
This was 1996… where Part One of Cringely’s analysis ends… where public education is just now…. but more on this in Part 3 of these posts….