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Schools are “Totally Predictable.” We Good With That? I’m Not!

September 18, 2019 Comments off

On his website Modern Learners, Will Richardson often offers thought provoking posts that force readers to examine the way our schools are structured and the way they operate. Schools are “Totally Predictable.” We Good With That? is one such post. In it he asserts that the predictability of the way schools function and the way teachers present lessons undercuts what employers and students want most: the ability to deal with changes that are occurring at an astonishing rate.

As I have often bemoaned, our accountability metrics reinforce the Factory School status quo and, in so doing, reinforce the notion that there is a discrete and finite knowledge that must be learned by students and their own curiosity and interests are not at all important. In compelling students to adhere to a predictable schedule and preordained curriculum imposed by well-intentioned adults schools are unwittingly undercutting their ability to explore information and learn independently… and in so doing are not preparing them for what exists now and will exist in the future.

Two Examples of Telling a Lie Often and Making it True: The “Immigration Crisis” and “Failing American Schools”… There are Countless Others

September 17, 2019 Comments off

I saw this graphic on FaceBook taken from a NYTimes article from earlier this year titled “Trump Claims There is a Crisis at the Border. What’s the Reality?
As the graph above shows, the reality is that during the Obama administration immigration declined! This inconvenient truth was overlooked throughout the 2020 campaign and has not been corrected by the media every time the “crisis” lie is repeated and so we watch films of children in camps, the “caravans” and conclude that there IS an immigration crisis.

As one who lived through countless reports of “failing American public schools” this playbook is all too familiar. Make an assertion that cannot be substantiated by facts and repeat it endlessly and soon it becomes imprinted on the public’s consciousness. The purpose behind both memes is to inculcate fear in the minds of the public in order to advance a political agenda. In both cases… and countless others— the big lie, repeated, becomes irrefutable truth. And social media, with its relentless churning of videos, graphics, and catchy memes and soundbites makes truth especially fungible.


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This Just In: The GOP Wants to Rip-Off Student Borrowers to Help For-Profit Colleges

September 14, 2019 Comments off

You don’t need to pass laws to help your your donors and to disestablish government agencies you don’t believe in. All you need to do is appoint a cabinet member who will revise regulations to minimize the strength of that agency and help your financial backers. And if the regulations can’t be revised, the cabinet member can slow down the process of implementing the regulations or make the process dysfunctional. In the end, the goal of making the government so small it can drown in a bathtub can be accomplished.

If you don’t believe this description of how to make a government agency dysfunctional is accurate, look no further than Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. As noted in Adam Minsky’s Forbes article, Betsy DeVos is making a concerted effort to gut the student loan forgiveness program put in place when the Obama administration learned how for-profit schools were preying on unsuspecting students by encouraging them to take out student loans. He writes:

The Borrower Defense to Repayment program was established in 2016 following the high-profile collapse of for-profit schools like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes. The program was enacted to provide student loan relief for borrowers who had been defrauded by predatory schools.

The basic premise of the program is that students who were subjected to rampant fraud or misrepresentations by their  school, and who were saddled with debt and a useless degree, should have a mechanism to request student loan forgiveness. This, coupled with stricter federal oversight of for-profit schools and greater accountability for their educational and career outcomes, would hopefully diminish widespread abuse of federal aid by predatory institutions.

Since DeVos took over the Department of Education in 2017, her administration has made consistent efforts to eliminate or water down the program. The Department of Education initially tried to re-write the regulations governing the program, only to have those new rules thrown out by a federal court following legal challenges. Her office has also been effectively ignoring around 160,000 applications for loan forgiveness submitted by student loan borrowers, leaving them in limbo.

Mr. Minsky’s article then offers a description of the recently released rules that will go into effect, all of which put the burden of proof on the borrower and give the lenders an upper hand. The net effect is the diminishment of protection for students who have been bilked by profiteers. He concludes his article with this:

The chairman of the House education committee, Rep. Bobby Scott, accused the administration of “sending an alarming message [that] schools can cheat student loan borrowers and still reap the rewards of federal student aid.” And the Project on Predatory Student Lending announced that it intends to challenge the new rules in court.

One thing is clear: the Borrower Defense to Repayment program remains embattled and in legal limbo.

One more thing is clear: that “legal limbo” is hurting the pocketbooks of the borrowers at the expense of the shareholders of the private for profit colleges.

David Brooks’ Bogus “Meritocracy” Definition

September 13, 2019 Comments off

David Brooks column today, “The Meritocracy is Ripping America Apart“, rightfully calls out the impact of the “savage exclusion” of what he calls “the exclusive meritocracy”. Here is his definition:

In the exclusive meritocracy, prestige is defined by how many people you can reject. The elite universities reject 85 to 95 percent of their applicants. Those accepted spend much of their lives living in neighborhoods and attending conferences where it is phenomenally expensive or hard to get in. Whether it’s the resort town you vacation in or the private school you send your kids to, exclusivity is the pervasive ethos. The more the exclusivity, the thicker will be the coating of P.C. progressivism to show that we’re all good people.

As US News and World Report rolls out its annual report “ranking” colleges and universities, it is ironic to read that David Brooks has accepted their definition that “…prestige is defined by how many people you can reject”… Before US News and World Report adopted that as a proxy for “quality” colleges did not even keep track of that data point but since it became a variable that colleges could control they’ve gone overboard in encouraging as many people as possible to apply so that they could tout their rejection rate as evidence of their “excellence”. What passes for “merit” in our era of Big Data and standardized testing is what can be measured easily, cheaply and quickly.

And Mr. Brooks also rightfully notes that the highest wage earners from “exclusive meritocracy” work ungodly hours to accumulate their wealth:

People in this caste work phenomenally hard to build their wealth. As Daniel Markovits notes in his powerful new book, “The Meritocracy Trap,” between 1979 and 2006, the percentage of workers in the top quintile of earners who work more than 50 hours a week nearly doubled.

What Mr. Brooks fails to mention is that this hard work has the effect of the “meritocrats” justifying the requirement that everyone else work equally hard to earn a living. Consequently, they often have little sympathy for the individual who works more than 50 hours a week at two part-time jobs neither of which offer them health benefits, vacation, or leave time.

It might be a better world if the “meritocrats” shared their work load as well as their largesse. It’s possible that corporations who spend millions to retain these 50+ hour/week “meritocrats” could spend less on having multiple individuals performing the same tasks for less money– say $125,000/year– and less time– say 30 hours per week. The human resources are out there. The money is out there. We need to look at hour we spend time and allocation resources in order to improve the lot of our workforce.

Kids Don’t Vote, and the Parents of Poor Kids Don’t Donate… So Poor Children Suffer

September 13, 2019 Comments off

Our Children Deserve Better, Nick Kristof’s recent NYTimes op ed column, describes the sad plight of children in America. He writes:

UNICEF says America ranks No. 37 among countries in well-being of children, and Save the Children puts the United States at No. 36. European countries dominate the top places.

American infants at last count were 76 percent more likely to die in their first year than children in other advanced countries, according to an article last year in the journal Health Affairs. We would save the lives of 20,000 American children each year if we could just achieve the same child mortality rates as the rest of the rich world.

Half a million American kids also suffer lead poisoning each year, and the youth suicide rate is at its highest level on record.

And yet, he notes, America’s politicians are silent about this issue when the campaign for office. Indeed, by his count the issue of child poverty has not come up in over 140 consecutive Presidential debates. He wonders why this is the case, particularly given the massive research that supports this investment. He concludes his article with this response:

We don’t lack the tools to help, or the resources. The challenge is just that in our political system, children don’t count — and never get mentioned in presidential debates.

Kids don’t vote,” notes Nadine Burke Harris, the surgeon general of California and an expert on the lifelong costs of childhood trauma. “They require us to speak for them.

The real problem is NOT that the KIDS don’t vote. The problem is that the parents of kids who are adversely impacted by the bad drinking water, the lingering lead paint, the lack of a strong safety net, are overlooked by politicians in both parties because they do not make any kind of financial or political contribution to the system. They cannot make a financial contribution because they are poor and they cannot make a political contribution by volunteering for campaigns and participating in political party meetings because they are working two jobs to make ends meet. The system is set up so the affluent parents, who reside in the nicest neighborhoods and communities, whose children are enrolled in the best public schools in the nation, and whose children are well taken care of at home, are not at all impacted by the adversity faced by children raised in poverty. Until affluent parents are willing to speak up for their brothers and sisters who are struggling to make ends meet, we will never leverage the tools to help or the bounteous resources available to us.

My Recent Op Ed Calling for National Community Service

September 12, 2019 Comments off

On Sunday, September 8 our local newspaper published this op ed piece I wrote on the need for universal community service:

Looking at the news and social media today, it is increasingly evident that we are no longer the UNITED States of America. The personalized filters on social media that give us only the news we want to read and only those perspectives we agree with makes us increasingly isolated from each other. Our residential, shopping and social patterns also segregate us from those who do not share our economic and educational demographics making it more and more difficult to relate to the lives others are living.   

Looking back at how this socio-economic and racial segregation and resulting political discord evolved over the course of my 72 years, I think its roots can be found in one misbegotten decision: the abandonment of the universal draft and the creation of the volunteer army. In retrospect, the controversy over the conflict in Viet Nam was a missed opportunity for it gave America a chance to define itself as a nation of citizens that cared about each other. In the late 1960s, the war in Viet Nam was tearing our country apart as thousands of idealistic anti-war students took to the street to protest our country’s involvement in a war whose purpose was unclear while thousands of their friends were drafted to fight in that very war. After his election in 1968, President Richard Nixon and Congress rightly perceived that one of the underlying causes of the dissent among college students was the inherent unfairness of the draft. Those who had the good fortune to reside in areas where draft quotas were readily met by volunteers never had to worry about being involuntarily drafted. They could go through their college-aged years without the fear of being conscripted to serve in the military. At the same time, those who resided in areas where few volunteered for the armed forces could expect to be drafted upon graduation or, if they failed to make sufficient progress as undergraduates, drafted immediately. And, as we’ve learned from politicians who came of age during the Viet Nam era, those who had political connections or wealth found ways to game the system by securing deferments or gaining coveted National Guard positions.

In 1969, Congress gave President Nixon the authority to modify the selection method for the draft. His initial “fix”, implemented by Executive Order, was to replace the existing draft system with a lottery whereby those eligible for the draft would have their birthdates assigned a number from 1 to 366. Those with lower numbers would be vulnerable to the draft and those with higher numbers no longer needed to worry. Any males in my age cohort can recall their draft number (I was in the low 300s) and their reaction when that number was revealed.

But the inherent inequities of the system were not addressed by the lottery, particularly by the deferments given automatically to most college students. Two years later, with the Viet Nam conflict winding down, President Nixon abandoned the draft altogether, replacing it with the all-volunteer army, an enterprise that is augmented today by private contractors who provide logistical support and other services that were formerly handled by recruits.

Looking back at the late 1960s and early 1970s, I often ask what would have happened if instead of replacing the draft with an all-volunteer army the President and Congress agreed to replace the draft with two years of voluntary community service to be completed by all citizens before the age of 25. Those who wanted to serve in the armed forces could do so at a time that suited them and thereby meet their community service requirement. Those who wanted to serve their country in ways other than military service could do so by working in understaffed public schools, on federal projects like those undertaken by the Civilian Conservation Corps or on various community service projects submitted for approval by local and state governments. Under this idea, the two years could be fulfilled upon turning 18 or after college and/or graduate school. This would have appealed to the idealism of the anti-war group by engaging them in the recently launched “War on Poverty” while allowing those who wanted to serve in the military to do so without feeling like they were alone in their commitment to making our country a better place.
From my perspective, this idea of mandatory community service is as viable today as it was in the late 1960s. We could institute this kind of universal service and help address the infrastructure upgrades we need while providing meaningful full-time jobs with benefits to millions of under-employed millennials. In doing so, we might achieve some of the positive benefits of military service where college graduates met and worked collaboratively with farmers, miners, and factory workers from across the country. Where people of all races got to know each other on a personal level. By mandating national service we might provide a way for people across our country from all walks of life to get to know each other, to understand each other, and, once again, become the UNITED States of America.

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“Exactly What I’ve Hoped For”: 100+ Education Leaders Voice Support for Sanders K-12 Plan

September 11, 2019 Comments off

Looking at Bernie Sanders’ 10 point list I, too, endorse his plan… and I would hope that the DNC would do so as well… but I fear that they, like the GOP, are in the thrall of privatization and beholden to the tech billionaires who want to use Big Data instead of Big Democracy to run the public schools.

Source: “Exactly What I’ve Hoped For”: 100+ Education Leaders Voice Support for Sanders K-12 Plan

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