‘Disaster Capitalism Strikes Again!’: Puerto Rico’s High Court Gives Green Light to Charter Schools, Vouchers

August 11, 2018 Leave a comment

A sad, but ultimately unsurprising, result…

Source: ‘Disaster Capitalism Strikes Again!’: Puerto Rico’s High Court Gives Green Light to Charter Schools, Vouchers

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Mindfulness and the News: Some Insights into My Sources and My Perspective

August 11, 2018 1 comment

I begin every day I am at home by opening my computer and reading various blogs and news feeds. I get four newspapers each day: the NYTimes, the Boston Globe; and, two local newspapers. I get five feeds on public education: Google alerts; ASCD; Politico; Clay Christensen’s blog; and Diane Ravitch’s blog. I get several general interest and political feeds, some daily and some weekly: Quartz; Truthdig; Common Dreams; JSTOR; Naked Capitalism; and Medium. And I spend a few minutes reading Facebook, checking on my favorite sports teams on ESPN, checking the weather, and reading various articles sent to me by my siblings and children.

As I read the blogs, I identify one or two articles that trigger a blog post. If the blog post is drawn wholly from the article, I will use a reblog feature if it is available and add a comment. If the article stimulates a reflective essay (as the one that I am using for this very post), I will take the time to write a 300-1200 word post. I rationalize that this reading is necessary to give me an in-depth grasp of the world as it impacts public education policy, the primary topic of this blog, and to help me have as realistic a perspective as possible on how the events taking place and decisions being made reflect and/or change my world view, which is an implicit sub-topic of this blog.

One feed I get periodically was not listed above. As a Buddhist practitioner I get Lion’s Roar, “an independent non-profit foundation whose mission is to communicate Buddhist wisdom and practices in order to benefit people’s lives and our society, and to support the development of Buddhism in the modern world.” An article in the week-end edition of this publication by Sister True Dedication, a monastic who practices in the Plum Village tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, describes how the Buddhist practice has influenced my reading habits of late. Titled, “What Do You Put in Your Mind?“, Sister True Dedication’s essay describes how our consumption of the news affects our minds in the same way as our consumption of food affects our health.  She writes:

I heard Thich Nhat Hanh speak with a fierce and solemn voice as he declared in a talk, “When we watch television and movies we consume, when we browse the internet we consume, when we listen to music or a conversation, we consume.” I remember his soft words booming through the loudspeakers: “And what we consume every day may be highly toxic. It may contain violence, craving, fear, anger, and despair.”

I was shocked. Suddenly websites, radio shows, movies, music—and even conversations with close friends—struck me as strangely substantive and not so ephemeral after all. Maybe I wasn’t as free from them as I thought.

The sidebar quote that summarized the article is this:

Our mind is made of what we feed it, so we need to know how to nourish and protect it.

Since beginning Buddhist practice over a decade ago, I’ve come to appreciate how my reading habits affect my disposition and way of viewing the world. Of late I find myself repelled by articles that are full of ad hominem invective, that take sides in a fashion that demeans and decries “the other side”, and speculate on future events based on gossip, “inside information”, and gleaning of information that supports one school of thought over another. Those articles do not nourish my mind, clarify my thoughts, or add to my well-being.

I am drawn, instead, to articles that describe recent findings in science, analyses that look at events through a historic lens, and articles that offer new insights on emerging trends. And whenever I read articles, I try to use what I am reading to examine my own mental formations— the screens I use to filter the “news” I am “consuming”. This, in turn, helps me perceive how the “news” affects my disposition and understanding of “reality”. I also find that “consuming” in this fashion leads me to ask the question Thich Nhat Hanh suggests we ask ourselves repeatedly: “ARE YOU SURE?

If you want to get a perspective on the Buddhist view of media consumption, I recommend that you read Sister True Dedication’s essay. As a former BBC reporter, her insights are not limited to those gained from sitting on a cushion or reading sutras: they are grounded in what passes for the “real world” of journalism.

Summertime Scheduling Problems That Plague Middle Class Exist All Year for 40% of Parents

August 10, 2018 Leave a comment

In yesterday’s post about Arne Duncan’s latest book, I emphasized one observation Mr. Duncan made in an interview with the Atlantic that I found especially insightful. In assessing the challenges urban schools face, he noted the link between parent engagement and student success:

It’s the parents who aren’t present whose kids you have to worry about even more because those parents just have too much going on in their own lives to be engaged in their children’s education. Those kids are the ones I actually worry about the most.

This particular quote resonated with me because it did not cast blame on disengaged parents. Rather, it underscored that parents who would otherwise be involved in the lives of their children are often pre-occupied with other issues. A recent NYTimes article indicated that one overarching issue for parents who work multiple jobs or single parents is finding childcare. The headline for Dr. Julia Henley’s article in late July captures the problem. It read “Think Summer Child Care is Tough? Low Income Parents Deal With That All Year“. Dr. Henley describes the frustration upper middle class working parents face in the summertime when schools are closed and notes that these problems persist year round for low income working parents, especially those who work multiple part-time jobs or who work in retail where just-in-time scheduling is practiced:

But the gaps in care that frustrate well-off families over the summer are a constant in the lives of lower-income parents, who disproportionately work jobs with schedules that are not limited to weekday hours and can change unexpectedly. It’s a year-round second job to find safe, let alone enriching, supervision for their kids.

As part of a study my colleagues and I did on the child-care arrangements of parents in the retail sector, a part-time department store sales clerk told me that she had worked a different schedule each day the prior week: on Sunday she worked from noon to 5 p.m., on Monday from 2 to 8:30 p.m., on Wednesday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 1:30 to 9 p.m.

Over 40 percent of American children live with a parent who mostly works during hours when schools aren’t open and traditional child care isn’t available — during the early mornings, evenings, weekends or overnight — and these work schedules are often changing at the last minute. Some parents choose these shifts as part of a shared caregiving strategy with a spouse, but most don’t have a choice.

Dr. Henley notes that even though 40% of children live in a situation where a parent works nontraditional work hours, only 8% of the childcare centers offer coverage during those times. The result?

This mismatch between child-care needs and work demands forces parents to assemble a complicated bundle of arrangements, often with both formal and informal caregivers. These arrangements can be unstable and difficult to maintain, stress relationships and threaten the stability of already precarious work situations.

Apart from voluntary actions by socially responsible employers and some scheduling laws passed by a handful of progressive state legislatures, no action has been taken to ameliorate this problem. Indeed, the current administration has doubled down on the problem by insisting on work requirements for those getting government benefits for children, effectively requiring more parents to “assemble a complicated bundle of arrangements” to provide care for their children.

Meanwhile, in the face of the reality that 40% of children live in a situation where a parent needs to “assemble a complicated bundle of arrangements” to care for their children outside of the traditional work day and school day, our politicians continue to emphasize test results as the ultimate metric for school quality. If Arne Duncan was truly worried about the children whose parents were not present because they had too much going on in their lives, he might have set an example for school leaders by partnering with the HHS Secretary and the Secretary of Labor to develop legislation that would require predictable work hours to help the 40% of children who live in a situation where parents work outside of the traditional time frame.

Another Backfire for Koch Brothers as Survey Shows Americans Actually Want Free College, $15 Minimum Wage, and Medicare for All

August 10, 2018 Leave a comment

So… 66% of those surveyed see government paid tuition as a good idea and 69% would like to see more government support for childcare. Two questions:

  1. How do those surveyed feel about having tax-funded parochial schools or for profit schools?
  2. Will ALEC now add tuition payments and child care to their legislative template?

Source: Another Backfire for Koch Brothers as Survey Shows Americans Actually Want Free College, $15 Minimum Wage, and Medicare for All

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Arne Duncan Still True Believer in VAM, “Failure” of Public Schools, Standardized Testing

August 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Arne Duncan has written a new book, How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education, and he is getting lots of publicity as he tours the country selling his book and the tired ideas in it. Here’s the opening paragraph from a review of his book by Atlantic reporter Alia Wong:

Arne Duncan, the former education secretary under President Barack Obama, has always been more candid than others who’ve served in that role. He’s often used his platform to talk about what he sees as the persistent socioeconomic and racial disparities in access to quality schools. His new book, How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education, further cements that reputation. How Schools Work’s first chapter is titled “Lies, Lies Everywhere.” The first sentence: “Education runs on lies.” If one were to create a word cloud of the book, lies would probably pop out as one of the most frequently used words. Duncan writes that even the countless fantastic schools across the country “haven’t managed to defeat the lies that undermine our system so much as they’ve been able to circumvent them.” These lies, according to Duncan, include a culture of setting low expectations for high schoolers who later discover they’re not prepared for the real world, and poorly designed accountability systems that allow teachers to fudge their students’ test-score results.

This paragraph itself is full of canards about public education that only someone who never set foot in a public school could believe. I worked in an urban middle school, a blue collar suburban high school, and a rural high school that served many poor families. The teachers in these schools, even the weakest, had high expectations for their children.

As for the “accountability systems that allow teachers to fudge their test-score results”, I presume he must be referring to the grading systems that allow students to pass a course with a “C” or a “D”, grades that typically require a student to get grades that do not require mastery of ALL the information presented. And the norm-referenced tests that were the backbone of the RTTT “accountability systems” Mr. Duncan imposed on schools that were presumably designed to avoid the “fudging” did nothing to help students. They only reinforced the notion that students were poorly prepared because teachers were lazy and incompetent and did so by providing a sheen of precision.

In the interview with Ms. Wong that accompanied this overview of his book Mr. Duncan DID reveal an understanding of the root cause of “failing” schools… and it isn’t the teachers… it’s parents who are disengaged from the lives of their students, parent’s whose disengagement is often the result of working multiple jobs or, in the worst case, drug and alcohol abuse. Here’s Mr. Duncan’s take:

It’s the parents who aren’t present whose kids you have to worry about even more because those parents just have too much going on in their own lives to be engaged in their children’s education. Those kids are the ones I actually worry about the most.

But, as written frequently in this blog, actions speak louder than words. IF Mr. Duncan believed this as the head of public education in Chicago and then the nation, why did he not take action to provide support for the children of disengaged parents, the children whose performance pulls down the test scores he values so highly and whose ultimate withdrawal from schools increases the drop out rates he blames on “the system”?

Mr. Duncan’s perspective on gun violence was also on point. But like his views on the problems presented by disengaged parents, it’s a perspective he failed to share when he led the nation’s schools:

I talk a lot about gun violence—it’s what I’m dealing with in Chicago all the time; it unfortunately shaped me as a kid; we saw it in the Sandy Hook massacre, which happened when I was education secretary. There’s no political leader who says they don’t value kids, but the truth is: we value guns more than we value the lives of our children .And that is irrefutable if you look at the rates of gun deaths in the U.S. compared to other nations that make other policy choices.

Mr. Duncan purports to be one who perceives education as a great equalizer and one who attempts to use data to help him see what works and what doesn’t work. I wish that as Secretary of Education emeritus he would take a dispassion look at the true impact of RTTT and acknowledge that it was a doubling down on NCLB, a program he viewed as “horribly constructed.” I wish he would acknowledge that the standardized tests he advocated were not constructed to perform the VAM he mandated and resulted in the discrediting of the teaching profession. I wish that he would trumpet the need for programs to support parents who “…just have too much going on in their own lives to be engaged in their children’s education” and speak out against the politicians who value guns more than we value the lives of our children. Finally, I wish he would acknowledge that the programs he advocates, the expansion of choice and charters, reward those parents who are engaged in the lives of their children, sidestep the need for a larger investment in the safety net, and divert needed funds away from public schools.

A 1970 Humanities and Technology Major Reacts to Russ Douthat’s Column on the Death of Humanities

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

Russ Douthat’s NYTimes column today, “Oh, the Humanities“, did not afford a comment opportunity… so I am using this post to capture my reaction to the column, which I found to be generally thoughtful and— because I agreed with it’s take on the underlying causes for the demise of humanities as a discipline– accurate.

Using a 1946 poem by W.H. Auden as the framework for his analysis of the decline in the number of Humanities majors in almost every college, Douthat concludes that “Apollonians”, that is technocrats, have won out over the “sons of Hermes”, the artists and musicians. Why is this so? Dothan concludes that in addition to adopting ultra-radical positions on political issues, in an effort to make their discipline seem more analytic (i.e. technical), the humanities professors adopted “a pseudoscientific mantle” that seemed to add “rigor and precision” to their work. Here’s the paragraph that captures his thinking:

In an Apollonian culture, eager for “Useful Knowledge” and technical mastery and increasingly indifferent to memory and allergic to tradition, the poet and the novelist and the theologian struggle to find an official justification for their arts. And both the turn toward radical politics and the turn toward high theory are attempts by humanists in the academy to supply that justification — to rebrand the humanities as the seat of social justice and a font of political reform, or to assume a pseudoscientific mantle that lets academics claim to be interrogating literature with the rigor and precision of a lab tech doing dissection.

The column resonated with me as one who majored in “Humanities and Technology”, a B.S. degree my alma mater Drexel Institute of Technology “invented” in the late 1960s in order to become Drexel University. At that time, the Humanities teachers emphasized the power of poetry and the importance of clear writing and consciously rejected any efforts to inject “a pseudoscientific mantle” that added “rigor and precision” to their work. Those of us who gravitated to this new major were drawn to it because we rejected the ideas that underpinned the emerging technocracy and wanted to see a more just and equitable world.

Douthat concludes his column asserting that all will be well and humanities will be restored to the “sons of Hermes” instead of the “children of Apollo”:

(A) hopeful road map to humanism’s recovery might include: First, a return of serious academic interest in the possible (I would say likely) truth of religious claims. Second, a regained sense of history as a repository of wisdom and example rather than just a litany of crimes and wrongthink. Finally, a cultural recoil from the tyranny of the digital and the virtual and the Very Online, today’s version of the technocratic, technological, potentially totalitarian Machine that Jacobs’s Christian humanists opposed.

I, for one, think it will be restored more rapidly if, like my professors in the late 1960s, the humanities professors focus on the beauty of the arts and avoid injecting “a pseudoscientific mantle” that added “rigor and precision” to their work.

MY ROUGH DRAFT Proposal for New Hampshire’s Democratic Candidates for Governor

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

To date the Democratic Party in New Hampshire has chosen to avoid making public education a major issue in their primary campaign, despite the horrific record of the incumbent GOP Governor, Chris Sununu, and the fact that his appointee for Commissioner of Education has repeatedly bashed school boards, teachers, and the public schools while advocating for vouchers. I offer this recommended platform for the Democratic party to consider in its effort to unseat incumbent Governor Chris Sununu. This ROUGH DRAFT of a platform uses a July 5, 2016 post offered by Ohio blogger Jan Ressengeras a template and draws on positions outlined in earlier posts of mine.

Introduction:  The Governor of New Hampshire should advocate for a comprehensive system of public education. One that serves all children, is democratically governed, publicly funded, universally accessible, and accountable to the public.

Close Opportunity Gaps by Increasing Funding to Property Poor Communities: The New Hampshire Constitution calls for the State to provide an adequate education for all children in an effort to ensure that all children receive equal opportunities to learn. A candidate for Governor should pledge to uphold this Constitutional mandate even if doing so would require an increase in funding for public education or an expansion of taxes. As it stands now, despite lawsuits won in court by property poor communities in our state, resources available to provide services for children in their public schools are wildly uneven. While children in affluent school districts have access to advanced curricula, abundant technology, the most experienced teachers, and a rich exposure to art, music and other enrichments and a wide array of co-curricular activities, children in property poor districts lack these opportunities for learning and support that more privileged children merely take for granted.

Tax and budget policies need to reduce disparities between property-rich and property-poor districts, strengthen local school boards, and provide all parents with a greater opportunity to support their children enrolled in school. Families in property poor towns often face challenges that prevent them from devoting the same level of support for their children as families in property-rich communities. Families facing economic challenges would benefit from the careful and intentional development of full-service, wraparound services that bring social and health services—health clinics, dental clinics, mental health clinics, after school programs, Head Start, and parent support programs—right into the school building. Families facing economic challenges need affordable, accessible, quality child care. Families facing economic challenges need a guaranteed living wage and labor policies that protect them by establishing work schedules and ensuring that employers inform their employees in advance of their work hours. Families facing economic challenges need employers to provide medical leave and maternity leave.

Reject Privatization and Vouchers:  Privatization and voucher plans presented as “choice” cannot address the challenges faced by property poor communities. Legislation that promotes enrollments in private schools and provides funding for homeschooling diverts scarce resources from public education, especially in property poor communities where schools are already underfunded. Legislation that promotes vouchers and tuition tax credits which use public funds to pay for students to attend private and parochial schools should be unalterably opposed as should any legislation that supports the creation of charter schools that are not governed by elected local school boards.

Restore Respect for a Profession of Well Trained, Certified Teachers: Our elected officials and State Department leaders must stop scapegoating school teachers. Public school teachers work tirelessly to improve the chances for all students in all schools in the State to advance and often do so in facilities that are outdated and without the resources they need to succeed. Instead of modifying certification standards for teachers to expand the applicant pools, we should increase the compensation for teachers, especially those serving in property-poor districts.

Re-Double the Effort to Replace Standardized Norm-Referenced Tests as the Primary Metric for School Success: New Hampshire was one of a handful of states that sought to limit the use of norm-referenced standardized tests as the sole metric for measuring school success. This effort should be fully supported by the Governor and Commissioner of Education and provided with the funding and manpower required for implementation.

Conclusion:  In order for public schools to succeed in New Hampshire, citizens must provide ongoing oversight, demand legislation that ensures equitable funding, and be willing to accept tax policies that either redistribute funds currently available or expand the funds needed to ensure that all children have the same opportunities as children attending property-rich schools. Justice in public education—the distribution of opportunity for all children and not just for some— can only be achieved systemically and with the full support of the Governor and Commissioner of Education.