A ROUGH DRAFT FOR HS REFORM I: Blow Up High School by Offering Vouchers for Students…

May 26, 2020 Leave a comment

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the garden lately, and in doing so am spending a lot of time mulling over how to take advantage of the pandemic crisis to introduce some new ways of doing high school. Based on my personal and professional experience high schools are the worst part of the education system in our country. Here’s why:

  • TRACKING: High School drives the final nail into the equity coffin by segregating students into tracks based on how rapidly they’ve learned up to the point they enter ninth grade and how much control their parents wield.
  • COLLEGE OVER-VALUED: Students who aspire to college get 90% of the attention and time of guidance counselors and teachers because guidance counselors and teachers know how college works and see it as the only way to attain economic well-being.
  • CONTENT OVER-VALUED: There is an aphorism that elementary teachers teach children and secondary teachers teach subjects…. and high schools are set up to reinforce that aphorism. It is unrealistic for a high school teacher to know and care about the lives of 100+ students assigned to them in 4-5 classes but completely realistic for them to be well-versed in one subject area that they can teach to students and assess their progress using some kind of “objective test” that can be rapidly graded. This emphasis on content, in turn, can lead to a siloing whereby no single teacher gets to know and care about an individual student. And the cult of AP testing only exacerbates this emphasis on content over character development.
  • SOCIAL SKILLS UNDER-VALUED: Working on teams, getting along with people from other socio-economic, racial, and ethic groups, and developing healthy relationships with individuals are all part of the hidden curriculum in high schools… but, in many (if not most) cases, high schools are reinforcing tribalism instead of harmony.
  • PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE UNDER-VALUED: There is a premium on the development of abstract skills like the ability to solve complex quadratic equations but no value placed on the ability to put together a nutritious meal from left-overs, to develop and manage a budget, or to complete the paperwork needed to buy a house, start a small business, or apply on-line for a job.

Here’s a solution to all of this: end high school once students pass a basic competency test and give them a voucher for education four the next four years or until the age of 20, whichever comes first. The competency test would be initially administered when teachers certify the student is ready, which ideally would be before the student’s 16ht birthday. The competency test would include:

  • The US Citizenship test: Clearly every graduate should know how the government works if they are to vote intelligently.
  • A Consumer Awareness test: A “consumer awareness” test could be developed by ETS– who would be happy to have a new assessment to replace the SAT which is being phased out. This test would help avoid the debt trap that currently ensnares millions in our country.
  • A Health and Nutrition test: Public schools ostensibly educate students about nutrition and health through the school lunch program and various mandated health courses but there are no high stakes tests associated with either area.

By giving STUDENTS the funds to pursue more education it will emphasize the importance of making prudent financial decisions and underscore the importance of developing a transition plan to go from a world where every hour is scheduled by adults to a world where the student is a self-regulated adult.

Two more elements of the blown up HS will follow in future posts:

  • Mandatory Community Service
  • The Development of a Individualized Post-Graduate Work Plan which includes a personal budget

Covid-19 Positive Consequence: NYC “Elite” High Schools Cannot Use Screens

May 25, 2020 Leave a comment

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This NYDaily News op ed piece by three social justice advocates describes one of the positive consequences of the pandemic: NY high schools will need to revamp their admissions criteria. Because schools were closed from March 15 onward and the Regents and other standardized tests were cancelled, all of the traditional means of selecting students for the elite high schools in the city will not be available for next years eighth grade students. This provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the current criteria in a fashion that will eliminate the de facto economic and racial segregation that results from the use of tests as the primary metric for admission. As the writers describe, such a change would benefit all high schools:

Reforming and eventually eliminating screened school admissions would do more than fix a deeply inequitable process. It would also improve student and school performance. While the evidence on peer effects and tracking is mixed, research generally finds that middle- and low-performing students benefit from learning with higher-achieving students. Siphoning the highest-achieving students into selective programs limits these interactions and draws resources — high-quality teachers and honors courses, for example — away from regular schools. What is more, as some evidence has shown, racially and economically diverse classroom settings benefit all students and reflect our country’s democratic values.

Change of this magnitude seemed politically impossible six months ago… but after the pandemic many ideas that seemed impossible are now being examined as realistic alternatives to the dominant paradigm.

Will PARENTS Be Getting Their Moneys Worth in Public Schools This Fall?

May 24, 2020 Leave a comment

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I’ve read several articles of late about how students have either sued colleges and universities for the poorer quality of schooling they got in Spring or are planning to stay away from college entirely this fall because of the pandemic. The articles all described the possibility of colleges and universities closing as a consequence of the lost tuitions and how students are consequently asking themselves whether college is even worth it given the debts they incur and the lack of work for graduates.

I haven’t seen any articles yet asking similar questions about the education K-12 students received in spring or the diminished quality of the programs they are likely to be receiving in the future… but it is clear that the costs for that schooling will be shifted onto property taxes and when that occurs schools will be facing the same issue as colleges and universities… and perhaps the same existential threat.

Democrats Despair as DeVos Does Same Thing as Duncan

May 23, 2020 Leave a comment

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The massive CARES bailout put lots of money into the hands of Betsy DeVos and provided little guidance or oversight on how the money would be spent. Unsurprisingly Ms. DeVos has decided that she is going to use some of those funds to underwrite parochial schools and the response from politicians is equally unsurprising: the Democrats are upset that Ms. DeVos is using government funds to pay for religious schools and the GOP is looking the other way as the Executive branch ignores a law passed by the Legislature.

But neither party has a good reason to be upset. The GOP is getting what they asked for when they exonerated the POTUS when he unilaterally withheld funds from the Ukraine and the Democrats who supported the Obama/Duncan RTTT initiative based on Duncan’s beliefs that schools should run like a business. Both parties should realize by now that if they want to help public schools they should give money to the STATES to use explicitly for that purpose and to use Title 1 formulas to distribute it.

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Reappropriating Personalization by Defining it Precisely

May 23, 2020 Leave a comment

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Forbes columnist Peter Greene has a great suggestion for how to achieve personalized instruction: define it with precision. In the linked article above Mr. Greene explains how the term was expropriated by the tech industry who defined it based on the use of individualizing based on algorithms. Mr. Greene has a clearer and better and simple definition: you need to involve a person in order to achieve “personalized” instruction. Of course, as Mr. Greene notes in the closing paragraph, there IS a problem with using this definition:

Covid-19 or not, we’ve always known what’s required for truly personalized education. Instead, we’ve focused on how to keep costs low, how to make schooling “efficient.” Truly personalized education is costly. We should not be fooled by people who attempt to slap that label on a cheap alternative.

This Does NOT Bode Well for September Reopening

May 21, 2020 Leave a comment

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South Korea has re-closed after reopening. Not good news..,

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Stan Karp’s Rethinking Schools Post Full of Chilling Reminders of the Past, Ominous Predictions for the Future

May 21, 2020 Leave a comment

Rethinking Schools editor Stan Karp wrote a post yesterday that is full of chilling reminders from the past and ominous predictions for the future.

In case any public school advocates had forgotten, Mr. Karp offers a scathing recounting of how the Democrats responded to the economic meltdown in 2008 where the relatively scarce funds allocated for public education were used to leverage the ill-starred ideas of “reformers” who hoped to privatize public education by sustaining the test-and-punish models put in place as part of No Child Left Behind. By the time the Obama administration came to an end, public schools were funded more parsimoniously than they had been for decades and the funding mechanisms did not move in the direction of greater equity:

Even as the economy recovered in the years after 2009, the vise of austerity continued to squeeze schools. A recent report from the Shanker Institute documented a 25-year decline in the percentage of personal income that went to state and local taxes.What school finance experts call “effort” — the share of state economies devoted to supporting K–12 education — decreased sharply through 2012 and hasn’t recovered. “This was not an accident or random confluence of events,” the Shanker Institute report noted. “It was — and still is — due in no small part to policymakers’ refusal to raise sufficient revenue to fund public services, including education.”

Expanded federal aid could be used as a lever to increase the “effort” and fairness of state school funding systems. But federal and state policy decisions have instead steadily eroded the funding mechanisms that support public education and left it increasingly vulnerable to repeated crises, with disproportionate impact on high-poverty districts most dependent on state and federal aid.

As bad as things were in response to the 2008 meltdown, they promise to be even worse this time around because the Congress has turned over a massive amount of spending authority to Betsy DeVos…. and in case you think she couldn’t wreak havoc on public education, here’s a reminder of what she’s done without any money at her disposal and what she will be able to do once she has some:

The CARES Act gives her the power to waive Title I funding regulations, which govern the largest federal education program supporting children from low-income families. It also allows her to suspend Title II rules defining professional development and Title IV requirements to “provide students with a well-rounded education” including the arts, mental health services, and training on trauma-informed practices — all crucially important in the current crisis. The CARES Act specifically allows schools to shift money from these areas to purchase “digital devices.” By early April, 28 states had received waivers to reallocate ESSA spending…

DeVos has a long and notorious record of using agency guidance and regulatory action to undermine equity. One of her first acts after being confirmed as secretary was to support the repeal of protections for transgender students, including their right to choose restrooms. She was sued for rolling back protections against predatory lenders at for-profit colleges and threatened with jail by a federal judge for “intentionally flouting” a court order to stop collection proceedings for such loans. DeVos rescinded sexual assault guidance issued under Title IX, a move the National Women’s Law Center said would have a “devastating” impact, and in May released new guidance that weakened protections for victims of sexual harassment and assault. She proposed allowing schools to use federal “student enrichment funds” to purchase guns and used a school safety commission formed in the wake of the Parkland school shootings to recommend repeal of regulations on school discipline practices that were rooted in civil rights concerns. Similarly, DeVos tried to rescind Obama-era rules that required districts to track racial disparities in special education classification rates, an effort a federal judge blocked as “arbitrary and capricious.” In April, DeVos relaxed oversight and accreditation rules for higher education online programs at a time when the pandemic was massively expanding the scale of such programs.

What could go wrong?