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The Conservative-Libertarian Federalist’s Analysis is ALMOST Correct… Offers Some Possible Avenues to Undo “Reform”

February 22, 2018 Leave a comment

The Google feed that provides me with articles on public education from the entire political spectrum offered up an op ed piece by Federalist writer Stella Morabito with the click-bait title “13 Ways Public Schools Incubate Mental Instability in Kids“. After reading the article, I came away convinced that libertarian-conservatives and progressives share many of the same perspectives about the ways public schools function in an adverse way for many students… but clearly do not share a common perspective on how to address the defects.

As I read through the list of thirteen ways public schools create a negative environment for most children, I found myself nodding in assent in most cases, particularly in large urban schools where test-driven “reform” has taken root:

  • The size and model of mass schooling IS alienating
  • Public schools are abnormal settings that feel like prisons
  • Public schools are breeding grounds for hierarchical cliques
  • Giant public schools are breeding grounds for aggression
  • Public schools are increasingly politicized
  • Schools are becoming more repressive
  • Public Schooling stunts personality development
  • Kids with special needs are especially judged as different

In most cases I could have written (and maybe HAVE written) similar observations, albeit coming from a completely different perspective. The school-to-prison pipeline, which is not referenced at all in Ms. Morabito’s article, is the result of schools becoming more repressive. The next four “ways schools incubate mental instability” are arguably accurate, but for completely different reasons than Ms. Morabito offers:

  • School bureaucracy tends to reinforce social pecking orderThe social pecking order is reinforced more by the way school attendance zones are established than by “the school bureaucracy”. Moreover, the “school bureaucracy” doesn’t SET “the social pecking order”, it mirrors “the social pecking order” that parents want to see in place. 
  • Reduced content knowledge promotes conformity: Ms. Morabito attributes the “reduced content” to “identity politics, fads, and political activism” instead of the true culprit, which is the slavish adherence to standardized tests as the means for measuring whether schools are “successful”. This has narrowed the curriculum so that the topics Ms. Morabito values— like “history, geography, and classics”– are pushed out. 
  • Public schools disregard students’ family and non-school lives: This is true but NOT for the reasons Ms. Morabito contends. While she sees that “Parents and families are increasingly treated as nuisances to the collectivist agenda of training children to conform to politically correct attitudes and emotions”, I see the problem as schools disregarding the needs of single-parent families and/or families where both parents work. And where Ms. Morabito laments the hours children spend in school, I would focus on the hours many children spend before schooling begins sitting in front of screens.  

 

Then there are two completely groundless assertions:

  • Public schooling is increasingly hostile to Christianity: Ms. Morabito writes: “Growing and intense aggression against any form of Christian prayer in the schools has a further alienating effect. It teaches any child who is emotionally hurting that he can’t even seek solace in a private and silent conversation with God without knowing he’d be ridiculed if his peers knew. The hostility towards religion also leads us on a path to utter lawlessness, since the rule of law evaporates when left to the devices of elites.”  While Ms. Morabito professes to desire that we do a better job of instructing children about the Constitution, she chooses to ignore that part of the Constitution that provides freedom from religion in government… the basis for precluding prayer in school. While many teachers, administrators, and “bureaucrats” may wish to allow prayer in school, those who work for the government are required to follow the laws of the land as interpreted by the courts. 
  • Enforced conformity promotes peer victimization: This somewhat confusing statement makes the point that the anti-bullying initiatives in schools are falling short of the mark, which may be the case in some school districts. But Ms. Morabito’s analysis of anti-bullying is off the mark. She groundlessly asserts that “…A bully is free to target with the taunt “bigot” any child who comes from a traditional Christian home, and the curricula will back them up”, but fails to suggest that additional counseling and direct instruction on the teaching of tolerance might be helpful in addressing the bullying behavior that is arguably a part of human nature that needs to be controlled if we want to live under a rule of law as opposed to a rule of vigilantism. 

As I read about the libertarian thinking on education, I am struck by how often I find myself agreeing with some of their principles, many of which are grounded in common sense and research. But too often their anti-establishmentarian ideas ascribe intent and power to bureaucracies that do not exist. Ms. Morabito’s belief that the “school bureaucracy” sets the pecking order in schools is a case in point. For better or worse, there is no monolithic “school bureaucracy” that exists in our country. Our public education system is radically decentralized and immune to edicts from the Supreme Court. If that were not the case we would have fully integrated and equitably funded public schools and adhering to a “Common Core” curriculum that would would have been in place for decades. Instead our schools operate democratically under the control of local boards elected at the levels established by each state. It’s a cumbersome system that is exceedingly difficult to change… but it better than any alternative… especially an alternative that is based on religion.

 

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Blogger Peter Greene Notes that Neo-liberals and Friedman-ites are Kindred Spirits

February 13, 2018 Leave a comment

In many previous blog posts I’ve lamented the fact that neither Presidential candidate in 2016 offered much in the way of hope for change in public education policy… and when I read Peter Greene, who’s blog Curmudgucation, post yesterday about the Center for American Progress’s (CAP’s) latest white paper celebrating the fact that under ESSA many states are continuing the “reform” initiatives I was even more convinced that was the case. CAP is often help up as a counter to the right wing think tanks funded by the likes of the Koch brothers. But, as Mr. Greene points out, there isn’t much difference between what the neo-liberal “reformers” beloved of CAP want to do to public schools and what the pro-voucher Friedman-ites want to do.

Mr. Greene described the CAP’s leadership under John Podesta as “…a holding tank for Clinton politicians and bureaucrats who were biding their time, cooking up policy advocacy, while waiting for Hillary to take her rightful place in DC”, citing the unyielding support for the Common Core, for state intervention when a district “fails” based on successive standardized tests, and/or the imposition of “alternative governance structures” if the struggles seem to emanate from Board mismanagement. Mr. Greene has particular scorn for the SIG grants that were embraced by the Obama administration, grants that imposed solutions from the top down and prescribed how funds would be used in schools:

We have the results of the School Improvement Grants used by the Obama administration to “fix” schools, and the results were that SIG didn’t accomplish anything (other than, I suppose, keeping a bunch of consultants well-paid). SIG also did damage because it allowed the current administration and their ilk to say, “See? Throwing money at schools doesn’t help.” But the real lesson of SIG, which came with very specific Fix Your School instructions attached, was that when the state or federal government try to tell a local school district exactly how things should be fixed, instead of listening to the people who live and work there, nothing gets better. That same fundamental flaw is part of the DNA of the takeover/turnaround approach.

The “takeover/turnaround” model— like the voucher model— implies that educators and elected community members are incapable of solving the “problems” in a school, “problems” that are defined by stagnant scores on standardized tests that often vary over time. This just in, CAP: the problems children bring with them school have an impact on their schools and need to be addressed in tandem with the academic program.

 

National Review Assessment of DC School District’s Flaws is On the Mark. It’s Solutions? Not so Much

February 12, 2018 Leave a comment

I keep going against hope that some day the conservative thinkers will come to the conclusion that public schools will only be successful when we stop pretending that their problems can be solved by “more accountability” and “more competition”. As I read the first 90% of the National Review’s op ed piece by Max Eden and Lindsey Burke, “Fraud and Failure in DC Public Schools“, I thought that was going to be their conclusion… but instead they parroted the canard that “parental choice” is the only way forward.

The opening paragraphs could have been written by Diane Ravitch or any one of the bloggers she quotes from. It describes how the use of metrics like graduation rates, test scores, and suspensions are manipulated by enterprising administrators in an effort to “prove” their schools are improving. And this paragraph captures the flaws of the current “accountability” systems that are based on easily manipulated metrics:

None of this should be surprising. DCPS’s “accountability” system essentially requires principals to post impossible statistical improvements. You can’t make student behavior better through a dictate banning traditional school discipline. You can’t change life trajectories by ordering teachers to graduate students who fail their classes. Do things the old fashioned way — by offering teachers support, encouraging students and giving them structure, and making incremental improvements to curriculum and instruction — and you likely won’t achieve the so-called “transformational” change you’d need to be deemed a successful principal.

Right on! Do things the “old school” way by “offering teachers support” and “giving students structure”! If this appeared in Diane Ravitch’s column it would inevitably conclude with a paragraph calling for more equitable allocation of resources and especially more support for the children raised in poverty. But this was the National Review and so instead of trusting the government to level the playing field and improve schools, we should “trust the parents” by giving them choice.

Yet to skeptics, school choice is problematic because there’s not enough “accountability.” If the “accountability” they seek is metric-chasing mandates, then its absence in school-choice programs is a virtue, not a fault. But to most parents, “accountability” means having a school that’s responsive to their child’s needs. The way to make that happen is to give parents choices, which will encourage schools to pursue safety and academic quality with integrity. True accountability won’t come from forcing school leaders to squeeze schools into producing statistical improvements. True accountability will come only when parents and the community, rather than clueless bureaucrats, are the ones putting pressure on schools.

My hunch is that the National Review writers never worked in or attended a school where parents and the community are not putting ANY pressure on the schools… except for them to keep taxes low and children off the streets. The communities and neighborhoods where this attitude is prevalent are the ones whose schools require some kind of pressure to improve… albeit a slow relentless pressure as opposed to the quick fixes beloved of “reformers”.

I am not naive enough think that the National Review will ever commit to “throwing more money at schools”… but I DO keep hoping they’ll at least see the commonsense value of providing more support to working parents— especially single parents— who are working as hard as they can to make ends meet. When the Betsy DeVos’ of this world talk about parents making an informed choice, they tend to base that recommendation on their experience as children and parents and they tend to believe that everyone else has the same wherewithal as they do when it comes to having enough time to make an informed choice. If that day ever comes, choice might make sense. But without the time and economic resources to make an informed choice, the whole pretext of “choice” is bogus.

 

This Just In: Parents Education Has Impact on Child’s Success in School… Confirming a Findings from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s

February 9, 2018 Leave a comment

When I began my career in the Philadelphia area in the 1970s , the State of Pennsylvania developed a state wide assessment called the Education Quality Assessment that was administered to students across the state. It provided administrators, journalists, and graduate school researchers with a trove of data on correlations between test scores and demographic factors and here was the finding: a child’s success in school correlated highest with the mother’s education and the father’s occupational prestige. Then, as now, occupational prestige and education attainment were correlated, though the correlation is in all likelihood higher today than it was at that time when many men could be factory foremen or even superintendents of factories without a college degree. The conclusion that journalists seem to draw was this: if you teach in an affluent district you are a much better teacher than if you teach in an urban district or an economically distressed rural district.

Now, 40+ years later we have rediscovered this same reality in a slightly different form: Education Week blogger Catherine Gewertz reviewed a recent report from NCES and headlined her findings thus: “First Generation College Students Face Challenges in High School Too“. She summarized the findings as follows:

The report draws on the experiences of more than 45,000 students in three ongoing longitudinal studies. Among those who graduated from high school in 2003-04, only 27 percent of first-generation students took high-level math courses such as trigonometry/statistics/precalculus, compared to 43 percent of their peers with college-educated parents. Only 7 percent took calculus, while 22 percent of the students with college-going backgrounds took calculus.

Forty-four percent of the students with college-educated parents earned college credit through Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses, compared to 18 percent of first-generation students.

First-generation students were less likely to choose an “academically focused curriculum,” too, which NCES defines as four years of English, two credits of the same foreign language, three years of math including a course higher than Algebra 2, three years of science including one class higher than general biology, three years of social studies including U.S. or world history.

Students without college-going parents were less likely to finish high school in a given period of time, too. The study shows that 92 percent of first-generation students who were sophomores in 2002 had finished high school 10 years later—by earning a diploma or equivalency credential—compared to 97 percent of peers whose parents had some college experience and 98 percent of those whose parents had bachelor’s degrees.

As one who grew up in a household where both parents had college degrees, headed a similar household, but worked mostly with students whose parents had no college degree as a teacher and administrator, I can attest to the different mindset that college educated parents bring to bear on their children. First and foremost, as a child and parent, there was never a question regarding college attendance other than which college one would attend. As a HS administrators serving parents who mostly lacked college degrees, I witnessed indifference toward seeking entry into college or, in some cases, downright opposition to seeking a degree…. particularly in instances where the student in question was female and aspired to something other than teaching or nursing.

When students lack the push at home to achieve in school, don’t hear the mantra “if you don’t apply yourself you won’t be able to get into college”, or aren’t encouraged to challenge themselves with the courses they take, they will too often take the course of least resistance, which is to avoid tough courses and take only the minimum credits required.

The reality is this: the children of parents who support their academics and understand what is needed to get into college still outshine the children of parents who are indifferent toward academics or are hostile toward schooling altogether. While this might be discouraging news, there is another reality I witnessed in my six years as a high school administrator in the late 1970s: one teacher can really make a difference! If a teacher connects with a child and sees a talent or a spark in that child they can motivate the student to enroll in more difficult courses and to aspire to an education that exceeds that of their parents even if the parents are resistant. In an era where parents can point to many people they know who went to college and never “made it”, making that connection is what is needed… but making those kinds of connections cannot be readily measured on a standardized test like the Education Quality Assessment and so it is undervalued.

Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker Article on Prodigies Offers Key Distinction that Public Schools Miss

February 6, 2018 Leave a comment

I just finished reading Adam Gopnik’s January 29 New Yorker article titled “How to Raise a Prodigy” on line and “The Parenting Paradox” in print. It is well worth a read for anyone who wants an insight into parenting, the underlying forces in public education, and the underlying forces of our consumer-driven economy. Mr. Gopnik’s  article is in the book review section of the magazine because it focuses on three recent books on the general subject of raising children who are prodigies of one kind or another: Sara Zaske’s “Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children” (Picador); “Off the Charts: The Hidden Lives and Lessons of American Child Prodigies” (Knopf) by Ann Hulbert; and “Norwich: One Tiny Vermont Town’s Secret to Happiness and Excellence” (Simon & Schuster) by Karen Crouse***.

Mr. Gopnik’s essay provides a brief overview of each book and is interwoven with his own observations about child rearing and our parents’ and public schools’ efforts to identify and nurture prodigies of one form or another. His meta-observation is offered at the end of his critique of Ms. Zaske’s book that idealizes the German method of raising children:

And here we arrive at the real ghost that haunts these books, the one that sends us to Paris or Berlin for help: the sense that American parents have gone radically wrong, making themselves and their kids miserable in the process, by hovering over them like helicopters instead of observing them from a watchtower, at a safe distance.

Having worked with parents of the best and brightest and observed the interactions of parents on playgrounds in Brooklyn where my daughters both live, I can attest to the accuracy of the “helicopter” metaphor. Mr. Gopnik offers the “cooperative spirit” that Ms. Crouse witnessed in Norwich, Vermont, as the antidote to helicopter parenting:

What we don’t get to see, in Crouse’s account, is the little town nearby, where, as must be the case, everyone coöperates and yet no one is a champion. (And there must also be, in Norwich, at least one Holden Caulfield type who thinks the whole Norwich thing is phony.) Looking at Norwich, we’re told that the non-competitive, non-pressuring approach is best because it gets us to the medal stand, or close. But what if it didn’t? If Norwich values matter, it’s because they’re good, not because they’re shortcuts to victory. The point of a non-competitive attitude can’t be that it makes us better able to compete; the value of an unpressured approach can’t be that it creates a more effective kind of pressure. In any case, one has the sense that what Crouse has found is not a “secret” but a well-known effect: unusual excellence emerges within tightly structured local traditions, whether they are in fifteenth-century Florence, in painting, or in San Pedro de Macorís, the “cradle of shortstops.” One good painter with an apprentice produces a Renaissance, just as one good coach with willing kids supplies the major leagues.

As noted below, I am familiar with Norwich and its surrounding communities and Mr. Gopnik’s assessment that there is “..a little town nearby where everyone cooperates and yet no one is a champion” could describe any number of nearby communities in Vermont… and the values Ms. Crouse ascribes to Norwich are good in and of themselves. Too, Mr. Gopnik’s insight that “unusual excellence emerges within tightly structured local traditions” captures the notion that who children associate with outside of school is more important than what they learn in school and underscores the importance of the values of the community where a child is raised.

Mr. Gopnik’s best insights come near the conclusion of his article where he describes the importance of mastery as opposed to achievement and the futility of trying to be a perfect parent:

What typically emerges from looking at kids, gifted and ordinary, is that, from the kids’ point of view, accomplishment, that is, the private sense of mastery, the hard thing suddenly made easy, counts for far more in their inner lives than does the achievement—the competition won, the reward secured. The mystery of mastery, felt in the child’s mind or muscles, is more compelling than the concreteness of achievement, the trophy pressed in her hands. What sustains us in any competition are the moments of interiority when the competition vanishes; what sustains us in any struggle are the moments when we forget the struggle…

Accomplishment, the feeling of absorption in the flow, of mastery for its own sake, of knowing how to do this thing, is what keeps all of us doing what we do, if we like what we do at all. The prizes are inevitably disappointing, even when we get them (as the life of Bob Dylan, prize-getter and grump extraordinaire, suggests).

What really helicopters over these books is what one might call the Causal Catastrophe: the belief that the proof of the rightness or wrongness of some way of bringing up children is in the kinds of adults it produces. This appears, on the surface, so uncontroversial a position—what other standard would you use?—that to question it seems a little crazy. But, after all, chains of human causality are, if not infinite, very long; in every life, some bad consequence of your upbringing will eventually emerge. We disapprove of parental hovering not because it won’t pay off later—it might; it does!—but because it’s obnoxious now. Strenuously competitive parents may indeed produce high-achieving grownups, but it’s in the nature of things that high-achieving adults are likely to become frustrated and embittered old people, once the rug is pulled out from under their occupation. If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then all chains are infinitely weak, since everybody ends up broken.

Mr. Gopnik’s advice should be heeded by parents and public educators. If Mr. Gopnik’s assessment that a “private sense of mastery” is more important than “the competition won, the reward secured“— then parents and schools should strive to gain an understanding of each child’s gifts and talents and cultivate them instead of forcing a child to compare his or her talents in academics to other children that are his or her same age. Moreover, parents and schools should strive to help each child develop the self-awareness that is implicit in cultivating a private sense of mastery. The best writers and artists do not live to get favorable reviews: they live to develop an essay or story that captures their ideas in print, to develop a piece of artwork or music score that captures a spirit they possess, or to transfer something internal into something to share with the world at large. I think in the end, prodigious athletes, musicians, writers, and individuals in the world of work do not compare themselves to any external standard: they possess an internal standard of excellence that drives them to do the best they can and an attitude that so long as they are doing the best they can they are indifferent to winning a competition or securing a reward. If schools want to develop happy and healthy prodigies— or happy and healthy citizens, they need to stop focussing on competition and rewards and begin helping students develop their private sense of mastery.

 

***In the spirit of full disclosure, I served as Superintendent of Schools in Norwich for seven years, so I have some understanding of the dynamics in that community which, in Mr. Gopnik’s words, “…continually sends athletes to the Olympics and other competitions in numbers ridiculously disproportionate to its size.” It is not quite as perfect as Ms. Crouse describes, but it IS a wonderful place to raise children… and Mr. Gopnik is correct in assuming that there is “at least one Holden Caulfield type” in that town.

 

WAKE UP! Koch Brothers Set Sights on “Government Schools”

January 31, 2018 1 comment

One of Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday was headlined “BREAKING NEWS: Koch Brothers Declare War on Public Education“. The article had the extensive series of quotes taken from a Washington Post article by James Hohman that are outlined below. My reactions to the various points in the article are highlighted in bold red italics.

“Making a long-term play, the billionaire industrialist Charles Koch and his like-minded friends on the right are increasingly focused on melding the minds of the next generation by making massive, targeted investments in both K-12 and higher education.

“Changing the education system as we know it was a central focus of a three-day donor seminar that wrapped up late last night at a resort here in the desert outside Palm Springs.

We’ve made more progress in the last five years than I had in the last 50,” Koch told donors during a cocktail reception. “The capabilities we have now can take us to a whole new level. … We want to increase the effectiveness of the network … by an order of magnitude. If we do that, we can change the trajectory of the country.”  I fear that the data will back up the Koch brothers on this. While most Americans do not like the idea of vouchers in general, they seem willing to swallow the incremental laws that lead down the road to vouchers, like laws creating Education Savings Accounts, without any pushback. 

“Leaders of the network dreamed of disrupting the status quo, customizing learning and breaking the teacher unions. One initial priority is expanding educational saving accounts and developing technologies that would let parents pick and choose private classes or tutors for their kids the same way people shop on Amazon. They envision making it easy for families to join together to start their own “micro-schools” as a new alternative to the public system. As I wrote in 2002 for an article in Education Week, hybrid home-schools in California looked like the wave of the future. Public schools could still get in front of this and control these “micro-schools” by focussing on the need for uniformity in graduation standards and assurances that all “micro-schools” are convened in safe spaces overseen by qualified teachers. If public schools do not find a way to work with homeschoolers who are not motivated by religion “chains” will capture this potentially emerging market. 

“The Charles Koch Institute distributed roughly $100 million to 350 colleges and universities last year, up sevenfold over the past five years. What’s newer is the emphasis on elementary and secondary education. The network declined to offer exact figures but said it will double investment in K-12 this year, with much more planned down the road. This “investment” in all probability takes the form of political donations to state legislators, campaign contributions to referenda and/or political candidates who hold anti-government libertarian views, and possibly dark money behind charter schools. One thing IS certain: the public will never be able to trace most of the “investment”. 

“There are about 700 people who each contribute a minimum of $100,000 per year to the constellation of organizations that comprise the Koch network. For years, many of these megadonors have urged Koch to wade into the battles over what they call school choice. Charles resisted, believing that his network had no special comparative advantage to move the needle in this area. WHAT??!!! 700 x $100,000 = $70 million dollars. That’s more than twice the $32 million the AFT and NEA gave to campaigns in 2016! 

“Then he commissioned Meredith Olson, a vice president at Koch Industries, to interview members of his network about what they are doing in their home states to explore whether there is a way to scale their education efforts nationally. She developed a three-prong strategy: “reform, supplement, innovate.”

“The lowest hanging fruit for policy change in the United States today is K-12,” said Stacy Hock, a major Koch donor who has co-founded a group called Texans for Educational Opportunity. “I think this is the area that is most glaringly obvious.” Low hanging fruit” because, in most cases, the general public ignores local school board races and state legislature races.. and that’s where policy changes occur in K-12. The most disturbing trend in the past few years is the increased spending in local school board races. It began with races in large urban districts but is now trickling down to smaller districts. If Koch’s band of donors decides to focus their attention on public schools, there is no telling how quickly they can control the direction of public schools.  

“In 2018, Koch donors see Arizona as ground zero in their push. Doug Ducey, the former chief executive of Cold Stone Creamery, became a member of the Koch network in 2011. Since 2015, he’s attended the seminars as governor of Arizona. Last year, he signed legislation to dramatically expand the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program so that students can use taxpayer dollars that would be spent on them in public schools to cover private-school tuition or other educational expenses.

“Teacher unions, worried that this will undermine the public system, collected enough signatures to put the law on hold and create a ballot proposition to let voters decide in November whether to expand vouchers. [Note: Signatures for the referendum were collected by parents and SOS Arizona, not teachers unions.] The fact that Diane Ravitch needed to add this note is indicative of the tendency for reporters to take the information from groups like the Koch brothers at face value and to cast the battle lines as “union vs. the public” instead of “the public vs. the plutocracy”. As noted above, the donations from 700 billionaires far exceeded the donations from 4.6 million members of the AFT and NEA. Every time the “union vs. the public” narrative is repeated, the public comes away with the impression that “the union” is a monolithic power with lots of money and the “the public” is a scattered group of penurious home owners. 

“Addressing the seminar yesterday, Ducey touted the measure as further reaching than anything that’s been tried in other states. He warned that, under Arizona law, if advocates lose at the ballot box, they will not be able to legislate on the topic in the future. “This is a very real fight in my state,” Ducey said. “I didn’t run for governor to play small ball. I think this is an important idea.”

“The Koch network is likely to spend heavily to support the voucher law, setting up a battle royal with the labor movement. And the Koch’s are certain to cast “the union” as Goliath and the parents seeking alternatives in the form of “choice” as David. The battle is between plutocrats and democracy. 

“Ducey introduced Steve Perry, the headmaster of Capital Prep Charter Schools, who has been traveling Arizona to speak in support of the law. “The teacher unions are unencumbered by the truth,” he told the Koch donors. “It is a distant relative that is never invited to dinner.”

“Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, highlighted field operations that the network has built in 36 states to advance its agenda, including on education. “We have more grass-roots members in Wisconsin than the Wisconsin teachers’ union has members,” he said. “That’s how you change a state!”” My hunch is that the “grass-roots members” are folks who signed up to receive emails from the Koch brothers propaganda machine, a machine that casts “government schools” who “kowtow to unions” as the villain and the marketplace as the magical means of offering freedom. The “government school” brand has stuck with voters who watch Fox News and listen to Betsy DeVos and those “reformers” in BOTH political parties who value “school choice”. If “the unions” and those of us who treasure public education are to win, we need to emphasize that in a democracy the voters are the government… and the marketplace doesn’t care a whit about the voters— they only care about shareholders. 

 

This Just In: Common Core Benchmarks Unattainable in ANY Country in the World

January 18, 2018 Leave a comment

The National Superintendents Roundtable and Horace Mann League released a report yesterday that included several findings that contradict the “failing schools” narrative set forth decades ago by the Reagan administration and built upon by every administration thereafter. The primary take away from the report is this:

Globally, in just about every nation where it is possible to compare student performance with our national benchmarks, the vast majority of students cannot demonstrate their competence because the bars are set unreasonably high.

And as the report notes at the outset, this inability for students to demonstrate competence is intentional:

One motivation for establishing the NAEP benchmarks was the desire to demonstrate that “large numbers of students were failing,” according to a former New York Times national education correspondent.

A rushed process for developing the benchmarks was adopted by the policy body governing NAEP – despite experts’ objections – in part because a prominent member of the policy body acknowledged he was “fed up with technical experts.”

It isn’t difficult to adjust cut scores on tests to “prove” students are improving OR failing… and it isn’t difficult for “think tanks” to generate “benchmarks” that have some official seal of approval that is untethered to the realities of child development or the realities of teaching students from challenging backgrounds. And, unfortunately, it isn’t difficult to persuade the public that their public schools are “failing” as a result of attaining low scores on tests with impossibly high standards while implying that other nations are doing far better.

And here’s the saddest news of all: the “reformers” who want to undercut support for the institution of public schools are succeeding. According to a recent survey conducted by NPR, only 43% of the public has confidence in public schools. But educators should be heartened to know that the public has far more confidence in them than they have in Congress (8%), or either political party (29% for the GOP and 36% for the Democrats). Somewhere Ronald Reagan and his acolytes are happy, though. The voters all agree with his assertion that Government is the Problem. Our founding fathers, though, weep. Democracy counts on an electorate that supports public institutions… and the NPR survey shows that the only institution that has broad public support is… the military.