“People and educators often deeply underestimate that it actually hurts to fail,” he explained. “The world is so much more open than any report card or any test score.”
One of the best books I read this year was Between the World and Me, which was an extended letter he wrote to his son, Samori, about what it is like to grown up black in America. As a 69-year old White American I feel that I have empathy for Blacks, but Coates’ book made me appreciate just how different the world looked to me during my formative years in an integrated college town in PA compared to his experiences in Baltimore, MD.
Earlier this week the Chalkbeat blogger Alex Zimmerman wrote a post describing Coates’ interactions with a group of roughly 30 current and aspiring Principals. In recounting his conversations with them, Mr. Zimmerman captured the same blunt honesty that characterizes Coates’ essays and his book. In expiring to the group why he sends his son to private school, Coates reflected on his personal experience in public schools.
“I guess I feel like the school system sort of failed me, he said. “School was not a physically safe place … violence was a thing you were always coping with.”
Coates lso drove home the powerful negative impact the grading system has on children, implicitly urging the gathering to focus on ways to provide intellectual stimulation to the students.
But Coates did display an understanding of the challenges teachers and administrators face, and analogized the scapegoating of teachers to the scapegoating he experienced as a black man:
But Coates noted the headwinds teachers face — the consequences of homelessness, poverty and the criminal justice system — and argued that teachers, like black people, are often easy scapegoats for larger institutional failures.
So how to resist that demonization? Coates urged educators to “push back” against the idea that it’s solely their responsibility to solve longstanding social problems, and encouraged them to team up with other activists to fight for change.
“Drawing on the history of African-Americans in this country, you really have to be willing to struggle on behalf of things that are not resolvable in your lifetime,” he said. “The fact that you’re fighting for kids who have not yet been born doesn’t make the struggle irrelevant … The problems weren’t created in one generation.”
As I am certain Mr. Coates appreciates, from a public teacher’s perspective the headwinds just got stronger with the election of Mr. Trump, with his Cabinet appointments, and with a Congress that is likely to use his election to promote their agenda that favors pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps grit over any kind of early intervention and support. I have long advocated that school districts work with local social service departments, local health departments, and local police departments to provide children attending school with the safety net they need to succeed in school. Now I think that administrators, teachers, and school boards are going to have to work in tandem with every public agency that provides services to children to push back against the direction our country is headed for each one of our services– even the police department– is likely to face the forces of deregulated privatization in the coming four years.
Amanda Ripley’s NYTimes Upshot article on the PISA results will not go over well with the “reform” crowd or the politicians who fail to face the facts on equitable funding. The PISA tests, (Programme for International Student Assessment) is an international study of 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading.conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It has been given every three years since 2003 and the results of the assessments are publicized a year later. During the intervening years, statisticians and psyshometricians analyze the results and draw conclusions about the effectiveness of various national strategies for improving schools… and the findings are not particularly helpful for the “reformers”. Here’s why: the only piece of good news in the results was an improvement in equity where: “One in every three disadvantaged American teenagers beat the odds in science, achieving results in the top quarter of students from similar backgrounds worldwide.” But Ms Ripley could not link this to anything associated with the “reform” movement. Her synopsis of the PISA analysis was:
Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.
Of all those lessons learned, the United States has employed only one at scale: A majority of states recently adopted more consistent and challenging learning goals, known as the Common Core State Standards, for reading and math. These standards were in place for only a year in many states, so Mr. Schleicher did not expect them to boost America’s PISA scores just yet. (In addition, America’s PISA sample included students living in states that have declined to adopt the new standards altogether.)
So Ms. Ripley concludes that the US has only employed one of the proven methods “at scale”… and then goes on to note that this “at scale” improvement was NOT adopted by all the States and had not been adopted in time for it to have any impact on the test results. So what DID result in the improvement of the performance by our disadvantaged students? We know it was’t more money… we know it wasn’t an effort to make teaching a more selecting and honored profession…. we know it wasn’t an upgrade of our virtually non-existent preschool program… and it wasn’t the Common Core. Is it possible that our teachers are doing a better job out of sheer pride in the craft? I believe that is the case, but that idea will never see the light of day in the NYTimes because it contradicts the “reform” narrative that teachers are the problem and more money isn’t needed.
Despite Ms. Ripley’s misplaced enthusiasm for the Common Core and failure to acknowledge the good work of teachers in our country, she does draw the right conclusion at the end of her article:
As we drift toward a world in which more good jobs will require Americans to think critically — and to repeatedly prove their abilities before and after they are hired — it is hard to imagine a more pressing national problem. “Your president-elect has promised to make America great again,” (PISA administrator) Mr. Schleicher said. But he warned, “He won’t be able to do that without fixing education.”
And the fix Mr. Trump is proposing has nothing to do with the need to make teaching more prestigious and selective; to direct more resources to their neediest children; to enroll most children in high-quality preschools; to help schools establish cultures of constant improvement; or to apply rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms. The PISA results in 2018 will likely reflect his efforts… and they are unlikely to show that we are on the right track.
As usual, Buchheit is on target… flagging a reality that public schools need to face sooner rather than later: the workplace of the future requires more human interaction… and yet we are relying on computerized standardized testing to measure student performance, teacher performance, and the effectiveness of our schooling. And his concluding paragraph is on target for what our economy needs: a guaranteed living wage for ALL workers.
The simplistic response to the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on employment is that we’ve experienced this before, during the Industrial Revolution and beyond, and that the “market” will eventually provide plenty of jobs. The reality is that tens of millions of Americans will have to accept food service and retail and personal care jobs that don’t pay a living wage.The Deniers: The Middle Class Has Nothing to Worry About
I’ve often drawn posts from the NYTimes Fixes column, edited by Tina Rosenberg. In a column Ms. Rosenberg posts today she looks back over the past year and identifies three “big ideas” that substantially changed our society for the better, all of which are based on the notion of building human capital. The “big ideas” were captured in three phrases: “Share a Little of That Human Touch”: “Use Tech to Democratize”; and, “Make the Better Choice the Easy Choice”.
In the “Human Touch” section Ms. Rosenberg describes how face-to-face contact between those in need and service providers and/or those in need and volunteers can make a huge impact on both those offering the service and those receiving it. She doesn’t say so explicitly, but the kinds of social networks she describes here fend off loneliness, which can be painful and debilitating.
The use of technology to democratize suggests that the on-line technology should make it possible for individuals of all backgrounds in our county and the world should be able to access the same kinds of services and opportunities available to the affluent earners in our country. In this section Ms. Rosenberg describes how cattle farmers in Africa can now purchase insurance, how anyone can invest in a socially responsible way, and how the internet can provide legal assistance for those who cannot afford attorneys and consequently “…lose their apartments, their children and their jobs” when they fall behind on bill payments.
In the last section on making good choices easy Ms. Rosenberg describes how the placement of trash receptacles reduces littering and how inexpensive and readily available birth control reduces abortion and unwanted pregnancies… and offers evidence to support these findings.
The article begins with a description of the Thread program in Baltimore schools that effectively combines all three of these components. Thread is a late intervention program that provides intense support for for ninth grade students in the lowest quartile of their cohort. Here’s an excerpt that describes the program:
My colleague David Bornstein reported that Thread surrounds each of its students — most of whom face serious problems at home — with an extended family of up to five volunteers (the number drops as the child ages) for 10 years. They are always on call. Their motto could be “by any means necessary.” One volunteer might show up at a child’s house to take him to school at 7 a.m., another at 10 and yet another at noon. Consistency is essential. Volunteers can’t switch among children, and once a child signs on, he or she can’t leave or be expelled.
“Relationships are the key things that bring about real changes,” said Sarah Hemminger, a founder of Thread. The program is small but scalable. Bornstein writes that one impressive and valuable thing is the social connections it creates between groups of very different people.
In an era when we are increasingly isolated from each other by generational, income, and political, philosophical, and spiritual beliefs we connecting with others who are “very different” would go a long way to building bridges instead of securing walls. We can do so face-to-face, on-line, or by taking advantage of the random meetings we CAN create by getting out in the world in venues that our towns have created for us to mingle in. It’s a bit early for resolutions, but one of mine for 2017 is to meet more people outside of my social, educational, and geographical silo.
I wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper, the Valley News, and in the email that included the letter I indicated a willingness to submit an op ed piece. The editor asked for a submission and I ended up writing three different pieces. Herewith is the one I decided to submit. I’m going to send the other two today after I proofread them one more time. The others are less wonky: one is a satirical letter to the Governors, which my wife thought some people might take seriously… and the other was a reworking of the Tax Racket post I wrote years ago. I’m not sure that any will be published but am now convinced that the very least I can do is continue blogging about the impact Mr. T
President-elect Trump ran for office as a businessman who would bring his acumen to bear on the operation of the government. As part of his plan to make government run more efficiently, Mr. Trump championed the idea of privatizing public schools and freeing the privatized schools from onerous regulations. In this way he would break up the “monopoly” of “government schools”. Given his campaign rhetoric, it is not surprising that Mr. Trump selected billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos supports vouchers and the privatization and deregulation of public schools and post-secondary institutions as well.
As one who cherishes public education and one who witnessed how they changed the lives of children from all walks of life during my 38 years as a teacher and administrator, I am deeply concerned about the damage Ms. DeVos could inflict on public schools. I am especially concerned because the education platforms of President-elect Trump and the Republican party are in alignment with Mr. DeVos’ thinking. Here are some areas where changes might occur in education policy in the coming months, changes that would help Mr. Trump, the Republican Party, and Ms. DeVos realize their goals:
- “Portablity” of K-12 federal funds: With Congress now under Republican control and Mr. Trump seeking funds to keep his promise of providing $20,000,000,000 “of existing federal dollars” to fund a new voucher program to give parents choice, there is speculation that Congress might re-open the debate on the use of federal funds. The Republican party, Mr. Trump, and Ms. DeVos would like to see federal money for low income and handicapped children “follow the child” to “whatever school” works best for them. In their minds those schools include religious and private schools that are not required to follow the same regulations as “government schools”. If that issue is re-opened, Ms. DeVos might have an opportunity to craft regulations that mirror the language in the Republican platform, which seeks a voucher-like program that could direct funds to schools that are not governed by school boards.
- “Flexibility” in the use of federal funds: The original intent of federal legislation in the 1960s was to supplement the funding of districts serving needy children. To ensure that the federal funds were spent in accordance with that intent, federal regulations govern the use of those funds. Many school boards, administrators, and state and federal politicians find these regulations as cumbersome and controlling. In the name of “flexibility”, Congress could empower States to use these funds any way they wished. Doing so, however, could have a dis-equalizing impact since there is no assurance States would use the funds to help schools serving children raised in poverty.
- Expansion of de-regulated for-profit post-secondary education: Given the President-elect’s experience in operating a for-profit post secondary university (sic), the Republican party’s advocacy for “new systems of learning to compete with traditional four-year schools”, and their platform calling for college accreditation to be “de-coupled from federal financing”, Ms. DeVos is likely to write regulations that facilitate the expansion of for-profit post-secondary schools. Those schools might include institutions like Mr. Trump’s University as well as on-line institutions that could take the place of traditional four-year colleges.
- A shift in the Department’s stance on social, civil rights issues: Over the past several years the United States Department of Education issued directives on issues like the disciplining of handicapped children, bullying, transgender rights, and athletic equity. Many of those directives are contrary to positions taken by Mr. Trump, Ms. DeVos, and the Republican Party. Some of the directives in place may be replaced or rescinded and others will be amended to reflect the philosophy of Ms. DeVos. Also, it is likely the Office of Civil rights will make different choices about the cases they pursue and will be likely to reach different conclusions when they do investigate a case.
These policy shifts will change public education in subtle and, in some cases, imperceptible ways. But as Mother Jones writer Dave Gilson notes in an article on Donald Trump’s views about public education, a subtle change in terminology can change public’s perception of schools over time: “In a 2002 speech at the Heritage Foundation, Dick DeVos (the husband of Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos) advocated a shift in how conservatives talk about America’s schools. “‘Public schools’ is such a misnomer today that I really hate to use it,” he said. “I’ve begun to use the word ‘government schools’ or ‘government-run schools’ to describe what we used to call public schools because it’s a better descriptor of what they are.” At the time, you might have been hard pressed to find a prominent Republican politician willing to use such a loaded term. Fourteen years later, the president-elect is talking about our “failing government schools.”
As Ms. DeVos takes over as Secretary of Education, I expect to hear frequent laments about “failing government schools”. I also expect to hear more about “giving parents and students more choices”, about States “needing more flexibility”, about the need to eliminate “regulations that strangle innovation”, and about the need for competition in public education the same way we have competition in the marketplace.
I sincerely hope I am wrong, but I do not expect to hear praise for the hard work of public school teachers, or praise for the long hours elected school boards commit to operating those “government” schools, or hear about the struggles many children face outside of the school and the efforts schools make to help children face those struggles. And I certainly don’t expect to hear that “fixing” the “failing schools” is a complicated problem that will require a coordinated effort by the community at large. And finally, I don’t expect to hear that more money is needed to Make American Schools Great Again.
I read an article in yesterday’s NYTimes with a mix of astonishment and revulsion. The article, by Didi Kirsten Tatlow, describes a music program in China where students are enrolled in band programs and assigned musical instruments in the band based solely on their physical attributes. Titled “In China, Eugenics Determines Who Gets in School Band”, Ms. Tatlow’s article describes the method “Teacher Wang” uses to identify prospective musicians. Here is an excerpt from the article that describes his meeting with the parents of the future band members:
Mr. Wang, whom parents addressed only as “Teacher,” (a sign of respect common here) stood before a giant white screen on which he projected a power point full of instrument images. “I’ve chosen your kids, one by one, out of a thousand kids.” Mr. Wang was referring to band C, the third in the school which trained the youngest students, some of whom would eventually rise through the ranks to band B and on to A, at which point they would perform at overseas gigs.
“I’ve looked at their teeth, at their arms, their height, everything, very carefully,” Teacher Wang said. “We don’t want anyone with asthma, or heart problems, or eye problems. And we want the smart kids; the quick learners.”
“Your kids were chosen not because they want to play this or that instrument, but because they have long arms, or the right lips, or are the right height, say for the trumpet, or the drums,” he said.
This sounded appalling to Ms. Tatlow, but ultimately she accepted the program in large measure because her daughter wanted to be a part of it and evidently possessed the physical and intellectual qualities Teacher Wang was seeking.
In some respects US schools in the 50s and 60s were no different: students were sorted into homogeneous batches based on their intellect and upbringing— and until 1954 they were also sorted based on race, a vestigial method of sorting that remains in place today on a de facto basis. As an elementary student I was among the group in my PA elementary group that were “smart kids”. I was in the highest reading group and did well in math without much effort. When my father was transferred to Oklahoma I was identified as “gifted and talented”, largely because 4th grade in that state was comparable to 3rd grade in PA. When he got transferred back to PA, though, I was in for a rude awakening. I was no longer deemed to be a “smart kid”. Rather, I was a “kid from Oklahoma” and was consequently placed in a mid-level section of students. I excelled in my classwork, but when the team of teachers met with my parents to discuss my placement in one of the higher groups they were told there was no room in those classes. And so for the next five years I remained in the “second tier”.
Schools today avoid that kind of rigid homogeneous grouping within the school… but they achieve homogeneity in a different fashion. Schools in affluent communities effectively screen out the “middling” students because their parents cannot afford housing in those towns. Charter schools in cities can screen out children of indifferent or working parents because their enrollment procedures require a level of engagement that is virtually impossible in a single parent household or in a household where both parents work. So the schools in less affluent areas and the non-charter schools in the city tend to have students whose parents are less engaged. And here’s where our sorting arrangement and that of the Chinese music teachers are similar: a child born into a US family where the parents are unwilling or unable to engage in their schooling has no more chance at success than a child born in China who lacks the physical and intellectual qualities sought by Teacher Wang. The result in both cases is a tremendous waste of talent.
Today’s NYTimes editorial indicates what low income Americans are likely to face in the future: “Tom Price: A Radical Choice for Health Secretary”… and it isn’t a pretty picture:
Mr. Price, a Republican from Georgia, is a fierce opponent of the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health reform law, and beyond that, supports plans to slash Medicareand Medicaid, which cover tens of millions of elderly, disabled and low-income Americans. He is against a woman’s right to choose and has backed legislation to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding.
…The detailed legislation he introduced most recently in 2015 would destroy the reform law and is a good indication of his philosophy in managing the nation’s largest health programs: cut benefits and leave millions with no health care at all.
His bill would, among other things, roll back the federally financed expansion of Medicaid in 31 states and the District of Columbia, taking coverage away from 14 million poor people. It would severely cut federal subsidies that help individuals and families buy policies on government-run health exchanges. The reduced subsidies would make it hard, if not impossible, for millions to afford the coverage they have gotten since the Affordable Care Act went into effect. And the bill would no longer require insurers to cover addiction treatment, birth control, maternity care, prescription drugs and other essential medical services.
Beyond his commitment to tearing apart the health care law, Mr. Price, who leads the House Budget Committee, published a budget proposallast year that would convert Medicaid into a block grant to state governments. This would reduce federal spending on the program by 34 percent by 2025, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Such a cut would inevitably cause states to offer fewer benefits and reduce the number of people covered, far beyond the 14 million who would lose their coverage if Medicaid expansion is rolled back.
So… keeping score for those who missed earlier blog posts we now have three appointees to Cabinet positions whose actions will punish those who earn least and reward those who earn the most. I always believed America was Great because she looked after those in need and lent a helping hand to anyone who was trying to work their way up. Now we have a President-elect who is making appointments that seem to do the opposite.
- Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Advice to Principals: Push Back Against the Headwinds!
- PISA results are in… And Neither the “Reformers” or Politicians Will Like Researchers’ Conclusions
- What the Robots Are Doing to the Middle Class
- Building Social Networks Key to Improving Lifestyles, Life… and Schools
- Betsy’s Benefactors: Millions for Charters and Christian Causes
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