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You Cannot Champion Open Inquiry and “Unreason” With a Curriculum Designed to Boost Standardized Test Scores

January 16, 2021 Leave a comment

David Brooks’ NYTimes column yesterday describes the pushback evangelical pastors are getting for taking the position that the President’s role in inciting last Wednesday’s invasion of the Capitol warrants his removal from office and that those who participated in the invasion were wrong to do so. This quote from the sixth chapter of Galatians has been paraphrased throughout the week:

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

Too many evangelicals placed their faith in a man who was clearly “of the flesh”. The corruption he brought to the government was evident to all those who were not blinded to his actions, blinded mainly because he kept one politically calculated promise: he would delivery jurists who were anti-abortion. In so doing, he retained the unequivocal support of many evangelicals despite his avarice, his misogyny, and his disparaging treatment of any who opposed him.

Now that this man of the flesh has advocated the overthrow of the government some evangelical leaders are supporting his impeachment and appalled at the conduct of the band of invaders who overran the Capitol and disrupted the proceedings of Congress. Some have gone so far as to declare his opponent the victor and asserted that they favor the rule of law over the rule of one individual. David Brooks captures the pushback from evangelicals and conservatives in this section of his essay:

The most popular piece on the Christianity Today website is headlined,We Worship With the Magi, Not MAGA.” In the world of secular conservatism, The Wall Street Journal editorial page called on Trump to resign. Addressing Trump supporters, the conservative talk show host Erick Erickson wrote, “Everything — from the storming of the Capitol to people getting killed to social networks banning you to corporations not giving you money — everything is a logical consequence of you people lying relentlessly for two months and taking advantage of American patriots.

One core feature of Trumpism is that it forces you to betray every other commitment you might have: to the truth, moral character, the Sermon on the Mount, conservative principles, the Constitution. In defeat, some people are finally not willing to sacrifice all else on Trump’s altar.

After describing the threatening and profanity laced phone calls these “deserters” are receiving from the true believers of Donald Trump, Brooks concludes his op ed with this:

Others have to be reminded of the basic rules for perceiving reality. They have to be reminded that all truth is God’s truth; that inquiry strengthens faith, that it is narcissistic self-idolatry to think you can create your own truth based on what you “feel.” There will probably have to be pastors and local leaders who model and admire evidence-based reasoning, wrestling with ideas.

On the left, leaders and organizations have arisen to champion open inquiry, to stand up to the cancel mobs. They have begun to shift the norms.

The problem on the right is vastly worse. But we have seen that unreason is a voracious beast. If it is not confronted, it devours not only your party, but also your nation and your church.

Inquiry-based learning is essential to democracy. It promotes divergent thinking and open-mindedness and assumes that evidence-based reasoning might lead to differing opinions but those opinions are formed based on the application of reason.

For twenty years our schools have used standardized tests to measure learning. Those tests do not measure the ability to reason nor do they promote inquiry-based learning. MAYBE if Mr. Brooks is serious about his desire for ending the voracious beast that is unreason, he might consider replacing the test-and-punish accountability model  he has favored in the past.

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NPE, Diane Ravitch’s Legacy Organization, Offers Qualified Support for Miguel Cardona… In a Nutshell: “It Could Been Worse…and We Are Holding Out Hope!”

January 6, 2021 Leave a comment

As readers of this blog realize, I am an avid supporter of Diane Ravitch’s writing and thinking about public schools. She has been a voice of reason in a era where cheap, easy, and profitable solutions are being proposed for “failing” public schools… and to amplify her voice she worked to launch the Network for Public Education (NPE), an organization committed to promoting locally governed public education. Like Ms. Ravitch I was neither thrilled nor dismayed with President-elect Biden’s choice for Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona. Unlike, Ms. Ravitch, though, I could not capture my mixture of misgivings and hope. This link to NPE’s recounting of her position will give you the full context of her qualified endorsement, but to save you clicking I am pasting her eloquent analysis of why he is a decent if not exceptional choice and the daunting task he faces. The highlights are mine:

I am still hoping for a Secretary who recognizes that the past twenty years have been a nightmare for American public schools, their students, and their teachers. I am still hoping for someone who will publicly admit that federal education policy has been a disaster since No Child Left Behind and its kissing-cousin Race to the Top, modified slightly by the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” Maybe Dr. Cardona will be that person. We will see.

I believe that the federal government has exceeded its competence for twenty years and has dramatically overreached by trying to tell schools how to reform themselves when there is hardly a soul in Washington, D.C., who knows how to reform schools. Our nearly 100,000 public schools are still choking on the toxic fumes of No Child Left Behind, a law that was built on the hoax of the Texas “miracle.” We now know that there was no Texas miracle, but federal and state policymakers still proceed mindlessly on the same simple-minded track that was set into law in 2001.

Perhaps Dr. Cardona will introduce a note of humility into federal policy. If so, he will have to push hard to lift the heavy hand of the federal government. Twenty years of Bush-Obama-Trump policies have squeezed the joy out of education.Many schools have concentrated on testing and test-prepping while eliminating recess and extinguishing the arts. As an experienced educator, Dr. Cardona knows this. He will be in a position to set a new course.

If he does, he will push back against the mandated annual testing regime that is not known in any nation with high-performing schools.

If he intends to set a new course, he will grant waivers to every state to suspend the federal tests in 2021.

If he intends to set a new course, he will ask Congress to defund the $440 million federal Charter Schools Program, which is not needed and has proved effective only in spreading corporate charter chains where they are not wanted. Two NPE studies (hereand here), based on federal data, showed that nearly 40% of the charters funded by the federal CSP either never opened or closed soon after opening. More than $1 billion in federal funds was wasted on failed charters. Let the billionaires pay for them, not taxpayers, whose first obligation is to provide adequate funding for public schools.

Further, if he wants genuine reform, he will begin the process of writing a new federal law to replace the Every Student Succeeds Act and dramatically reduce the burdens imposed by clueless politicians on our nation’s schools.

Dr. Cardona is known for his efforts to reopen the schools during the pandemic. He knows that this can’t happen without the resources to reopen safely. The pandemic is surging again. It is not over. He knows this, and he will have to move with caution not to put the lives of staff or students at risk.

I will not judge him until I see how he handles not only the present dire moment but the legacy of twenty years of failed federal policy.I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Hope springs eternal. We can’t live without it.

He has the right background… he attended and led public schools and championed programs that help ALL children succeed and avoided stepping on the many landmines that exist in the field. Here’s hoping he can inspire politicians to abandon the test-and-punish regimen that has sapped public schools of their spirit without doing anything to improve the opportunities for the most disadvantaged students. I still have hope that our public schools can all function as effectively as those funded by the engaged and affluent parents.

NYTimes Editorial on Clean-up After DeVos’ Devastation Misses the Mark

January 5, 2021 Comments off

This past Sunday NYTimes editors rightfully point out the devastation wrought by Betsy DeVos during her four years as Secretary of Education. But, as usual, they want to retain the test-and-punish program that undercuts true reform in schools and glibly gloss over the difficulty legislators will face should they REALLY want to target funding for students raised in poverty. 

The editorial opens with a concise and accurate broad brush overview of the challenge incoming Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona faces:

If the Senate confirms President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee, Miguel Cardona, as Ms. DeVos’s successor, he will face the herculean task of clearing away the wreckage left by his predecessor — while helping the states find a safe and equitable path to reopening schools.

Beyond that, the new secretary needs to quickly reverse a range of corrosive DeVos-era policies, including initiatives that rolled back civil rights protections for minority children as well as actions that turned the department into a subsidiary of predatory for-profit colleges that saddle students with crushing debt while granting them useless degrees.

But the editors pivot to testing and conclude that at all costs the regiment of standardized testing testing must continue to help legislators and the Department “allocate educational resources strategically“. 

How more testing data will inform legislators and the Department to allocate resources strategically is unclear. We already know who the data will tell us! It will tell us the same thing it has told us for decades: children raised in poverty do poorly on standardized tests whose metrics are based on comparisons with their more affluent age peers. We know this. We know that affluent districts and schools within districts have smaller class sizes, higher paid and more experienced teachers, more resources, and— as a general rule— more parent engagement. We know that directing more funds to schools serving children who are raised in poverty could make a difference. If it DIDN’T matter, why do affluent school districts spend more? 

To their credit, the editors DO take the DeVos Department of Education to task for its support for predatory for-profit schools and it’s blocking of loan forgiveness for those duped by for-profit institutions. And the editors DO conclude with an accurate assessment of the urgent need for action:

The Department of Education lies in ruins at precisely the time when the country most needs it. The president-elect and his new education secretary, whoever that turns out to be, need to get the institution up and running as swiftly as possible. Given the dire context, there is no time to waste.

There IS no time to waste… and, as noted in this and earlier posts on this topic, there is no need to waste time or money or expending political capital to test students to prove what we already know.