Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by former Presidential aspirant and current Ohio Governor John Kasich. In his essay, Mr. Kasich singles out the “one-size-fits-all” approach for special condemnation:
But today, it’s clear that our welfare system is still deeply flawed, thanks in part to later changes from Washington. In 2005, Congress pulled power back from the states, reducing local flexibility by enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach that sets arbitrary time limits on education and training for people seeking sustainable employment. As a result, too many lives are thrown away by a rigid and counterproductive system that treats an individual as a number, not as a person who is desperate to gain new skills and opportunities in life.
As anyone who is familiar with “school reform” realizes, Ohio was one of several states who embraced the test-and-punish model of schooling with Ohio simultaneously rushing to institute market-based deregulated charter schools to help meet the needs of those students who could not pass the graduation test the first time around. The performance of these schools drew criticism from the Fordham Institute, which is usually a reliable cheerleader for “reform”:
Using student-level data collected by the state Department of Education from 2006 to 2010, the analysts report dropout counts and rates for Ohio’s high schools, both district and charter. While the report is chock-full of data, the pieces that are most jaw dropping relate to Ohio’s virtual and “dropout-recovery” schools. For example, in 2009–10, Virtual High School, operated by Cincinnati Public Schools, had a 93 percent dropout rate (196 dropouts over the school year, relative to a baseline high school enrollment of 211) and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) had a dropout rate of 53 percent (2,908 dropouts relative to an enrollment of 5,468). The dropout rates for Ohio’s brick-and-mortar dropout recovery schools were worse, some greater than 200 percent, meaning that these schools had more than twice the number of dropouts than their baseline enrollment. These appalling statistics should call into question the efficacy of Ohio’s virtual and dropout-recovery-school programs. Still, these statistics could be more illusion than reality, for dropping out of school tends to be a process over time rather than a discrete event. Hence, it is not resolved whether dropouts should be entirely attributed to a student’s final schooling destination—a thorny issue that the report acknowledges. For instance, consider a student who went to Cleveland Metropolitan School District in grades K–8 but then went to one year at a dropout-recovery school before dropping out. Should the dropout-recovery school be held wholly accountable? Probably not. Nevertheless, as the report highlights, there are too many “dropout factories” among Ohio’s high schools—and, as evidenced, too many of the state’s second-chance “recovery” efforts fail to get our high schoolers to the finish line.
So while he condemns the one-size-fits-all approach to welfare reform, Mr. Kasich is all in on the one-size-fits-all approach to public education and, in doing so, has created more drop outs among low income students than most states in our country… and, as the Fordham Institute notes, the drop out rates of the so-called “recovery schools”, on-line for profit schools specifically designed to help students who fail the one-size-fits-all graduation examination, are especially appalling. If Mr. Kasich wants to address job placement for 16-24 years olds, he would be wise to abandon “reform” in K-12 schooling.
In her blog post yesterday, Diane Ravitch shined a light on the Vermont State Board of Education, hailing their letter to Secretary of Education John King as “brilliant”, and noting that “Vermont education officials think for themselves”.
As one who served as a Superintendent in a Vermont district for seven years and currently works as a consultant in Vermont I am pleased that Ms. Ravitch recognizes the independent thinking that exists throughout the State and especially pleased that she shared the letter the State Board composed in response to ESSA. I encourage anyone who reads this blog to read the letter in its entirety, but want to shine a light on some phrases that underscore many of the points made in previous posts on this blog. Most importantly, as the italicized phrases indicate, the State Board recognizes that real improvement cannot be accomplished without the commitment of resources:
Education and Accountability is More Than Test Scores: The Narrowness of the Measures – The plan relies on what we can easily measure, rather than on what is important. By requiring that test scores in two subjects and graduation rates be given preferential weight, we discourage schools from supporting truly broad opportunities to learn and the skills necessary for a healthy society…. While we appreciate your nod toward the humanities, these words ring hollow when faced with an underfunded system which punishes based on basic skills test scores. Unless our programs are adequately supported, they will neither close the opportunity gap nor build a better society or a stronger nation.
Summative Labels/Ranking Schools by a Single Score – ESSA requires states to inform the public on the status of education – which has seen more than a century of state practice in our town reports. But the proposed federal rules propose combining all measures into a single score. The result is an invalid measure with a false precision claiming to be transparent….More dangerously, with this single measure being so highly test-based, the interaction of test scores with background factors systematically and invalidly penalizes the disadvantaged. The result is that our neediest children are stigmatized through negative labelswhile we deny them the essential resources.
Lock-Stepping/Lack of flexibility– The statute places undue emphasis on students graduating on time. And, ESSA still requires all students to take the grade-level tests. Any parent of two or more children knows that children are not inter-changeable. Some students need more time, greater support and more resources to reach the same goal.
Disaggregation– According to ESSA, test scores must be disaggregated by schools by demographic groups. This is often referred to as “shining a light” on a problem. It is pointless, even harmful, if this illumination is not accompanied by adequate resources and programs to resolve the inequities. The federal government has never matched their requirements with the money. It is time to quit blaming the victims of our neglect.
The logic of ESSA is the same as NCLB. It is to identify “low performing schools.” Its operating theory is pressuring schools in the belief that the fear of punishment will improve student learning. It assumes poor achievement is a function of poor will. If we learned anything from NCLB, it is that that system does not work. It did not narrow gaps and did not lead to meaningful improvements in learning. If ESSA is similarly restrictive, we can expect no better… We are disturbed that the federal government continues to underfund its commitment to our most vulnerable children, who are disproportionately served by public schools…We take note of the $1.3 billion budget cut approved by the House Appropriations Committee. While you have recently called for a broader “well-rounded” education, you suggest that these initiatives be paid for out of the funds that were just slashed. The federal government is ill- credentialed to call on more from states while providing less.
The Vermont State Board of Education feels it is time we commit to attacking the underlying challenges of poverty, despair, addiction and inequity that undermine school performance, rather than blaming the schools that strive to overcome the very manifestations of our greater social troubles. In the rules and the implementation of ESSA, we urge the federal government to both step-back from over-reach and narrowness; and step-up to a new re-framing, broadening and advancing of the promises of what we can achieve for the children and for the nation.
It is heartening to see one State Board standing up to the federal government’s approaches that penalize children born into poverty, demonize hard-working teachers and administrators, and slash funding needed to improve public schools. Read the letter… it’s thoughtful, measured, and forceful.
Earlier this month I spent time with family members at a reunion and came away more distressed than ever over the condition of public education today. My nieces and cousins who work in public school have now experienced 10-15 years of teaching where test scores are the be all and end all of their jobs. Worse, their children have no experience in a school setting where test scores were not the predominant concern.
For the past couple weeks we’ve been subjected to the frightening reality that Donald Trump, a candidate who plays to the basest instincts of our citizenry, and Hillary Clinton, a neoliberal who until recently espoused the “reform” line that led to the evaluation of schooling based solely on standardized testing, will be the candidates for 2016. A recent Atlantic article contrasts the two candidates positions on K-12 education, noting that Mr. Trump’s position is more a slogan than a well-conceived policy idea.
But the article failed to note the reality that the passage of ESSA took the air out of any meaningful discussion about K-12 education on the campaign trail and will make any change to education policy in the first term of either Trump or Clinton a near impossibility. The bi-partisan ESSA legislation gives the decision on testing back to states where ALEC influenced Republicans control 35 State houses and legislatures. In so doing, it undercuts the Federal role in setting educational policy, which could be a good thing after NCLB and RTTT and will be a good thing if progressive activists focus on state elections and elect governors and legislators who want to use something something more than high-stakes tests to measure school effectiveness.
This means it will become increasingly difficult to make changes to the test-and-punish “reform” system in place after 15 years of NCLB and RTTT and that, in turn, means that a full generation of students will experience schooling that uses standardized testing as the primary means of measurement, a full generation of teachers will know only that kind of teaching, and a full generation of school board members will believe that only test scores can “objectively measure” the effectiveness of public schooling. The only exception to this kind of education will take place in the most affluent school districts where the vast majority of students can pass the so-called “accountability” tests with ease and can therefore focus on “frills” like the arts, technology, and emotional development.
While I find Bill Maher more crude and cruel with his humor than Jon Stewart, I often find him to be every bit as insightful… and with a moderate degree of trepidation I share this Youtube of his monologue on “Labs of Democracy”, which DOES include some crude language and one reference to drugs. If you want to avoid the vulgarity, cover your ears at the 2:45 and 3:25 mark and assume that Bill Maher really DOES love to grow archives in his basement:
As political junkies know, the Conservatives in the Republican party have used the “Labs of Democracy” concept to encourage the transfer of key decisions regarding the treatment of immigrants, the provision of funding for basic services, and the creation and enforcement of regulations to States. One state, California, has demonstrated the failure of “tickle down” economics and the demonization of immigrants. At least two other states, LA and KS, have reinforced the failure of cutting taxes in the name of “opening their sites for business”… but WI, MI, IL, OH, PA, NJ could easily be added to that list and only MN can show that the opposite approach— rating taxes and expanding voting rights— boosts the state coffers and well being.
As readers of this blog know, I fear that the “Labs of Democracy” argument is being used to promote ESSA’s “trickle down” theory for public schools… and the neoliberal wing of he Democratic party is happy to support that notion in the name of “bi-partisanship” (or, more cynically, in the name of increasing their donor base among the hedge funders who want to privatize “failing” public school districts that serve urban children). And though the test-and-punish method of accountability has a failure rate that mirrors that of trickle-down economics, it goes hand-in-hand with the tax cutting ideals of the conservatives because privatized schools operate “more efficiently” than public schools and thus reduce the tax burden on the private sector.
And as Bill Maher explains in his crude but direct way, we’ve run experiments on “trickle down” economics and “democracy” and the results are in: taxing the rich works; opening our doors to immigrants works; and regulating energy works. He could have run the same vignette on public education and illustrated that accountability based on standardized testing DOESN’T work… Maybe it will take another decade of ESSA to make this point. But in the meantime, another generation of children will be subjected to more teaching to the tests because adults are unfamiliar with the scientific method.
Yesterday Diane Ravitch quoted from a blog post written by Arthur Camins, Director, Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, who was lamenting the success to date of the “reform” narrative:
“There are real persistent problems in education. Today, failure narratives are the strategy-of-choice for groups who want to privatize education, undermine unions, disempower workers, and open profitable markets for educational technology, testing materials and publically funded, but privately managed charter schools that are unencumbered by government regulation. However, what is said is a smoke screen for what it intended…
As with the hyped Soviet and Iraqi threats, critics of the phony education crisis have also countered, with, “It’s not as bad as they say.” That line of argument always comes up short for two reasons. First, it permits those in power to frame the debate and put critics on defense. Second, there is a believable element in the narrative. Education in the US has, in fact persistently failed poor students…
…a win for equity and democracy.. requires a third step: Promote a new and different proactive agenda for education that resonates with the public more effectively than the current, “We are losing” narrative.
Camins offers such a narrative… but the implementation of the new narrative is going to require more than a new story: it’s going to require the money needed to spread the story, money that will be hard to raise given the billions the billionaires have at their disposal…. and as the ngram link illustrates, it will be an uphill battle to undo the impact of the “failing schools” meme.
This morning I read articles about Oklahoma’s decision to cut over $38 million from public schools, a WA state superintendent suggesting public schools should close in protest to their legislature’s decision to not meet his State’s constitutional mandate to fund schools, and the continuing budget battles in several state legislatures and county districts. The “starve the beast” theory seems to be working in public education the same way Yves Smith described the process in her introduction to an Alternet article in yesterday’s Naked Capitalism blog:
The TSA is a perfect target for privatization, since even at the best of times, it is not well liked. Who wants to be subjected to security theater like taking your shoes off? But this article provides an important overview of how various government functions are made incompetent by cutting their budgets without reducing their duties. That plays into the popular narrative that of course the private sector would be more “efficient” when the evidence is strongly supports the view that private sector contractors treat privatization as an opportunity for looting (contracting in the Iraq War was an extreme case, but there are plent of others, such as privatization of parking meters in Chicago and toll roads).
In the case of public education, its budgets are being cut while its duties and expectations are being increased! And, as endless posts on this blog and even more posts on Diane Ravitch’s blog report looting is continuing apace in public education and especially in the for-profit post-secondary schools where students are encouraged to charge their schooling on credit cards and required to sign agreements stating they cannot participate in class action suits. And in case you haven’t figured it out, here’s the privatization playbook as told to Alternate writer Michale Arria:
Noam Chomsky once described what he considered to be the standard technique of privatization: “defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.” Writing about the fight against TSA unionization in 2011, Mark Ames and Yasha Levine cited Scott Walker’s battle against Wisconsin workers as a valuable insight into how airline fights would go down:
1) Manufacture a fake budget crisis in order to frighten the state’s residents; 2) PR the false-crisis hard enough until it breaks out of the right-wing/libertarian pipeline and into the mainstream media; 3) Blame the fake crisis on a fake villain—“greedy” state employee unions—thereby pitting the public against state workers. That way, when Republicans pass new laws destroying teachers and firefighters unions, they’ll come off as heroes defending the public from greedy unions, rather than as sleazy mercenaries carrying out their corporate sponsors’ dirty work.
To many, it seems that’s the blueprint currently at work. On May 26, CNN ran an op-ed California Representative Darrell Issa calling for the privatization of the TSA. Issa wrote that:
“Ultimately, allowing private companies to take over administration of our airports’ security, under the TSA’s guidelines, would unleash the markets’ power of innovation to improve customer service and undo years of bureaucracy that has squandered billions of dollars dedicated to airport security and done much to make traveling more miserable.”
If this playbook sounds familiar, you HAVE been paying attention to the legislators behind the curtain who are doing everything possible to make public education look incompetent while propping up for-profit privatized services that do the job no better but cost less.