Archives for category: Poverty

Paul Karrer, who teaches in Castroville, California, writes a scorching review of what is laughingly called “reform.”

He begins:

“Arne Duncan and his patron President Barack Obama have gotten themselves in a bit of an educational bind. Big news came out of the White House on Aug. 21 but a lot of America missed it. It seems a collision course of: 1. sunsetting of the year 2014 and the imbecilic impossible fatwa of No Child Left Behind (the obscenity of schools held accountable for testing without a morsel of input for poverty); and 2. a large push by teacher unions to dethrone he of the basketball — Sir Arne Duncan.”

So Duncan made his statement about testing “sucking the oxygen” out of teaching, a typical Duncanism in which he denounces the policies he promote and still enforces.

Says Karrer of Duncan’s fancy step:

“Is it a complete flip flop? No, it is a little greasy middle-of-the-road weaseling meant to gain favor from Obama’s once-upon-a-time education supporters and to patch the rebellious hemorrhaging of his pet bamboozle Race To The Top and its ugly stepsister Common Core. Ever since Obama initiated his slash and burn policy regarding public education with pro-privatization, the green light to pro-charter corporations, his relationship with publishing-testing companies, and his knee in the groin and knife in the backs of teachers with rigorous evaluations based on kids’ test scores, he’s been trusted about as much as a pedophile at a playground by those who once-upon-a-halo included him in their sacred prayers.”

Karrer says time is running out for the Age of Test and Punish. More and more people are speaking up and the public is catching on to the failure of test, test, test. The momentum is growing. Time is running out.

Inda Schaenen is an eighth grade English language arts teacher at Normandy Middle School in Ferguson, Missouri. She writes in Education Week about how students were affected by the death of Michael Brown and how she as a teacher was affected.

School started nine days after the shooting.

“Even before the shooting and the dramatic aftermath broadcast around the world, our district was accustomed to being and bearing bad news. Normandy is a poor, predominantly African-American community beset by challenges in housing, employment, and access to social, emotional, and physical health care.

“In January 2013, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education stripped the Normandy school system of its accreditation. The district consequently lost close to 25 percent of its students (and related education funding) to a transfer program that was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court. Then, on July 1 of this year, the state board of education officially took over the Normandy district; meanwhile, the transfer program’s fate continues to play out in the state courts….

“I was assigned to teach 8th grade language arts; I now work in circumstances that daily, even hourly, challenge the most seasoned of the seasoned veterans. Middle school teaching is a new experience for me, and my learning curve is beyond steep; it’s a cliff. In rock-climbing terms, I am “crack climbing”-locating available seams, trying any grip, using all of who I am to gain purchase during my ascent. I am working 18 hours a day.”

The tragedy is the background and often in the foreground of school.

She writes:

“Will I be able to make what happens in my classroom so compelling that these children will feel it’s worth their time to come in and take a seat alongside the 32 others in my classroom?

“Now, factor in the shooting, followed by the protests, the looting, the hyper-militarized reaction to the protests and looting, and the local reaction to the reaction. Many of our students showed up at school traumatized; teachers, too. The granddaughter of one of my colleagues was related to Michael Brown. Another staff member was his great-aunt. In many ways, north St. Louis County is one community….

“Since Aug. 9, there is the unspoken but ever-present awareness, especially among the boys, that life can end in a flash, even for the kids-like Michael Brown-who manage to navigate the system and graduate…..

“Over and over, I assure my students that I will not leave. That I am here for them. That principals and teachers are working together to figure out how to get our school right, or at least more right…..

Are we as a society willing to address the needs of these children, these communities? The answer seems to be no. We want them to have higher scores, and the state will punish their teachers if they don’t get higher scores. But we refuse to address or acknowledge the conditions in which they live, or our obligation to change them.”

Anthony Cody was not heartened by Marc Tucker’s vision of a new accountability system with fewer tests. In this post, he explains why. If ever there was a need for close reading, he believes, this is it.

Cody writes:

“Tucker’s plan is confusing. In a proposal in which accountability remains closely tied to a set of high stakes tests, Tucker cites the “Failure of Test-based Accountability,” and eloquently documents how this approach doomed NCLB.

“Tucker speaks about the professionalization of teaching, and points out how teaching has been ravaged by constant pressure to prepare for annual tests. But his proposal still seems wedded to several very questionable premises.

“First, while he blames policymakers for the situation, he seems to accept that the struggles faced by our schools are at least partly due to the inadequacy of America’s teachers. I know of no objective evidence that would support this indictment.

“Second, he argues that fewer, “higher quality” tests will somehow rescue us from their oppressive qualities. He also suggests, as did Duncan in 2010, that we can escape the “narrowing of the curriculum” by expanding the subject matter that would be tested.

“It is worth noting that many of the Asian countries that do so well on international test contests likewise have fewer tests. This chart shows that Shanghai, Japan and Korea all have only three big tests during the K12 years. However, because these tests have such huge stakes attached to them, the entire system revolves around them, and students’ lives and family incomes are spent on constant test preparation, in and out of school.

“Third, and this is the most fundamental problem, is that Tucker suggests that the economic future of our students will only be guaranteed if we educate them better. Tucker writes:

“Outsourcing of manufacturing and services to countries with much lower labor costs has combined with galloping automation to eliminate an ever-growing number of low-skilled and semi-skilled jobs and jobs involving routine work.

“The result is that a large and growing proportion of young people leaving high school with just the basic skills can no longer look forward to a comfortable life in the middle class, but will more likely face a future of economic struggle.

“This does not represent a decline from some standard that high school graduates used to meet. It is as high as any standard the United States has ever met. And it is wholly inadequate now. It turns out, then, that we are now holding teachers accountable for student performance we never expected before, a kind and quality of performance for which the present education system was never designed. That is manifestly unfair.”

“Tucker then repeats what has become the basic dogma of education reform. The economy of the 21st century demands our students be educated to much higher levels so we can effectively compete with our international rivals. Education — and ever better education to ever higher standards — is the key to restoring the middle class.”

But Cody objects:

“I do not believe the economy of the 21st century is waiting for some more highly educated generation, at which time middle class jobs will materialize out of thin air.

“Corporations are engaged in a systemic drive to cut the number of employees at all levels. When Microsoft laid off 18,000 skilled workers, executives made it clear that expenses – meaning employees, must be minimized. Profits require that production be lean. There is no real shortage of people with STEM degrees.

“On the whole, it is still an advantage for an individual to be well educated. But the idea that education is some sort of limiting factor on our economic growth is nonsense. And the idea that the future of current and future graduates will be greatly improved if they are better educated is likewise highly suspect.

“Bill Gates recently acknowledged in an interview at the American Enterprise Institute, “capitalism in general, over time, will create more inequality and technology, over time, will reduce demand for jobs particularly at the lower end of the skill set.”

“This is the future we face until there is a fundamental economic realignment. Fewer jobs. Continued inequality and greater concentration of wealth.”

Cody argues for a different vision, in which accountability goes far beyond teachers and schools:

“For far too long educators have accepted the flagellations of one accountability system after another, and time has come to say “enough.”

“We need to learn (and teach) the real lesson of NCLB – and now the Common Core. The problem with NCLB was not with the *number* of tests, nor with when the tests were given, nor with the subject matter on the tests, or the format of the tests, or the standards to which the tests were aligned.

“The problem with NCLB was that it was based on a false premise, that somehow tests can be used to pressure schools into delivering equitable outcomes for students. This approach did not work, and as we are seeing with Common Core, will not work, no matter how many ways you tinker with the tests.

“The idea that our education system holds the key to our economic future is a seductive one for educators. It makes us seem so important, and can be used to argue for investments in our schools. But this idea carries a price, because if we accept that our economic future depends on our schools, real action to address fundamental economic problems can be deferred. We can pretend that somehow we are securing the future of the middle class by sending everyone to preschool – meanwhile the actual middle class is in a shambles, and college students are graduating in debt and insecure.

“The entire exercise is a monumental distraction, and anyone who engages in this sort of tinkering has bought into a shell game, a manipulation of public attention away from real sources of inequity.”

Cody says:

“We need some accountability for children’s lives, for their bellies being full, for safe homes and neighborhoods, and for their futures when they graduate. Once there is a healthy ecosystem for them to grow in, and graduate into, the inequities we see in education will shrink dramatically. But that requires much broader economic and social change — change that neither policymakers or central planners like Tucker are prepared to call for.”

Jersey Jazzman quotes Frank Sinatra and George Carlin to mark Labor Day. Sinatra made more sense than our Harvard-educated pundits.

Sinatra said:

“All I know is that a nation with our standard of living, with our Social Security system, TVA, farm parity, health plans and unemployment insurance can afford to address itself to the cancers of starvation, substandard housing, educational voids and second-class citizenship that still exist in many backsliding areas of our own country. When we’ve cleaned up these blemishes, then we can go out with a clean conscience to see where else in the world we can help. Hunger is inexcusable in a world where grain rots in silos and butter turns rancid while being held for favorable commodity indices. “

JJ commented:

“That was more than 50 years ago, and what has happened since? We’ve actually gone backwards: a 40-year slump in which the working American has seen his or her wages and benefits decrease, while nearly all of the productivity gains in this country have gone to the very, very wealthiest among us……

“One of the central theses of this blog is that the education “reform” project is largely a distraction designed to keep America’s eyes off our predestined inequity. An entire industry has sprung up, using education policy to conflate the issues of social mobility and inequity, to support the tenets of reforminess. The pundit class, largely not our best-and-brightest, has so little historical perspective and so little command of basics in mathematics and logic that they eat this conflation up like it’s ice cream…..

“Which brings us to the true threat of a progressive education: the only hope the American middle class has at this point is for our nation to foster enough critical thinkers who can see through the blizzard of crap that large swaths of our feckless media spew at us daily. Teachers have the power to cultivate such thinkers — and that may well be why some short-sighted plutocrats are spending large amounts of money to de-professionalize us, and why they are pushing to make our teaching increasingly standardized. Divergent thinking is being replaced by “close reading,” which is great for the ruling classes, because they get to determine what exactly is being read closely.

Paul Horton, who teaches history at the University of Chicago Lab School, took his son on a visit to the Delta.

There they went to historical exhibits that were reminders if a brutal past. Reminders of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, racial subjugation, and resistance to oppression. You won’t read this in the textbooks.

Writing in the International Business Times, investigative journalist David Sirota reports that Microsoft admits keeping $92.9 billion offshore to avoid paying $29.6 billion in taxes, according to the most recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

He writes:

“Microsoft Corp. is currently sitting on almost $29.6 billion it would owe in U.S. taxes if it repatriated the $92.9 billion of earnings it is keeping offshore, according to disclosures in the company’s most recent annual filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The amount of money that Microsoft is keeping offshore represents a significant spike from prior years, and the levies the company would owe amount to almost the entire two-year operating budget of the company’s home state of Washington.

“The company says it has “not provided deferred U.S. income taxes” because it says the earnings were generated from its “non-U.S. subsidiaries” and then “reinvested outside the U.S.” Tax experts, however, say that details of the filing suggest the company is using tax shelters to dodge the taxes it owes as a company domiciled in the United States.”

He adds:

“Apple and General Electric, which also employ offshore subsidiaries, are the only U.S.-based companies that have more money offshore than Microsoft, according to data compiled by Citizens for Tax Justice. In all, a May report by CTJ found that “American Fortune 500 corporations are likely saving about $550 billion by holding nearly $2 trillion of ‘permanently reinvested’ profits offshore.” The report also found that “28 of these corporations reveal that they have paid an income tax rate of 10 percent or less to the governments of the countries where these profits are officially held, indicating that most of these profits are likely in offshore tax havens.”

“Microsoft’s use of the offshore subsidiary tactics has exploded in the last five years, with the amount of Microsoft earnings shifted offshore jumping 516 percent since 2008, according to SEC filings.”

That kind of money, repatriated to the United States, could underwrite prenatal care for low-income women, provide early childhood education for all low-income children, underwrite medical clinics in low-income communities, and save public education in cities like Detroit and Philadelphia, where it is in dire peril. Imagine $550 billion invested in the well-being of our children! Imagine using that money to reduce our child poverty rate, which is currently the highest among the advanced nations of the world.

In an article in Dissent magazine, four authors argue that the notion of America as a “post-racial” society is wrong. The public and politicians tend to blame blacks for the conditions in which they live, as though racism were a thing of the past and the doors of opportunity are wide open for all. Even the election of a black President has not wiped out historic disadvantages that a significant proportion of black Americans are born into.

Alan Aja, Daniel Bustillo, William Darity, Jr., and Darrick Hamilton lay out the facts of continuing racial disparity in employment, wealth, and self-employment to demonstrate that blacks continue to be severely disadvantaged.

The authors off two proposals to provide economic security to all Americans. One is a universal trust account, which would be larger for those who are needy. The other is a guaranteed federal job. Both are expensive yet considerably less than the cost of the economic stimulus plan, which saved the nation’s banks. Imagine: saving our society.

Paul Thomas here takes on some of the most sacred beliefs of U.S. culture. He argues that poverty is destiny, and that education is not the great equalizer. He says that wishing it were so does not make it so.

He writes:

“In the U.S. both poverty and affluence are destiny, and those who shudder at that reality are confusing verbs: Yes, poverty should not be destiny, but false claims will never allow us to achieve that ideal.”

Thomas quotes Matt Bruenig, who wrote:

“One convenient way to describe what’s going on is that rich kids are more likely to get a better education, which translates into being richer and wealthier as adults. It is certainly the case that richer kids are more likely to get a college degree, and it is certainly the case that getting a college degree leaves you much better off on average than not getting one. But this does not explain the full picture of social immobility. Take a look at this super-complicated chart, which I will describe below….

“So, you are 2.5x more likely to be a rich adult if you were born rich and never bothered to go to college than if you were born poor and, against all odds, went to college and graduated. The disparity in the outcomes of rich and poor kids persists, not only when you control for college attainment, but even when you compare non-degreed rich kids to degreed poor kids!

“Therefore, the answer to the question in the title is that you are better off being born rich regardless of whether you go to college than being born poor and getting a college degree.”

Thomas says that our popular myths have a dark side. They allow us to blame the poor for being poor, for not working hard enough, for lacking “grit.”

We do not live in a meritocracy, saysThomas, but in a society where race and class determine most people’s destiny.

He does not wish to be considered a fatalist. Instead, he says, we must “Commit to social and education policy grounded in equity, and not in competition or market forces.” So long as we believe that it is up to each individual to rise or fall on their own, without regard to large social and economic forces, nothing will change.

Erik Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann take issue with David Berliner and Gene Glass’s view about how high levels of child poverty in the U.S. affect our students’ performance on international assessments. In the following post, David Berliner responds to their critique.

Criticism via Sleight of Hand

David C. Berliner

​Hanushek, Peterson and Woessmann (2014) (HPW) criticize Berliner, Glass, and Associates (2014). They label Berliner et al. “apologists,” and as misleaders of the American people. But their critique of our work seems bizarre. They never address the issue we deal with. We talk about the role of income and poverty in national and international assessments. They do not. Here is what they do:
​“To ascertain whether the challenges facing the United States are concentrated among the educationally disadvantaged, we identify for each state and country the proficiency rate of students from families with parents of high, moderate, and low levels of education.”
​Their analysis suggests that the children of America’s better educated families do not do as well as the children of better educated parents in other countries. If true, that would certainly not make us happy. But it is an irrelevant criticism of our analysis which convincingly demonstrates that poverty, along with its sequelae and correlations, is the greatest barrier to high achievement test scores for U.S. students on both domestic and international tests. Theirs is criticism via sleight of hand—we talk “level of poverty” and the outcomes of assessments, they talk “level of parental education” and the outcomes of assessment.

​Everyone knows that there is a relationship between educational level and income. But HPW blithely assume that the correlation between these two variables is quite high, when it is not. In fact the raw correlation between an individual’s educational level and that individual’s income actually is surprisingly low. In Arizona, for example, among employed individuals 25-55 years old, the correlations between wage income and education level are about .20 for workers at younger ages, the child-bearing ages. This correlation increases with age, but is still relatively weak, only about .40 (accounting for only 16% of variance) at the upper end of the age scale examined. One’s level of education and one’s level of income simply do not provide the same information, something often referred to as status inconsistency in the sociological literature.

To criticize us with their data set requires HPW to show two things. First, that the correlation between educational level of the parents of school children and income level of those parents is quite high in the U.S. Second, they must show that the relationships of parental education and parental income is about the same in all the OECD countries. They do not provide either of these two analyses. Nor could they, since it is highly unlikely that similar correlations are the case.

​Moreover, HPW do not acknowledge that much recent data suggest that education and income are not highly correlated in the U.S. For example, we know that in 1970, only 1 in 100 taxi drivers and chauffeurs in the U.S. had a college degree. Today, 15 of 100 do. Highly educated taxi drivers are likely not to be able to afford to live in the areas where school poverty rates for families are below 10%. In those public schools, U.S. students are among the top scoring in the world. Even in the schools where about 10-25% of the families are in poverty, U.S. public school students compete remarkably well. The question is whether all those well-educated taxi drivers live in the areas served by those kinds of school? Probably not! Thus their children are unlikely to be getting as good an education as are the children whose parents, regardless of their educational level, can afford to live in those areas.

​Educational achievement on domestic and international tests is related to where you live and with whom you go to school. The children of these well-educated taxi drivers are more likely living in schools attended by people of more modest means, and this is possibly a reason for the findings of HPW. But it is not just taxi drivers with college degrees that have grown in numbers. In 1970, only about 2 percent of firefighters had a college degree. Now 15 percent do. Are they sending their kids to the schools attended by richer Americans, or to schools that serve the working and middle classes?

​About 1 in 4 bartenders has some sort of college degree. Are they high earners? If they have children, with whom would those children go to school? Our critics know as well as we do that who you go to school with is more important for your performance on tests than is your teacher, or any other influence. James Coleman made that clear fifty years ago and no credible refutation of this argument yet exists.

​So if many of America’s highly educated people are not earning high salaries, and thus not sending their children to the schools attended by the children of the advantaged, guess what? They will not do as well as might be expected of highly educated people—which is the point made by HPW. So not only does their data not refute our argument, if our hypothesis about education and income in contemporary U.S. is credible, their data actually confirm ours! Parental income and their child’s school achievement are strongly related, perhaps even more so than is parental education level and their children’s school achievement. In modern America, parental income rather than parental education more often determines who your children go to school with.

​Even more evidence suggests that the correlation between education and income (and therefore, the correlation between education and the neighborhood one lives in) is not as high as HPW suggest. More than a third of recent college graduates hold jobs that do not require a college degree. This underemployment or “mal-employment” rate appears to be over 36% for college-educated workers younger than 25. People don’t go to college to be a waiter or a bartender, but that is now a common outcome of their education. Nearly 8% of college graduates are working part-time, but would like full-time positions, and these highly educated people are not counted in the mal-employment rate of 36%.

​Not surprisingly, hospitality and retail are the most common occupations of the mal-employed. Of the nearly 3 million recent college grads, 152,000 are working in retail sales and nearly 100,000 work as waiters, bartenders or in other food service posts. Another 80,000 serve as clerks or customer service representatives, and 60,000 work in construction or manual labor.
​These are Americans of child-bearing age, and they will be sending their children to school now, or quite soon. Will they live in neighborhoods where less than 10% of the families served by the schools are in poverty? Or are these now and future parents more likely to live in neighborhoods where 25-50% of the families are in poverty? Those would be the neighborhoods and schools that serve the working and the middle classes, and the students in these schools score about the national or international average on most assessments. Not great, but certainly not bad. Furthermore, going to the suburbs is no escape: Recently, and for the first time, suburban poverty rates exceeded urban poverty rates. So these poor and modest-earning well-educated Americans, often with large debts from college, are likely to wait a long time before they can move to a neighborhood with a school that has less than 10% of its children living in poverty and thus a likely very high performing school.

​As is clear, HPW switched the argument from poverty to education. Perhaps children of America’s highly educated parents are not doing as well as children of the highly educated in other countries. We did not study that issue, but we have doubts about their findings, given what we have presented above about the relationship between education and income and where children are likely to be brought up in the contemporary U.S. More important is that their argument is irrelevant to our argument. We are quite sure we are correct in stating that youth poverty is our biggest education problem (see also, Biddle (2014)). What follows is why we hold this belief.
​On the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study [TIMSS] tests, on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study [PIRLS] test, and on the Program for International Student Assessment [PISA] tests of reading, science and mathematics, public school students in five groups were assessed. One group attended schools where fewer than 10% of the families were in poverty, others attended schools where approximately 10-25% of the families were in poverty, or where 25-50%, 50-75% or over 75% of the families served by the school were in poverty. On each of these three international tests, U.S. public school students did terrific in the schools where poverty rates of families were under 10%, or even when poverty rates were between 10% and 25%. But we did not do well in schools where poverty rates were above 50%, and we did even worse on those tests in schools where poverty rates for families were in the 75-100% bracket.

Here is the recent TIMSS data for grades 4 and 8 by poverty of the families served by the school.

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​ Although many nations in this analysis were not developed nations, the competition did include Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, and many OECD countries. The data are clear. First, to the amazement of everyone, the U.S. mean score in mathematics was above the international average, a finding conveniently underreported in the U.S. But averages always hide trends in data. When U.S. scores are broken down by the poverty of the families served, as in this graph, we see that the higher the percent of poverty among the families served by the schools, the lower the score in math. The science assessment showed the same trend.
​Less well known is that the two groups on the left constitute about 12 million students, and they handily beat the average score of Finland. Even the middle group beat Finland at both the 4th and 8th grade, and that means that about 50% of U.S. school children who are not greatly affected by poverty, about 25 million children, are doing as well as the nation whose scores other nations envy. But internationally high, or quite respectable test scores, are not the lot of those students attending schools with high rates of poverty. That is our simple point.
​Let’s switch to PIRLS.

Untitled2

 

​U.S. public school students, where poverty rates were low, the two bars on the left, outscored every other nation in the world, and there were more than 50 other countries and jurisdictions in this study. Underreported, once again, was that even our children in schools that serve the poorest families, the bar on the right, scored above the international average. The gap, however, between the children in schools that serve the wealthy and those that serve the poor is huge. That is our point. If we want better test scores in the U.S. we should probably stop blaming unions, tenure, the curriculum, teachers and administrators, and instead create programs to reduce poverty and the housing segregation that accompanies low earnings.
​Now let’s go to PISA, the test that HPW use to argue that we do not have it right. Here are math scores for the five groups we focus on.

Untitled3

 

​Even in math, often our weakest subject, those students in schools where poverty rarely is seen, the first bar in this graph, placed 6th in world—and they placed higher than Japan. The next group, schools with less than 25% of the children living in poverty families, placed 17th in world, well above most of the countries in OECD. But here is our national problem: The U.S. average score was low because the schools attended by children whose families are in poverty score poorly. Those in the schools most heavily affected by poverty may not have the mathematics skills needed to compete in the market. But other U.S. children certainly do, and they are predominantly those attending schools low in family poverty.

Here are science scores.

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​The first bar in this graph displays PISA science scores for students in schools with under 10% of their classmates living in families that experience poverty. They were beaten by only one country, Shanghai, which as we know is not a country but a city. And it is a city with the highest rate of college graduates in China. Apparently it also does not test the children of its illegal immigrants (those from rural areas living in Shanghai illegally: Their number may approach 200,000). The second bar, representing students in schools where under 25% of the students are from families in poverty tied for 8th in the world. Not too shabby a performance for about 12 million American public school students. But once again the trend is clear. Children in schools high in poverty do not do well. The difference between the schools serving the wealthy and the poor is over one standard deviation.

Here is the reading data. The trend is clear once again.

Untitled5

​Reading is an area of US strength, as PIRLS revealed. We see that again in PISA. US students in schools where under 10% of the families served are in poverty placed 2nd in the world. In the group where under 25% of the students were in poverty the students placed 6th in the world, tied with Finland. So, again, around 12 million of our student’s did great. And if we assess the performance of students represented by the third bar, the one showing students in schools with 25-50% of the families served in poverty, they also did well. They came in 10th. So approximately half of all US students, about 25 million of them, are doing pretty good, but that is not true for the other half of our school population—those attending schools where over 50% of the students come from families that are eligible for free and reduced lunch, our marker of family poverty.

​We conclude that in contemporary America parental income, not parental education buys neighborhood, and neighborhood plays a big role in determining the composition of the class ones child is in, the composition of the cohort at the grade level one’s child is in, and the characteristics of the community in which one’s child goes to school. If there is not a very strong correlation between parental education and parental income, or more to the point, between parental education and where you can afford to live, HPW are wrong in both their interpretation of their own data, and their criticism of us. But we would like to add one more criticism of HPW, namely, that reliance on PISA and other international assessments to draw conclusions about characteristics of the U.S. system of education is foolish, even though we challenged their interpretations of our work by using those same questionable tests. The remarkably insightful Chinese born scholar Yong Zhao has a book coming out soon (Zhou, 2014). In it he makes it quite clear that PISA, in particular, and for international tests in general, it is impossible to draw valid conclusions about the strengths and weaknesses of national systems of education. Zhao (and many others) would caution, and we would agree, that HPW are on extremely shaky ground when they use PISA data to do so.

References

Berliner, D. C., Glass, G. V and Associates. (2014). Fifty myths and lies that
​threaten America’s public schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Biddle, B. J. (2014). The unacknowledged disaster: Youth poverty and
educational failure in America. Boston. MA: Sense Publishers.

Hanushek, E. A., Peterson, P. E., & Woessmann, L. (2014). Not just the
​problems of other people’s children: U.S. Student Performance in Global
Perspective. Harvard University, Program on Education Policy and Governance & Education Next, PEPG Report No. 14-01, May 2014.

Zhao, Y. (2014). Who’s afraid of the big bad dragon? Why China has the best
​(and worst) education system in the world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-
​Bass.

Paul Thomas here reviews many of the public statements of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and finds a common theme: the cause of low test scores is low expectations.

 

If only society, the schools, and parents had higher expectations, no child would be left behind, no child would ever get low test scores, children with disabilities would excel.

 

Embedded in this claim is the strange belief that poverty, hunger, homelessness, racism, and other social maladies have no effect on students’ ability to learn in school.

 

Thomas refers to a list of popular but misguided beliefs that Duncan loves to repeat because they support his narrative of blaming teachers, parents, and schools:

 

In a recent blog post, Jack Schneider identified 10 popular reform claims offered by the current slate of education reformers, including Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and Duncan himself:

Claim 1: American teachers need more incentive to work hard….

Claim 2: Schools need disruptive innovation. The status quo is unacceptable….

Claim 3: The public schools are in crisis….

Claim 4: It should be easier to fire bad teachers. Tenure is a problem…

Claim 5: Schools need to teach more technology….

Claim 6: Teachers should be paid for results….

Claim 7: We need more charter schools…

Claim 8: We’re falling behind the rest of the world….

Claim 9: Teacher preparation is a sham….

Claim 10: Teachers only work nine months a year….

 

What do these claims have in common? First, each can be found repeatedly in comments made by Duncan, media reports, and the day-to-day assumptions held by the public. Second, each claim is misleading at best, and false at worst.

 

Obama’s USDOE and Secretary Duncan, however, use these widely accepted though false claims as partisan political distraction, rather than relying on evidence-based cases to target politically volatile and unpopular issues related to poverty, racism, inequity, and the short-comings of the free market. That’s not just a shame, it’s deplorable.

 

Thomas says that the U.S. Department of Education has a “twisted culture inside the USDOE—a culture that maintains a message of high expectations for students, teachers, and schools and thus diverts attention away from the more powerful influence of poverty and inequity in both society and schools.

Yet it seems increasingly evident that the only place where low expectations are the main sources of failure is inside the USDOE itself—specifically with the appointment of Duncan.” Duncan is not the only Secretary of Education who never taught, but he is the only Secretary with the arrogance to chastise teachers for their failures and low expectations, as if he knew how to do their job better than they do. Thomas writes that the USDOE is “a collection of appointees under Obama that lacks the experience, expertise and political will to lead the needed reforms facing U.S. public schools. Once the brief flurry of outrage passes, we must admit that the Obama education agenda will remain one of the greatest failures of the hope and change that Obama once promised.” So long as the USDOE continues to ignore the root cause of poor performance, none of their “reforms” will make any difference.

 

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