Archives for category: US Education

Wendy Lecker, senior attorney for the Education Law Center, writes here that our most important national standards are found in our obligation to provide a high-quality education, adequately funded, to all children.

She was reminded of this by the recent court decision in Texas, where Judge John Dietz ruled that the schools were inadequately funded.

“Dietz found that to prepare children for citizenship, every school must have a basic set of essential resources: pre-K, small class size, enough teachers, libraries, books, technology, support staff — including counselors, social workers and paraprofessionals — and extra services for children with extraordinary needs, adequate facilities and a suitable curriculum. After a lengthy trial, the judge ruled that Texas’ school-finance system failed to ensure schools had these basic resources and that, as a result, children in these schools were being denied their constitutional right to an education.”

“Across this nation, courts in school funding cases have found that these same resources are essential to a constitutionally adequate education in their states. Like Dietz, they heard evidence from national educational experts and local educational experts — superintendents and teachers who work with public school children every day. These judges heard what children need and what works best to help children learn. From Kansas, to Washington, to New Jersey and beyond, these far-flung courts ruled that their states are responsible for providing schools with this nearly identical basket of educational goods.

“So-called education “reformers” push a different and lesser vision of education — perhaps most honestly expressed by the Dayton, Ohio, Chamber of Commerce:

[whose spokesman said] “The business community is the consumer of the educational product. Students are the educational product. They are going through the educational system so they can be an attractive product for business to consume.”

“This diminishment of children as being in service to business is echoed by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who lamented that because of our public education system, “we are falling further behind our international competitors.”

“Not only is this vision offensive, it is wrongheaded. It has been proven over and over that U.S. students’ scores on national or international tests bear no relation to America’s economy or worker productivity.”

Our national standard ought to be, and until recently was: equality of educational opportunity. That standard cannot be met until all children have access to a good public school with experienced teachers and adequate resources. We must hold state governments accountable for supplying the schools that children need.

I recently saw photographs of John F. Kennedy giving a Labor Day speech in New York City during his Presidential campaign in 1960. He spoke in the center of the Garment District, on the west side of Manhattan. He spoke to tens of thousands of garment workers. Today, the Garment District has been replaced by luxury high-rise residences. Following NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), the garment industry went to low-wage, non-union countries. The garment industry has few workers and no political power. The number of union members across the nation has dropped precipitously. The largest unions are public sector workers–especially, teachers–and they are under attack, as rightwing foundations, billionaires, and their favorite think tanks hammer away at their very existence.

What hope is there? Anthony Cody says there is plenty. He foresees the rise of “the teacher class.”

Here are a few quotes from a powerful statement. Read it all.

“The teaching class consists of educators from pre-school through college. This group is facing the brute force of a class-based assault on their professional and economic status. The assault is being led by the wealthiest people in the world – Bill and Melinda Gates, via their vast foundation, the Walton family, and their foundation, and Eli Broad, and his foundation. And a host of second tier billionaires and entrepreneurs have joined in the drive. These individuals have poured billions of dollars into advancing a “reform” movement that is resulting in the rapid expansion of semi-private and private alternatives to public education, and the destruction of unions and due process rights for educators.”

“As the latest report from Yong Zhao and ASCD illustrates, there is absolutely zero connection between the productivity of our economy and test scores. There may be some minimum level of academic achievement below which our nation’s economy might suffer, but our students are far, far above that threshold. So the entire economic rationale for our obsession with test scores and “higher standards” has been obliterated…”

Even liberal rationales for education reform are falling away. We have heard for the past decade that employers need students who can think critically and creatively, that everyone must be prepared for college. These arguments have been used to promote progressive models of education, along with the Common Core. The economic assumption here is that the middle class will grow as more students are prepared for middle class jobs. But the number of such jobs are shrinking, not growing. The supposed shortage of people prepared for STEM careers is a hoax, as we see with the layoff of 18,000 such workers by Microsoft. In fact, one economic projection suggests that in the next 20 years, 47% of the jobs of today will be gone as a result of technological advances and what Bill Gates terms “software substitution.” (see the full report here.)….”

“Teachers are paying attention. Study after study provides evidence that the central planks of corporate education reform not only fail to work, but are undermining the education of our students. This project that was supposed to be driven by data is collapsing, and would be long gone if our politicians were not being legally bribed to look the other way. Corporate education reform is a fraud, a hoax perpetrated on the public, with the active complicity of media outlets like NBC, which allows the Gates Foundation to dictate the very “facts” that guide their coverage of education issues….”

“Corporate reformers have diabolically targeted teachers where we were most vulnerable, by accusing us of placing our own interests above those of our students. Every element of corporate reform has been leveraged on this point. No Child Left Behind accused teachers of holding students back through our “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Due process has been undermined or destroyed because it supposedly provides shelter for the “bad teachers” responsible for low test scores.

“But this point of vulnerability is also our greatest latent strength going forward. Because teachers are deeply motivated by concern for their students, they are attuned to the devastating effects reform is having on them. Teachers are seeing what happens in communities when schools are closed – usually in poor African American and Latino neighborhoods. Teachers are seeing how technologically based “innovations” funnel both scarce funds along with student data to profit-seeking corporations. We have had more than a decade of test-driven reform, and teachers know better than anyone what a sham approach this has been. Teachers have seen and responded to the Michael Brown shooting, and though there are still difficult conversations ahead about race, teachers have a head start, because of our work with young people who are, like Michael Brown, vulnerable to racial profiling and the school to prison pipeline.

“Teachers have some important pieces of the puzzle, but we have not built the whole picture yet. There is a growing awareness of the discriminatory way laws are enforced, leading to huge numbers of African Americans and Latinos behind bars. But there is still a weak understanding of how this fits into a system that keeps communities of color economically and politically disempowered. School closures are a part of this disenfranchisement, as they rob communities of stable centers of learning. The disproportionate layoffs and terminations of African American teachers are a part of this pattern as well. We need a new civil rights coalition that brings these interests into sharp focus, and establishes alliances between teachers, students, parents and community members.

“When teachers bring a deep understanding of how our work has been hijacked and disrupted to bear on broader social issues, we find similar patterns elsewhere. We can see how profiteers are trying to sideline the US Postal Service, even though the level of service for the public will suffer. We see how the prison industry has turned into an enormous machine that sustains itself through vigorous lobbying, to the great disservice of many Americans. We see how laws governing debt are written to give tremendous advantage to financiers, while binding our students into a new form of indentured servitude. We see how leading Democratic Party politicians have taken campaign contributions in the millions from the sworn enemies of public education, and have become their servants….”

“The term “teacher leadership” has been used to describe a narrow range of activities often related to “getting a seat at the table,” or taking charge of professional development or Common Core implementation. But the real potential for teacher leadership arises when we take the lessons we have learned from a decade of being the targets of phony corporate reforms, and recognize our kinship with others who have been disenfranchised. The number of wealthy individuals who have sponsored this decade of fraudulent reform could fit in a small movie theater. Teachers number in the millions — our students and allies are in the hundreds of millions. The only thing that can beat the power of money is the power of people. But the people must be informed and organized. That sounds like work teachers ought to be able to handle.”

Thanks to Paul Thomas for the link to this impressive post by Kaiser Fung, a professional statistician.

Fung saw an article By Gates claiming that spending on education was rising but student achievement was flat.

Fung demolished this claim and said that Gates was promoting innumeracy.

The scales of his graph were wrong, the analysis was wrong, the arguments rested on fallacies. Gates, he said, compared apples and oranges, and he confused correlation with causation.

Fung writes: “Needless to say, test scores are a poor measure of the quality of education, especially in light of the frequent discovery of large-scale coordinated cheating by principals and teachers driven by perverse incentives of the high-stakes testing movement.” No one told Gates about that, apparently.

And he concludes:

” In the same article, Gates asserts that quality of teaching is the greatest decisive factor explaining student achievement. Which study proves that we are not told. How one can measure such an intangible quantity as “excellent teaching” we are not told. How student achievement is defined, well, you guessed it, we are not told.

“It’s great that the Gates Foundation supports investment in education. Apparently they need some statistical expertise so that they don’t waste more money on unproductive projects based on innumerate analyses.”

How refreshing to know that statisticians like Kaiser Fung are keeping an eye on what is called “reform,” but turns out to be the pet ideas or hobbies or whims of very wealthy people who know little or nothing about education.

Peter Greene, a high school teacher in Pennsylvania, describes the present moment–in which powerful people are tearing apart public education and attacking the profession of teaching–as either a passing storm or the apocalypse.

“A far-reaching network of rich and powerful men is working to take the public education system as we know it and simply make it go away, to be replaced by a system that is focused on generating profit rather than educating children.

“Teachers have been vilified and attacked. Our professional skills have been questioned, our dedication has been questioned, and we have been accused of dereliction and failure so often that now even our friends take it as a given that “American schools are failing.”

“One of the richest, most powerful men on the planet has focused his fortune and his clout on recreating the education system to suit his own personal ideas about how it should work and what it should do. He’s been joined in this by other wealthy, powerful men who see the democratic process as an obstruction to be swept away.

“We have been strong-armed into adopting new standards and the programs that come with them. These are one-size-fits-all standards that nobody really understands, that nobody can justify, and that are now the shoddy shaky foundation of the new status quo.

“And in many regions, our “educational leaders” are also part of the reformster movement. The very people on the state and local level who are charged with preserving and supporting public education are, themselves, fighting against it.”

Despite the powerful forces determined to crush and privatize public education, Greene says, he will not quit.

He writes:

“Someone has to look out for the students. Someone has to put the students’ interests first, and despite the number of people who want to make that claim, only teachers are actually doing it. The number of ridiculous, time-wasting, pointless, damaging, destructive policies that are actually making it down to the students themselves is greater than ever before. Somebody has to be there to help them deal with it, help them stand up to it, and most of all, help them get actual educations in spite of it.

“I don’t want to over-dramatize our role as teachers, but this is what professionals do. Police, lawyers, doctors, fire fighters– they all go toward people in trouble. They run toward people who need help. That’s what teachers do– and teachers go toward the people who are too young and powerless to stand up for themselves. And for professionals, the greater the trouble, the greater the need.

“The fact that public education is under attack just means that our students, our communities, need us more than ever.”

Is there hope? Yes. None of the reformer ideas actually works. They will get bored. They will move on.

“The reformsters are tourists, folks just passing through for a trip that will last no longer than their interest. They’ll cash in their chips and move on to the next game. But we’ll still be here, still meeting the challenges that students bring us. They’ve committed to education for as long as it holds their attention and rewards them; we’ve committed for as long as we can still do the work. They think they can sprint ahead to easy victory; we understand that this is a marathon.

“I don’t care if this is a passing storm or the apocalypse. I choose not to meet it huddled and hoping that I’ll somehow be spared. And while we keep defaulting to battle metaphors, I’d rather not get into the habit of viewing every other human as an enemy that I have to combat with force of arms. I learned years ago that you don’t wait for everything to be okay to do your dance and sing your song; you keep dancing and singing, and that’s how everything gets closer to okay.”

In an article at politico.com, Stephanie Simon presents a gloomy portrait of the future of teacher unions.

At the outset, she acknowledges that the unions have been the target of “a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign portraying them as greedy and selfish.”

This campaign is funded by billionaires, millionaires, ALEC, powerful corporations (Koch brothers?), rightwing think tanks, and wealthy foundations, all of whom we must assume are noble and selfless, not “greedy and selfish” like those no-good, lazy, worthless teachers. And then there are the academics who receive lavish funding from the noble and selfless billionaires and millionaires to produce studies and reports about the greedy and selfish teachers and unions.

But, as Simon reports, the campaign seems to be effective, as union membership falls and revenues decline. As evidence, she offers poll numbers reported by Paul Peterson’s group at Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and “Education Next,” both of which support vouchers and charters and oppose teachers unions and are funded by the afore-named groups of billionaires and millionaires. The numbers may or may not be correct, but the source is not reliable since both PEPG and “Education Next” are part of the campaign to rid the nation of teachers unions. But Simon does not mention that PEPG is an integral part of the anti-union campaign.

Simon ends the article by concluding that unions only make matters worse if they fight back against the wealthy coalition that now seeks to destroy workers’ rights:

“And some analysts, even those sympathetic to organized labor, say the teachers unions risk alienating the public with their constant complaints about the conspiracy of wealthy forces arrayed against them and their defense of job protections like those found unconstitutional this week in California.

“It’s entirely possible,” Kerchner said, “that unions can turn public education into a bad brand.”

In other words, resistance is futile.

But many teachers would not agree at all. They don’t believe that the 1%–and those who are on their payroll–are fighting for civil rights and social justice. they believe that it is imperative to stand up for hard-working teachers and the children they teach every day. Teachers are not greedy and selfish. their unions are not wrong to stand up for the rights of teachers, which are under attack in many states. Accepting the claims and the rhetoric of the privatization movement is a recipe for losing public education and the teaching profession, not just losing the unions.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/06/teachers-union-california-court-decision-107816_Page2.html#ixzz34YN4x9BV

The story about Bill Gates’ swift and silent takeover of American education is startling. His role and the role of the U.S. Department of Education in drafting and imposing the Common Core standards on almost every state should be investigated by Congress.

The idea that the richest man in America can purchase and–working closely with the U.S. Department of Education–impose new and untested academic standards on the nation’s public schools is a national scandal. A Congressional investigation is warranted.

The close involvement of Arne Duncan raises questions about whether the law was broken.

Thanks to the story in the Washington Post and to diligent bloggers, we now know that one very rich man bought the enthusiastic support of interest groups on the left and right to campaign for the Common Core.

Who knew that American education was for sale?

Who knew that federalism could so easily be dismissed as a relic of history? Who knew that Gates and Duncan, working as partners, could dismantle and destroy state and local control of education?

The revelation that education policy was shaped by one unelected man, underwriting dozens of groups. and allied with the Secretary of Education, whose staff was laced with Gates’ allies, is ample reason for Congressional hearings.

I have written on various occasions (see here and here) that I could not support the Common Core standards because they were developed and imposed without regard to democratic process. The writers of the standards included no early childhood educators, no educators of children with disabilities, no experienced classroom teachers; indeed, the largest contingent of the drafting committee were representatives of the testing industry. No attempt was made to have pilot testing of the standards in real classrooms with real teachers and students.. The standards do not permit any means to challenge, correct, or revise them.

In a democratic society, process matters. The high-handed manner in which these standards were written and imposed in record time makes them unacceptable. These standards not only undermine state and local control of education, but the manner in which they were written and adopted was authoritarian. No one knows how they will work, yet dozens of groups have been paid millions of dollars by the Gates Foundation to claim that they are absolutely vital for our economic future, based on no evidence whatever.

Why does state and local control matter? Until now, in education, the American idea has been that no single authority has all the answers. Local boards are best equipped to handle local problems. States set state policy, in keeping with the concept that states are “laboratories of democracy,” where new ideas can evolve and prove themselves. In our federal system, the federal government has the power to protect the civil rights of students, to conduct research, and to redistribute resources to the neediest children and schools.

Do we need to compare the academic performance of students in different states? We already have the means to do so with the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It has been supplying state comparisons since 1992.

Will national standards improve test scores? There is no reason to believe so. Brookings scholar Tom Loveless predicted two years ago that the Common Core standards would make little or no difference. The biggest test-score gaps, he wrote, are within the same state, not between states. Some states with excellent standards have low scores, and some with excellent standards have large gaps among different groups of students.

The reality is that the most reliable predictors of test scores are family income and family education. Nearly one-quarter of America’s children live in poverty. The Common Core standards divert our attention from the root causes of low academic achievement.

Worse, at a time when many schools have fiscal problems and are laying off teachers, nurses, and counselors, and eliminating arts programs, the nation’s schools will be forced to spend billions of dollars on Common Core materials, testing, hardware, and software.

Microsoft, Pearson, and other entrepreneurs will reap the rewards of this new marketplace. Our nation’s children will not.

Who decided to monetize the public schools? Who determined that the federal government should promote privatization and neglect public education? Who decided that the federal government should watch in silence as school segregation resumed and grew? Who decided that schools should invest in Common Core instead of smaller classes and school nurses?

These are questions that should be asked at Congressional hearings.

John Ewing wrote a brilliant article called “Mathematical Intimidation.” If you haven’t read it, please do. It demolishes VAM. He calls on mathematicians to speak out. And at Brown, we read here, he spoke out:

“John Ewing, Executive Director of the American Mathematical Society and President of Math for America, was the speaker at a Brown commencement forum today. He spoke to a packed audience on the question, “Is There an Education Crisis?” Since it’s unlikely that the media was there for this one, here’s a synopsis for those following the public education debate:

“Ewing briefly described the various reports going back to 1958 that proclaimed the so-called crisis, and listed the forces that benefit from keeping it “in the forefront of the news”: politicians; the education/industrial complex; and that aspect of the American character that likes a crisis because a crisis “demands action and demands it now.”

“He focused on three areas in which the crisis has been manufactured. First, the falling scores on the Program for International Assessment (PISA) scores really haven’t fallen; scores have been roughly the same over the years in both reading and math. Second, the reporting of the National Assessment of Educational Proficiency (NAEP) has been misleading; scores have been reported as showing “only” one-third of students as proficient or above proficient, but actually one-third of students received a grade in the A range, which is really pretty good. As for the “dropout crisis,” Ewing pointed out that while the graduation rate looks low at 76%, it’s hard to get right and also a poor measure compared with the completion rate (percent of 18-24 year-olds getting a degree) at 90%, or the dropout rate, which at 8% is about half of what it was in 1970.

“Ewing acknowledged that some things in public education are very wrong – namely endemic poverty, awful textbooks published by an industry that’s only interested in profits, and lax teacher education programs – but condemned the crisis mongering. It leads to public alarm, an obsession with testing and accountability, a failure to focus on the real problems, and, worst of all, the destruction of the public education infrastructure, its teachers. He warned that good, experienced teachers are leaving, and young people no longer see teaching as a worthy career choice. We need to recognize that successful reform is a slow process, to turn down the volume on the alarm, and to make our teacher education programs both appealing to our best college graduates and difficult to gain admission to.”

Here is a first for this blog: Governor Jay Nixon joins the honor roll for his courage in promising to veto a voucher bill passed by the State Legislature.

The State Senate has enough votes to override his veto, but the House does not.

Governor Jay Nixon recognizes that the state has an obligation to provide quality public education for every child. It must meet that obligation by providing every school with the resources and staff it needs, not by sending public funds to private schools.

Governor Nixon may also be aware of the overwhelming research showing that private schools do not get better results than public schools when they enroll the same children.

The bottom line is that Governor Nixon bravely stood up for the principle that the public has an obligation to support public education.

Now it his responsibility to fight for adequate funding and oversight to improve schools that are struggling. In most cases, the schools need more help for children and families that are in need, not just academic programs. The most reliable predictor of low test scores is poverty. Missouri, like other states, must avoid the pursuit of illusory quick fixes. Vouchers don’t “work” better than public schools. Missouri must improve its public school system for all.

Thanks to Governor Jay Nixon for protecting one of the basic democratic institutions that made our country great.

John Kuhn is the superintendent of the small Perrin-Whitt Independent School District in rural Texas. He is an eloquent speaker and supporter of public education. He has spoken at national events and recently published two new books. He knows that the schoolssuffernot only fro budget cuts but from Washington’s wildly unrealistic expectations. He knows it would be nice if every student were bound for college but he knows it is unrealistic and turns success into failure.

This is a wonderful interview with the Texas Tribune. You will enjoy reading it.

This is the last Q&A:

“Trib+Edu: How has your life been different since 2011?

Kuhn: Not a whole lot different in terms of my day-to-day life. I still basically do what I’ve always done for a living and that is work in a rural public school and try to serve my community to the very best of my ability. I’ve been invited to give some speeches here and there and I’ve written a couple of books … I think speaking out like I did put me in a situation to where I’ve been educated in the political reality that affects local schools.

Previously, I just kind of accepted whatever rolled down from Washington, D.C., and whatever rolled down from Austin. I kind of thought the role of a teacher and educator was just to live with dumb policies. And I don’t think that anymore. I think now that I have a moral obligation to speak up and say, “Hey, this policy is dumb. It doesn’t work and this is what we’re seeing on the frontlines.”

I’m a fan of public education. I grew up in a little, rural Texas town where the public school was the center of what we did in town. There was no mayor’s office. It’s an unincorporated town and the school was the heart of the community. And I think, politically, we’ve kind of forgotten how important public schooling is in Texas.”

Over the years, we have seen a steady dumbing down of American culture, especially in the mass media. Whether newspapers, radio, or television, we have lost many of our well-educated, cultured, well-informed thinkers. Often they have been replaced by shock jocks, ranting talk show hosts, and an entire cable channel devoted to trashing liberals, liberal social programs, and labor unions.

I miss Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, and dozens of other smart journalists who brought more than their opinions to their journalism. Bill Moyers is one of that breed. We need more.

Another thing I don’t understand is why people on the far right like to paint their own country in the most negative tones while pretending to be patriots. I used to see a lot of this in rightwing think tanks, where people seized gleefully on every negative statistic to prove what a bad country this is; how horrible our public schools are; how dumb our teachers are; how we are doomed. Michelle Rhee’s advertisements often make me think she really hates this country, that no one is smart enough or good enough for her. .

All of this is a long-winded way of disassociating myself from Glen Beck’s screed against Common Core and public education. It is called “Conform: Exposing the Truth about Common Core and Public Education.”

Here is a review by Hilary Tone of Media Matters that gives you an idea of how false and hysterical this book is. It is clear that Beck did not read “Reign of Error.” I won’t be reviewing “Conform.” I am not interested in reading or writing about crazy rightwing attacks on our great American tradition of public education or on our nation.

In the same vein as the one now being mined by Glenn Beck is a video about a Florida legislator denouncing the Common Core because it will make all children gay. Seriously.

This is crazy stuff, and it makes it difficult if not impossible to have a reasonable discussion about the pros and cons of the Common Core. The Common Core is not wicked, evil, or dangerous, nor are those who wrote it.

Perhaps my critique of Common Core is too sophisticated for those who want simplistic answers. I don’t condemn those who want to use Common Core. I don’t think they are wrong or unAmerican. If they like it, they should use it.

My advice to states that want to use it, who think it is better than what they do now, is this:

1. Convene your best classroom teachers and review CCSS. Fix whatever needs fixing. Recognize that not all students learn at the same pace. Leave time for play in K-3.

2. Do not use the federally funded tests. Do not spend billions on hardware and software for testing. Let teachers write their own tests. Use standardized tests sparingly, like a state-level NAEP, to establish trends, not to label or rank children and teachers.

3. Do not use results of CC to produce ratings to “measure” teacher quality. Study after study, report after report warns that this is a very bad idea that will harm the quality of education by focusing too much on standardized tests, narrowing the curriculum, and forcing teachers to teach to the tests.

4. Do not let your judgement be clouded by people who make hysterical claims about the standards or those who wrote them.

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