Archives for category: Vouchers

Dr. Hunter O’Hara and Dr. Merrie Tinkersley visited Finland, and this is what they learned:

“American Educators Find Surprises in Helsinki and at Home in the United States”

On the basis of Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores, Finnish public schools have ranked at the top, or very near the top in the world in the areas of mathematics, reading and science. Seven teacher education seniors and three teacher education faculty at The University of Tampa traveled to Finland to determine the nature of Finnish success with public education. We visited three public schools; 1) grades K-8, 2) grades 1-6, and 3) grades 9-12. We also visited Metropolia University and the University of Helsinki. At U.H. we had an extended conversation with a teacher education professor.

Prior to our visit, we understood that Finland prides itself for creating school equality across the nation. During our visit, we felt we were able to develop a realistic perception of Finnish public schools. We also spoke with Finnish students, teachers, administrators and parents. We expected to see extraordinarily dynamic, innovative teachers and pedagogy. We anticipated being dazzled with Finnish approaches to instruction, teaching strategies and techniques……such was not the case.

We observed examples of group inquiry/investigation, interdisciplinary thematic instruction, content-driven flexible conversation as well as the use of film for instructional purposes. Approaches such as these are not novel and are modeled, taught and practiced in multiple teacher education courses and internships at The University of Tampa. In terms of teaching strategies, nothing we viewed seemed visionary, extraordinary or new. Rather we noted that some teachers were using very traditional methods such a lecture/question and answer.

What Is Different About Finnish Schools?

Surprisingly for several of us, we did not see technology used in classrooms at all. We saw no use of standardized testing. In fact, we verified that there is no standardized testing in Finland unless the classroom teacher requests such a test for her or his own diagnostic purposes; but never for accountability. Progress is monitored, but the design and timing of exams are left up to the classroom teacher. We saw an egalitarian curriculum that includes substantial coursework in the fine arts, social sciences, the humanities and physical education in addition to mathematics, science and reading. High quality learner-created artwork adorns classrooms and all hallways. Not unlike the United States just a few decades ago, pianos are found in elementary classrooms.

We found that learning environments are noncompetitive. Instead of competition, the focus is on group learning pursuits and class multilogues. Physical education courses focus on fitness rather than competitive gaming. Finnish students do not even compete in inter-school athletics.

Finnish Culture and The Classroom

We did see significant cultural identifiers that directly impact the functioning of the school community and learning pursuits. Finnish learners are afforded a great deal of autonomy and freedom. Correspondingly, significant levels of maturity are expected of learners. Learners are trusted and expected to complete tasks without policing. Starting in first grade, students are expected to serve themselves at lunch and breakfast (free of charge) and to clear after themselves- regardless of their developmental level. Learners spend a significant amount of time in the out of doors pursuing projects and play regardless of temperatures (for Finns, there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing). They know how to manage their frigid climate well. Learners act autonomously on a frequent basis and are free to take their time during transitions and while they are engaged in various projects. For example, there is no lining up and single -file –silent- walking between locations at the elementary level.

Just as cold temperatures predominate the weather, mutual trust predominates Finnish human interaction. As teachers trust learners, learners trust teachers to have their best interests at heart. School administrators trust teachers and learners, and Finnish communities trust teachers and principals to do their jobs well. Just as teachers trust learners, the Finnish government trusts Finnish teachers to structure facilitate and maintain successful learning environments. One principal shared, “I trust that teachers are going to do their own work in their own way.” Another principal indicated to us, “The focus is on trust, instead of accountability, and there are no high stakes tests. What happens in the classroom is up to the teacher.” Schools are never ranked and teachers track their own students. Finns trust their teacher credentialing process. Unlike many United States charter schools, Finns who have no credentials in education do not meddle in school affairs. Due to the prestige and free teacher preparation at the universities, Finland is able to admit only ten percent of the applicants into the teacher preparation programs. The Finnish government does not police schools in terms of learner performance, and the national standards for the various content areas are a succinct few pages.

All Schools Equal in Finland

There are no charter schools in Finland, no school vouchers, no “grading” of schools and no magnet schools. Unlike the United States, the intent in Finland is to assure that all schools are of equal quality. Again, that quality certainly does not owe it’s success to test driven instruction and curricula, nor does it have to do with “teacher accountability” campaigns as they have been called in the United States. Such approaches would have no place in a trust -centered nation like Finland. As has been made clear by their world ranking, Finnish schools are successful without the above questionable practices. Finnish teachers are highly respected and their prestige ranks with that of doctors and lawyers. Again, Finnish teacher preparation is paid for by the Finnish government. All teachers are prepared traditionally through a five year university preparation program. There is no alternative teacher certification in Finland.

Finnish teachers are fully unionized and they earn decent wages. We learned from faculty and administrators in Finland that there is no place for a scripted curriculum if administrators hire well qualified, traditionally prepared teachers. Moreover to be effective in their profession, teachers must be afforded professional autonomy and academic freedom. Many of these essential, teaching success-inducing components have been eroded in the United States over the past few decades.

Naturally, as educators we found Finnish schools to be very attractive, and yet we never lost our faith in the American public schools that had prepared us- the very schools to which we had also dedicated our professional lives. Quite plainly, the successes we saw in Finland should occur in the United States. Not only that, we were made aware that the entire design and implementation of the Finnish school system was based on American education research! As a matter of fact, the United States generates eighty percent of the research in education worldwide. If American education research is a good enough to base the design of one of the very most successful public education systems in the world, why is it not good enough to use in the United States? Furthermore, if we had the answers in the United States, why were we traveling to Finland to find our own answers?

Return to the United States

Not long after we returned to the United States, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools was published. Diane Ravitch’s carefully researched book contradicts the rabid negative mythology that surrounds American Public Education. Ravitch is a research Professor of Education at New York University and was appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board by President Bill Clinton. In short, she reveals that American Public School high school dropouts are at an all-time low, high school graduation rates are at an all-time high and that test scores are at their highest point ever recorded. In fact, when compared as a nation “the states of Massachusetts, Minnesota and Colorado … ranked among the top-performing nations in the world” (p. 67). Further, “if it were a nation, Florida would have been tied for second in the world with Russia, Finland, and Singapore” on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (p.67). Not only that, “American students in schools with low poverty-the schools where less than ten percent of the students were poor- had scores that were equal to those of Shanghai and significantly better than those of high-scoring Finland, the Republic of Korea, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and Australia.” (p. 64) Most significantly, Ravitch confirms that the single biggest source of low academic achievement is poverty. Poverty impacts learning in dramatic ways and for learners to transcend that barrier, they must first overcome the overwhelming and debilitating effects of poor nutrition, poor health care, inadequate clothing and housing. Child poverty in Finland is 5.3 % but child poverty in the United States 23.1 % according to the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Report Card 10; the highest rate of poverty amongst all of the advanced nations in the world. It should also be noted that unlike the United States, many PISA high scoring nations do not school learners in an egalitarian fashion past certain ages; which is to say that, in those nations, by the time students take the PISA, underperforming students have already been “weeded out” or eliminated. Ravitch is justified when she asserts that American public education is an extraordinary success.

In light of Ravitch’s meticulous research, one can only wonder why seemingly sinister forces have conspired to stigmatize American Public Schools. Not to be forgotten, however, is the role that American Public Schools have played in the success of this nation. When we act to stigmatize or to condemn that bulwark, we are actually working to condemn ourselves. If the American people allow their public schools to be undermined by powers that have only their greed and self interest in mind, we do so at our own peril. If the day arrives when public schools are lost, the middle class will surely be lost as well. We must all value, support and protect American Public Education.

Ravitch, D. (2013). Reign of Error. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Anthony Cody wonders why corporate education reformers hate democracy. They love mayoral control, but only if the mayor agrees with their privatization agenda. They hate local school boards, because they are elected and can be removed.

They love private corporate control. They work to enact ALEC’s goal of removing local control from communities.

Democracy is too messy. The reformers know how to buy mayors and legislatures. Campaign contributions do the job. But the problem with democracy is that voters are unpredictable. The “reformers” can’t buy them, although the reformers can spend millions to flood the airwaves with attack ads, and they own most of the mainstream media. Think Murdoch. Think Education Nation.

Think Reed Hastings, the billionaire who owns Netflix. He let the cat out of the bag in a recent speech, which Cody quotes and links to.

Cody asks:

“Reed Hastings was right about one thing. If you go to the American public and actually tell them you want to eliminate elected school boards, or completely disempower them, no one’s going to go for that. So instead, these billionaires conspire. Yes, conspire, behind closed doors, and we only find out when someone surreptitiously shoots a video of the bald-faced attempt to steal our democracy right out from under us.

“The question nobody asks is “why do they hate our freedom”? The answer is obvious. Occasionally it gets in the way of what they want to do. And when that happens, the solution is to destroy democracy. Take power away from the elected offices that are there to ensure accountability to the people. Make sure that it goes wherever your grip is strongest. And spend millions on TV ads to cover up the real game under way. “

Jeff Bryant here
describes the rise of an anti-democratic worldview
that
threatens not only public education but democracy itself.

 

Under the fraudulent guise of “education reform,” extremists seek to
destroy public education and turn it over to private entrepreneurs.
They trust the marketplace, not the public. They are true believers
in the doctrines of free-market economist Milton Friedman, not
those of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Horace Mann.

 

He quotes an Ohio legislator who says that public schools–which are a
cornerstone of our democracy–are “socialist.” If so, then we have
been a “socialist” nation for over 150 years. At least 90% of our
population was educated in those “socialist” schools and created
the greatest, most powerful nation in the world.

 

Then he quotes the founder of Netflix, Reed Hastings, who longs to see an end to
locally elected school boards, to be replaced by privately managed
charters. Democracy, Hastings seems to think, is too inefficient,
too messy. Are there enough billionaires like Hastings to run the
nation’s schools? Why do these people have such contempt for
democracy? Why do they like to replace democratic control with
mayoral control, governor control, anything but elected school
boards? Several districts in New Jersey have been under state
control for 20 years, with no results. Mayoral control has done
nothing for Cleveland or Chicago other than to increase
undemocratic decision making.

 

Bryant concludes: “The idea of democratic governance of schools as a principal means for ensuring
the quality of schools has never worked perfectly for sure. “It’s
true that too few people bother to vote in school board elections.
The electoral system is often prone to manipulation from powerful
individuals and self-interested groups. Elected boards are often
overly contentious to the point of dysfunction. And the country’s
history is replete with examples of local boards that perpetuated
widespread mistreatment of minorities to the point where outside
intervention was necessary. “But where else has democratic
governance achieved perfection? There are democratic solutions to
these problems: Do more to increase voter education and turnout,
limit the influence of money and factional interests, and ensure
checks and balances from outside authorities that are also
democratically elected. “If we want to give ordinary people more of
a voice in determining the education destinies of their children
and their communities, the solution is more democracy, not
less.”

A reader in Ohio writes:   This is one
of the people who is making law on public schools in
Ohio:
“Powell legislator stirs controversy
over views on public schools
Two weeks after
calling public education “socialism” and saying it should be
privatized, state Rep. Andrew Brenner said of those criticizing him
with vulgarities: “I’m guessing those people had a public
education.” The Powell Republican and vice chairman of the House
Education Committee wrote another column this week on his wife’s
website, Brenner Brief News, criticizing those who took issue with
his previous column.”
He’s the new vice-chair
on the education committee. His goal is to get rid of our 150 year
old system of public schools, because it’s “socialism”.

When he’s called on it, he responds by attacking every
person in the state who attended public schools, which of course is
the vast majority of people in the state.
You
really can’t make this stuff up. It’s like open season on public
ed.

UPDATE: the sponsor of this legislation withdrew it because of parent opposition and reluctance to hold voucher schools accountable

*********

Jeb Bush has his eye on the Presidency. He will boast of
his education record, but it is a record of smashing public
education and diverting public funding to charters, for-profit
charter chains, vouchers, corporate vendors, anything but our basic
public schools. His antipathy to public education will haunt him.
Here
is the latest scheme
pushed by Jeb and friends: more
money for vouchers but please don’t call them vouchers. And lots of
cash for all the helpers. Millions of dollars for facilitators of
vouchers.

Kathleen McGrory of the Miami Herald shows how parents and teachers stopped the voucher bill in Florida.

““We really saw this as an attack on public education,” said Mindy Gould legislative affairs for the PTA.

“The testing issue had become a sticking point.

“John Kirtley, who helped craft the original voucher legislation in 2001 and is chair of the Step Up board, said it would have been “a very difficult task to quickly remake the academic accountability for this program.”

The sticking point was the lack of accountability for voucher schools.

The legislation would have transferred $874 million in public funds to nonpublic schools.

The organization overseeing it (Step Up) was very disappointed, as it collects a commission, which would have grown from $8 million to $24 million.

Great news! The sponsor of the Florida voucher bill withdrew it, as it sailed through the Florida House, after the State Senate insisted that voucher schools would have to take state tests.

“After promising a “massive expansion” of school choice options this session, House Speaker Will Weatherford retooled his rhetoric Thursday after the Senate dropped plans to take up a proposed build-up of the state’s private school voucher program.

“Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he was withdrawing his version (SB 1620) of the voucher bill advancing in the House. At least part of the dispute is rooted in Senate President Don Gaetz’s demand that students taking part in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program undergo testing in private schools similar to that in public schools.

“It’s a shame. A terrible shame,” Weatherford said. “Thousands of children seeking more opportunities for a better life will be denied. I cannot see any reason why we’d quit on these kids.”

“The bill (HB 7099) sailing through the House would make the scholarship program eligible for sales tax money for the first time in its 12-year history. With the new cash, the 60,000 students now getting private-school scholarships could double in four years, rivaling the size of larger public school districts in Florida.”

There was also criticism of the political payola that the expansion would bestow on the voucher program’s administrators:

“The Palm Beach Post also reported that there was rising criticism of what the legislation would mean to the politically connected nonprofit that oversees the scholarship program, created under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

“Step Up for Students could more than triple the amount of money it collects under the voucher legislation. The 3 percent fee it collects now brings in $8.6 million but could more than triple to $26.2 million when the program reached its full capacity envisioned under the legislation.”

Florida Republicans are rushing through a voucher bill with no accountability for state tests. Even with state tests, it would be a terrible bill as its purpose is to destroy public education.

One leading voucher advocate bluntly told an audience in California that the game plan was to sell the bill as being a benefit to poor minority kids. Of course, that’s a scam. The main goal is to break public education, crush the unions, and fund every backwoods church school where kids can learn 17th century STEM skills.

Critics say it will divert up to $1 billion from community public schools.

Florida is rapidly racing to the bottom. Will Arne Duncan speak out to stop this unconstitutional diversion of public funds to religious schools? Will President Obama?

Jeff Bryant of the Education Opportunity Network writes in Salon that voters are increasingly disenchanted with the bipartisan Bush-Obama education policies of high-stakes testing, Common Core, and privatization.

He points out that the attacks on public education are not playing well at all in the political arena. The overwhelming majority of parents are very happy with their local public schools and respect their teachers. The public is beginning to see through the lies they have been told about their schools. So much of the rhetoric of the “reformers” sounds appealing and benign, if not downright inspirational, but it ends up as nonstop testing, the closing of local public schools, merit pay, union-busting, the enrichment of multinational corporations, and standardization.

Bryant predicts that Democrats will suffer at the polls for their slavish espousal of hard-right GOP doctrine.

He writes:

“The only overriding constants? People generally like their local schools, trust their children’s teachers and think public school and teachers should get more money. Wonder when a politician will back that!

“Many observers, including journalists at The Wall Street Journal, have accurately surmised that the American public is currently deeply divided on education policy. But that analysis barely scratches the surface.

“Go much deeper and you find that the “new liberal consensus” that Adam Serwer wrote about in Mother Jones, which propelled Obama into a second term, believes in funding the nation’s public schools but has little to no allegiance to Obama’s education reform policies.

“Outside of the elite circles of the Beltway and the very rich, who continue to be the main proponents of these education policies, it is getting harder and harder to discern who exactly is the constituency being served by the reform agenda.

“Most Americans do not see any evidence that punitive measures aimed at their local schools are in any way beneficial to their children and grandchildren. In fact, there’s some reasonable doubt whether the president himself understands it.

So is Arne Duncan making education policy on his own? Or is the policy agenda of the Obama administration indistinguishable from that of rightwing Republicans like Bobby Jindal, Rick Scott, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Mike Pence, and Tom Corbett?

This is a video of my speech at the Emerging Issues Forum in Raleigh, North Carolina, on February 11, 2014.

This was an important challenge because I strongly believe that the state is on the wrong path. Its governor and legislature are far to the right of the Tea Party. They are a government that doesn’t like public education or teachers. They seem to want to drive teachers away. They don’t want good public schools. They want charters–where only half the teachers are certified. And they passed voucher legislation, for schools with no accountability.

I was fortunate in the day’s agenda, because my keynote followed directly after a very interesting panel of teachers who quit teaching because the salaries were so low that they could not afford to teach. Yet all of them loved teaching. North Carolina, once a bastion of forward-looking education, now ranks 46th in the nation in teacher pay. John Merrow moderated the panel and brought out the best in this wonderful group of teachers, whose departure was a loss to the state.

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