Archives for category: Testing

Tom Loveless has been writing about international assessments for many years. He was quick to blow the whistle on China when the previous international test scores came out, noting that unlike the U.S. and most other nations, China was not testing a cross-section of its students.

In this article on Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog, Loveless calls out China again for rigging the outcomes to make its students #1.

China’s gains on the tests from 2015 to 2018 were so large as to be incredible, literally not credible.

So the typical change in a nation’s scores is about 10 points. The differences between the 2015 and 2018 Chinese participants are at least six times that amount. The differences are also at least seven times the standard deviation of all interval changes. Highly unusual…

The past PISA scores of Chinese provinces have been called into question (by me and others) because of the culling effect of hukou on the population of 15-year-olds — and for the OECD allowing China to approve which provinces can be tested. In 2009, PISA tests were administered in 12 Chinese provinces, including several rural areas, but only scores from Shanghai were released.


Three years later, the BBC reported, “The Chinese government has so far not allowed the OECD to publish the actual data.” To this day, the data have not been released.
The OECD responded to past criticism by attacking critics and conducting data reviews behind closed doors. A cloud hangs over PISA scores from Chinese provinces. I urge the OECD to release, as soon as possible, the results of any quality checks of 2018 data that have been conducted, along with scores, disaggregated by province, from both the 2015 and 2018 participants.

The OECD allows China to hide data and game the system. This lack of transparency should not stand.

Alan Singer calls out Common Core for the poor showing of US students on PISA. 

Remember all the promises about how Common Core would raise all test scores and close gaps? Nada.

Of course, the deeper issue is that decades of test-and-punish reforms failed, not just Common Core.

it those who pushed these failed policies will not abandon them. They will say—they are saying—that we must double down on failure.

The consensus among governors and policy elites that followed “A Nation at Risk” in 1983 was that common standards, tests, and accountability would lead to high levels of performance (ie, test scores).

They didn’t. They haven’t. They won’t.

Almost four decades later, we can safely say that this theory of reform has failed. Billions of dollars wasted!

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, writes here about the use and misuse of NAEP scores to advance disruption in the schools.

 

A new wave of “misnaepery” is heading towards Oklahoma and other states. After most or all of the corporate reform agenda became law in about 90 percent of states, reading scores dropped so much that even a reform true believer dubbed NAEP as “National Assessment of Educational Stagnation and/or Decline.”

https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/07/24/37naep.h32.html
https://podcasts.google.com/?feed=aHR0cDovL2VkdWNhdGlvbmdhZGZseXNob3cubGlic3luLmNvbS9yc3M%3D&episode=NzEzNTA2MzJjMDI0NDA0YmJmMjM4NjVhNzAwODE4NzE%3D&hl=en

After test-driven, market-driven reform was implemented, from 2013 to 2019, the nation’s 8th grade math scores for African-Americans dropped by five points. But I would argue that 8th grade NAEP reading scores are the most important and reliable metric, and they dropped seven points in six years for African-American 8th graders.

Today, Oklahoma’s 4th grade NAEP reading scores have dropped to four points below the 1990s pre-HB1017 tax increase level. And since accountability-driven, competition-driven reforms were supposed to improve outcomes for our poorest children of color, it is shocking that from 2013 to 2019 black student 8th grade scores dropped 15 points!

https://www.educationnext.org/make-2019-results-nations-report-card/

https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/worst-news-naep?utm_source=Fordham+Institute+Newsletters+%26+Announcements&utm_campaign=f22e67acec-20160918_LateLateBell9_16_2016_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5fa2df08a3-f22e67acec-71894457&mc_cid=f22e67acec&mc_eid=3095764e3b

Rather than admit their mistakes, reformers have retained their original meme that was used to justify hurried and risky reforms to blow up the education “status quo,” so that “disruptive innovation” can spark “transformative change.”

Two contradictory misnaepery themes are being rushed into the breach by the Fordham Institute. The smiley-faced meme is that teachers and students will naturally rise to meet far more “rigorous” standards. On the other hand, the conservative Fordham Institute has been blaming states like Oklahoma for supposedly hurting student performance by ending high school graduation exams. It is also arguing that we should return to the punitive policies of the former Chief for Change State Superintendent Janet Baressi and retain even more 3rd graders based on reading tests. 

First, ignoring the damage done by their experiments, accountability-driven, competition-driven reformers argue that radically higher testing standards will produce transformative improvements. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister was a leader in the reaction against Baressi’s privatization agenda, so I can’t be too critical when she has to adopt some policies pushed by Education Next and other “astroturf” think tanks. Rightly or wrongly, she revised the state’s standards and assessments. There are no stakes attached to these metrics, and they allow the State Department of Education to say, “Oklahoma’s new standards [are] one of only 17 ‘A’ grades in the nation, up from the previous rank of 47th and a grade of ‘D.’”

So, for instance, Oklahoma’s 2017 8th grade math tests set a proficiency level which is at the NAEP proficiency level, basically comparable to around a 300 on that rigorous standard. The only groups in the United States were average scores reach that level are white and economically advantaged students in Massachusetts, a state where per capita income is nearly 50 percent greater. Oklahoma’s NAEP scores currently correlate with a level just above Kazakhstan.  Advantaged students in Massachusetts perform at the level of the counterparts on PISA and TMMS in the top performing states and nations, except for South Korea.

https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/studies/naep_timss/profiles.aspx
https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA-2015-United-States-MA.pdf
https://www.epi.org/publication/bringing-it-back-home-why-state-comparisons-are-more-useful-than-international-comparisons-for-improving-u-s-education-policy/#_note11

Of course, now that we listened to conservative reformers at the Fordham Institute and raised our expectations, Oklahoma students will soon join students at the top of the world’s education systems …

Fordham and other national reformers are also launching a second round misnaepery memes.  The 2015 NAEP was its first test of 4th graders after Oklahoma’s Reading Sufficiency Act required the retention of 3rd graders who don’t pass a reading test. Once Chief for Change Baressi was defeated by a pragmatic Republican, Hofmeister, educators were allowed more judgment in deciding whether to retain students. Until last year, however, little funding was available for interventions to assist struggling readers, much less adequate training and supports for inexperienced and emergency teachers in early elementary grades. (Oklahoma has hired more than 3,000 emergency certified teachers in a year.)

The 2015, 4th grade test scores increased by 2-1/2 percent. A conservative Republican reformer claimed they “were attributed to the 2014 implementation of a law that barred students from being promoted to the fourth grade if they read at lower than a second-grade level.” Those gains disappeared during the next two NAEPs. So, it is argued that more teeth needs to be restored to the retention policy.

But we also need to ask what really prompted the one-year jump in test scores. As in other states, the retention of low-performing readers can provide a temporary boost in NAEP scores. If you add up the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders who would have been in 4th grade during 2015, but who were retained, the total comes to about 9,000. Before the RSA, the more typical number of retentions was about 4,000. That means that about 5,000 more of the lowest performing students were missing from the 2015 4th grade class of about 47,000. The retention of more than 10 percent of the tested class could explain the one-time test score boost. As those students subsequently entered 4th grade, test scores dropped back to normative levels.

https://ocrdata.ed.gov/DistrictSchoolSearch#
https://oklahomawatch.org/2018/12/14/oklahoma-nearly-tops-nation-in-holding-back-early-grade-students/
https://journalrecord.com/2019/11/07/free-market-friday-student-results-continue-to-decline/

And what happened to that year’s economically disadvantaged students when they took 8th grade tests in 2019? Their scores were down by 2-½ percent in comparison to their 2015 8th grade peers.

Who knows what will be Fordham’s next misnaepery-driven attack on public education. After all, they were one of the think tanks who argued that the No Child Left Behind Act, which was enacted in 2002 deserved credit for the NAEP gains of the late-1990s! And now it is proclaiming an “Agincourt-level disaster” is the result of weakening NCLB accountability. The thing we know is that the Fordham spin will be picked up, amplified, and used by rightwing lobbyists throughout the nation to slander public schools.

Our blog poet reflects on the meaning of the latest international test scores (PISA).

That’s a Moron

When the test hits your eye
Like an old PISA pie
That’s a moron

When the scores make you drool just like a pasta fazool
You’re a moron
When you dance down the street with a test as your beat
You’re insane
When you walk in a dream but you know you’re not dreaming signore
Scuzza me, but you see, back in old Napoli
You’re a moron
A moron, that’s a moron

https://youtu.be/1TWhFmCRdoU

Peter Greene writes regularly for Forbes, where this article appeared.

He explains for the  umpteenth time (as I have done repeatedly) that the U.S. has never led the world on international tests, whether it was PISA, TIMSS, IEA, or any other.

He writes:

The top scores this year come from the usual batch of test takers,including the Chinese, who give the test to students from wealthy provinces.. PISA day is also the one day that some folks hear about Estonia, the tiny nation that somehow has not conquered the world even though their students do well on the PISA.

PISA coverage tends to overlook one major question—why should anyone care about these scores? Where is the research showing a connection between PISA scores and a nation’s economic, political, or global success? What is the conclusion to the statement, “Because they get high PISA scores, the citizens of [insert nation here] enjoy exceptionally good______” ?

Did US companies outsource work to India and China because of their citizens’ PISA scores, or because of low wages and loose regulation? Do we have the world’s most expensive health care system because of mediocre PISA scores? Which politicians have ridden to success on the PISA score platform pony? Are any geopolitical conflicts solved by whipping out the contending countries’ PISA scores for comparison? And is there a shred of evidence that raising PISA scores would improve life for US citizens (spoiler alert: no)?…

There will be discussions of what the PISA scores do or do not prove. Some of that is fair; Common Core and other ed reforms pushed by billionaires and thinky tanks and politicians and a variety of other non-educators were going to turn this all around. They haven’t. This comes as zero surprise to actual educators. It’s just one more data point showing that all the reform heaped on education since A Nation At Risk is not producing the promised results.

Remember when Arne Duncan promoted the “Race to the Top”? Remember when David Coleman and Bill Gates pledged that Common Core would close achievement gaps and raise the lowest-performing students closer to the top-performers? There comes a time when people must be held accountable for their promises.

 

 

Yong Zhao, the brilliant education analyst, writes here about the great PISA illusion. If you have not read any of Zhao’s books, do so now. If you have not heard him speak, google him or invite him to your next big conference. He is insightful, provocative, thoughtful, absolutely delightful! He is a master at making people think and debunking hoaxes.  Please read the entire post to learn how we and the rest of the world have been hoaxed by promoters of fake ideas.

He writes:

PISA is a masterful magician. It has successfully created an illusion of education quality and marketed it to the world. In 2018, 79 countries took part in this magic show out of the belief that this triennial test accurately measures the quality of their education systems, the effectiveness of their teachers, the ability of their students, and the future prosperity of their society.

PISA’s magical power in the education universe stems from its bold claims and successful marketing. It starts by tapping into the universal anxiety about the future. Humans are naturally concerned about the future and have a strong desire to know if tomorrow is better than, or at least as good as, today. Parents want to know if their children will have a good life; politicians want to know if their nations have the people to build a more prosperous economy; the public wants to know if the young will become successful and contributing members of the society.

PISA brilliantly exploits the anxiety and desire of parents, politicians, and the public with three questions (OECD, 1999, p. 7):

  • How well are young adults prepared to meet the challenges of the future?
  • Are they able to analyse, reason and communicate their ideas effectively?
  • Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life?

These words begin the document that introduced PISA to the world in 1999 and have been repeated in virtually all PISA reports ever since. The document then states the obvious: “Parents, students, the public and those who run education systems need to know” (OECD, 1999, p. 7). And as can be expected, PISA offers itself as the fortuneteller by claiming that:

PISA assesses the extent to which 15-year-old students, near the end of their compulsory education, have acquired key knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. … The assessment does not just ascertain whether students can reproduce knowledge; it also examines how well students can extrapolate from what they have learned and can apply that knowledge in unfamiliar settings, both in and outside of school. This approach reflects the fact that modern economies reward individuals not for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know. (OECD, 2016, p. 25).

This claim not only offers PISA as a tool to sooth anxiety but also, and perhaps more importantly, makes it the tool for such purpose because it helps to knock out its competitors. As an international education assessment, PISA came late. Prior to PISA, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) had already been operating international assessments since the 1960s, offering influential programs such as TIMSS and PIRLS. For a start-up to beat the establishment, it must offer something different and better. That’s exactly what PISA promised: a different and better assessment…

However, the claim, the foundation upon which PISA has built its success, has been seriously challenged. First, there is no evidence to justify, let alone prove, the claim that PISA indeed measures skills that are essential for life in modern economies. Second, the claim is an imposition of a monolithic and West-centric view of societies on the rest of the world. Third, the claim distorts the purpose of education.

Made-up Claim

The claim that PISA measures knowledge and skills essential for the modern society or the future world is not based on any empirical evidence. Professor Stefan Hopmann of the University of Vienna writes:

There is no research available that proves this assertion beyond the point that knowing something is always good and knowing more is better. There is not even research showing that PISA covers enough to be representative of the school subjects involved or the general knowledge-base. PISA items are based on the practical reasoning of its researchers and on pre-tests of what works in most or all settings — and not on systematic research on current or future knowledge structures and needs. (Hopmann, 2008, p. 438).

In other words, the claim was just a fantasy, an illusion, entirely made up by the PISA team. But PISA keeps repeating its assertion that measures skills needed for the future. The strategy worked. PISA successfully convinced people through repetition…

Although PISA claims that it does not assess according to national curricula or school knowledge, its results have been interpreted as a valid measure of the quality of educational systems. But the view of education promoted by PISA is a distorted and extremely narrow one (Berliner, 2011; Sjøberg, 2015; Uljens, 2007). PISA treats economic growth and competitiveness as the sole purpose of education. Thus it only assesses subjects — reading, math, science, financial literacy, and problem solving — that are generally viewed as important for boosting competitiveness in the global economy driven by science and technology. PISA shows little interest in other subjects that have occupied the curricula of many countries such as the humanities, arts and music, physical education, social sciences, world languages, history, and geography (Sjøberg, 2015).

While preparing children for economic participation is certainly part of the responsibility of educational institutions, it cannot and should not be the only responsibility (Labaree, 1997; Sjøberg, 2015; Zhao, 2014, 2016). The purpose of education in many countries includes a lot more than preparing economic beings. Citizenship, solidarity, equity, curiosity and engagement, compassion, empathy, curiosity, cultural values, physical and mental health, and many others are some of the frequently mentioned purposes in national education goal states. But these aspects of purpose of education “are often forgotten or ignored when discussions about the quality of the school is based on PISA scores and rankings” (Sjøberg, 2015, p. 113).

Zhao presents a devastating critique of the validity of PISA. It is a must read.

Politico Morning Education reports:

 

U.S. SCORES IN READING, MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE LITERACY REMAINED ESSENTIALLY FLAT FROM 2015 in the latest Program for International Student Assessment results, but U.S. rankings improved because other education systems worsened.

— The 2018 PISA results showed U.S. average scores in reading and science literacy were higher than the average of about three dozen mostly industrialized countries making up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which develops and coordinates the assessment. But U.S. average math scores were lower than the OECD average.

— PISA, an international assessment administered every three years, measures 15-year-old students’ literacy in the three disciplines and is designed to provide a global view of U.S. students’ performance compared to their peers in nearly 80 education systems.

— “If I communicated nothing, I hope I communicated that we are struggling in math in comparison to our competitors around the world,” Peggy G. Carr, the associate commissioner of assessments for the National Center for Education Statistics, told reporters in a call before the results were released. Nicole Gaudiano has more.

 

The PISA results were released, and they put the test-and-punish reforms of the past two decades in a harsh light. Billions have been spent on testing and spurious teacher evaluations.

Dana Goldstein writes in the New York Times:

The performance of American teenagers in reading and math has been stagnant since 2000, according to the latest results of a rigorous international exam, despite a decades-long effort to raise standards and help students compete with peers across the globe.

And the achievement gap in reading between high and low performers is widening. Although the top quarter of American students have improved their performance on the exam since 2012, the bottom 10th percentile lost ground, according to an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency.

If you recall, the Disrupters claimed that their method would both “Race to the Top” and “close achievement gaps.”

Their strategies did neither. Time for a change.

The National Superintendents Roundtable has a message for the public: be fair when judging our public schools. Schools today are far better than they were 40 or 50 years ago, by all conventional measures. what they might have added was that schools made steady progress until about 2007 or so, when No Child Left Behind took hold, then things were made worse by Race to the Top and Common Core. The proliferation of choice has flattened the progress made from 1970 to 2007.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is a day when we pause and give thanks to whatever deity we worship (or not) for the blessings we enjoy: our freedom, our family, our friends, and our good fortune to live in a democracy where we are all responsible for making it better for our brothers and sisters.

I want to share with you a profound speech delivered by our good friend Rev. Dr. Charles Foster Johnson about religious liberty and the public schools and the future of our democracy.

Charlie Johnson is the founder and leader of Pastors for Texas Children. PTC has led the fight against vouchers in Texas and has helped like-minded religious leaders in other states form their own organizations to support religious liberty and public schools. I never expected, at this late chapter in my life, to discover that I have a dear friend who is a Baptist minister in my home state of Texas. I admire his courage, his intellect, and his passion for the common good. Needless to say, he is on the honor roll of this blog, and I name him as a hero of the Resistance in my forthcoming book Slaying Goliath. I can’t think of a better way for you to spend a few free minutes on this day than to read this wonderful speech.

This is the only post you will receive today. Enjoy the day. Read this speech.

 

J.M. Dawson Lecture on Religious Liberty

“Religious Liberty, the Public School, and the Soul of America”

Baylor University

October 7, 2019

 

     I am deeply honored to deliver the J.M. Dawson Lecture on the Separation of Church and State, and I am humbled to offer a few remarks in the name and legacy of this remarkable Baptist leader and great American on the bedrock principle of religious liberty and its practical corollary, the separation of the church and the state in public affairs.

 

     When I spoke recently with my oldest granddaughter Corley, who is age 10, she asked me what I was doing. I told her I was preparing a sermon for my friends at Baylor University on “Religious Liberty, the Public School, and the Soul of America.” She said, “Papa Charlie, you always use the biggest words… what does all that mean?”

 

     I learned a long time ago that if the preacher can’t explain a concept to a child, then he or she doesn’t quite get it either. So, I drew a breath and said something like this, “Sweetie, God made us free people. No one can make you love God. No one can prevent you from loving God. It is our choice. All faith in God is voluntary. It is your decision. No one can make that decision for you. Not your parents, not your friends, not the president or the police or the law or the government. Only you.”

 

     Then this granddaughter of two Baptist preachers on her mama and her daddy’s side (she doesn’t have a chance) said, “I know, Papa Charlie! We talked about that at church. And, we talked about that at school too.”

 

Religious Liberty

 

     Throughout our lives, we have had a sustained theological critique of the Enlightenment and its emphasis on the individual. This project of correction, as I understand it, notes that the philosophical framework through which the modern sensibility has been shaped places undue importance on the autonomy of the individual and gives inadequate attention to the influence of community. There has been something of a robust debate about this dialectic between the individual and the community, about the historically baptist and catholic understandings of authority and epistemology, and the cultural, moral, and theological implications of these respective worldviews. This university has been a key participant in this debate. Some of you here today have contributed significantly to it.

 

     It certainly makes sense to me. As a pastor for over 40 years, I have abundantly observed folks who believe all reality begins and ends with themselves, and who exercise little submission to anyone or anything but themselves. We have this psychological and spiritual dysfunction on vivid display in our highest leaders today. We have certainly paid a high price for this narcissism. We like the immortal figure of Greek mythology, fixate on ourselves, and die in the process.

 

     But, we do not have to fall for the myth of autonomous individualism to affirm the irreducible and inviolate freedom of the human conscience. In this day of mass society, where corporate conglomerates monitor our every thought, news networks disseminate state propaganda, media machines determine our daily consumption, and pastors become mouthpieces for Caesar, that we need a recovery of individual freedom. Isn’t it the day and time for us to reaffirm the power and freedom of the individual, and to call for a new assertion of individual rights and responsibilities, and to inculcate all over again in our students and congregants an individual and personal decision-making power?

 

     Forgive the patriarchal references, but I remember Will Campbell saying at Mississippi College in 1978 something to this effect: “I am less free than my daddy, my daddy was less free than my granddaddy, and my granddaddy was less free than my great-granddaddy.” I had no clue then what on earth he meant by such a cryptic remark. But I do now. And so do you.

 

     We today are like the Grand Inquisitor of Dostoevsky’s famous story who has Christ arrested for cursing humanity with freedom. The Inquisitor concluded that Christ made a strategic error in not turning stones to bread, not casting himself off the pinnacle of the Temple, not ruling over the kingdoms of this world, for these things would have sealed his leadership and people would have followed him. But instead, Christ remained free, and gave us the burden of freedom. The Grand Inquisitor says, “anyone who can appease a man’s conscience can take his freedom away from him.” No kidding. We see it every day.

 

     God has created human freedom as a reflection of God’s own freedom, God’s own non-contingency, as the theologians would put it. The individual liberty accorded every person is a work of God in Creation, and an integral feature of human worth and dignity.

 

      A core component of this freedom is at work in the realm of religion. Religious liberty and is the right and choice of the human—the “inalienable” right, as Jefferson immortally put it—to worship God according to the compulsion of his or her own individual conscience, or not to worship God at all.

 

     To say the term “religious freedom” is to speak a paradox of immense power and implication. The very impulse of religion is submission to a power outside oneself, to cast oneself in categorical terms upon God in a posture of what Schleiermacher called “absolute dependence.” The project of any religious concern is the relinquishment of one’s own autonomy to the hegemony of God.  

  

     In a sinful world, full of idols that vie for our submission, the individual made in the image of God is the only entity competent to make this decision. Christ quoted the Psalmist in his reply to Satan in the temptation in the wilderness, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” This is the great baptist understanding. There is no other legitimate and competent authority other than the individual to make a religious decision. This is what we mean when we speak of “soul competency,” as E.Y. Mullins put it:

     “Religious liberty excludes the imposition of religious creeds by ecclesiastical authority. Confessions of faith by individuals or groups of men [and woman], voluntarily framed and set forth as containing the essentials of what men [or women] believe to be the Gospel are all right. They are merely one way of witnessing to the truth. But when they are laid upon men’s [or women’s] consciences by ecclesiastical command, or by a form of human authority, they become a shadow between the soul and God, an intolerable yoke, impertinence, and a tyranny.” (“The Baptist Conception of Religious Liberty,” 1923)

     Therefore, all religious activity must be strictly voluntary on the part of the individual. There can be no coercion in these matters, and certainly no collusion with the state in them. In fact, no institution whether the church or the state, possesses any competency to make any religious decision on behalf of an individual. Virginia baptist preacher John Leland put it this way:

 

“Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he believes, worship according to his own faith, either on God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse, or loss of property, from his religious opinions.”

 

     The corollary to this God-given religious liberty is the principle of the strict separation of the church from the state. In our work in Pastors for Texas Children, we refer to religious liberty as a gift from God to all people, and note that James Madison did not make it up. God did. Madison took an eternal spiritual truth that God authored and wrote it down in an extraordinary sentence that comprises the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

 

     Leland’s influence over James Madison is well-known by everyone in this room today. When Madison learned that Leland might challenge him for his seat in the House of Representatives, Madison forged a compromise with Leland that resulted in the popular baptist preacher standing down from his electoral challenge in exchange for Madison’s championing of the principle of church/state separation. And the rest, as we say, is history.

 

     It is not an overstatement to say that religious liberty is the principle upon which our nation was founded. A free church in a free state. And long before America came along the first pastor of the church told his congregation at Galatia, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand fast, therefore, and do not submit to a yoke of slavery.”

 

     Corley, my ten year old granddaughter, knows this. She learned it at church. And she learned it at school.

 

 

The Public School

 

     The public school is the building block of American democracy. It is the cornerstone of our national life. It was determined at the outset of our Republic that the American experiment might have a chance of succeeding if we educated all our children in a public trust—not just those fortunate enough by reason of their class and station to receive an education.

 

     In 1785 John Adams said, 

 

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

 

Clearly, this founding father of our Republic saw public education as central to our social contract and fundamental to the provision of the common good.

 

     Universal education is a moral mandate rooted in the faith tradition. In the creation story itself, God brought all of creation to the human to see what the human would name it. This “naming” impulse is education. It is central to the first charge God gives to the human, “to be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth, and subdue it.”   

  

     The first schools in America were founded by faith communities.  Shortly thereafter, at the dawn of our Republic, people of faith realized that an educated populace was essential for the preservation of democracy and self-governance.  Therefore, public education for all children in America was birthed out of a moral sensibility. That conviction was encoded in constitutions of the respective states as our nation expanded westward. Virtually every state constitution has a mandate for public education.  Our own Texas State Constitution in Article 7, Section 1, says this: 

“A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

     For these reasons of profound moral and religious motivation, public school educators often are faith leaders themselves. They serve as pastors, ministers, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, youth and children’s leaders, committee chairpersons, mission and music directors, accompanists, and many other ministry positions in the life of the church.

 

     It is axiomatic among congregational pastors that the persons we turn to for religious instruction of our children are our public school teachers. Furthermore, it is common for a local church pastor’s spouse to teach in the nearby public school.  This has been a time-honored clergy couple vocational package for decades.  Our sons and daughters are employed in the public schools as coaches, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and custodians.

 

     Public schools are filled with many people of faith. These teachers, principals, and school staff bow their heads in our houses of worship with us, serve and fellowship alongside us, and model their faith in schools and classrooms, following the spirit of 1 Peter 4:10, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

 

     This is why an affirmation of universal and public education can be found in the denominational documents of all faiths.  It is a universal human right accorded every child be virtue of being on God’s planet.

 

     Schools and churches remain inextricably bound together in every community. 90% of our children in our churches attend public schools. The rest attend all the other models of education, whether private, online, and home schools. We appropriately affirm all these models of education.  Indeed, our congregations are comprised of leaders in all these diverse school models.

 

     We see the local public school and its classroom as a center of God’s love.  Education is a gift from Almighty God accorded to every human being regardless of race, religion, economic status, and special need.  The public school, unlike the private school, receives and accepts every single child that shows up on its steps, and meets that child’s needs as sensitively and lovingly as possible. 

 

     Our loved ones and fellow church members do not leave God at the door of the school house as they go about their daily duties.  They carry the love and grace of God with them every hour of every day.  Indeed, they show love, unconditional acceptance, and physical assistance to children who have special needs, come from emotionally deprived circumstances, and suffer the ill-effects of crushing poverty. It’s what a teacher does.  It’s a calling before God.

 

     My own daughter-in-law, who is a public school educator, did not get the memo that God has been taken out of our schools.  She takes the longsuffering love that she showers on our grandchildren into the classroom with her, and pours it out on children from the community all day long. Corley is not the only recipient of it. All the children in her classroom receive it.

 

     Our neighborhood and community public schools are the primary vehicles for perpetuating civil society, promoting human equality, strengthening our economy, and ensuring continued democratic reform in our nation and world. 

 

     The public school is the proving ground for religious liberty and the principle of church/state separation. Here our children witness firsthand that their own religious experience is not given preference over anyone else’s. Here they see early on the tremendous power of voluntary and personal faith, that faith is something expressed and brokered by them—not by some official institutional leader. To use a familiar term, they discover their own individual priesthood.

 

     Public education advances moral and civic values through early investments to give every student a fair shot and the tools needed to pursue a more prosperous, self-sufficient future. These investments reap significant long-term economic dividends and savings generated from fewer societal problems, benefiting all of us.

 

     By investing in public education, we invest in the future of 50 million American schoolchildren. This basic investment is the key to a child’s future economic mobility, the financial stability of families, and our long-term economic prosperity. We know, because it is well-documented, the direct correlation between education achievement and economic viability.

 

     As we have noted, our spouses and church members routinely teach in our public schools. Often in our towns, the public school district is the chief employer and economic generator of our communities.  As goes the financial health of our public schools, goes the financial health of our churches.  The school is the center of vitality and meaningful, life-enriching activity for our people.  One only need look at the importance of Friday Night Football for folks to see this.

 

     It is the public schools that serve all children. Not just those of economic means, or whose parents are engaged, or who are from stable homes, or who perform well academically. But, all.

 

     Over 60 percent of Texas schoolchildren are economically disadvantaged. Public schools cannot be expected to overcome the challenges created by rising poverty, and especially when they are educating more students with less money. The last thing these poor neighborhoods need is to be stripped of their remaining vitality.  

 

     Texas ranks near the bottom in per-pupil spending nationwide. Bear with a brief history of Texas education policy. In 2011, devastating funding cuts forced school districts to lay off teachers, increase class sizes, and reduce pre-kindergarten programs. In 2013, Texas legislators restored only a portion of the cuts — about 60 percent —leaving a gaping deficit in education funding. In 2015, schools also had to accommodate for student growth, totaling 300,000 more students than in 2011. In 2017, House Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s proposal to infuse $3 billion new dollars into the public education system was pulled from the floor by that good man because he didn’t have the votes to pass it. Only in this year’s session did we finally get $6.5 billion new dollars for our children’s public education—and only after Texas voters retired some key legislators who oppose public education in the 2018 elections.

 

     These are profound moral, Biblical, constitutional, and economic reasons for universal education paid for by the public. The case for quality public education is overwhelming.

 

     So, we wonder what the real agenda is in our legislative assault on public schools? We have witnessed firsthand the cruel attack on our public education system as a “monstrosity.” We are more than a little outraged to hear from some of our elected officials that our public schools are “Godless.”  We have heard with our own ears loose talk of our schools as “failed” and our teachers as “incompetent.” Then, when our own Texas legislature began churning out bills designed specifically to demoralize teachers—vouchers, unlimited charter school expansion, opportunity school districts, tuition tax credits, A-F school rating, parent trigger—our good faith pastoral nature to give benefit of the doubt began to cave to the unpleasant conclusion of something more insidious unfolding before our eyes:  the intentional dismantling of the Constitutionally mandated public trust of universal education.

 

     The privatization of the public trust of universal education is a thinly veiled disguise to turn the local public school into a profit center for the personal financial gain of a few. State legislatures all over our country are being pressured by rich interests to divert already stretched dollars from our public schools to fund private and charter schools.  We know that the private schools are not asking for this support; they do not want government interference and intrusion into their private assemblies. That is the reason they established the private school in the first place.

 

     We are deeply troubled by the government expansion and entitlement programs undergirding privatization policies.  Private school vouchers and so-called “school choice” initiatives are nothing but government giveaway programs with no accountability or oversight.  Absent are the myriad stewardship measures the public schools must submit to give account for how state dollars are being spent.  We hear about these overwrought accountability rules from our family and church members all the time.

 

     We decry the expansion of unlimited charter schools as a replacement for our traditional community and neighborhood public schools, the avalanche of burdensome assessment measures our teachers and students are subjected to, and the de-professionalization of teaching through low wages and bad conditions.

 

     We must prioritize the adequate funding of our institutions of public education for the benefit of all Texans. Up until the 86th Legislative session, the previous Texas legislatures have seen contentious fights over public education policy and the dramatic cuts to public school funding. This must stop now.

 

The Soul of America

 

     There are two competing visions for the soul of our nation: one weakens the public and one strengthens it. On one side, there is a drive to de-fund public education, de-professionalize teaching, misuse test scores to declare schools as failing, and institute paths to privatize schools in the name of school reform. These privatization schemes take the form of private school vouchers, for-profit virtual schools, and corporate chain charter schools that do not serve all students equally.

 

     The other vision is to provide adequate funding for all schools, implement high quality and full day pre-kindergarten instructional programs that start our youngest learners on their path to educational success, raise the bar with higher standards and more respect for the teaching profession, focus on a rich instructional program instead of a narrow overemphasis on testing, and engage community partners in support for neighborhood schools and the children and families they serve.

 

     Those advocating the privatization of public schools have attacked the public education system and falsely labeled neighborhood schools as failures. This arbitrary judgment has been exposed as a cynical strategy to divert public education monies for private purposes, and has brought advocates like Pastors for Children to the fight against privatization and in support of initiatives that tell the true story about the value of our public schools.

 

     The “choice” that corporate chain charters claim to offer parents and students is illusory. It is really these private operators who exercise their own freedom to choose which students they will recruit and retain and which students they will exclude or filter out. And the latter group disproportionately includes Hispanics, African-Americans, English Language Learners, students with disabilities, and students who are at risk because of disciplinary or academic difficulties.  These children are our neighbors too.

 

     The private school voucher, regardless of the euphemism by which it is falsely named, will not begin to cover the cost of a private education that even approximates the quality of the education that poor child receives in the traditional public school.  Quality private education costs far more than what the voucher covers.  Furthermore, there is no transportation allotment attached to the voucher. One surely notices that private schools are not located in poor neighborhoods.  How would the poor child get to the private school even with a voucher?

 

     As we have said, the poorest children among us attend public schools.  They are the places these children are taught, fed, affirmed, and loved.  62% of the 5.4 million schoolchildren in Texas attend public schools.  Private schools do not exist to care for poor children in this way, nor do they intend to accept the influx of poor children into their schools through vouchers. That is the very reason private schools are private in the first place.  It is as morally wrong for the State of Texas to divert already stretched public dollars for underwriting the religious mission of private church and parochial schools, as it is for the state to require intrusive accountability measures for the private schools that receive that public money. Let private schools remain private, public schools remain public.

 

     The chief objection we have to vouchers is the inherent religious liberty violations of them. The Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the State of Texas, Article 1, Section 6 and 7 states this:  “No man shall be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent. No money shall be appropriated, or drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any sect, or religious society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the State be appropriated for any such purposes.”  Clearly, using tax dollars for religious private schools violates this principle. 

 

     Do Texas Christians really want their tax money to fund Muslim private schools?  By last count, we have eleven madrassas in the state of Texas.  Do Muslim folks want their money underwriting Baptist church schools? Do Texas Baptists really want their tax money to fund Roman Catholic schools that teach the infallibility of the Pope?  Do Texas Catholics really want their tax money funding Baptist schools that teach children the priesthood of all believers?

 

     Let us rededicate ourselves to these children in our public education system. Rather than again fixating on controversial, unproven policies that further impair our public schools, let us reclaim our collective will to pursue proposals that give our schools the support they need to prepare our children for the economy they will inherit, and create.

 

     Pastors for Children are mobilizing congregational leaders to do precisely this. We have three objectives in our work:  1) Get the congregation involved in assistance ministries in your local neighborhood school, always under the authority of the school principal and in deference to God’s gift of church/state separation; 2.) Get congregational leaders engaged in public education advocacy by bringing your influence to bear on state legislators who shape education policy for our children; and 3.) Engage in electoral races not to endorse candidates, but to endorse the justice provision of quality public education for all children.

 

     We are now in six states: Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Florida. We have held meetings and conversations with faith leaders in a dozen other states where we will soon plant our work.

 

     Let’s provide our children the education that our community provided us. Their future, and ours, depends on it. Let us rededicate ourselves to these children in our public education system. We have an absolute and total obligation to our children. Not just the few. Not just the privileged. Not just our own. All children. 

 

   The great equalizer in American life is the neighborhood public school. It is the laboratory for our democracy. It is the teller of our national history and story. It is the training ground for citizenship in this great land. It is the discovery zone where our children uncover their own God-given talent, realize their own significance, understand the power of their own individuality, and locate their own place within the larger world of their community. It is the social and communal context where the values of our faith are incarnated. It is the meeting place for the widening diversity of our American life. The public school is the shared space where we nurture civic virtue, cultivate mutual respect, practice tolerance across racial, class, gender, political, and religious lines, and preserve and protect God’s Common Good.