Archives for category: Vermont

Remember the song, “Kids! What’s the Matter with Kids Today?” from “Bye, Bye, Birdie?”

Watch this. It’s wonderful, and it reminds of how every generation thinks that the younger generation is rotten and declining.

Bill Mathis is a former superintendent in Vermont and now serves as a member of the state board of education. He has steadily opposed the Bad News Club, which constantly bashes the schools and the younger generation, which every generation decries. In this post, he patiently explains that Vermont has exceptionally successful schools. After citing the examples of improvement, Mathis writes:

“As for the greatly lamented “unprepared” college students, only the top scoring 45% enrolled in higher education in 1960. Today, 73% of Vermont children attend higher education — although fewer graduate. As we dip deeper into the pool, we are comparing different cohorts.

Then, there’s the “school failure” industry. Charter school advocates, test manufacturers and politicians profit by manufacturing bad news. They are ably assisted by the media. For example, with the release of the latest national assessment scores, instead of touting the record high scores, ABC led with the theme of “not good enough.” The media did not report that the standard is set so high that no nation in the world could have even half their students meet it.”

Mathis cites the challenges that face Vermont schools. He concludes that “The increasing income gap represents the greatest of problems for our society and our schools. Pretending that adopting higher standards and more tests, by themselves, will close the achievement gap is an irrational distraction.”

This is a hugely important point. Raising standards and adding on more tests do not create jobs, do not feed hungry children, do not narrow the income gap, which is a scandal across our society.




Yesterday, it was my pleasure to visit Vermont and New Hampshire, and to experience that wonderful bracing feeling of New England in the fall. It brought back long ago memories, when I was a naive young Texan, freshly arrived from the Houston public schools, and got my first sight of giant trees turning gorgeous shades of red, yellow, and orange, and breathed in the cool, crisp smell of fall.

My sponsor yesterday was the Vermont School Boards Association, but I stayed across the state line in Hanover and spoke at Dartmouth College, which provided a large lecture hall (thanks to the Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth). I met with students and school board members. I was introduced by Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who spoke movingly of his school days. He was dyslexic, he said, and the principal told him and his parents that the school would do its best, but he would probably never learn to read and would never qualify for a profession. But one teacher, he said, took an interest in him, and she patiently taught him how to read. The lesson he drew from his experience is that we should never give up on any child.

At first, I thought that if every governor had had to overcome a learning obstacle as Governor Shumlin had, it would make them more appreciative of our public education system and the importance of dedicated teachers. But a local school board member reminded me of another sitting governor in a nearby state who also had a learning disability, yet is demoralizing teachers and destabilizing his state’s great public education system by favoring charter schools.

What’s so great about Vermont? Aside from gorgeous scenery, a beautiful climate, and friendly people, it is a state where people have a powerful sense of community. They care about their local community, about their children, about their state. They don’t brag, though they could: Vermont has the nation’s highest graduation rate (91.4%). Instead, they write and talk and think about how to do better. They want more parental involvement, more early childhood education, more technology in every classroom. They want to support their principals and teachers, and they want everyone to remember that the whole community must work together on behalf of its youngest members.

Vermont is smart. They did not apply for Race to the Top. They did not want all those federal strings attached to their local schools. They refused the NCLB waiver because Vermont was smart enough to see that meant more federal strings without any money. Vermont did not want to evaluate its teachers by the test scores of their students. They did not want charter schools to divide their communities. Vermont wants the big decisions made by the local community, not by Washington, D.C.

To show you how unusual Vermont is, Governor Shumlin picked Rebecca Holcombe, the director of teacher education at Dartmouth, to be state commissioner of education.

The state wants to strengthen communities and families. Yes, they still have to give tests, but they don’t talk all that much about test scores. NCLB requires that they do it, but it is clear that the state wants to strike the right balance between what schools must do, what families must do, what students must do, and how the legislature can help without domineering.

I didn’t hear any teacher-bashing.

The Mean Party is in charge in many states, and Congress can’t break free of its NCLB mindset.

But things are different in Vermont. It’s a beautiful state in many ways.

Vermont decided not to apply for a waiver from NCLB.

Not because it loves NCLB. No one does.

But because Vermont education officials had their own ideas about how to help their schools.

And they discovered that Arne Duncan’s offer to give them “flexibility” was phony.

He did not want to hear Vermont’s ideas. Contrary to his claims, the waivers do not offer flexibility.

What Arne Duncan wants states to do is to agree to his own demands, not to shape their own destiny.

He wants them to allow more privately managed charters. He wants them to evaluate teachers by student test scores. He wants them to adopt Common Core state standards.  He wants them to agree to threaten and close down schools with low test scores. He has a laundry list of what he wants them to do.

Of course, this is all very puzzling since none of Arne Duncan’s mandates have a solid basis in research or evidence. In that regard, they are not much different from NCLB. You might say they represent NCLB without the timetable.

Even more puzzling is the assumption that Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education know how to reform the schools of the nation. It is not as if anyone would look at Arne Duncan’s Chicago as a model for the nation. That district is once again being “reformed,” this time by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

And from a strictly Constitutional point of view, the U.S. Department of Education has never been empowered to tell schools and school districts how to reform themselves.

Quite candidly, there is no one at the U.S. Department of Education who is competent to tell entire states how to reform their schools.

So, kudos to Vermont.

A state that said no to federal control, federal mandates, privatization, and other bad ideas.

As often, I add a footnote to the original post: Bruce Baker of Rutgers alerted me to a change in governance in Vermont. The legislature just passed a bill to have the state commissioner of education report to the governor. This opens the way for business community and privatizers to exert more influence. Privatizers like to eliminate input from parents and communities, making it easier for them to get what they want.

Vermonters: Don’t let it happen.

Stay outside the consensus.

Keep Vermont and Vermont parents and communities in charge of your schools.