STUDENT, PARENT AND EDUCATOR INVOLVEMENT
The “reformers” own the media and their words get the publicity. Lately, though, the voice of teachers and students are being heard, for example…
It’s about time that those directly involved in public education, the teachers, parents and students, reclaim the conversation about America’s schools from the likes of Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee.
It’s about time. I’ve been disappointed with the NEA leadership under President Dennis Van Roekel. NEA has the opportunity to lead the re-professionalizing of the teaching profession. Let’s hope that the new leadership does a better job.
The foundation of the Raise Your Hand campaign rests on the strong belief that educators – not politicians or self-proclaimed “reform” experts – know what works and they are the ones to lead and act for student success.
Why aren’t more educators speaking out? The national movement is, after all, moving towards the destruction of their livelihood and career. It’s mostly fear.
In numerous conversations I’ve heard teachers and administrators say things like, “I really agree with you, but…” They follow with things like, “…the state is forcing this on us,” or “…this is coming from the superintendent’s office,” or “…in order to keep our funding…” The pressure that the legislatures and pundits have put on public education doesn’t give educators the option of fighting back.
Teachers feel stifled, and children are at risk of being educated on a production line. Although many teachers and school leaders are taking one step forward and trying to innovate through all of this, mandates and accountability force them to take two steps back.
Educators are rule followers by nature. It’s just who they are. They believe following rules is an important part of learning. This goes for administrators as well. Unfortunately, many administrators enforce rules they don’t believe in. They abide by rules in the hallway and complain about them behind closed doors. That rule following doesn’t create necessary change and its helping make education worse.
But what can educators do? They don’t want to lose funding. They don’t want to get in “trouble.”
Many teachers don’t feel as though they can speak out for a variety of reasons. They may not know where to begin, have a deep fear of saying something negative, or have an unsupportive administrator. They fear being moved to another school or being given an unfair observation that punishes them for being too vocal. Some administrators are fearful too. They work for superintendents who are too political and care less about speaking out against mandates and accountability that is unfair to students.
Read through some of the (hundreds! of) comments to this post to get an indication of the reasons that educators are afraid of speaking out. Someone needs to do a psychological study about why so many people hate teachers.
I used to be a molecular biologist. I spent my days culturing viruses. Sometimes, my experiments would fail miserably, and I’d swear to myself in frustration. Acquaintances would ask how my work was going. I’d explain how I was having a difficult time cloning this one gene. I couldn’t seem to figure out the exact recipe to use for my cloning cocktail.
Acquaintances would sigh sympathetically. And they’d say, “I know you’ll figure it out. I have faith in you.”
And then, they’d tilt their heads in a show of respect for my skills….
Today, I’m a high school teacher. I spend my days culturing teenagers. Sometimes, my students get disruptive, and I swear to myself in frustration. Acquaintances ask me how my work is going. I explain how I’m having a difficult time with a certain kid. I can’t seem to get him to pay attention in class.
Acquaintances smirk knowingly. And they say, “well, have you tried making it fun for the kids? That’s how you get through to them, you know?”
And then, they explain to me how I should do my job….
“Reformers” like to say they are fighting the status quo, but the overuse and misuse of testing began after A Nation At Risk* in the early 80s. Punishment for low test scores was added with No Child Left Behind in 2001. ALEC has been writing anti public education legislation which states have been passing since it started in 1973. The beating up of public education using testing as a club has been the status quo for a long time.
According to its 2013 Condition of Education report, one in five schools in the United States are considered high poverty. Twenty percent of public school students attended these schools in 2011, considerably more than the 12 percent who did in 1999–2000. That year, 45 percent of students attended a low-poverty school. Now only 25 percent do. Overall, approximately 10.9 million school-age children are from families living in poverty, a four percent increase from a decade earlier.
The trend is stark – poverty is affecting more and more students. And yet, the debate over education – at least how it plays out in the national media and many legislatures across the country- continues to freeze out substantive discussions about poverty and its obvious impact on student achievement. The ongoing fascination with market-driven education reform proposals and their media-savvy boosters leaves room for little else, although recent scrutiny over faulty standardized tests is reason for encouragement.
*A good response to A Nation At Risk is the book, The Manufactured Crisis by David Berliner.
The Federal government has a role to play in the lives of Americans. The Jim Crow laws might still be on the books in the “Old Confederacy” if not for Federal intervention. Sometimes the states need to have their arms twisted to do what’s right. The same is true for public education.
Unlike what the right wing seems to believe, the government is not always bad.
The measure represents the conservative establishment’s answer to the failures of the Bush-era education reforms known as No Child Left Behind. Proponents argue it would close achievement gaps by freeing states to spend federal money allocated to poverty-stricken schools without being bound by the conditions of current education laws. But as a ThinkProgress guest blogger wrote in 2011, the bill would “widen achievement gaps rather than close them” because states are unlikely to maintain funding levels for poor schools if given the freedom A-PLUS provides:
“The sad fact is that states don’t always take actions to support their most vulnerable children. Texas officials recently battled over whether education money should be used to actually provide education services to children, a standoff that ended after nine long months. As budget cuts force increasing numbers of states to wrestle with funding challenges, federal Title I funds must remain a stable source of funding for students who have the least access to resources.”
High achieving nations already understand this. We need to take care of the basic needs of our citizens.
Studies have failed to find a correlation between improved test scores and subsequent economic progress and have also shown that job loss results in depressed school performance. In one study, job losses affecting 3.4% of state’s population predict a decline of 10 points on standardized math tests.. Their results also indicated that “downturns affect all students, not just students who experience parental job loss.”
This data strongly suggests that reducing poverty helps raise educational levels, not the other way around. It means that Martin Luther King was right:
“We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.” (Martin Luther King, 1967, Final Words of Advice).
Dennis Van Roekel, who now represents 3 million educators as president of the National Education Association, said, “if just one percent of K-12 education spending were diverted to private profits, it would mean $5 Billion a year in someone’s pocket.” Is it any surprise that there are so many Charter Schools and Virtual Schools popping up all over the country when the research has not shown any greater student achievement scores for children in Charter Schools over students in public education?
So the core of ALEC’s education agenda is about vouchers and privatization. Of course, since educators have unions that resist vouchers and privatization, they will do anything in their power to weaken our unions and silence our voices. That’s why ALEC backs anti-union measures like the attack on workers’ right to collective bargaining. They want to strip away our ability to negotiate not only for salary and health care for our families, but also for things that affect our students, like smaller class sizes.
Moyers’ documentary on ALEC, expanded and updated. Comments about Alec’s involvement with the privatization of public education starts at about 11:45. Keep watching…there’s more that starts at about 23:30. At this point it delves into the question of privatization of public education and the corporate interests behind the move towards privatization.
Charters have improved, but are still doing about the same as public schools. The 2009 study said the same things with similar numbers.
The problem is not public school teachers, or public schools. The problem is that there is a segment of our society which wants control of the money going to educate our children.
The nation’s public charter schools are growing more effective but most don’t produce better academic results when compared with traditional public schools, according to a report released Tuesday.
Researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes looked at test data from charter schools in 26 states and the District and found that 25 percent of charters outperformed traditional public schools in reading while 29 percent of charters delivered stronger results in math. That marked an improvement over a similar 2009 study by the same research team.
The so-called “Choice” movement claims to give choice to parents, but actually, with the voucher program, the choice is that of the school, not the parent.
The setting was significant Thursday when Gov. Mike Pence signed House Bill 1003, which expands Indiana’s school voucher program. He signed it at Calvary Christian School, a small Pentecostal school on the south side of Indianapolis that enrolls voucher students.
The governor praised the voucher expansion for giving more “choice” to parents and students. However, you can only choose Calvary Christian if it chooses to let you in. “Families expect a higher level of achievement and behavior at CCS,” the school’s handbook says, “and as such the admission process requires that incoming students’ records be carefully reviewed.”
Public schools need public oversight. Private schools and corporate CMOs shouldn’t be receiving public funds.
Alfie Kohn, a leading author and lecturer on education, is even more blunt.
“Anyone who punishes children by suspending them repeatedly, confining them, or stigmatizing and publicly humiliating them is either deeply ignorant about how to help kids or is more concerned with the adults’ convenience than with doing what’s in the best interest of the students. Or I suppose there’s a third possibility, which is that the school deliberately mistreats challenging kids in the hope that they’ll give up and withdraw, thereby allowing the school to weed out students with special needs so Achievement First can boast about its results. If the Gates Foundation is funding schools that engage in practices like this, that’s a strong argument for us to resist its involvement in education.”
*References to charters generally imply corporate, for-profit charter schools. Quotes from other writers reflect their opinions only. See It’s Important to Look in a Mirror Now and Then.
All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.