Poverty, CCSS, Teachers
The current trend in right-wing America (which each day seems to be more and more of the country) is to denigrate any and all government involvement in our lives. Our Founding Fathers, however, were not all anarchists and many of them believed that government has a legitimate purpose in building a better nation. One of those purposes is promoting the general welfare which, for most of our history, has included supporting an education system to benefit everyone (with notable exceptions…another topic altogether).
Providing schools supported by the general population — as a public good —
“if educational responsibility remains solely on the immediate family, ‘choice’ may take place in a world of insufficient numbers of quality schools, inadequate information about the stakes and alternatives, and large numbers of people unable to use the choice system effectively. This state of affairs means choice for some and not for others, and whether a child’s educational needs are met will depend on her parents’ ability to choose.”
So with federal education law originally meant to support the public education system in order to break the “poverty-ignorance-ignorance-poverty cycle” by providing ALL children with quality education, we know “choice” cannot logically get us to equal educational opportunity.
Instead of investing in and fixing America’s public schools we’re moving slowly but surely to a system of privately run charters and schools which operate with little or no public oversight. The overreaction to “government interference” is driving this in part, as is the religious right’s fear of anything not based on conservative Christianity. Jeb Bush regularly uses the term “government schools” instead of “public schools” because he wants to get the vote of those who hate everything “government” — an ironic position from someone who comes from a family of government workers and who wants to run the government.
The debate today is over “big-government” vs. small or no government. That’s the wrong focus. The debate should be over “good government” vs. “poor government.” Big-government is not necessarily bad by definition if it serves the people well. Neither is privatization, by definition, good or bad, as long as the people are protected. Governments were developed so people wouldn’t have to live in an “every man for himself,” chaotic society. Working together we can accomplish more than fighting each other.
Charter schools are not, by definition, bad, however, public money does need public oversight…and that’s missing in the charter industry right now. See also: Nonpartisan Report on Charter Schools: No Difference in Test Scores.
When I write about charter schools, which is often, BASIS is a regular part of the conversation. I think it helps us understand the underpinnings of the BASIS system to know something about its founders’ ideology and affiliations. Michael Block’s early associations with ALEC and his endorsement of privatization in the area of bail bonds give us a taste of what his views are concerning district-run, “government” schools and his vision for the future of education in the country. The ALEC/bail bond association makes his statement on the subject of schools and privatization in 2012 all the more telling. In a column by Robert Robb in the Republic, Block commented, “I would privatize the entire government school system.” Here’s the entire quote:
“I would privatize the entire government school system. I don’t think you can actually run schools today with the amount of disagreement we have over the fundamental mission of schools. Is it social welfare? Is it academic excellence? Is it social justice? You can’t possibly have an educational system if you have this amount of disagreement, so privatize it.”
Along with privatizing, Block, like the bail bond industry, also believes in profitizing. Though the individual BASIS schools are nonprofit, BASIS.ed, which sucks up most of the taxpayer money that goes to the schools and runs their basic operations, is a for-profit enterprise. Much of what happens at BASIS is hidden behind BASIS.ed’s for-profit fire wall. How much do Michael and Olga Block make each year? We have no idea. How much taxpayer money drawn up to the for-profit makes it back to the schools? Again, no idea. Did any taxpayer funds help subsidize the building and operation of the BASIS private schools in Silicon Valley, CA, and Brooklyn, NY (tuition: $24,000 per year)? No idea there either because the private, for-profit BASIS.ed operates without public scrutiny. And that’s just how Michael Block likes it, both personally and philosophically.
At this year’s Network for Public Education Conference in Chicago, Diane Ravitch asked both Lily Eskelsen Garcia and Randi Weingarten if their unions, the NEA and AFT respectively, would stop taking money from Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation. Both said yes. Mercedes Schneider writes about how Lily Eskelsen Garcia is backpedaling from that promise.
I understand Lily’s point…the NEA Foundation (which Lily said will continue to take money from “foundations”) is not the NEA…they are two different, though related organizations. I think Lily would have done better to say something like, “I can’t answer that question because, while I speak for the NEA, I don’t make all the decisions on my own. I would have to check with the Executive Board (or the Representative Assembly, or some other group within the union).” That would have made more sense and been something I could accept.
But she didn’t. She said yes.
Keep in mind that NEA under Lily and her predecessor, Dennis Van Roekel, 1) supported and still support the Common Core and 2) came out in support of Barack Obama in 2012 early, even after they had called for the resignation of Arne Duncan, and after four years of the disastrous Race to the Top. Endorsing President Obama was a mistake. Selling out for a “seat at the table” was a mistake.
[Quoting Diane Ravitch from the video, included] The Walton, Gates and Broad Foundations are at the forefront of the privatization movement. Will you commit not to accept funding from them and not to collaborate with them? [56:56]
She then asked for their “yes or no” answers:
A clearcut answer. Both presidents of the two largest national teachers unions said “Yes,” their organizations would stop taking money from the billionaires.
A few days/weeks later Lily backpedals…
But Lily Eskelsen Garcia is willing to defend NEA’s continued receiving of Gates funding on a technicality:
NEA doesn’t directly receive the Gates funding. The NEA Foundation does.
And she completely glosses over her verbal agreement at the NPE conference to no longer even collaborate with Gates.
Her version of Ravitch’s question is botched on her blog, but the point of her unswerving Gates allegiance is clear:
I was asked at the NPE conference to give a simple answer to a question that is not so simple: Would my union, the NEA, accept Gates grants? The fact is that, no, NEA does not directly take funds from the Gates Foundation. … Our union organized an independent foundation for the very purpose of connecting philanthropists with the creative work of our member practitioners in classrooms across the country. … And in service to those members and those students, we will continue to work with powerful partners, foundations and institutions dedicated to educational innovation, educator empowerment, student health, and parent engagement. Over the years, we’ve helped educators connect with many donors, including the Gates Foundation….
KINDERGARTEN, POVERTY, AND THE CCSS
Play is children’s work and it should be pervasive in kindergarten…not work sheets, reading tests, and math facts.
Using play to develop academic knowledge — as well as social skills — in young children is the backbone of alternative educational philosophies like those of Maria Montessori or Reggio Emilia. And many veteran kindergarten teachers, as well as most academic researchers, say they have long known that children learn best when they are allowed ample time to go shopping at a pretend grocery store or figure out how to build bridges with wooden blocks. Even the Common Core standards state that play is a “valuable activity.”
TEACHERS UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEMS
[Read a summary of findings at Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet, Student poverty, lack of parental involvement cited as teacher concerns.]
Teachers are united in their understanding of what is getting in the way of student learning in America…the fact that nearly one-fourth of our children live in poverty.
The key findings demonstrate that poverty and the manifestations of poverty are a critical impediment to education. In addition to the student impact, we have learned that teachers spend considerable amounts of time and personal resources to address these impediments. Teachers are also nearly unanimous in their preferred solution to addressing these challenges: a dedicated person to work with these students and their families.
It’s true. Poverty matters.
In a longer-term study published two years ago, neuroscientists at four universities scanned the brains of a group of twenty-four-year-olds and found that, in those who had lived in poverty at age nine, the brain’s centers of negative emotion were more frequently buzzing with activity, whereas the areas that could rein in such emotions were quieter. Elsewhere, stress in childhood has been shown to make people prone to depression, heart disease, and addiction in adulthood.
Questions: How many early childhood experts were on the team that developed the Common Core State Standards? How many people on the team had experience working with young children? How many people on the team understood child development from birth to age 5? In how many locations were the Common Core State Standards field tested for accuracy and appropriateness?
Answer to all questions: Zero.
Another Boston-area parent, Jennifer Debin, saw similar academic pressures put on her son’s kindergarten class in the Sherborn public schools. “It came as a surprise to me, during my observations of the classroom. There were a lot of work sheets, a lot of seat time, and it was all very teacher directed,” says Debin who volunteered as a class parent. “There wasn’t as much joy in learning, laughter, excitement, and just the noise and playfulness you’d expect in a place trying to get kids excited for that first voyage into school.”
Teachers have a difficult job and most parents understand that, but many folks look at it from the outside and don’t get it. The misunderstanding is epitomized by the contrast between this article and one of the commenters. First, the article — click the link above, read the whole thing and then come back…
On paper, teaching seems like the perfect job. Summers off, a workday that ends at 3 p.m., time off when the students are off — and the daily opportunity to work with children all day long. What more could one possibly want? As with life, things are not always what they seem. Teaching is hard. Parenting is generally deemed the hardest job in the world — but teaching runs a close second. Teachers continue to leave the profession in droves because all of those “on paper” benefits aren’t the reality.
Next, the comment…Here is someone who believes, like Chris Christie (without the obvious bullying) that teachers are well-paid (#1) and underworked (#2) with huge pensions and six-figure salaries. She believes that experience and training doesn’t count (#3) and that teachers use their advanced degrees only to “extort” more money. The big problem is evaluation, however. The current trend is towards evaluating teachers using test scores. The commenter extols inspiring teachers, but how do we measure inspiration (#4)? Is it like good art where “I’ll know it when I see it?” How do you measure the influence a teacher has on his or her students? (See the section titled EVALUATE THAT, here.
Finally, the commenter tells teachers to be happy because parents praise them and buy them lunch “for goodness sakes.” That, apparently, makes it all worth it. I wonder if private sector workers — you know, the ones without the huge pensions — would be happy with praise and a sandwich…
The idea of pairing junior teachers with senior ones and providing more collaborative lesson plans are very good. But the rest of this article is nonsense.
1. Teachers are paid well despite what they want you to believe. Teachers receive ~20% of their pay via a pension that virtually no private sector worker receives. They conveniently like to leave that out. In Loudoun County just outside DC, a masters degree teacher makes the equivalent of $64K-$130K/yr to teach. That is not “drastically underpaid”.
2. Teachers work 200 days per year when other workers spend 235 days in their jobs. Just ask the school administrators who have to work 235 days if they would rather work a teacher schedule. If teachers don’t think that matters, let’s have teachers report for an additional 7 weeks (35 days) in the summer to have some real professional development.
3. The reason nobody respects the masters education degrees is because they have absolutely zero effect on student outcomes. Virtually no study has ever shown a masters degree helps a teacher. The dirty little secret is these are 1) easy to obtain and 2) a mere credential to receive more pay. Yet teachers brag about all of their degrees. Folks in other fields often don’t get masters or doctorates because they are unnecessary and they can’t extort extra pay from their employers with them.
4. Yes, we want teachers to inspire kids and not just be good in a theoretical classroom. Maybe that’s harsh. But since we know some teachers are effective at communicating and inspiring kids to be interested, that is the benchmark for the best. Some quarterbacks have a lot of talent but for some reason can’t perform well. They don’t get a pass. Teaching is critical so we will continue to search for the most effective ones.
Teachers receive more praise than any profession. Parents bring you lunch for goodness sakes. We want great teachers and are determined to find the best ones for our kids.
The king of teacher bashers is New Jersey governor, Chris Christie. Here, Jersey Jazzman provides an article and video showing the good governor at his best. I would just add a couple of things from the video which aren’t fully covered…
At 1:50 in the video Christie says,
“It’s the same as it was in the 1800’s for God’s sake…It’s a row of desks facing forward to a black board or a white board…a person standing in the front of the room…talking to the people at the desks…
“And they do so from roughly 8:30 to roughly 2:30 or 3 o’clock, and they’re off four months a year.”
It’s clear that Christie is either lying or doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The average teacher works longer than six hours a day…even if that’s all he or she is paid for. There’s preparation and grading for example. As a teacher I normally had several hours of work each day evaluating the work of students…I stayed late after school or took it home. I’m pretty sure I was not the only teacher who did that. Granted, I can’t speak for every teacher in America, however, studies have shown that teachers generally work more hours than they’re paid for each day…which more than makes up for…
…the time off in the summer. Maybe it’s different in New Jersey, but here in Indiana (and in Illinois where I grew up) the “summer vacation” is between 8 and 10 weeks long, not four months. Next year (school year 2015-16), for example, my local school’s year ends on May 27. The 2016-17 school year beings on August 8. A quick glance at a 2016 calendar puts that at 10 weeks and it doesn’t include classes teachers must take to keep their licenses current, independent study and reading, summer jobs to supplement their income, and other school-related work. Even so, it’s not 4 months as Governor Christie states. Maybe New Jersey needs to check its calendar. Liar? Bully? or just misinformed?
At 2:52 in the video he ups the ante…
“Why don’t we have it? we don’t have it because the teachers union likes to be off 4 – 5 months a year…they like to get a full time salary for a part time job…and the fact is they don’t want to work longer hours either unless they get paid more even though they’re getting paid essentially a full time salary for a part time job…so our k-12 education system is built for the comfort of adults rather than to exploit the potential of children.”
With this the governor expands the summer break to four or five months and, of course, blames it on the teachers union. If teachers unions are so bad why do students in states with strong teachers unions (like New Jersey) consistently score higher on national tests than students in states with weak or no unions?
Finally, at 6:20 he says…
Imagine that we have all these old books that we’re using in schools…lot of them…old…four years old, five years old…when we have available to us now the technology at a relatively same cost…why doesn’t every kid have an ipad? Why doesn’t every kid have an ipad and then you can download the most recent type of materials and use the technology…
Interesting question Governor. Where is the financial support for your schools going? You claim that the state is spending so much money on education, yet it can’t seem to provide current and appropriate materials. Why not?
Jersey Jazzman takes over…
We Jersey folks have become used to this: after all, Christie has compared teachers to drug dealers, told students their teachers don’t care about their learning, and excoriated teachers for using pronouns to describe their students.
…he has a personal beef with the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union. The NJEA has not backed down to his bullying, and that pisses him off to no end…
Second, Christie needs a scapegoat for his many, many failures as governor. He has a terrible job creation record, a terrible tax record, a terrible record of management, a terrible environmental record, a terrible public health record, and a terrible disaster recovery record. Plus Bridgegate. And the ARC tunnel. And our tanking credit rating. And housing. And his personal greed….[see original for several embedded links]
The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.