Response to “reform,” Teacher Shortage, Standards, Charters, Vouchers, Testing,
Competency Based Education
POISONING OUR FUTURE
The lie that America cares about its children is exposed yet again.
When the children of Flint, Michigan were found to have been poisoned by lead in the water the news media was all over it. The Republican governor and his apologists continue to blame someone else – most notably, the victims – even while the governor’s own investigative task force placed the blame on state government, including him.
Now that the Flint water crisis has been relegated to “page 2” of the news (except, of course, in Flint) most Americans can once again ignore the fact that thousands of black and brown children have had their health and cognitive development stunted by the neglect of politicians who don’t really give a sh*t about them.
Lead poisoning is still a serious problem for urban school districts throughout the country.
Lead poisoning doesn’t go away by itself and its impact is permanent. There is no cure. Once a child is damaged by lead poisoning’s effect on their nervous system, intellectual development, and behavior, it never goes away. Think Freddie Gray.
Lead poisoning rates have fallen dramatically since the 1990s because of stronger laws and increased testing in areas of high-risk. However, a large number of children are still negatively affected because they “fall through the legislative cracks”.
There are still places where lead hurts children either because they live in places where lead is ubiquitous, like Flint, or their schools are the source. Take Jersey City, for example. When lead was discovered in the public schools’ drinking water did the city and state rush to protect their children from the devastating impact of lead poisoning?
Yes…seven years later.
The Jersey City Public Schools district discovered lead contamination in eight schools’ drinking fountains in 2006, and in more schools in 2008, 2010 and 2012. But not until 2013 did officials finally chart a comprehensive attack on lead, which by then had struck all but six schools.
PUSHING BACK AGAINST “REFORM”
Read comments on the internet and you’ll learn that the general public still believes that public schools are hell-holes filled with failing students and incompetent teachers. The accepted knowledge is that we spend excessive amounts of money and that most of it gets sucked up by the evil teachers unions whose lazy members only went into teaching for the summers off and the high salaries.
Is it worth fighting back with calm, reasoned arguments? Is it worth telling the truth about the effects on schools of poverty and racial isolation? What will it take to educate Americans as to the actual problems facing public education?
Because blaming public education for things over which it has zero control is now thoroughly woven into the national discourse on a myriad of issues. Stupid voters? Blame the schools. Lazy workers and economic downslope? Public education’s fault. Anti-intellectualism? They must have learned it at school.
The teaching profession has been seriously damaged by the “reform” movement. Policy makers across the nation have worked hard to make teaching into mindless test-prep with no future. The anti-union push from the right-wing, coupled with the systematic starving of public education by privatizers has meant that becoming a teacher is no longer the secure career it used to be.
If you want to buy a Lexus for $7.95 and nobody will sell one to you for that price, that is not a sign of a automobile shortage. If you want to hire a surgeon to cut your grass for $1.50 an hour and nobody will apply for the job, that is not a surgeon shortage. If you want people to become teachers under the current job conditions (and that is a large-ish if because it’s possible that some folks think it would be easier to run education if teachers would all just go away), and fewer and fewer people are biting, that is not the sign of a teacher shortage– it’s a sign that you need to make your job more attractive. This seems obvious to me. We’ll see if anybody in power can figure it out.
Now that the “reformers” have damaged the teaching profession they have worked with policy makers to make it legal to hire more and more (and cheaper and cheaper) non-certified teachers.
The long term way to weaken the teachers union, and increase profits by lowering personnel costs:
- Create a teacher shortage by making the profession less desirable.
- Then claim that “there aren’t enough teachers” so “we have to hire anyone with a pulse” – at low salaries.
It’s a twofer – bust the union and make a profit at the same time. Guess which neighborhoods will have the bulk of the non-certified, inexperienced teachers?
Historians (if there are any left) will look back on this time in American history as a time when the nation abandoned intelligent thought for a quick buck.
“We shouldn’t shoot for short-term solutions and just push warm bodies in the classroom,” Shields says. “Investing in teacher recruitment and training and improving working conditions for school staff can increase the number and diversity of fully-prepared teachers.”
Why do politicians make decisions on academic standards? Even the Fordham Institute, a conservative “think tank” understands that Texas standards are so politicized as to be useless.
Texas, of course, is the home of textbook standards for the nation. Textbook publishers don’t want to publish too many versions of their books and Texas standards, being for one of the largest markets in the country, have an impact on the books that are available for the rest of us.
Do we want standards which downplay and cover up the truth? Do we want our nation’s children growing up thinking that slavery had nothing to do with the civil war, or that Moses was instrumental in writing our nation’s founding documents?
This is just one more area where educators, rather than politicians, need a voice.
Moreover, remember that even the conservative Fordham Institute has sharply criticized the curriculum standards as a “politicized distortion of history” plagued “misrepresentations at every turn.” How do those politicized standards affect classroom instruction, regardless of what the textbooks say?
Here’s the reality: the state board’s awful curriculum standards make it more likely that Texas students will learn a flawed and politicized distortion of history. We’re confident that the state’s many good teachers try to find ways to work around this problem. But state board members more interested in promoting their own political agendas than educating Texas kids have made those teachers’ jobs much harder.
The solution? Fix the standards by taking out the political agendas.
A neighborhood public school provides stability and community identity.
A charter school can come into a community, draw higher achieving students away from the public schools, and then, if it doesn’t make enough money, can decide to close up shop and abandon its neighborhood.
By switching to a charter school, a family gives up the promise that their child, as a US citizen, is entitled to a free education no matter what. The irony is that the onslaught of charters is forcing some public schools to imitate charters in this one way– to turn their back on the mission of pubic education to educate every child.
The more tax money legislatures provide for vouchers, the higher the cost of private schools will rise.
Public funds should go to public schools.
The idea that private school vouchers can expand opportunities for students currently enrolled in urban public schools is transparently foolish. And yet, time and again, reformy types keep bringing it up, making comparisons to elite private schools that are utterly laughable — especially when voucher funds will actually be going to schools that are nothing like St. Benedict’s.
More talk about what we will replace ISTEP with…more lack of understanding of the basic use of tests and measurements.
Indiana’s leadership class may not be able to get their heads around what constitutes a quality education, but the sharp practice of political advantage is practically second nature to them. The ISTEP test, in its various bungled iterations, has been used as a club to beat teachers with, a way of undermining professionalism in the classroom in the name of accountability.
“We are going to have accountability in our testing,” said Gov. Pence as he repealed ISTEP. “But we are going to find a better way.”
Naturally, he added that “we” would “look to our teachers.” But so long as testing serves as little more than a teacher union-busting tool, who is going to want that job?
COMPETENCY BASED EDUCATION
The premise of CBE is that all learning can be reduced to a collection of performance tasks. This is fine for simple, concrete skills. Identify grammatical sentence parts? Change a tire? Find the measurement for one side of an isosceles triangle? Bake a cake? Sure– if you can perform each of the separate tasks involved, you can be said to have mastered the larger learning.
But more complex skills don’t succumb to merit badge breakdown so easily. You may pass the dribbling test, the passing test, the shooting test, the jumping test, and the blocking test, but does that mean you have achieved mastery of basketball? And does mastery mean that you can play on a YMCA pick-up team, or that you’re ready to go head to head with LeBron James? And were the basketball competencies, both the content and the minimum level required to pass them– did those come from somebody who is knowledgeable about basketball, or from someone who is knowledgeable about designing CBE systems?
And that’s talking skills. When we talk knowledge, CBE goes right out the window. How do we reduce an understanding of the critical realist movement in American literature to a series of competencies? We can’t– so we have to bake in two huge mistakes. First, we reduce it to performance tasks– behaviors– that somebody somewhere believes are the signs of understanding. The competency is literally not “understand the material” but “act as if you understand the material.” Assessing this kind of learning is already a huge challenge for a regular classroom teacher, but CBE adds the element of saying that we will use exactly the same measure for every single student.
Second, using CBE for knowledge learning means that the competencies will always be measured in terms of things we already know. If you are earning your competency badge for “understanding the causes of the Great European War,” what you really have to understand is what the people who wrote the competency measure believe were the causes. In other words, CBE demands inside the box thinking– even for fields in which the box is under considerable debate.
Competency-based education is not just a testing program. It is a radical and expensive innovation that replaces regular instruction with computer “modules” that students work through on their own. It is limited to what can be easily taught and tested by computer, and is being pushed by computer and publishing companies that will make substantial profits from it.
This will make testing fever worse than ever. We can expect daily reports about schools, school districts, states and countries announced on radio, television, newspapers, and on dedicated internet websites, just like sports news, announcing how much progress has been made in mastering modules. This will result it even more testing pressure on the schools. We can look forward to daily reporting like this:
“Fourth graders in Thailand have completed an average of 43 programs this month, compared to Spain’s 42, moving Thailand into 39rd place internationally. Spain did not improve its rankings because of poor performance in several classrooms in Madrid, especially one taught by Estela Garcia at the Academica Arriba in which children completed only six programs this month.”