Religion in Public Schools, ALEC,
School Grades, Betsy DeVos
WRAPPING UP 2016
This is the 93rd and last post to this blog of 2016.
It’s common to wrap up a year in “top ten” lists and such. But a calendar year is a human construct built around the cycle of seasons, and good and bad things happen every year. We all have successes and failures…triumphs and tragedies…joys and sorrows.
A lot has been made recently of the number of celebrities who died in 2016, and it’s true that there were famous people who died this year, just like every year. However, science blogger Greg Laden makes it clear that of the last 7 years, 2016 has had the fewest celebrity deaths.
It’s true that some of the celebrity deaths in 2016 were to people who were “too young to die” (Christina Grimmie, 22 and Anton Yelchin, 27) – artists who were just beginning to make their mark on popular culture. On the other hand, there were many who had lived long, productive lives (Elie Wiesel, 87, Noel Neill, 95 and Abe Vigoda, 94).
My point is not to minimize the importance of anyone’s loss at the death of a friend, relative, or cultural icon, but to suggest that 2016 is like any other year, with its share of sadness and tragedy.
The Guardian suggests that the emotional response to 2016 celebrity deaths is exacerbated by technology
There may not, in fact, have been an unusual number of celebrity deaths this year, but they seem to have been much more salient than before. Part of this must be the result of the growing reach and responsiveness of digital media. Technology makes it possible to observe and react to a distant readership almost as accurately and immediately as an actor can respond to their audience in a theatre. Sudden emotional impulses are amplified with astonishing speed across the internet just as they can be in a crowd. Each apparently solitary smartphone user is really sharing other people’s emotion as well as their own.
It’s not just emotions that are shared in this way. It’s memories as well. The generations of middle-aged people along with all their children and grandchildren have experienced a kind of collectivisation of childhood. This was a historic shift. Before the mass media, childhood memories were shared among very small groups, and anchored to particular places. But for the last 60 years, children in the west, and increasingly elsewhere, have grown up in front of televisions, and many of the most vivid characters of their childhood and adolescence were actors or singers.
Each year is also filled with events which elicit our emotional responses…events like: family occasions (births, weddings, etc), sporting events, and – dare I mention it – political contests.
The path of humanity through history is a path of emotional responses to events in our lives. Joy and sorrow are natural human responses and each is balanced by the other.
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
REAL LIFE CLASSROOMS
“Reformers” are often strangers to public school classrooms, either because they haven’t been in one since childhood, or because they were never in one at all. Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan never attended and never taught in a public school. His only experience with public education was as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools – where he got no first hand classroom experience and as a parent of public school children after he was already appointed Secretary of Education.
The new nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is likewise devoid of any public education experience. She never attended a public school. She never taught in a public school. Her children never attended a public school. How is she qualified to lead the federal department charged with supporting America’s public schools?
Real schools are peopled with real children and real teachers…real support personnel and real administrators. Their voices need to be guiding public education in the US.
I teach first grade in the Chicago Public Schools. I know my job well, and I am actually very good at it (according to all the Christmas cards from children I just opened). And this is what I can tell you, in spite of the politics and policy of education that get harmfully thrown around – the most important part of this job is to keep children safe, and care for them deeply so they can live the lives they were meant to live.
I’m an English teacher, but I will argue till your ears are blue that history is the single most important subject of all and the root of all other education.
It doesn’t work that way in real life. Maybe your kids do love you. Maybe most of them look forward to your class and work hard and achieve things they never thought were possible. But it’s not all of them, dammit! There’s always that one who fights everything you do. And there are always six or seven who sit quietly in the back of the class, and you never know whether they’re learning or sleeping or secretly plotting your violent overthrow. Yeah, sometimes the bad kid ends up being your greatest ally, just like in the movies. Other times he takes his pants off in your class. Mysteriously enough, often it’s both.
RELIGION IN THE SCHOOLS
How do you handle religion in your classroom? Many teachers don’t understand what is and isn’t allowed in the classrooms.
“Can students pray inside their public school buildings? Can teachers say “Merry Christmas” to their students? Can religious music be played in public schools? Yes, yes and yes. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about what is allowed and not allowed when it comes to religious expression in public schools…”
Students are allowed religious expression in public schools unless it disrupts the education process. In other words, they can pray before they eat, before tests, at recess, and at other times during the day. They can talk about their own religious beliefs. They can even share them with others. What they can’t do is disrupt the class with religious preaching or interrupt the education of others or themselves. Adults in the school are not allowed to direct religious expression.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that kids can’t pray in school. What the Court has done — and continues to do — is to strike down school-sponsored prayers and devotional exercises as violations of religious liberty.
As a result of those decisions, school officials may not impose prayers, or organize prayer events, or turn the school auditorium into the local church for religious celebrations.
Follow the money…from private schools, from charter school edupreneurs, to politicians’ campaign coffers.
State politicians across the nation are skirting ethics laws and making backroom deals with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to trade their votes away in 2017 to corporate special interests pushing voucher legislation.
Students are not widgets. They cannot be standardized. Using the same bar to measure two students from diverse backgrounds is unfair, unrealistic, and unproductive. Using student tests to compare schools is equally unreasonable. Tests were made to measure student achievement, not school or teacher quality.
…factors outside of the school have a dramatic impact on academic performance, making so-called accountability measures such as school grades useless as a determinant of school and teacher quality. If we were serious in Indiana about improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all Hoosier students, we would stop focusing on standardized tests and school grades and listen to the professionals who work most closely with our children on a daily basis—their teachers. If we would allow teachers to do their work without interference and arbitrary judgements, what we would see would not be the same in every classroom or for every child, and that is as it should be. Education is a people business, not a product business, and it is time we start trusting our people.
How long will it be before “reformers” admit that standardized tests measure family income?
It was true five years ago and it’s still true today. The grades that Indiana assigns to schools say more about the students the schools serve than how effective the schools are.
A change in the grading system this year was a step in the right direction, but not a big enough step to make the grades fair or credible. Schools that get high grades are still more likely than not to serve few students from poor families. Those that get low grades are almost certainly high-poverty schools.
We know – and have known for a long time – that standardized test scores measure family income. So when you base a teacher “bonus” plan on student standardized test scores you get a plan that favors teachers of the wealthy over teachers of the poor.
Perhaps the legislators and policy makers who put this plan into action were ignorant of the facts of testing. Perhaps they did so because they collected campaign contributions from pro-test groups and testing corporations. Whatever the reason, they shouldn’t be shocked at the result.
The policy is so flawed that the result was highly predictable. Gov. Mike Pence and his minions in the legislature boasted in 2013 that this would reward highly proficient teachers and sort out (shame?) the less effective.
In effect, it undermined the poorer districts and gave to the wealthy, shattering inner-city morale and contributing to a teacher shortage. It was a business model designed to make schools compete for resources, ignoring two important premises: (1) that excellent teaching is a collaborative effort, and, (2) competition creates winners but also losers. When it comes to our youth and their right to an education, we cannot afford to have losers.
NOMINATED SOE IS UNFIT: SO WHAT ELSE IS NEW
Among the people who were considered by President-elect Donald Trump for the position of US Secretary of Education…
Michelle Rhee is unqualified to be US Secretary of Education. She taught for three years, was the chancellor of DC Public Schools for one term, and put in place procedures that led to widespread cheating.
Tony Bennett is unqualified to be US Secretary of Education. As State Superintendent of Public Instruction in Indiana, he manipulated test score data to favor political donors and charter school owners. He also allegedly used government resources for his own campaign purposes.
Williamson Evers is unqualified to be US Secretary of Education. He never taught in a public school. He was never an administrator in a public school. His only public school activity has been to cause damage. He is a self-proclaimed “education expert” for no reason.
Luke Messer is unqualified to be US Secretary of Education. His only education experience is as a legislator making rules for schools without having to live with the consequences as an educator. He is an attorney.
As unqualified as those four candidates are, they are all infinitely more qualified than the ultimate nominee for the position. Betsy DeVos is unfit to have anything to do with America’s public schools. Not only does she have no experience, unlike some of the names above, but she has actively worked to destroy public schools as an act of faith. She has promoted charter schools while demanding that they be allowed to function with no public accountability. She has worked to transfer public funds into private pockets. You want to see how well her policies have worked for public schools? Take a look at Detroit.
On Nov. 23, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Betsy DeVos to serve as secretary of education in his administration. From what we have seen in her home state of Michigan, DeVos is unfit for the Cabinet position. Her family has heavily funded a failed push for constitutional change to allow for vouchers, which allow taxpayer money to go to private schools.
Vouchers drain our public schools of the money they so badly need. DeVos also supports the rapid expansion of charter schools and online schools with minimal regulation. We’ve seen in Ohio with the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow how minimally regulated charters steal our children’s education and enrich business people.