Teachers as Scapegoats, The Founding Fathers, DeVos Watch, ALEC’s Tool in Indiana
SIDE EFFECT WARNING
Teachers have been encouraged to individualize instruction…to differentiate. Teachers have been encouraged to group by achievement through Guided Reading, yet an Indiana standardized test requires all third graders be able to read at third grade level or remain in third grade. Another Indiana standardized test is used to rank schools and teachers. Either we accept that not all students will be at the same place at the same time…or we don’t. Either all students are to be standardized, or they’re not.
Those same standardized tests focus almost exclusively on reading and math, and schools have been pressured to follow suit – focus on reading and math. What has happened to science, health, civics and the arts?
The state of Indiana spends a large part of its budget on education. But how much of that isn’t spent on public education? How much of it is being ‘nickel and dimed’ away on charter schools, vouchers, and more, more, and more tests?
Yong Zhao reminds us of the “unintended consequences” of bandwagon-based education.
First, time is a constant. When you spend time on one task, you cannot spend the same amount on another. When a child is given extra instruction in reading, he/she cannot spend the same time on arts or music. When a school focuses only on two or three subjects, its students would not have the time to learn something else. When a school system only focuses on a few subjects such as reading and math, students won’t have time to do other and perhaps more important things.
Second, recourses are limited. When it is put into one activity, it cannot be spent on other. When school resources are devoted to the common core, other subjects become peripheral. When schools are forced to only focus on raising test scores, activities that may promote students’ long-term growth are sidelined.
Third, some educational outcomes are inherently contradictory. It is difficult for an educational system that wishes to cultivate a homogenous workforce to also expect a diverse population of individuals who are creative and entrepreneurial. Research has also shown that test scores and knowledge acquisition can come at the expense of curiosity and confidence.
Fourth, the same products may work differently for different individuals, in different contexts. Some people are allergic to penicillin. Some drugs have negative consequences when taken with alcohol. Likewise, some practices, such as direct instruction may work better for knowledge transmission, but not for long term exploration. Charter schools may favor those who have a choice (can make a choice) at the costs of those who are not able to take advantage of it.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE DOING THINGS RIGHT
One of my goals for this year is to help dispel the myth that public schools are failing. One of the biggest tools in the pocket of the public school deniers are international test scores. Ours are skewed by the high poverty rate in the U.S., but there’s more. We also educate everyone, and test everyone, even students with special needs.
The latest international PISA … showed that the United States is below average of 65 countries but this is not even an apple-to-apple comparison:
• The key correlation for academic success is family income.
• The USA is one of the only countries that educates EVERYONE. Most countries only educate their most affluent class.
• We do well on the PISA math comparison [and other PISA subjects] if you control for free-and reduced-price lunch, making it a better apple-to-apple comparison.
BLAMING TEACHERS FOR DYSFUNCTIONAL SOCIETY
Here is another teacher who is tired of being the scapegoat for all the ills of society.
There’s an element of this rage at bad teachers that’s hard to talk about, and so it’s often avoided: the dismaying truth that we don’t know how to educate poor inner-city and rural kids in this country. In particular, we don’t know how to educate African-American boys, who, according to the Schott Foundation for Public Education, graduate high school at rates no better than fifty-nine per cent. Yet if students from poor families persistently fail to score well, if they fail to finish high school in sufficient numbers, and if those who graduate are unable, in many cases, to finish college, teachers alone can hardly be at fault. Neither the schools nor the teachers created the children or the society around them: the schools and the teachers must do their best with the kids they are given.
…We also have to face the real problem, which, again, is persistent poverty. If we really want to improve scores and high-school-graduation rates and college readiness and the rest, we have to commit resources to helping poor parents raise their children by providing nutrition and health services, parenting support, a supply of books, and so on. We have to commit to universal pre-K and much more. And we have to stop blaming teachers for all of the ills and injustices of American society.
THE FOUNDERS SUPPORTED PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The right-wing in the US has trouble with the constitution. More than half of the voters who voted for the current president would agree to give him power to overrule judges whose rulings he didn’t like. A similar number of the President’s voters don’t think that California’s tally in the last election should count. The president himself has said things which indicate he doesn’t really understand or agree with the constitutional separation of powers or the first amendment. They praise the constitution, but don’t really know what it says – with the obvious exception of the second amendment.
Many of the founders, who are routinely praised, along with their constitution, by the American “ignoranti”, were supporters of universal education.
That’s why we have public schools – so that an educated citizenry will lead to a good government.
Our founders didn’t want a system of private schools each teaching students various things about the world coloring their minds with religious dogma. They didn’t want a system of schools run like businesses that were only concerned with pumping out students to be good cogs in the machinery of the marketplace.
No. They wanted one public system created for the good of all, paid for at public expense, and democratically governed by the taxpayers, themselves.
Forgive Betsy DeVos her foolish comment that teachers are waiting to “be told what to do.” She doesn’t understand that public school teachers actually have some training in their field, unlike her.
I do have a question for her, however. How would you define “facilitate great teaching”?
I visited a school on Friday and met with some wonderful, genuine, sincere teachers who pour their heart and soul into their classrooms and their students and our conversation was not long enough to draw out of them what is limiting them from being even more success[ful] from what they are currently. But I can tell the attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child. You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.
Vouchers don’t work and drain public education systems of needed funds for services which are available to all children for the benefit of everyone.
During her contentious hearing, DeVos made clear her preference for an education system that favors choice – including virtual charter schools with dismal track records. The Obama administration also invested federal dollars in charter schools, but the $20 billion level Trump has proposed for promoting school choice is unprecedented.
Much of that money would go toward the private sector, and DeVos has also been challenged repeatedly for supporting vouchers that allow parents to use government dollars to pay for private, for-profit and religious schools, a cornerstone of Trump’s stated plan. Results for voucher programs have been questionable, according to several studies.
Are we better off now that DeVos has unleashed the support of the American people for real public education?
On both sides of the aisle, he said, “there has been a commitment to improvement of public education. It is only on the extreme fringes that you have had a push for whole hog privatization.”
The public outpouring of support for the nation’s public school system, if not for individual public schools, may have been one of the silver linings to emerge from the DeVos nomination.
But it is far too soon to know whether her confirmation ordeal will have any impact on DeVos’ views, and more importantly, the policies she promotes during the next four years.
Feuer, for one, is skeptical that expressions of support for public schools, expressed in such a highly politicized context, will have much positive impact. “Education in America has been subjected to so much gloom and doom rhetoric, followed by irrational exuberance,” he said. “What we need is a sustained and rational debate about what is working and what is not.”
Earlier this month I had lunch with three former colleagues, two of whom are social conservatives and probably vote that way. My guess is that they vote for the conservative option at least 90% of the time – in federal, state, and local elections. The third is an enigma who has rarely expressed a political opinion to me, unless it was specifically tied to education.
We talked about politics, since it is on everyone’s mind, and their big takeaway, to which they all agreed, was that they are against public demonstrations because of “violence.”
It’s true that some demonstrations after the election and the day of the inauguration were marred by violence, but for the most part, the demonstrations for or against (mostly the latter) the current administration have been peaceful. The consuming public has a tendency to remember violence and rioting, while forgetting the “no news” of a peaceful march. Therefore, people can remember the dozens of people who were violent during the inauguration, but quickly forget the half million women, men, and children who marched peacefully the next day, accompanied by other millions around the country…and around the world.
But don’t blame the protest for the violence. Protest, peaceable assembly, is protected in the first amendment. It’s human misbehavior that causes violence. That is not to say that violence and riots are never justified. Indeed, Martin Luther King Jr., who preached non-violence throughout the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, said, “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”
Is violence called for right now? I don’t think so, but there are obviously some people who disagree with me. But the right of the people peaceably to assemble must not be prohibited.
I have protested in the past and I will not shrink away from protesting in the future. I see my writing as protesting.
I applaud those who rally at the local, state and national levels on the issues that matter most to their schools and to America.
A silver-lining to the DeVos appointment is that more people than ever before are paying attention to the possible loss of public education.
I also know that protesting isn’t always pretty. But I think we need to better plan how to be strategically tough without giving the other side the moral high ground that can be used against us.
In addition, as drowning professionals, trying to come up for air, it might help to grab onto each other to form a buoy that takes us to the top.
Organizing and pulling together in large numbers to peacefully protest can be very effective.
ALEC’S TOOL IN INDIANA
Bob Behning, the chair of the Indiana General Assembly’s House Committee on Education has been at the forefront of the war against public schools. His actions show that he hates public education, hates public school teachers, hates teachers unions, and will stop at nothing to privatize public education.
Behning came in to the House as a florist from an area near Indianapolis. His ties to education privatizers has given him more career opportunities, however. He became a lobbyist for a testing company, and now works for his privatizer friends at Marion University…in the “educators college” no less. Qualifications anyone?
Vitals: Republican representing District 91, covering parts of Marion and Hendricks counties. So far, has served 25 years in the legislature. Formerly the owner of a local florist, Behning now is the director of external affairs for the educators college at the private Marian University.
…Behning has held leadership positions with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative not-for-profit lobby group that pairs legislators and business owners together to write model legislation. ALEC’s education legislation tends to advocate for vouchers, charter schools and other methods of school choice. Because Behning has worked closely with ALEC, as well as other school reform groups, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education gave Behning an “F” in its 2016 legislative report card highlighting who it thinks has been supportive of public schools.
Behning has supported the new U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, particularly because of her advocacy for increasing access to charter schools and vouchers.
Who supports him: Over the course of the past few elections, Behning has received campaign contributions from Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers; Stand for Children, a national organization that supports education reform and helps parents to organize; Students First, another pro-reform lobbying group created by former head of D.C. public schools Michelle Rhee; Education Networks of America, a private education technology company; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country; and Bennett’s campaign.