Posted in Booker, Charters, DeVos, Politics, Preschool, Public Ed, Quotes, reform, Tenure, Testing, theArts, Trump

Listen to This (Random Quotes) #5

BUILDING SUPPORT FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION

Defeating the DeVos Agenda

Competing on an uneven playing field, public school corporations have taken to advertising in order to keep their students from going to charter schools or using vouchers to attend private schools. Instead, John Merrow offers additional advice on how to “advertise” by involving community members, especially those who have no current connections to the public schools.

Public schools belong to their communities, not to the school board members, or the parents of current students. Schools are investments in a community’s future, paid for by everyone, for the benefit of everyone. Closing schools and opening charters, or offering vouchers, is taking years of community investment and throwing it away.

From John Merrow

Only when ‘outsiders’ become convinced that what’s happening in our public schools is not just test-prep and rote learning pushed on sullen teenagers by demoralized instructors, only then will Betsy DeVos and her militant Christian army of ideologues and profiteers lose this war.

TEACHING THE ARTS

Piecemeal Privatization of Arts and Music in Public Schools

The latest Kappan (April, 2017) is focused on the Arts.

Many school systems in the U.S. have had to cut back on their arts programming due to budget cuts and the obsessive focus on reading and math. Music and art teachers are stretched thin trying to educate large numbers of children in areas that aren’t tested, and therefore, not considered important by “reformers.” Articles in the journal discuss the influx of public/private partnerships which are replacing in-house education specialists in places. Nancy Bailey acknowledges that these partnerships are beneficial where no arts programming exists, but the loss of the arts programming is the real problem.

From Nancy Bailey

This country needs to quit with the trickery. Pretending the arts are returning with partnerships, or through subject integration, or technology, is only a charade. Our tax dollars should go directly to public schools for these programs and to real arts and music teachers.

EDUCATION AS A PUBLIC GOOD

Truth in Edvertising

Are private and privately run schools better than traditional public schools, or do they just have better PR and better advertising? Traditional schools don’t usually spend money on advertising because money spent on advertising isn’t spent on instruction.

Are schools commodities like widgets, where money needs to be spent on advertising? If we, as a society, accept the marketplace version of education…if we accept that competition improves education…if we accept that it’s up to the parent to find the school with the best “fit” for their child…then public education will probably not be a priority.

On the other hand, if we accept that public education benefits the whole society…that public education is a public good, then we won’t waste money on advertising, and the “bottom line” will be educating our children, not turning a profit.

From Sarah Butler Jessen on Have You Heard Blog and Podcast

There’s been a lot of talk about how much money they [Success Academy] spend. We were able to look at some of their budgets from the 2012 and 2013 year, along with a bunch of other charter management and charter organizations in New York City authorized by SUNY. Again, as we raised in recent earlier article about the 2010 data, in Williamsburg and Cobble Hill in particular in that year, they’re spending more than $1,000 per entered student on marketing alone.

LACK OF SUPPORT FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION IS BIPARTISAN

Democrats link party rivals to DeVos as 2018 fights emerge

In Indiana it’s the Republicans who support so-called “education reforms” which have the effect of damaging public education, deprofessionalizing public school teachers, and re-segregating our schools. But it’s not just a Republican movement. It’s bipartisan. There are Democrats across the nation who are apparently hell-bent on replacing public education with privatized, corporate, charter schools.

Cory Booker (and here)…Andrew CuomoRahm Emanuel

From Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association

“What’s happened over time is that we have seen the Legislature has changed very significantly, and we’ve really seen that among Democrats, we have just many more folks that are supportive of charter schools,” he said. “Do these national winds, do they affect things here? Absolutely, absolutely. But it’s not like we’re just going to be blown across the map.”

Still, Wallace suspected charter school opponents would view DeVos’ appointment as a political opportunity to cut into charter schools’ gains.

“Yeah, that’s going to happen, and we have to be aware of that,” he said.

POLITICS

Trump Restocks the Swamp

President Trump promised to “drain the swamp” telling the American people that the government wouldn’t be made up of special interests and their lobbyists.

From Ed Brayton

[Trump] criticized Obama for his lack of transparency, yet just reversed the policy of releasing visitor logs so the public could know if the president or his close advisers were meeting with lobbyists and others with a clear stake in public policy. And a man whose big selling point was that he was rich so he would not be beholden to big corporations and the wealthy. Yet you’d be hard-pressed to name a single thing he’s done since taking office that wasn’t what moneyed interests would want him to to in order to make him more money.

Update for Trump Voters

From Robert Reich

He said he’d clean the Washington swamp. You bought it. Then he brought into his administration more billionaires, CEOs, and Wall Street moguls than in any administration in history, to make laws that will enrich their businesses.

…He said Clinton was in the pockets of Goldman Sachs, and would do whatever they said. You bought it. Then he put half a dozen Goldman Sachs executives in positions of power in his administration.

PRE-SCHOOL IN INDIANA

IN: Welcome UPSTART Pre-K Cyberschool

Putting a three- or four-year-old in front of a computer screen and calling it “pre-school” is the most insane thing to come out of the education “reform” cesspool.

From Peter Greene

…we’re assured that UPSTART will provide “program sponsors” with data. Because, you know, it’s never too early to start building your tiny human’s data file, so that the trouble she had picking out vowel sounds when she was four flippin’ years old can follow her around for the rest of her life.

In Indiana, the legislature wants to make UPSTART part of the Pre-K expansion bill.

TESTING AND MANDATES

Standardized Testing Creates Captive Markets

The Republicans have railed for years against the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and it’s forced health insurance mandates. Yet, forced testing mandates, which every state must waste tax dollars on, is supported.

A must read

From Steven Singer

The reason public schools give these tests is because the government forces them. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) requires that all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school take certain approved standardized assessments. Parents are allowed to refuse the tests for their children, but otherwise they have to take them.

TENURE AGAIN STILL

Teacher Tenure and Seniority Lawsuits: A Failure of Logic

They’re not giving up. Even after the Vergara Decision was overturned anti-teacher forces are still fighting against tenure and seniority. Their goal – the complete destruction of teachers unions at any cost, even if it means also destroying the teaching profession.

From Jersey Jazzman

The backers of these lawsuits will make occasional concessions to the idea that schools need adequate and equitable funding to attract qualified people into teaching. But they never seem to be interested in underwriting lawsuits that would get districts like Newark the funds they need to improve both the compensation and the working conditions of teachers.

THE FEDERAL ROLE IN PUBLIC EDUCATION

The War on Public Schools

The Federal government has helped public education by requiring equal access to educational opportunities for all children regardless of race, sex, or disabilities. They have provided funds for disadvantaged students, for teacher preparation and continuing education, and materials.

With No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Common Core, the Federal government increased it’s influence on public education, but evoked a backlash. It’s true that some Federal intrusion into public education is necessary and important…

From the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights quoted in the American Prospect

The hard-learned lesson of the civil rights community over decades has shown that a strong federal role is crucial to protecting the interests of educationally underserved students

‘REFORM’

Closing schools is not an educational option

No school was ever improved by closing it.

From Mitchell Robinson in Eclectablog

Whenever I hear public officials and education policy decision makers suggest that closing schools is a legitimate strategy, I know that person is not serious about actually improving educational outcomes.

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Posted in David Berliner, DeVos, MLK, OECD, PISA, poverty, Public Ed, Stephen Krashen, Testing

The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools

Betsy DeVos, who recently bought the office of U.S. Secretary of Education, spouts the same myth that’s been going around for decades…that American public schools are “failing.”

The Answer Sheet, in DeVos: Outcomes at U.S. schools are so bad, they probably can’t get much worse, reported

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Wednesday that U.S. public schools nationwide are in such bad shape that she isn’t “sure how they could get a lot worse.”

And, like other myth-spouters in the “education reform” movement, she invoked international tests, adding,

“I’m not sure how they could get a lot worse on a nationwide basis than they are today. I mean, the fact that our PISA scores have continued to deteriorate as compared to the rest of the world…

She’s wrong.

The U.S. is regularly in the “middle of the pack” when it comes to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international test administered by the OECD. In 2015 U.S. students were 31st, 20th, and 19th in Math, Reading, and Science respectively. This score, and previous, similar scores, have been used by politicians and policy makers to claim that America’s public schools are failing.

The problem that DeVos and others don’t understand, or just simply ignore, is poverty. American public schools accept everyone and test everyone. Not all countries do that. We don’t weed out our poor and low-achieving students as they get older, so everyone gets tested. To be fair, Secretary DeVos might not know this. She never attended a public school and never sent her children to public schools. In her experience, children who weren’t achieving academically might have been weeded out of her private schools. She probably never realized that they were then sent to public schools, where all students are accepted.

The fact is that students who come from backgrounds of poverty don’t achieve as well as students from wealthier backgrounds. And we, in the U.S. are (nearly) Number One in child poverty.

PISA

Putting PISA Results to the Test

According to a 2015 report by UNICEF, the U.S. has the second-highest child poverty rate (23.1%) among industrialized nations from the European Union and OECD; only Romania’s is higher (25.5%).

…the majority of children attending U.S. public schools – 51% – are growing up in low-income households, the highest percentage since the federal government began tracking the figure.

Poverty matters when it comes to achievement. Students who live in poverty in the United States come to school with issues that don’t affect wealthier students. Stress, for example...

Children growing up in poverty often experience chronic stress…chronic stress can affect the developing learning centers of the brain, with impact on attention, concentration, working memory and self-regulation.

In other words, the simple fact of growing up in poverty affects a child’s ability to learn. In addition, there are factors outside of school which contribute to low achievement.

David C. Berliner examined the impact of out-of-school factors on achievement. In Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success, Berliner wrote,

OSFs are related to a host of poverty-induced physical, sociological, and psychological problems that children often bring to school, ranging from neurological damage and attention disorders to excessive absenteeism, linguistic underdevelopment, and oppositional behavior.

These factors include conditions having an impact on developing fetuses, such as the medical care given to the mother, the mother’s general health, and any toxins ingested by the mother either through drug or alcohol abuse, or through environmental toxins in the environment. After the child is born things like low birth weight, inadequate medical care, food insecurity, environmental pollutants like lead poisoning, family stress, and other characteristics of high-poverty neighborhoods all have an impact on a child’s ability to learn.

To place all the blame for low achievement on public schools serving large numbers of students living in poverty is unfair to the schools, teachers, and students.

TEST SCORES REFLECT ECONOMIC STATUS

Mrs. DeVos probably doesn’t know that low test scores correlate exactly with high poverty (see here and here). Children from American schools where less than 25% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, score high on the PISA test. In fact, they would rank first in reading and science and third in math among OECD nations.

On the other hand, American students from schools where more than 75% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, score much lower. Because the U.S. has a much higher percentage of students in poverty than nearly all the other OECD nations, the overall U.S. average score is below the median.

We can show these results using graphs from PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid’.

The first graph shows where schools with various percentages of students in poverty would fall if only those schools were compared to other countries in the OECD.

This graph compares schools with various percentages of students in poverty to countries in OECD with similar poverty levels. The first side, for example, shows how students from schools with a poverty rate of less than ten percent compare to nations with a poverty rate of less than ten percent.

These two charts from PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid’ clearly show the impact that poverty has on American students’ test scores. In every case, students who attend schools with a given percentage of children in poverty 1) score higher than students who attend schools with lower percentages of children in poverty and 2) score higher than countries with similar rates of poverty.

At the very least we can say that the child poverty rate, over which schools have no control, has an impact on student learning. In his blog post, Why Invest in Libraries, Stephen Krashen, USC Professor Emeritus, wrote,

Poverty means, among other things, inadequate diet, lack of health care, and lack of access to books. Each of these has a powerful impact on achievement (Berliner, 2009; Krashen, 1997). The best teaching in the world has little effect when children are hungry, undernourished, ill, and have little or nothing to read (emphasis added).

FINDING SOLUTIONS

Can schools do nothing to overcome the impact of poverty on student lives? Not alone. However, with the help of legislators, taxpayers, and parents, support for students struggling to succeed can help.

Here are some suggestions – most of which cost money – to help raise student achievement. These ideas come from various sources, including The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids, Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported by Rigorous Evidence, and The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve.

Legislators should help by fully funding public education in order to

  • Develop age-appropriate Pre-K programs
  • Reduce class sizes
  • Provide a well rounded, age-appropriate curriculum
  • Include the arts, recess, and physical education in the curriculum
  • Eliminate unnecessary testing (this one saves money)
  • Recruit experienced and diverse staff including classroom teachers and specialists
  • Include non-teaching staff when needed, such as nurses, counselors, and social workers
  • Maintain high quality facilities
  • Introduce parental support programs

THE CHALLENGE TO POLICY MAKERS

When she looks at the U.S. international test scores, Secretary DeVos, and other policy makers see “failing schools.” This is wrong. The low average scores, and the even lower scores aggregated for low income students, indicate that economic inequity is overwhelming the infrastructure of our public school systems. Instead of blaming public schools, politicians and policy makers must take responsibility for ending the shameful rate of child poverty and inequity in America.

In his Southern Christian Leadership Conference Presidential Address, on August 16, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said,

…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.

Special thanks to Meg Bloom, Phyllis Bush, and Donna Roof, all members of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, for their help in preparing the presentation from which this blog post was adapted.

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Posted in Anthony Cody, Article Medleys, DeVos, John Kuhn, Religion, vouchers

2017 Medley #8 – Vouchers Come Up Short

Vouchers Come Up Short

VOUCHERS IN THE NEWS

The latest research on the efficacy of school vouchers shows that receiving a voucher does not guarantee a better education. One wonders, then, why Republicans (and some Democrats) are fighting so hard to impose more vouchers on the public to the detriment of public schools?

The current administration, under Trump, Pence, and DeVos, is pushing vouchers nationwide despite the mediocre showing of private schools compared to their public counterparts (see The Public School Advantage as well as here, herehere, and here). This is not to say that private and parochial schools are all inferior to public schools. On the contrary, some elite private schools have excellent programs unburdened by teach-to-the-test policies. However, when you consider the economic status of the students the advantage disappears.

In Indiana, vouchers began as a way to help high poverty students “escape” from “failing” public schools. The truth is that the “failing” public schools were often struggling due to the state’s neglect of the economic conditions in the school communities. Children in East Chicago, for example, have been combatting the effects of lead poisoning for years. “Failing” schools in Indianapolis are due, at least in part, to a child poverty rate of 33% and an overall poverty rate of 20%, both well above the national average. Vouchers wouldn’t help all those students even if private and parochial schools were “better.” Public schools can and should try to improve, of course, but improvement requires support from the larger community, in this case, the state legislature and governor’s office. Until politicians accept their share of responsibility for the high rate of child poverty, schools – public, charter and private – will continue to “fail.”

The Indiana voucher plan began in 2011 with the promise of saved money and increased achievement. Under the Republican-led legislature and Governors (Daniels and Pence), the program has been expanded significantly. Once it became clear that private and parochial schools can’t overcome the effects of poverty any better or more cheaply than public schools can, the argument has changed from “improved achievement and money saved” to “parental choice.” Should parents have the “choice” to spend public tax dollars, earmarked for a public institution, at a religious or private location?

REASONS FOR VOUCHERS

Vouchers do not improve education

Vouchers in Indiana don’t save money…and don’t improve education. Doug Masson provides three “reasons” for vouchers that hits three nails right on the head.

In Indiana, the motivating impulse for voucher enthusiasts seems to be a combination of: a) undermining the influence of teachers’ unions; b) subsidizing the preferences of those who would want a private religious education; and c) providing access to that sweet, sweet education money to friends and well-wishers of voucher proponents.

STUNNING NEWS ABOUT VOUCHERS

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is getting some very bad news about her favorite thing, school vouchers

The LA Times reports that vouchers and school privatization doesn’t really work. The reporter, a Pulitzer Prize winning business reporter named Michael Hiltzik, apparently needs more education when it comes to education reporting.

…DeVos’s patron, President Trump, proposed during his campaign to shovel $20 billion to the states to support magnet and charter schools in voucher programs.

The sentence should end, “…$20 billion to the states to support magnet, charter schools, and voucher programs.” Do vouchers pay for school system magnet programs and charter schools? I don’t think so, but perhaps I’m wrong. It’s my understanding that vouchers pay for tuition to private schools, while magnet schools are part of public school systems, and charter schools are privately run publicly funded schools. Feel free to correct me on this in the comments.

Hilzik continues, reporting the news that recent research has voucher students scoring lower on standardized tests than public school students. The claim that “education experts” are stunned by the results is, in itself, stunning. Simply changing the venue of a child’s education isn’t sufficient to improve achievement if the child continues to live with the out-of-school-factors related to poverty.

…the latest findings, which emerge from studies of statewide programs in Louisiana, Ohio and Indiana, have left education experts stunned. In a nutshell, they find huge declines of academic achievement among students in voucher programs in those three states.

Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins

Kevin Carey in the New York Times, echoes the “surprise” over the results of the studies. The results, he says, are “startling.”

In this piece, “well-regulated charter schools” refers to charters which are “open to all and accountable to public authorities.”

The last sentence is the most important. [emphasis added]

The new voucher studies stand in marked contrast to research findings that well-regulated charter schools in Massachusetts and elsewhere have a strong, positive impact on test scores. But while vouchers and charters are often grouped under the umbrella of “school choice,” the best charters tend to be nonprofit public schools, open to all and accountable to public authorities. The less “private” that school choice programs are, the better they seem to work.

‘REFORMERS’ FIND THAT VOUCHERS DON’T IMPROVE LEARNING

I voted for school vouchers. Now I know I was wrong.

The pro-“reform” Thomas Fordham Institute studied the effectiveness of Ohio’s voucher programs. Just like in Louisiana and Indiana, they don’t help children achieve better than public schools and they strip public education of funding.

In this article a former North Carolina legislator concludes that tax money for vouchers would be better spent on the state’s public schools.

So what did this report say that the Fordham Institute undertook, ostensibly to promote the expansion of vouchers in America? It said that vouchers have failed miserably. That’s right, a pro-voucher group had to put out a report that concluded that vouchers are failing our children. And keep in mind, this isn’t an outlier of empirical studies of vouchers’ effectiveness in educating our children. Two other recent studies (one in Indiana and another in Louisiana) came to the same conclusion.

…North Carolina is scheduled to spend over $1 billion in the next 10 years for a voucher system that simply doesn’t work. It’s time for the General Assembly to recognize this and correct course so that we can reinvest that billion dollars in public schools.

RELIGIOUS ENTITLEMENT

Vouchers a new entitlement to religious education

At first it was for poor kids to escape from “failing” schools. Now it’s a way to provide public funds for religious schools and to increase the segregation of Indiana schools. [emphasis added]

When lawmakers created the program in 2011, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels said it was a way to help children from poor families find a better alternative to failing public schools. But the program has evolved into a new entitlement: state-funded religious education for middle and low-income families.

Some 54 percent of students receiving vouchers this year have no record of having attended an Indiana public school, the report says. Voucher advocates initially insisted the program would save the state money, because it would cost less to subsidize private school tuition than to send a student to a public school. But increasingly vouchers are going to families that never had any intention of sending their kids to public schools; that’s an entirely new cost for the state to take on.

Also, vouchers are more and more going to students who are white, suburban and non-poor. When the program started, more than half of participating students were black or Hispanic. Now over 60 percent are white, and only 12.4 percent are African-American. It’s reasonable to ask if, in some cases, vouchers are a state-funded mechanism for “white flight” from schools that are becoming more diverse.

JOHN KUHN SPEAKS OUT

John Kuhn: Vouchers Serve Adults at Children’s Expense

Anthony Cody wrote this about John Kuhn.

John Kuhn is a Texas school superintendent and long-time advocate for public schooling. His essays have been read hundreds of thousands of times online, videos of his speeches have gone viral, and his book, Fear and Learning in America, has sold thousands of copies. He continues to advocate for teachers and fight for the constitutional promise of free public schools for all American children.

I’ve quoted Superintendent Kuhn quite a few times on this blog and included YouTube videos. He’s an important voice for public education in America…not just Texas.

Superintendent Kuhn presented this speech on March 5 to the Association of Texas Professional Educators, an independent association of educators (i.e. affiliated with neither NEA nor AFT).

The great American experiment of free public schools, open to all children and overseen by locally-elected citizens—this bold vision is being challenged by an army of wealthy and interested parties who are dead set on dismantling the public education system and trading it for a voucher system…

John Kuhn at the Save Texas Schools Rally in 2011

Be sure to read John Kuhn’s Alamo Letter.

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Posted in Choice, DeVos, Privatization, Public Ed

DeVos Watch, February 2017

DeVos Watch

She has never worked or taught in public schools.
She has never attended public schools.
She has never been a parent of public school students.

This billionaire has spent her (and her husband’s) money to privatize public education in Michigan. She bought state legislators to pass legislation which the people had rejected.

Now she wants to bring the same privatization plan to the rest of the nation. She used her billions to buy her cabinet position by bribing federal legislators with campaign contributions.

Her nomination and confirmation mobilized millions and people learned that she is unfit for her job. The nation educated itself on how she has spent her money to privatize education in Michigan, Indiana, and elsewhere across the country.

But America supports its local public schools and we’re watching.

DEVOS WATCH

If Anyone is in “Receive Mode,” It’s Betsy DeVos

After her first visit to a public school as Secretary of Education (or possibly ever?), DeVos said, “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.”

She was talking about teachers…professionals who had spent years in preparation for their job and held college-level credentials which allowed them licensure to teach. She was talking about teachers who had spent a varying number of years in public school classrooms teaching children.

These are people who she claims are “waiting to be told what to do?” No, Secretary DeVos. Public school teachers know what to do.

People knew that the democrats on the HELP committee were not given much time to give questions to receive more glaring answers from a lady who does not give a damn about public schools.

So if anybody is in “receive mode,” it is Betsy DeVos.

She certainly gave a lot to receive her office.

What she should be willing to receive is an education about how public schools have been doing despite the obvious pressures that influence academic outcomes that schools have no control over like poverty. But that takes willingness, honesty, integrity, and humility.

And Betsy DeVos has not given much of that.

Clueless Betsy DeVos Blames School Teachers, Doesn’t Get that Test-and-Punish Is Core Problem

Test and punish is still the rule in America. Betsy DeVos said, “You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.” What does she mean by “facilitate great teaching”? For “reformers” great teaching has come to mean raising test scores.

While Betsy DeVos insulted teachers last week as “in receive mode,” in my community and my state, teachers are dismayed and up in arms about what they are receiving. Here in the words of Steve Nelson’s new book about progressive education—First Do No Harm, is the kind of pressure our teachers are irate about receiving from the U.S. Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Education: “Public schools all over America are judged by the standardized test results of their students. In many, perhaps most, communities the test results are published in local newspapers or available online. The continued existence of a school often depends on its standardized test scores… Neighborhood public schools are labeled ‘failing’ on the basis of test scores and closed, often to be replaced by a charter operation that boasts of higher test scores… What has occurred is a complex sorting mechanism. The schools, particularly the most highly praised charter schools do several things to produce better scores…. (S)tudents are suspended and expelled at a much higher rate than at the ordinary public schools in their neighborhoods. Several studies show that charter schools enroll significantly fewer students with learning challenges or students whose first language is other than English.” (pp. 68-69) All this pressures school administrators to force teachers to teach to the test at all cost.

DeVos: No Real Role for Feds

It would be fine with me to have myself worked out of a job, but I’m not sure that — I’m not sure that there will be a champion movement in Congress to do that.

The elaboration is where it gets interesting– She sees that the feds have had a useful role at certain “important inflection points” in the past, like “when we had segregated schools and when we had a time when, you know, girls weren’t allowed to have the same kind of sports teams.” But then the question– “are there any remaining issues like that where the federal government should intervene?”

I can’t think of any now.

So there you have it. Racial and gender bias are completely under control, totally solved, no longer need any sort of federal oversight. There are no states or districts that are trying to maintain any sort of systemic inequity. Nothing to see here. Go home.

FWCS chief ‘insulted’ by ill-informed Ed. secretary

“To choose someone to have the highest position connected to education who has basically no knowledge of just even the theories and the concepts in education, I am insulted but I’m also sad for her because I cannot imagine how effective a person can be when you are in a field that everyone is translating for you,” [Superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools, Wendy] Robinson said.

Beware of Trump and DeVos’ grand plan to privatize public education

Drivers don’t get to choose which roads their tax money is spent on. That’s left to the municipal government. The roads are kept in good condition as a public good.

Readers don’t get to choose to direct their taxes to a privately run book store. That money goes to public libraries, because libraries benefit the entire community.

Citizens don’t get to divert tax funds designated for police services to private security companies. Police and sheriff departments have resources provided by the government to benefit everyone.

When it comes to public schools, Americans seem to have forgotten what “public” means.

To Betsy DeVos, school choice is not simply the inherent right that every parent has to choose their child’s educational setting, it is all about requiring taxpayers to pick up the tab for that parent’s private individual choice, regardless of whether the parent chooses a public school, a charter school, a nonprofit private school, a religious school or even a fly-by-night online virtual school.

Historically, the United States has devoted itself to a comprehensive system of public schools, locally controlled and funded by public resources. Parents who didn’t want their children to attend the public schools, could, of course, pay for them to go to a private school.

But DeVos and her associates in the corporate education reform movement have been working hard to undermine that historic concept and replace it with one in which public funds are used to subsidize whatever “choice” a parent makes for their child.

In First Week on the Job, DeVos Shows She Likes Choice, Doesn’t Understand Public Education

In her radio interview with Smith, DeVos states her goal is to ensure that all schools ‘meet the need of every child that they serve, and in the cases that they don’t, parents and students should have other alternatives.’”

Secretary DeVos is wrong. Students should have schools that meet their needs. If a neighborhood public school doesn’t have the resources needed for every student, then it’s the responsibility of policy makers to provide those resources. Closing public schools and opening charter schools, or providing vouchers for parochial education, doesn’t improve public education. America’s public schools are improved when the stakeholders in the community and state provide the resources needed.

In her first week as education secretary, Betsy DeVos has given no indication that her grasp of school choice is any deeper than an ideological preference for individualism and the free market. I would have been at least a little reassured if DeVos had shown any sign of having thought about the issues that will complicate any efforts on her part to expand privatization through school choice. School choice must be evaluated by the way the expansion of “portable funding” affects all the children in a given geographic area, not merely by the test scores of the relatively few individual children who escape by winning a voucher or a place in a charter school. Here are just two research-based examples of easily available material DeVos could have studied, if she had been interested.

So far, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is just what her critics feared

Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos has been U.S. education secretary for only a few weeks, but already she has shown herself to be exactly what her critics feared. In her brief time running the Education Department she has (among other things):

*insulted teachers at a middle school
*bashed protesters, saying they are “hostile” to change and new ideas
*said she would be fine if the department she runs is shut down
*complained that critics want “to make my life a living hell”
*failed to participate in the first Twitter chat her department had for teachers on Feb. 21
*suggested schools should be able to compensate for troubles children have at home, such as absent fathers
*had U.S. marshals protect her after protesters blocked her entrance to a D.C. school door
*made a confusing statement about the Common Core State Standards
*made crystal clear that a top priority will be pushing for alternatives to traditional public schools, otherwise known as “school choice.”

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Posted in ALEC, Article Medleys, DeVos, Public Ed, reform, Teaching Career

2017 Medley #7

Side Effects, Doing Things Right, 
Teachers as Scapegoats, The Founding Fathers, DeVos Watch, ALEC’s Tool in Indiana

SIDE EFFECT WARNING

What Works Can Hurt: Side Effects in Education

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

Three global indexes show that U.S. public schools must be doing something 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

Stop Humiliating Teachers

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

America’s Founding Fathers Were Against School Choice

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.

DEVOS WATCH

Secretary Betsy DeVos on first school visit: ‘Teachers are waiting to be told what they have to do’

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.

New era of education passion, protest and politics will follow DeVos confirmation

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.

DeVos confirmation triggered outpouring of support for public education system

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.”

How to Protest Against Betsy DeVos

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

Who’s who in Indiana education: Rep. Bob Behning

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.

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Posted in Choice, DeVos, IN Gen.Assembly, Michigan, poverty, Public Ed, vouchers

2017 Medley #6

Poverty, Privatization: Vouchers and Choice, Public Education 101 for Betsy DeVos

POVERTY

The Real Crisis in Education:An Open Letter to the Department of Education

Public education in America is not failing. What is failing is our inability or unwillingness to relieve poverty. Children who live in poverty have lower achievement. This isn’t new information. Jonathan Kozol has been sounding the alarm since 1967. We should be ashamed that so many American children live in poverty.

It’s time for politicians to focus on reducing poverty and let the teachers who work with actual students help decide what is best for their students.

We are not in an education crisis. We are in a crisis of poverty that is being exacerbated by the school accountability movement and the testing industry. At best, this movement has been misguided. At worst, it is an intentional set up to bring about the demise of the public education system – mandatory testing designed to produce poor results which leads to greater investment made in test preparation programs provided by the same companies who produce the tests, coupled with a related push for privatization of the educational system. All touted as a means to save us from this false crisis.

Politics, not education, got us into this mess, and it is politics that must get us out of it.

We must not go further down this rabbit hole. The future of our educational system, and the future of our children, is at stake. No one who has not worked in the sector of public education should be making decisions about our school system without careful consideration of the insights of those who will be directly impacted by those decisions.

When we adjust for poverty, American students score high on international tests. Here we see how American students who are educated in schools with less than 10% students in poverty, compare to countries with less than 10% of their students who live in poverty.

Report: School Funding Increases Lag For Low-Income Students

Somehow we have forgotten that children who come to school from high poverty homes need more resources to help them learn, not fewer. They need counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists. They need well trained teachers, and support staff trained in remediation techniques. They need health care and an environment free from toxins like lead. They need pre-schools and summer programs.

It’s time we stop providing more for wealthy students than poor students. All our children need a fully funded, well staffed, and well resourced school.

Recent changes to Indiana’s school funding formula increased per-pupil funding across the state. At the same time it slashed special funding formerly given to students deemed at-risk, including students living in poverty, English-language learners and those who qualified for textbook assistance.

So, in certain districts with low populations of at-risk students, Sugimoto found, that although enrollment declined, the districts received an overall bump in funding per student. He says, in some cases, districts with fewer students saw their overall still increase.

“Those would have been districts that had very modest enrollment declines,” says Suigimoto, in an interview. “The increase in funding would have certainly made up for that.

Yet, overall funding across the state still lags behind pre-2009 rates, when adjusted for inflation.

PRIVATIZATION: VOUCHERS

Voucher programs currently in force in the U.S. have not helped children’s achievement, but they have reduced funds for an already cash strapped (not “flush with cash”) public schools. The “status quo” in 2117 America is the reduction of funds for public schools, increased test and punish policies, and a growing trend towards charter schools and vouchers for religious and private schools.

Instead of letting “the money follow the child” we ought to be “following the money” to see who is benefiting from the expansion of privatization schemes.

Study confirms voucher programs discriminate

Research led by an Indiana University professor confirms what school voucher critics have long argued: Voucher programs receive public funding yet discriminate on the basis of religion, disability status, sexual orientation and possibly other factors.

The finding is especially timely as President Donald Trump and his designee to serve as secretary of education, Michigan school-choice activist Betsy DeVos, have indicated they will use federal clout and money to push states to expand voucher programs.

Voucher programs go beyond what court approved

[Voucher programs] arguably run afoul of the establishment clause – what Thomas Jefferson referred to as the wall of separation between church and state. If not that, the widespread religious discrimination should raise concerns about the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. And some voucher schools appear to discriminate against special-needs students, which could raise issues with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act.

PRIVATIZATION: VOUCHERS–INDIANA

The Indiana General Assembly, not satisfied with one of the largest voucher programs in the nation, continues to come up with new ways to divert funds from public education to private pockets.

Note that Indiana’s voucher plan has not helped Indiana’s school achievement. Competition hasn’t resulted in better education for everyone…just inadequately funded public schools which still seem to out-perform privatized education options.

Turn off the tap: Privatization effort too big a drain on schools

Broad and costly expansions of the so-called Choice Scholarship program are found in multiple bills, including Senate Bill 534, which will be heard by the Senate Education and Career Development Committee this afternoon.

SB 534 carries a price tag of as much as $206 million a year, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. Repackaged from last year’s unsuccessful “Educational Savings Accounts” to “Special Education Scholarship Accounts,” the intent is the same: Give parents an allotment of tax dollars to spend however they might choose. A companion bill in the House, HB 1591, carries an even more audacious price tag of as much as $366 million a year.

Latest voucher gimmick: Education Savings Accounts

Give Indiana Republican legislators points for resourcefulness. They keep finding new ways to undermine public schools by expanding the state’s school voucher program. The latest, and arguably the most egregious, is the creation of Education Savings Accounts, state-funded accounts to pay for private schooling and other expenses.

Senate Bill 534, scheduled to be considered today by the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, would create ESAs for the families of special-needs students who choose not to attend public school and don’t receive a private-school voucher.

The state would fund the ESAs with money that would otherwise go to the public schools where the students would be eligible to enroll — typically about $6,000 per student but potentially quite a bit more for some special-needs students. Then the students’ families could decide where to spend the money: private school tuition, tutoring, online courses, and other services from providers approved by the State Board of Education.

How Can Schools Be Voucherized? Let Us Count the Ways… and the Consequences

Here is Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, in a recent column commenting on what vouchers do to public school funding. This time the example is Mike Pence’s home state, Indiana: “Vouchers drain state tax dollars, creating deficits, or the need for tax increases. When Indiana started its voucher program, it claimed it would save taxpayers money. Not only did that not happen, the state’s education budget is now in deficit, and the millions shelled out for vouchers grows each year. Last year, vouchers cost the taxpayers of Indiana $131.5 million as caps and income levels were raised. Indiana now gives vouchers to families with incomes as high as $90,000 and to students who never attended a public school.” Burris adds that while the program was passed, “promising that it would help poor and lower-middle class families find schools they like for their children… as it turned out, five years after it began, more than half of the state’s voucher recipients have never attended Indiana public schools and many vouchers are going to wealthier families, those earning up to $90,000 for a household of four.”

PRIVATIZATION: CHOICE

School Choice: A Visit to the For-Profit Edu-Mall

PUBLIC EDUCATION 101 FOR BETSY DEVOS

Betsy DeVos, the newly confirmed Secretary of Education for the United States, has assumed control over the office charged with overseeing America’s system of public education. She has no experience in public schools: not as a teacher or educator, parent, or even a student. She is arguably the least qualified person to ever hold the office, with the possible exception of Bill Bennett (who also had minimal encounters with public education, but he at least earned his Ph.D. in political philosophy from a public university).

As a public service, here are a couple of things which could serve to educate Secretary DeVos about public schools…including an excerpt from the Michigan Constitution about public education.

Educating Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos does not understand what it is like to teach in any school let alone poor public schools. She does not understand what the lives of real teachers and students are like…

Here’s what’s hard. I have added a few new points:

  • Watching your school district throw money at unproven technology when basic needs are your students not met.
  • Being dismissed as a teacher, when you are the only professional in the room who understands children and how they learn.
  • Being dismissed as a parent, when you understand your child best.
  • Being an over tested kindergartner, not getting any recess, and being made to feel you are a failure before you get started in your schooling.
  • Coming to school hungry and/or sick, or having an untreated toothache.
  • Sending your child to a school that has no school nurse.
  • Working on a day-to-day basis with students who come from abject poverty, who face all the terrible problems that come with that.
  • Not having a home.
  • Being a child with disabilities and being afraid of a high-stakes test (or several) you don’t understand and feeling like a failure!
  • Having such a large class with so many diverse students you know it will be difficult to teach.
  • Not having enough resources and materials to teach effectively.

Why We Still Need Public Schools

We still need public schools…

The mission of public education is sixfold.

1. To provide universal access to free education
2. To guarantee equal opportunities for all children
3. To unify a diverse population
4. To prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society
5. To prepare people to become economically self-sufficient
6. To improve social conditions

That mission has been accepted by the states and most have provisions for public schools in their constitutions. The constitution of Michigan, for example, provides for free, universal, public education.

§ 2 Free public elementary and secondary schools; discrimination.
Sec. 2. The legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law. Every school district shall provide for the education of its pupils without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin.

The constitution also provides for universities, public libraries, and a popularly elected state board of education. In 1970 the state decided to prohibit private schools and private school students from using public tax money.

No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school. No payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly, to support the attendance of any student or the employment of any person at any such nonpublic school or at any location or institution where instruction is offered in whole or in part to such nonpublic school students.

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Posted in DeVos, Duncan, Politicians, poverty

The Common Knowledge is Wrong

NATIONAL “REFORM” IS BIPARTISAN

Here in Indiana we’re used to blaming Republicans for the “reformist” changes to public education – changes which are ongoing! Changes which are the not-so-new status quo.

It is the Republicans who, over the last decade, have authored and expanded the voucher and charter programs which divert funds from public schools to private pockets. It is the Republicans who still push to continue the test and punish policies of the Bush II and Obama administrations. It is the Republicans who worked hard to deprofessionalize the teaching profession by reducing collective bargaining options, evaluating teachers using student test scores, allowing off-the-street college grads to start teaching with no pedagogical training, and eliminating the option to pay higher salaries to teachers with more experience and training (In what other profession is experience a detriment to salary increases?).

Lest we forget, however, the Democrats nationwide have not necessarily been friends to public education. Arne Duncan did his best to coerce states into expanding charter schools while no research existed to suggest any advantage. He was not above threatening states who didn’t accept the Common Core, expand charters, or continue test and punish policies.

So, nationally, the “reforms” have come from bipartisan sources. Sometimes Republicans. Sometimes Democrats. What is it about public education that makes it a target of political tampering, obstruction, and destruction? The answer is power…and most importantly, money.

Control over public education is, by definition, political. Public education is funded with public money which needs public oversight – a political activity. There is also the lure of billions of dollars of taxpayer money spent on public education every year. Privatizers of all political stripes want to get their hands on that money and they are using political means to get it. One important way has been to promote the myth that America’s public education system is “broken” and schools are “failing.”

TALKATHON

From noon on February 6th to noon on February 7th the Democrats in the U.S. Senate staged a “talkathon” against the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education – with the occasional interruption by a Republican Senator to speak in her favor. The event was, of course, unsuccessful, and we’re now faced with the least prepared U.S. Secretary of Education since the department was created in 1980, and possibly since the creation of the Office of Education in 1867.

I listened to the “talkathon” for several hours on February 6th, and I heard Democrats decrying the inexperience, conflicts of interest, and general unpreparedness of DeVos…along with lofty and passionate calls to unite to save our public schools.

I agreed with most of what they said, but there were some who used the same arguments from the Bush/Cheney and Duncan/Obama privatization agenda. It isn’t clear from their speeches (Full Disclosure: I have not listened to or read all of them) whether they are against closing schools and replacing them with charters or not. Still, there were examples of disinformation which perpetuated the myth of “failing” schools.

One example came from Colorado Senator Michael F. Bennet who quoted these statistics…

Congressional Record – Senate, February 6, 2017, p.S725

As a nation, we are falling behind the rest of the world…American 15-year-olds score lower than their peers in 14 countries in reading, 36 countries in math, and 18 in science.

Those who have studied the PISA scores, which is the “score” he is referring to, should understand that it’s America’s greater number of students who live in poverty that has skewed our international scores lower than those of other OECD nations.

This isn’t anything new, by the way, so we’re not “falling behind.” American students’ test scores have always been middling, since the international tests were begun in the 1960s.

The U.S. child poverty rate of over 20% compares unfavorably to most other advanced nations in the world (Finland, for example, has a child poverty rate of 5%). The fact that children in poverty don’t achieve as high as their wealthier peers puts the U.S. at a disadvantage when comparing test scores. Our average test scores are lower because within that average is a larger number of scores from students who live in poverty.

Steven Krashen explains [with my emphasis]…

The secretary of education’s first priority

Research consistently confirms that low academic achievement is the result of poverty. In some urban areas, the child poverty level is 80% (the national average is an unacceptable 21%; in high-scoring Finland it is 5%).

When researchers control for the effect of poverty, American students’ performance on international tests is near the top of the world. This shows that low achievement is not due to poor teaching, low standards, or unions. The major cause is poverty.

Poverty means food deprivation, insufficient medical care, and little access to reading material; each of these has a strong negative impact on school performance. The best teaching in the world will not help if children are hungry, ill, and have nothing to read.

Krashen kindly cites research for his statements – See here. Check out his blog for dozens of other posts with similar conclusions and loads of research citations.

The test scores of our wealthier students show that American schools are not failing and that high rates of child poverty are causing our scores to be unremarkable. Of course there are some teachers, administrators, and schools who could do a better job of reaching their students, but on the whole, our schools do well. However, politicians, including Democrats, have a hard time assuming their share of the responsibility for the shamefully high child poverty in our nation. It’s easier to talk about “failing” schools and “bad” teachers…it’s easier to blame the teachers unions and even college teacher preparation programs…than to face the fact that our lowest performing schools are often under-resourced and under-supported. It’s easier to blame schools and teachers than share any responsibility for schools filled with our most economically challenged children who come to school with significant disadvantages.

THE COMMON KNOWLEDGE IS WRONG

Senator Bennet is not the only one, of course, and it’s even possible that his reference to test scores was only to make a political point and he actually understands that poverty plays a significant role in student achievement. But his quote reinforces the idea that American schools are “failing.” It’s common knowledge.

Well, the common knowledge is wrong.

Steven Singer, blogger at gadflyonthewallblog, recently posted an article about this subject (I used a quote from his article in a previous post) which also ran on the Huffington Post.

U.S. Public Schools Are NOT Failing. They’re Among the Best in the World

Let me repeat that in no uncertain terms – America’s public schools are NOT failing. They are among the best in the world. Really!

Here’s why: the United States educates everyone. Most other countries do not.

We have made a commitment to every single child regardless of what their parents can afford to pay, regardless of their access to transportation, regardless of whether they can afford uniforms, lunch or even if they have a home. Heck! We even provide education to children who are here illegally.

That can’t be said of many countries with which we’re often compared – especially countries comparable to the U.S. in size or diversity. So from the get-go, we have an advantage over most of the world.

We define education differently. Though our laws are woefully backward, in practice we look at it as a right, not a privilege. And for a full 13 years (counting kindergarten) it’s a right for every child, not just some.

But that’s not all! We also provide some of the highest quality education you can get in the world! We teach more, help more, achieve more and yet we are criticized more than any system in any country in the world.

We don’t exclude economically disadvantaged students from our schools. We don’t exclude students with special needs from our schools. We don’t exclude students with behavioral challenges [added later, h/t Joe V]. America’s public schools, unlike private and privately run schools, must accept everyone.

Instead of blaming schools for societal problems…instead of privatizing…we ought to spend our time, energy, and resources on improving the schools we have. All of us, politicians included, should accept responsibility for the national shame that is our high child poverty rate.

The challenge that faces us is to teach our fellow citizens the truth. The truth is that our schools have not failed, our teachers are not incompetent, teachers unions are not responsible for low achievement, and test scores should not define the success or failure of a child or a school.

With the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education, that challenge just got a lot harder.

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