Posted in Broad, David Berliner, Gates, Gerald Bracey, MLK, technology, WaltonFamilyFoundation

Money for Nothin’

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

For the past two decades Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation have been dropping millions of dollars into education schemes the billionaire was sure would transform America’s schools. Gates tried small schools, teacher incentives, and the Common Core to try to influence the achievement of public schools – all to no avail. (Further reading: Anthony Cody’s, The Educator and the Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges the Gates Foundation)

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has invested millions of dollars into training managers to run school systems like businesses. They’ve put money into large scale teacher merit-pay experiments in school districts. They’ve supported legislation, including the so-called “Parent Trigger” which would allow a majority of a schools current parents to transfer a community owned public school to a for-profit charter company.

The Walton Family Foundation, run by America’s wealthiest family, has invested millions of dollars in the privatization of public education. They have supported the creation and expansion of voucher programs in Indiana and other states.

The attempts to improve America’s education by billionaires, none of whom have any training in education, have several things in common.

First, none of the schemes have been successful enough, or been replicable on a large enough scale to improve the country’s public education system.

Second, the money used to fund the projects hasn’t been sustainable. Some programs have failed when grants ended, because of the inability of the school systems to continue to pay for it.

Third, nearly all attempts to improve schools measure that improvement with standardized test scores which are often inadequate.

Fourth, America’s low international test scores are often cited as the reason for the billionaires’ interference in education. I have explained in detail why our students’ average scores are lower on international tests in The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools.

Finally, none of the attempts by these wealthy families, even if we assume that they are altruistic in their desire to help children succeed, attack the root cause of low achievement in America. Poverty.

POVERTY: THE CRUX OF THE PROBLEM

The late Gerald Bracey wrote,

When people have said “poverty is no excuse,” my response has been, “Yes, you’re right. Poverty is not an excuse. It’s a condition. It’s like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty.”

David C. Berliner, professor and dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Institute and Graduate School of Education at Arizona State University, presented a brief titled, Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. The report explains how improvements of schools are not enough to overcome the out-of-school factors faced by children who live in high poverty areas.

…the negative effects of many [out-of-school factors] are concentrated in the schools that serve poor and minority children and families. This increases the burden on these schools in such a way as to make broad reductions in the achievement gap nearly impossible.

MONEY FOR NOTHIN’

Silicon valley billionaires are dumping their tax write-offs into America’s schools in the hopes, they say, of increasing test scores…and, if they can get a few bucks themselves in the process, so much the better.

The New York Times has a long article detailing ways that projects from tech entrepreneurs, like Netflix’s Reed Hastings and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, are influencing America’s schools. Once again they aren’t focusing on the real problem.

The influx of money from rich technology-king benefactors has an influence on what teachers are teaching…and how they teach. After all, when a teacher or school gets a grant for a half million dollars in hardware and software they generally don’t turn it down. The students, then, become the “de facto beta testers” for the billionaires’ ideas.

But does it actually help?

The Silicon Valley Billionaires Remaking America’s Schools

Tech companies and their founders have been rolling out programs in America’s public schools with relatively few checks and balances, The New York Times found in interviews with more than 100 company executives, government officials, school administrators, researchers, teachers, parents and students.

“They have the power to change policy, but no corresponding check on that power,” said Megan Tompkins-Stange, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. “It does subvert the democratic process.”

Furthermore, there is only limited research into whether the tech giants’ programs have actually improved students’ educational results.

Once again we have billionaires dumping money into schools, and often into privatization schemes, without regard to actual research and often without public oversight.

Technology can be a powerful educational tool, when used correctly. Where did Mark Zuckerberg get his teaching credentials? Who is determining how these programs are used? Who is monitoring them to see if they work? Will the money disappear if the programs fail?

ANOTHER WAY: A LESSON FOR THE BILLIONAIRES – FROM SOME MILLIONAIRES

A New Jersey family won a lottery of nearly a half billion dollars…guess where it’s going?

Family in New Jersey Wins $429 Million Lottery, Uses Money to Fight Poverty

Last year, the Smith family in Trenton, New Jersey, won the $429 million Powerball lottery, and they planned to use all that money to help fight poverty. Pearlie Mae Smith and her seven children meant what they said at a press conference when they promised to give that money back to their community.

…They used the money to pay off bills and student loans before they put it back into their community with the Smith Family Foundation. “We want to fund programs that directly affect systems of poverty so we can help change the systems or change the dynamics that are causing people to be in poverty,” Harold Smith told NJ.com. “Rather than just helping them find food or give away food, we can make it so they now have the ability to obtain employment, get their proper education in order to be able to go out and get their own food.”

The foundation will work with the city in order to provide both long- and short-term grants for Trenton. [emphasis added]

Imagine if Gates, Broad, The Waltons, and the rest tried to improve education by donating their billions to help fight poverty, like the Smiths, in cooperation with municipalities and states. If we reduce poverty we can reduce the negative effects of out-of-school factors that get in the way of student achievement.

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.

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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 Article Medleys, climate change, Lead, MLK, Teachers Unions, Testing

2016 Medley #2: MLK, Get the Lead Out, Testing, and the Earth

Dr. King, Lead Poisoning, 
Testing, Climate Change

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING

In honor of MLK Day I present this quote from Dr. King for the benefit of the Indiana General Assembly which is doing its best to “bust the union.” The legislators have already taken away most of teachers’ rights to collective bargaining, benefits based on seniority, due process in labor disputes, and have forced school corporations to use the junk-science of evaluating teachers using test scores. This year they have another collection of bills including one which would “[pit] teachers against one another in a bidding war” for salary dollars.

The plan is to further weaken the Indiana State Teachers Association because “UNION!”

Dr. King said,

Weekend Quotables

The two most dynamic movements that reshaped the nation during the past three decades are the labor and civil rights movements. Our combined strength is potentially enormous. — Speech given to the Illinois State AFL-CIO, Oct. 7, 1965

POISONING FLINT

Why is lead poisoning even an issue any more? We know the damage it does. We know how to get rid of it. We are just too focused on making money to spend what we need to spend to fix our problems.

The news about Flint Michigan’s lead-polluted water supply isn’t news any more. The damage however has been done…

Why should we care? Take some time to read about the risks of lead poisoning for our nation’s children and the damage it does.

Lead Poisoning Is Still A Public Health Crisis For African-Americans

Before Freddie Gray died of spinal injuries he received in police custody, sparking weeks of protest in his native Baltimore and around the country, he was a “lead kid,” one of thousands of children in the city with toxic levels of lead in their blood from years of living in substandard housing — and long-term health problems as a result.

“Paint was peeling off the windows,” recalled Gray in the 2009 deposition of a lead-poising lawsuit he and his siblings filed against the owners of the building they grew up in. For children like Gray, who was 25 years old when he died in April, lead poisoning can mean ADHD, behavior problems, and irreversible brain and central nervous damage.

Lead Poisoning

What’s the future of the children of Flint and other places where lead poisoning is prevalent?

Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems. Children under the age of 6 are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.

Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings are the most common sources of lead poisoning in children. Other sources include contaminated air, water and soil. Adults who work with batteries, do home renovations or work in auto repair shops also may be exposed to lead.

I’ve written about lead poisoning before. I’ll ask the same question I have on numerous occasions; When are we going to get serious about the health of the children in our nation?

From earlier this year…Poisoning Children, then Blaming Them: The Lead Connection

The World Health Organization (WHO) says of lead poisoning…

The consequences of brain injury from exposure to lead in early life are loss of intelligence, shortening of attention span and disruption of behaviour. Because the human brain has little capacity for repair, these effects are untreatable and irreversible. They cause diminution in brain function and reduction in achievement that last throughout life.

From April, 2013…Update to Poisoned Children and “Reform”

The Arizona School Boards Association has published a report (available in pdf) titled, A Strange Ignorance The role of lead poisoning in failing schools.. The executive summary contains the following.

Not all children can learn, not when they have been poisoned. If environmental lead, instead of calcium, is incorporated into a child’s rapidly developing brain tissue “between birth and age three,” those tissues will not function correctly. Ever. By the time children reach the public schools, the damage has been done, and it is irreversible.

Lead is an incredibly potent neurotoxin prevalent in older neighborhoods. It takes a surprisingly small amount of lead to damage developing brains, a few sand-grain sized paint chips will do it. Those children, in turn, will sustain brain damage that ensures both educational and social problems for the rest of their life. This early lead poisoning has been linked to:

  1. an inability to learn because brain tissues constructed of lead do not bind properly to form the neural learning connections,
  2. to attention deficit disorders because lead damaged brain tissues have a tendency to misfire and disrupt normal concentration,
  3. to violence because the careful balance of brain structures in the prefrontal cortex that inhibits impulsivity and violence is disrupted, and
  4. to drug use because untreated sufferers find illegal drugs help to medicate the agitation caused by lead damaged brain cells.

From May, 2011…No Excuses

Study links lead exposure, low student test scores

Children who ingested even small amounts of lead performed poorly later on school tests compared to students who were never exposed to the substance, according to a new study of Connecticut students.

The Duke University study also found that black children were much more likely to have experienced lead poisoning from paint residue, dust or other sources by age 7 than the state’s white children. Educators worry that factor might be among many contributing to Connecticut’s status as the state with the largest achievement gap between the races…

Several other government and university research studies nationwide over the years have found links between lead poisoning and delays in academic and cognitive growth, although the Duke study is Connecticut’s first research linking individual students to their test results.

TESTING

High Stakes Testing Doesn’t Protect Civil Rights – It Violates Them

NCLB was sold to the American people to fight the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” as if “expectations” alone were enough to increase student learning. The nation’s children are still waiting for its adults to invest in their children. Instead we have invested in testing companies and private corporate charter operators. Children are still not our nation’s priority…

Our school policies for the past few decades have been about denying the right to an equitable education to our poor and minority students. Though the ESSA holds promise to limit federal meddling, it does nothing to change that. And all these people who cry foul at a potential loss of federal power are either ignorant or crying crocodile tears.

It’s no wonder that hundreds of civil rights organizations oppose high stakes testing. Nor is it surprising that the media rarely reports it. And it shouldn’t be a shock to learn that the overwhelming majority of civil rights organizations who have suddenly began championing testing are those who get big donations from the philanthro-capitalists pushing this agenda.

How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers

The New York Times decries the test and punish culture, but they start with a false assumption. When “education reform” moved into full swing about 2 decades ago, our schools were not lagging behind those in other countries. What was lagging behind…and what still lags behind…is our ability to take care of our children. We still remain the nation with the highest child poverty level among wealthy nations in the world. Poverty and our neglect of poverty is what’s causing failure in our schools.

In education, it became clear that our schools were lagging behind those in other countries.

The times goes on to speak about the damage done to the profession of teaching by the test-and-punish policies of the last two administrations.

…the objections became harder to dismiss as evidence mounted that even superb and motivated professionals had come to believe that the boatloads of measures, and the incentives to “look good,” had led them to turn away from the essence of their work. In medicine, doctors no longer made eye contact with patients as they clicked away. In education, even parents who favored more testing around Common Core standards worried about the damaging influence of all the exams.

We have ignored teachers’ voices.

Whatever we do, we have to ask our clinicians and teachers whether measurement is working, and truly listen when they tell us that it isn’t. Today, that is precisely what they’re saying…

Our businesslike efforts to measure and improve quality are now blocking the altruism, indeed the love, that motivates people to enter the helping professions. While we’re figuring out how to get better, we need to tread more lightly in assessing the work of the professionals who practice in our most human and sacred fields.

(h/t Cumudgucation)

Afflicting the afflicted

At least as important as protecting our students from the damage done by bad tests is that student test scores shouldn’t be used to measure schools or teachers to begin with. There is no basis it.

Steve Hinnefeld notes that in Indiana legislators are once again focusing the damage done by standardized tests on the schools trying to teach high poverty children.

Indiana schools that get successive Fs face increasingly severe state sanctions. Schools that reach six Fs in a row – and apparently there are three that could this year – face state takeover.

This doesn’t make any sense. The only reason for SB 200 in the first place is that the spring 2015 ISTEP tests were so difficult that it would be unfair to base grades on those results. But if that’s the case for schools that got an A, B, C or D in 2013-14, it should be just as true for schools that got an F…Schools that had been getting Fs may have made extraordinary efforts to improve. If ISTEP had stayed the same, maybe their grades would have gone up. But with the tougher 2015 test and the much higher bar for passing, they may have fallen short.

Many of these schools serve the largest numbers of poor children. For them, accountability can seem an affliction. And now the legislature is giving other schools a break but not them.

New Jersey Study Commission on Testing: Keep Weighing the Pig

Russ Walsh understands that you don’t improve learning by more and more testing. He asks three important questions…SPOILER ALERT: The answer to all three questions is NO!

Are standardized tests an effective way to hold schools accountable?
[…]
Are PARCC tests “high quality?”
[…]
Are standardized tests effective in narrowing the achievement gap?

…I have an idea. Instead of yearly testing, let’s all just stipulate that the achievement gap exists and that it is in reality an opportunity gap. Then we can do away with all the tests that keep telling us what we already know and focus our attention on things that are likely to reduce the opportunity gap like cleaner, safer schools, wrap around health and wellness programs, and attracting high quality teachers.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Your Participation is Not Optional

Aside from ignoring science when it comes to using high stakes tests for purposes other than that for which they were developed, we are a nation of anti-science anti-intellectuals. In the recent Republican debate we heard that we won’t ruin the economy in order to move to cleaner power (also read: we’re not going to disappoint my donors from the fossil fuel industry) and since we can’t solve the problem by ourselves let’s not worry about it.

I wonder if Trump with “believe” in science once his buildings on the coasts start taking on water…

Belief in global warming is optional, but participation is mandatory.

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