In many places, the report discusses critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration, and multimedia communication (a.k.a. 21st-century competencies). We read about goals of creating inquisitive, creative, resourceful thinkers, informed citizens, effective problem [solvers], groundbreaking pioneers, and visionary leaders. But the report also clearly articulates the importance of data-based instruction and data-based decisions. How does this report imagine education in the context of quantitative data and qualitative experience?
The report says data, data, data. I get it. But the report also says schools can’t be ‘information factories.’ Where do those ends meet?
The focus of the federal and state governments on high-stakes testing is in direct contradiction to creating an environment where humans learn best. Furthermore, it perpetuates the idea that all students should be the same. Students are not the same. People are not the same. … Stop attaching funding to only standardized test scores. Then, perhaps schools could begin moving towards creating an environment where 21st-century skills can develop.–Bill MacKenty eSchool News
Today was different. Today he would not just be one of the educators in robes in the background. Today he and his class took center stage. Today he would pay homage to this ancient custom.To graduation. And today would likely be the last time he would don these robes. He drew in breath and exhaled slowly, closing his eyes and letting the wave of anxiety pass over him. These were to remain his until he passed them to his successor. And today was not that day he told himself.
Jack hefted the robe gingerly from the box. The smell of the fine, old cloth filled the air. It was a smell Jack was exposed to only on this one day every year and it set the mood for the moment. But today the mood had a bitter-sweet undertone for Jack.
The Corona School robe was jet black with three dark green velvet stripes over the sleeves. The student always wore complimentary green satin robes which they borrowed from the school. Jack slid his arms into the master’s robe. The weight of the robe, with all its various pleats and long voluminous sleeves, always surprised him. He was wearing the lightest weight tunic he could find to compensate for the heat the tightly woven cloth produced. He pulled the cowl from the box. Its light blue velvet trim representing his mastery of the field of education stood out against the black linen. The interior of the cowl was gold satin and it was crossed by three chevrons of different shades of green. One for each of the institutes of higher learning that had led to his masters degree and Corona’s own dark green. He fitted it to the clip at the front of the robe so it did not choke him. Finally he fitted the mortar board on his head with some clumsiness. He was not at all used to wearing something on his head. Particularly something flat with a tassel that dangled just within the edge of his vision on the left; distracting him with each turn of the head.
In the weeks since their return from the desert, the class had been in preparation for this day. Jack had spent his remaining time with them preparing them for their next step toward their secondary education. He had advised all of them about which classes he felt they needed or would find to their liking. Mixing the classes so no student would have too heavy a load or be unchallenged. He had pushed them to try new things. Had encouraged them to hone the talents they already possessed. All but one. That one absence bored a hole in Jack’s heart.
Will had tried to ask questions on Andy’s behalf but Jack had been firm with him. He had explained to Will time and again that it was not what Andy’s parents wanted, and therefore not something Jack could do; as much as he had wanted to.
Properly clad, Jack took one more look around before he left his classroom. He stepped into the dazzling Spring light and paused to allow his eyes to adjust. Then he began to make his way to the table on stage to join his fellow educators.
As he approached he saw one of his fellow educators, Camile, bending the ear of her neighbor, Barlow. Barlow abruptly waved her off and her head snapped up to see Jack’s approach. She visibly blushed and looked away. Jack also looked away from the pair. A second later he was sitting at his usual seat. Neither of his neighbors seemed in the mood for conversation…or congratulations for that matter.
Jack sat with his gaze unfocused, trying to remember what he would say to each of his students as they passed by him to collect their diploma. He had sat in this seat eight time before, but had only looked on as others had said good-bye to their charges of nine years. This time he and Educant Lorring would be handing out diplomas and saying good-bye. He had prepared something for each and every student. Something just for them. Some bit of personal encouragement or patriarchal advice as he passed the diploma to them.
Speeches were given by various members of the faculty including Jack and then before he could catch his breath or think his students were lined up before him. Jack encouraged Fahrid to pursue his writing and his poetry. He told Marion she had a way with people. He told Tanner to continue to experiment with life and thinking outside the box even when others found such behavior hard to take. And then Andy stood before him. He had not thought of anything to tell Andy and in the excitement of seeing the boy nothing had come to him either. He simply signed, “I’ve missed you. We’ve all missed you.”
Andy replied, “I missed you too.”
“Congratulations, Andy. You deserve it.”
Andy took the diploma with a thank you and turned to head off the stage. Then he turned and hugged Jack briefly before he fled the stage holding the diploma high over his head. Jack felt warmth at the corners of his eyes and blinked back the tears, but he was still grinning madly when he turned to tell Svana that she played the piano beautifully and he hoped that she would invite him to a recital some day.
Ms.Grant then made a brief speech and presented the class to the audience. The air was filled with green mortar boards and whoops of triumph, and then the entire scene dissolved into groups of people congratulating the new graduates. Jack waited in his seat until most of the students were engaged in some social circle and then slowly collected himself to go. He made it off the stage before he heard Ted’s voice hailing him. He turned to see Ted and Kate flanking their son Andy.
“Educant Randall.” Ted started. Jack cringed a little inside. Ted had been calling him “Jack” since Andy’s first year and the formality Ted now used burned Jack as much as anything Ted could have said.
“Yes, Mr. Clay.” Jack returned the formality though it pained him to do so.
“I understand that you are to stand before the Educator’s Board in Sacramento. That your license is in question.”
So that was it. That was why Ted had allowed Andy to come to his own graduation. So he could rub Jack’s nose in it. Jack turned to face Ted completely now. His back stiff and his jaw clenched, Jack glared defiantly at the man. His voice was almost a low growl when he answered, “That’s correct.”
“I was wondering if the favorable testimony of Andy’s father would have any sway with the Board?”
Jack hesitated, unsure. Was the man making a cruel joke or was he serious?, “I am sure that it would.”
“I have been reminded lately,” Ted looked to his right where his wife stood with a slight smirk on her lips, “that I have not lived my life without making mistakes, and that I have been lucky when I did make them and forgiveness was forth coming. I have been reminded that our society only works because we take turns and that it was my turn to forgive.”
“You would come and tell the Board what?” Jack was still too stunned to react.
“That you are an exemplary educator. That my son thinks the world of you and that he would not have come so far so fast if it was not for you. That you made one miscalculation and that does not make you less of an educator. That it is wasteful to throw away a perfectly good educator over one incident that can not be undone.”
Jack stood frozen in stunned silence.
Kate stepped forward, “Educant…Jack?”
That was enough to snap Jack out of his shocked silence. “I would be proud to have you speak for me.” Jack held out his hand.
Ted looked down at Jack’s hand for a moment and then looked him in his face and took his hand and gave it a vigorous hard shake.
The nation’s struggling K-12 education system has a persistent achievement gap between white and and minority students, a dismal 69 percent average high school graduation rate, and U.S. students trail behind other nations in math and science proficiency. —ABC
Today, the United States stands 10th in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who have earned a post-secondary degree. We’re behind Canada, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Denmark and France.–Washington Post
“Quality public education is the civil rights issue of our generation.” Arne Duncan
Arne Duncan, Obama’s Sec of Education, has a big agenda. He wants 100% graduation from high school and to lead the world again in college graduates by 2020. Granted this smacks of a publicity stunt but I must admit that his resume did at least impress me.
In the Chicago Public Schools, where 85 percent of the 400,000-plus students live below the poverty line, test scores, attendance, and teacher retention all went up during Duncan’s seven-year tenure, while the dropout rate declined. Edutopia
Last year he launched a program in 20 Chicago schools to pay students for grades, funded by private donations. He raised the ire of the teachers union by closing failing Chicago schools and, he said, “moving all of the adults out.” ABC
Well maybe not. Like much of the Obama administration, it sounds good but the reality falls short of the rhetoric.
“When we give our children real opportunities, real support, real guidance, have the highest of expectations, they can do unbelievable things. That’s what drives me everyday, is knowing how much potential children have if we as adults meet them half way.”–Arne Duncan ABC
Even before George Bush II, the education system in the US was falling apart. Graduation rates were dropping and we were falling behind the rest of the world in college educated individuals and in innovations that can be attributed to Americans.
John Taylor Gatto, in his well researched book The Underground History of American Education, pointed out that schooling was deliberately dumbed down to aid corporations in finding a docile work force. I have covered his works elsewhere in this series.
But there was another issue that also devastated US schooling. The need to avoid controversy. The most famous example is the debate over evolution. A debate that has raged in American schools and courts for well over 100 years now. You can see where American schools would want to avoid that. So much so that they define education almost exclusively as math and literacy in English. All other studies are to open to debate and controversy. Art, literature, drama, history, science, debate, politics, journalism, sports are all seen as expendable. Their beauty and usefulness are in the eyes of the beholder. What should be taught and what should be left out is too debatable. And so we are left with only the most rigid and quantifiable of subjects. Also the least imaginative and innovative.
No Child Left Behind told states to set their own benchmarks for education and told them how to reach those benchmarks–through standardized tests of math, and reading that were produced by a handful of corporations. These corporations did not necessarily make well written tests or tests that actually measured students’ ability to comprehend the material. All funding for the schools and whether a school would even continue to exist was attached to those test scores. What corporations did make is a financial profit.
The result was like throwing gas on a lit fire. The standardization further eroded any joy from the educational process. Any attempt to teach children to think critically or enjoy learning in general was abandoned for rote memorization of test material in order to increase test scores for the school. Children who did graduate had little ability to do much but stretch their capacity for short term memory of trivia. They were unable to handle college let alone the problems of tomorrow. During this time graduation rates did increase. But the number of college Freshmen relegated to remedial courses in their first year went up dramatically. These students stayed in college 1-2 semesters and then quit, leaving them in debt, and worse off than if they had never attended college at all.
Additionally, the system awarded money and incentives to schools that were already ahead in the nation. In short it gave unequal monies to schools in rich, white neighborhoods instead of trying to level the playing field for under advantaged schools. A truly capitalistic ideal. This further separated an already unequal system.
To bolster his point, Delbanco cites the remarkable finding of Donald E. Heller, the director of Penn State’s Center for the Study of Higher Education, that “the college-going rates of the highest-socioeconomic-status students with the lowest achievement levels is the same level as the poorest students with the highest achievement levels.” I added the italics to underscore the not-so-hidden injuries of class.–Washington Post
Race to the Top takes the exact opposite approach. The states compete for limited federal dollars. They are in competition to set their goals ever higher and then achieve those goals. Race to the Top includes wording encouraging states to adopt international benchmarks for children to achieve success in college and careers. He wants the schools or the states to have data bases that track what happens with the students. Did they go to college? Did they graduate on time? Did they get a job in their field on graduation? His idea was to hold the states accountable to high performance but to allow the states to come up with their own way of getting there. Race to the Top says very little about how the state should achieve its goal. Instead states are set at each others throats competing for the same federal dollars with achievement test scores and compliance to federal wishes being the measure of success.
Under Race to the Top guidelines, states seeking funds will be pressed to implement four core interconnected reforms.
— To reverse the pervasive dumbing-down of academic standards and assessments by states, Race to the Top winners need to work toward adopting common, internationally bench-marked K-12 standards that prepare students for success in college and careers.
— To close the data gap — which now handcuffs districts from tracking growth in student learning and improving classroom instruction — states will need to monitor advances in student achievement and identify effective instructional practices.
— To boost the quality of teachers and principals, especially in high-poverty schools and hard-to-staff subjects, states and districts should be able to identify effective teachers and principals — and have strategies for rewarding and retaining more top-notch teachers and improving or replacing ones who aren’t up to the job.
— Finally, to turn around the lowest-performing schools, states and districts must be ready to institute far-reaching reforms, from replacing staff and leadership to changing the school culture.–
This approach is not without its critics.
So here’s the deal: At the same time that our federal government is mustering financial resources to save teachers’ jobs, it’s also pushing measures to eliminate them. And at the same time that the US Department of Education is urging educators to focus their programs on ambitious learning goals and qualitative learning experiences, it’s doing everything it can to undermine those goals by focusing on a narrow curriculum and strict, quantitative measures. This cognitive dissonance that characterizes the Obama administration’s approach to education reform isn’t anything new. —Open Left
“Schooling is not just about getting a job. Schooling is about getting a life.”–Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education and counselor to Education Secretary Lamar Alexander under President George H.W. Bush and was appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board under President Clinton. She is the author of over twenty books, is research professor of education at New York University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
She’s long been known as an advocate of No Child Left Behind, charter schools, standardized testing, and using the free market to improve schools. But she’s had a radical change of heart, as chronicled in her latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.
[Just in case you are wondering how that turned out, my daughter is currently on the Dean’s Honor Roll at her university.]
Initially trade unions and workers groups supported the charter school movement. Any group of teachers or parents could form and run a charter school. Those schools were seen as being more closely tied to their communities and under the control of the parents. That is definitely what I experienced as well.
At the end of the Clinton administration, however, Congress passed the New Market tax credit. This allowed a 39% federal tax credit to banks and equity funds if they invested in community projects in underserved communities. For the last several years this tax credit has been used to fund charter schools. Investors in these charter schools would loan money to the charter school and gain interest as well as the 39% tax credit combined with other tax credits like historic preservation or brownsfields credits. The end result was that the investors would double their money in about 7 years. These are huge rents that are coming from state funds. Often, there are interlocking relationships between the charter school boards and the nonprofit groups, like the Gates Foundation, that organize and syndicate the loans. A whole industry has arisen from creating charter schools for this tax credit and now most charter schools are created through corporations and not parents and teachers. Most of these new charter schools are nonunion and the teacher’s unions have turned away from this movement.
New Orleans after Katrina showcased this new charter school system. All the teachers were fired. Unions were disassembled. Corporations were hired to create charter schools. Upper managers of schools were brought in and paid very well ($300-500K). Teachers on the other hand were still paid relatively poorly and they were locked out of the decision making process. These corporations frequently saw teachers as expendable commodity. They hired teachers out of college who were willing to work 60-70 hours a week. These teachers would then burn out and leave, while a new set of young teacher were hired to replace them.
Detroit and Chicago are undergoing this transformation now. Underfunded community schools which did have parental involvement are being closed. They are being replaced by charter schools run by foundations which are setting the goals for the schools without input from the communities they serve. People in Detroit report going to a “participatory meeting” and discovering that they were to participate in fund raising or other work for the school but not the decision making. Additionally, if a community comes together to create a charter school, Race to the Top says they have to compete against these already well funded national charter foundations and they are of course unable to do so. All but 2 of the 16 finalist schools in Race to the Top had help from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Additionally the Gates Foundation gave grants of up to $250,000 to some of the states. It sounds more and more like corporate management of our schools. It appears that the Gates Foundation is taking up where the Carnegie Foundation left off with compulsory school.
Meanwhile, these corporations are locked in a heated battle with each other over the brightest children with the highest test scores. This is a crucial element of Race to the Top. Less gifted children, it appears, could attend a traditional public school. Thus a two tiered system has begun to emerge. When the schools do not get the results they want, then the teachers are to blame, even when they have little or no say over the curriculum.
What I am seeing from the Obama administration is not an example of what my daughter grew up with, but something entirely different. Duncan wants to increase the number of charter schools, but he wants them run by corporations that do so professionally. This is yet another example of public works being privatised. These corporations run schools on an even more business centric model than our traditional schools. Turning American public schools into business operations, notwithstanding the fact that the very business principles they insist will rescue our educational system are the ones that have left many American workers behind as their jobs were outsourced to other continents. Dog eat dog competition is favored over cooperation. The parents of children in these schools are even more locked out of the decision making process. In fact there is no avenue at all for community input in many of these schools. Think tanks and foundations are consulted instead. The Gates Foundation and Eli Brode Foundation have far more input than the community in the education of its children. And there is no transparency as the corporation consider much of their decision making trade secrets.
I have been a parent for schools that teach a traditional schedule as well as year round. I prefer the traditional because at least I have some hope of spending time as a family at Christmas and summer. The year round school year does not allow much time and all the people in the town want vacation at the same time because the students are off.
When my grandfather died, my family went to the funeral in the next state. This trip took one week in the middle of the school year. When I returned to school I was told I would get a D on a certain project because my parents had had the poor sense to take me out of school. If anything the school has become more militant since I was a student. Actually making kids with 4.0 take the year over if they have too many absences. In another episode I even told you about one child who lost a valuable scholarship to an Ivy League school because of the school policy toward absence. [The fate of that school, I just learned, was to be closed due to
karma funding cuts.]
I have the same problem with throwing money at our problems as throwing time at them. If there is no overarching plan for the money or the time both are wasted. The “hippie” school that my daughter attended was on a laughable shoe string of a budget. Almost everything in the school was donated and the building itself was made by parents and students. My experience also leads me away from more time spent being better. When my daughter went to the “hippie” school that put her 2 grades ahead of her peers, she actually went to school less. Four days a week and with more than a month more vacation time. Yet that school blew the doors off the public schools in the area. It is not about quantity. It is about quality.
It used to be that one of the things I loved most of all during summer was reading. When my daughter went to school that love was beaten out of her by reading lists. Instead of reading what she wanted during summer she was assigned someone elses’s idea about what she should be reading. Apparently even the limited amount of free will exercised in recreational reading was too much for our current educators. And so reading, even in summer, became work.
The fact that anyone in the government wants community to exist at all is heartening. His vision is to use this public tax payer built building all the time. Not just 9-3. That it should be open late into the night as a day care center, health care center, adult education center. A place not just for adults to dump kids so they can trudge off to be wage slaves, but to actually meet the neighbors later and discuss how things could be…should be. A place to get the education you need to break free from your slavery.
Unfortunately, Chicago’s schools under Duncan indicate a different philosophy. Poorly preforming schools were closed. The students at the smaller schools were ever shifted to larger schools which were also doing poorly. The closed schools, instead for bringing community together, left gaping holes in their communities.
Its a pity he was not sincere about this concept. It was the one concept about which I had nothing negative to say.