Sunday, October 9, 2011

Issue #28- October 9, 2011, Planned Obsolescence, Occupy, Recall and Testing

Issue #28- October 9, 2011
In this issue:   Can rights become obsolete?, The "Occupy… Movement", Recalling Walker, and Testing, 

Planned Obsolescence…
We all recognize and accept the fact that nothing lasts forever.  Even the best of products will eventually wear out or be replaced by a newer (and hopefully better) design.  In a very simplified definition, the concept of planned obsolescence is one where the manufacturer of a product creates an item that will only last a short time.  This may be done for a variety of reasons that are both beneficial and unfavorable to consumers.

Obsolescence is tied in some ways to the evolution of technology and product design.  As new technology, materials or ideas become available products are altered and made available to consumers.  The hope is that the newer products are improved from previous versions.  However, evolution and obsolescence are not synonymous. 

Nowhere is this made more clear than in the social, economic and political spheres.  For example, voting rights have changed over the years with different groups gaining suffrage. One might say that our democracy has evolved to a more inclusive and better state. 

The same can be said for worker's rights.  Over the past 100+ years workers in America have fought for basic rights that make the workplace a safer and more equitable environment.  This is true in both the public and private sector.  Thus we see child labor laws, the minimum wage, workplace safety regulations, and yes…the rights to collectively bargain and to establish unions.

There are those who will say that the need for union representation has become obsolete.  That there are plenty of protections built into our system that make collective bargaining a need of the past.  It is interesting that these are many of the same people who are working to restrict voting rights, restrict access to the decision making process and who want to deregulate the financial industry (thus taking it away from oversight by the people and putting the power in the hands of a select few).

However, rights are things that can not ever become obsolete.  The founders of our nation were part of a philosophical movement that looked at rights as being things that were natural to humans.  Their view of who was entitled to these rights was narrower than the modern idea of citizenship, but was typical of their time.  I would argue that if those leaders were alive today, most of them would support a more widespread distribution of natural rights. 

When we enter into a "social contract" and become part of a civil society we give up some of our rights.  For example, we transfer our right to enforce rules to a police force or other law enforcement agency.  However, our founding leaders recognized that we never gave up these rights, we just agreed to work within rules established by laws and regulations.  Our basic rights have been protected by the Constitution and we should retain them no matter what laws are passed.  When our rights are infringed upon we have the duty to work within the system to regain them.  If that doesn't work then the philosophy of our founding leaders would say that is our obligation to do what is necessary to change the government and restore the rights of the people. 

That is exactly what has been happening in Wisconsin and now across the United States.  Planned obsolescence may be a valid theory for goods, it isn't an option for rights.  

Recall Walker…
We are less than a month away from the first opportunity to officially begin the recall process for Gov. Walker.  I continue to agree that recalls should not become the standard reaction to controversial or unpopular political actions.  However, the time is right to make a change for many reasons. 

*Walker has gone after the rights of citizens under false pretenses.
*His administration is under scrutiny for many things from campaign finance to illegal hiring, etc.
*His actions have divided our state in dangerous ways.
*His administration shows no sign of making any effort to improve the standard of living for a majority of Wisconsin citizens.
*There is a dangerous trend towards the centralization of governmental power and the removal of checks on the executive branch's power.  Walker's administration clearly wants to centralize power in the executive branch.

Wall St. and Protests…
The protests in New York continue to grow and the "Occupy …" movement is spreading across the country.  The protests are taking on many forms and the movement is working to define its goals.  They released a statement outlining some of their goals last week:

Official Statement from Occupy Wall Street - this statement was voted on and approved by the general assembly of protesters at Liberty Square: Declaration of the Occupation of New York City

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.*
To the people of the world,
We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.
Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.
To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.
Join us and make your voices heard!

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.

It is interesting to notice the parallels between the "Occupy" movement and the Wisconsin protests and even the original Tea Party movement. 

There is a strong sentiment to change our banking system.  The actions proposed range from very aggressive… 
to a call for people to move money from banks to credit unions.

Saturday, November 5 at 9:00am, Occupy Wall Street
The response from the mainstream media has been mixed.  There was an article on the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal earlier this week.  However, the conservative media is becoming more outspoken in their criticism of the protests.  The coverage of the NYC protests sounds a lot like what was said about the "thugs" in Wisconsin. 

In my mind what all of the protesting amounts to, is a reaction from a wide range of people to the inequality of opportunity that exists here in the United States.  This lack of opportunity combined with the injustice of living in a time when the gap between rich and poor is larger than ever makes conditions ripe for mass action.  For those that make the argument that everyone has the opportunity to be rich if they work hard, just look at the statistics for the past 30 years.  Also consider the people that you know, how many of them are not working hard?  It is disturbing that the conservatives can create this image of a lazy person who just wants to live off the state, and have so many Americans buy into the myth.  I'm also concerned that because of the low interest rates and the slow moving economy we will see large amounts of property bought up by the wealthy.  They will then control even more of the economy, this was true in past economic downturns and is true today as well.  The "they" that is so frequently referred to are the small number of very wealthy individuals who use their wealth to buy influence and power.

      It starts up in Madison.

Testing Part I…
We are in the middle of our first round of MAP testing at my school.  What is MAP testing, you ask?  It is another standardized test that is administered in the Madison Public School System.  This testing will take 3 hours in the fall and the spring and another hour in January.  This is on top of the WKCE and COGAT tests that are also administered at the upper elementary level.  The MAP testing is done on computers and is designed to measure student progress against a national standard over the course of a school year.  Each of the testing events I mentioned have an impact on my school in measurable ways.   

Over the next few weeks I will look at the growth of standardized testing in our schools and the effects that it has on our efforts to educate children in the United States.  I'll begin by looking at the growth of the testing industry and where the "need" for testing comes from.  Before I begin I want to clarify a few things.

*I'm all for holding teachers accountable for their role in student achievement.  Of course I also have a few qualifiers to this statement such as, there needs to be an accurate way to  measure student achievement and teacher's can't be the only group that is responsible for a child's academic growth.  Every teacher I know cares deeply for their students and wants them to achieve at their highest level.

I find it disturbing that when using one of the definitions for accountability comes up:

Education . a policy of holding schools and teachers accountable for students' academic progress by linking such progress with funding for salaries, maintenance, etc

*Testing isn't all bad.  There is a time and a place for standardized testing, however, we are reaching a point where we are testing in excess. 

*We need some way to measure student progress and evaluate our efforts in education a wide range of students.  Thus, I support the development of national standards in different content areas to help guide teachers and to measure student progress. 

*I have serious reservations about the testing that is currently being pushed on to school districts across the country.  The volume of testing and the negative effects it has on teaching are significant. 

Testing has become almost expected and accepted in our educational system.  So, where did all this testing come from?  A brief look at the history of standardized testing takes us to ancient China and the development of exams for the employment of people in civil service jobs.  However, it wasn't until the late 1800's during the Industrial Revolution that standardized exams were used in any significant volume in America.  This type of testing was used to help deal with the large number of students who were attending schools in the growing cities of our country.  By WWI standardized tests were used in the military for promotion to different ranks.

As the 20th Century progressed there was continued use of testing, but the evaluations centered on holding students accountable for their knowledge.  The tests weren't "high-stakes" and were instead used more for convenience and ease of grading.  Through the years of the Depression there was a concentrated effort to promote students through the school system based more on their age and less on their achievement.  The SAT was developed in 1926 as a tool to help colleges evaluate students for admittance.  The ACT didn't come along until 1959.
In 1936 the first automatic test scanner, the IBM 805, was invented and standardized testing as we know it began to develop.

It was in the 1950's when the Russians launched Sputnik and set off a national scare that we were falling behind.  Suddenly, Americans felt pressure to increase accountability for their schools and the teachers in them.  Teacher accountability became a crisis and a political issue on a national level instead of a local one.

Several laws were passed to deal with this issue including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 which developed programs like Title I and which were intended to improve the quality of schools in America.  The emphasis on teacher accountability and evaluation of our education system continued to be a hot topic for politicians.

Achievement scores were used in the 1966 Coleman Report (Equality of Educational Opportunity) where a sociologist, James Coleman, looked at resources and opportunities that were provided for children of different races.  This lead to the National Assessment of Educational Progress which looked at data from tests and compared the scores of American students to children from around the world.

In January of 2002 President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind legislation that formalized the efforts of conservatives to exert Federal control on the public school systems across the United States.  Despite the calls for reduction in government from conservatives NCLB actually increased the role of our national government in education.  It required several things of schools:

*Annual Testing that shows academic progress where all students will test "Proficient" by the 2013-14 school year.  It also requires that schools meet adequate yearly progress towards this goal.
*In 2002-3 report cards needed to be developed to show information needed to document student progress.
*Teachers needed to be "highly qualified" in the subject area they teach in.
*Reading 1st- A Reading program for grades K-3 was implemented.  Funding for this program was later removed by Congress.

In 2005, Dianne Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education said, "We should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act. ... All this attention and focus is paying off for younger students, who are reading and solving mathematics problems better than their parents' generation."
But four years later, Ravitch changed her mind.
"I came to the conclusion ... that No Child Left Behind has turned into a timetable for the destruction of American public education, I had never imagined that the test would someday be turned into a blunt instrument to close schools — or to say whether teachers are good teachers or not — because I always knew children's test scores are far more complicated than the way they're being received today."
President Obama originally signed the NCLB when it was approved by Congress early in his presidency.  Then in 2009 he introduced his educational reforms in the "Race to the Top", where standards and assessments were to be used to evaluate schools.  These evaluations would also determine the level of funding that schools would receive and states needed to apply for Federal money using a set of criteria developed by the administration.
State applications for funding were scored on selection criteria worth a total of 500 points. In order of weight, the criteria were[2]:
·                    Great Teachers and Leaders (138 total points)
·                    State Success Factors (125 total points)
·                    Standards and Assessments (70 total points)
·                    General Selection Criteria (55 total points)
·                    Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools (50 total points)
·                    Data Systems to Support Instruction (47 total points)
In addition to the 485 possible points from the criteria above, the prioritization of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education is worth another fifteen points for a possible total of 500.[2]
Recently Obama has begun to challenge the value of all the testing that NCLB and the Race to the Top required.  Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools," the president told students and parents at a town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C.  "Through Race to the Top, we are asking States to advance reforms around four specific areas:

Politicians of all types are eager to announce their ideas to hold teachers and schools accountable for the achievement of students.  While this makes for a good sound-bite, Diane Ravitch states that empirical evidence "shows clearly that choice, competition and accountability as education reform levers are not working."
"Race to the Top is an extension of No Child Left Behind. It contains all of the punitive features. It encourages states to have more charter schools. It said, when it invited proposals from states, that you needed to have more charter schools, you needed to have merit pay — which is a terrible idea — you needed to judge teachers by test scores, which is even a worse idea. And you need to be prepared to turn around low-performing schools. So this is what many state legislators adopted hoping to get money from Race to the Top. Only 11 states and the District of Columbia did get that money. These were all bad ideas. They were terrible ideas that won't help schools. They're all schools that work on the free-market model that with more incentives and competition, schools will somehow get better. And the turnaround idea is a particularly noxious idea because it usually means close the school, fire the principal, fire the staff, and then it sets off a game of musical chairs where teachers from one low-performing school are hired at another low-performing school."
Based on this short (and certainly not complete) historical look at testing you can see how the whole process has evolved from a relatively benign way to assess students to an industry that drives our educational system.
In the next several issues of "Open Forward Thinking" I will look the ways that testing has been used (or has been suggested to be used), and at the costs of testing.  I will take a look at the different "reforms" that have been offered and their effects on public education.  I will also look at alternatives to testing and ways that teachers and families can try to regain control of the educational process. 

No comments:

Post a Comment