Sunday, June 30, 2013

Issue #121- There's No Free Market In Education and Legal Troubles

The Myth of the Free Market in Education…
What are American values?  What does our country stand for?  What are our founding principles?  These are questions that are not easily answered, but that are a driving force in political debate today.  Establishing a national identity for a nation that is so diverse and that has such a conflicting history is incredibly difficult.  These challenges come to light when you look at issues like immigration (we're a nation of immigrants that has historically looked down on the most recent arrivals to our shores), separation of church and state (we use the word God in many documents and on our money, yet from the beginning of our nation multiple beliefs were present) and the role of government (we value the rights of the individual while recognizing the need for reasonable restraints on those freedoms and look for protection of our rights from the very government we seek to limit).
For some Americans the answers to these questions around our national values and norms are easy ones.  They see the foundations of our society clearly and without question.  Their values translate into a clear, concise and powerful political message of power and unity.  It also limits the abilities of these individuals to see other perspectives and to compromise with others.  The damage that this "black and white, with no gray areas" view of the world is capable of producing is on full display in statehouses across America.  The "divide and conquer", "my way or the highway" approach to governing and policy making is tearing at the fabric of our society.  Unfortunately, those of us who see the world differently are falling victim to our own empathy, or as Robert Frost said, "A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel." 
Debate on important issues is littered with examples of this.  We see our political opponents throwing out simplified solutions or rhetoric around issues and too often they get away with it.  We allow policy makers to fall back on empty phrases without calling them out and making them explain their reasoning.  This allows them to manipulate public opinion by appearing to be logical, down to earth and patriotic.  The reality is that this single-minded, simplistic view of the world isn't any of those things.  It is time to redefine the words that we use and create a new vision for our society.  One that is based on the values that our founding documents espouse, but that truly puts those values into practice. 
The concept of the "Free-market" is one of these ideas that needs significant explanation and reevaluation.  It is used to justify a wide range of political actions and policies.  In fact it is probably more of a political term than an economic one. The term is thrown around casually and applied in situations where it shouldn't be.  One of the clearest examples of this is in the field of education.
We have been hearing education "reformers" use the free market ideology to promote the expansion of privatization of our schools for years now.  According to this theory, our public schools are "dinosaurs" filled with lazy, incompetent, unionized workers who don't have any motivation to improve their practice.  Our public schools are failing our students and our nation and need competition.  In the current system, this thinking goes, the innovative and educationally sound private schools can't compete because the public schools have a "monopoly".  Parents and students deserve the right to make choices and to be subsidized in their efforts to find a "better" education in the "educational marketplace". 
This thinking resonates well in the political arena.  It has all the correct buzzwords that make politicians salivate.  It contains the rhetoric of "freedom", "competition", "individual liberty", "fairness", and "equality" and puts complex educational problems into the simple economic equation of "supply and demand".  A few quotes from the voucher debate in Wisconsin highlight this thinking:
“Parents are really the only people well-suited to make the decision of what’s the best match between a student and a school, not a ZIP code and not a bureaucrat,”
We support expanded educational options for parents through the use of school vouchers, charter schools, and innovative new programs centered on parental empowerment.
"A great, high voucher amount like this allows for increased opportunities for new entrants in the marketplace."
“[The] Joint Finance Committee made progress towards fairer funding of choice and charter students and they provided help to families struggling to pay private school tuition,”
"We're beginning to see a focus on vouchers as a way to really increase options for families." 
However, once you cut through the rhetoric there are some glaring problems with using the marketplace to determine educational policies for our students. 
Education is not a business.  Businesses are selective in the products they make, the materials they use and the consumers they target.  Our schools provide a basic service and this service should be available to all.  We can't cut corners when it comes to serving our students and often those students least likely to succeed are the ones who cost the most.  A business model doesn't work to serve our most at-risk and challenged students, no matter what their demographic group may be.       
We are constantly hearing comments like this in the media, "Meanwhile, there’s no good reason the state’s public school districts can’t reduce their costs for facilities and staff (and the need for taxpayer support) in response to some portion of their students leaving for private schools. Businesses and other organizations make these kinds of responses to demand all the time."  Yet, the argument is based on the false premise that we can reduce services to students while still providing necessary supports.  

An education isn't a product.  Providing a quality education for all students isn't something that should be driven by economic decisions.  An education is a basic necessity for success in modern America and should be treated as such.  Just like clean water, clean air, safe roads and a safe food supply, education is essential to the quality of life for our citizens.  Treating education as though it were a commodity that can be packaged and marketed opens the door for unethical and questionable practices.  In business the objective is to make as much profit as possible.  This is done in many ways, some of which benefit the consumer and some of which don't.  The argument that all market based decisions are driven by the consumer ignore the reality that many of the decisions made in corporate America today are not done with the best interests of the consumer in mind.
Support for the voucher movement and privatization of our schools follows the same pattern and decisions are not consistently made with the interests of students and families at the forefront.

Market driven practices don't provide equal opportunities or accountability to all.  In our market system accountability is limited in scope.  Businesses are accountable to the consumer to some extent, but not all consumers are equal.  In some cases it isn't even the consumer who the business feels most accountable to.  We see decisions made to benefit upper management, owners and stockholders at the expense of the consumer.  If our educational system is to be driven by free-market principles it is clear that those groups that are currently struggling will see their difficulties magnified.  Decisions about educational opportunities will be made based on cost/benefit analyses and our poorest, most disadvantaged demographic groups will been seen as a "poor investment". 
Successful educational practices should be freely shared and made available to all.  Our current system takes successful strategies and programs, packages them and then sells them for a profit.  Publishing companies treat educational strategies like pharmaceutical companies treat a the drugs they develop.  They market their programs and materials and get school districts to adopt their programs exclusively.  Thus forcing educators to use these programs in place of ones that have been developed by educators themselves.  New initiatives like the Common Core Standards are a gold mine for these companies.  Just do an internet search of "Common Core Instructional Materials" and you will see where the money is being made.  This shows how market forces create an opportunity for profit, but not a corresponding rise in educational opportunities.  The profits of companies making standardized tests as a result of NCLB and RttT are another example of this.      
Just like medical care, quality education is a necessity for a productive, high quality life.  Also, just like health care, the market won't adjust itself to make these necessities available without significant pressure from educators and supporters of public education.  Left to function purely based on the "free-market", educational opportunities for all will dwindle and we will see a multi-layered system of unequal quality become firmly entrenched as a permanent fixture in our society. 
A high quality education is difficult to define and must be general in nature.  In order for a business to succeed in the marketplace, it needs to have specific products, goals and consumers in mind.  No single business can provide everything to everyone, yet that is what we are asking our public schools to do.  Some people use this as an argument for school choice and private schools that focus on a specific demographic group, or a specific content area.  However, education is a very different thing than a consumer product.  Students must be well-rounded and prepared for a constantly changing workplace.  Specialization at a young age may work for a small number of people, but fails to provide the flexibility needed for long term success in most cases.  In the same way, the ability to interact with a variety of types of people from different demographics is an important skill that can be nurtured in integrated public schools. 
This reality means that we are providing a resource that can be used, not a product that can be quantified and assigned a specific value to.  Art, music, physical fitness, and the liberal arts are just a few examples of programs and topics that don't necessarily translate directly to a career or economic enterprise.  However, a broad base of knowledge provides more opportunities and a higher quality of life in the long term.  By trying to turn education strictly into a vocational or career training program we eliminate opportunity for our students.
The efforts to quantify the value of an education are demonstrated in the importance we attach to jobs in education.      
This same mindset applies when we begin to develop standards and try to make all students "career and college ready" from the earliest grades. 

Freedom of choice in America today is a convenient term that lacks meaning.  The ability to make choices without significant government regulation is the cornerstone of the free market, yet "choice" is a loaded term that is inconsistently applied.  The most obvious aspect of this shows up when one looks at the arguments around women's control over their bodies and health care.  On one hand the family (ostensibly including a mother) deserves the right and freedom to choose a school, yet that same freedom doesn't apply to the basic fundamental freedom to make decisions around reproductive rights.  Whatever your personal views are on abortion, contraception and other similar issues, once you bring in the idea of freedom and choice into a discussion you need a consistent definition that applies in all situations.
Economic decisions are based on what society values.  Supporters of the marketplace in education would argue that freedom of choice applies only in economics, not in morally based decision making.  Economics is a neutral "science" governed by laws (like supply and demand) that remove morality from the equation.  Individuals deserve choice in the marketplace, but this same level of independence doesn't apply in decisions around issues in other areas.  This implies that economic decisions don't have significant moral implications.  However, in a capitalistic, consumption driven society, economic decisions may be the most telling in terms of morality.  We spend our money on what we value and we clearly don't value education highly in America today.
There are many examples of this lack of commitment to education in our society.  One is the fact that educators (public and private) are not compensated at a rate that compares to individuals in other fields where similar amounts of education, training, professionalism and time commitments are required.  Educators across Wisconsin are facing the reality that they may not be able to be a part of the middle-class doing what they love.
Of course educators aren't the only ones who face these choices.  The politically motivated attacks on all public sector workers in Wisconsin have significantly harmed many in our state.  Giving back 1% when you've taken 7% or more is a poor way to treat employees.
None of these arguments are in any way implying that our public schools don't have lots of work to do.  We have significant gaps in achievement and opportunity.  We have areas where we can be more efficient in our use of resources.  We can improve our practices and make our schools more accessible to all students.  Student outcomes can always be elevated.
However, to put forward false, market based "reforms" in the name of American values are damaging and illegitimate claims.  The intent behind these "reforms" isn't to improve educational outcomes and opportunities for all, but rather to install and protect a "separate and unequal" system that benefits the few.  Our public schools have the personnel, the expertise, the desire and the highest level of accountability that's necessary to achieve the goals that our founding documents put forward.  We need to commit as a society to addressing the needs of all students through a powerful and well support public education system.  

 Law and Order?…
Why are educators so concerned about politics these days?  Actually, a better question might be, why are politicians so concerned about educators these days?  In an ideal world, educators would be free to go about the business of preparing our young people for the future.  We would be supported, respected and treated as professionals who are capable of performing our jobs without constant oversight and direction from people who don't have much (if any) expertise in our field.

In today's political climate educators can ignore politics at their own peril.  After all, it is politicians who have reduced or eliminated our rights to collectively bargain.  It is politicians who have forced us to adopt standards that have reshaped the educational environment.  It is politicians who have created the high stakes testing environment that students and educators must wallow in.  It is politicians who have promoted an expansion of a voucher system that hasn't worked effectively to promote student achievement.  If we don't unite to act as educators in the political realm it is clear that the pace and volume of these politically motivated "reforms" will only accelerate.

I know many educators who are "burned out" on politics and political action.  Many of us feel helpless in the face of these well coordinated attacks on our public educational institutions.  However, we can't simply hope that others will defend us, or that our political leaders will follow the proper course.  We've seen political leadership from both parties fail to adequately support and defend public education. 

We are living in a time when the very foundations of democracy are under attack.  The most basic function of a citizen in a democracy is to cast a ballot, and this fundamental core of our system of government is being assailed.
Public schools are another cornerstone of our society.  We provide a place where all citizens, regardless of race, religion, social or economic class can come together to learn.  We are accountable to the people of our community and we serve them proudly.  Part of our service is to fight against those who would seek to dominate our nation and manipulate the system for their own gain.  Now is the time for us to become more active in our efforts to unite together with members of our community and educate our citizens about what is happening and what they can do to regain control of our social, economic and political systems. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

#120- Resistance/Obstruction What's the Difference and We're Going the Wrong Way

Resistance or Obstruction…
Life is full of choices.  The decisions we make today will have an impact on our future whether pro or con.  Many of the decisions we make are small in nature and have little impact outside of our immediate personal circle.  However, when making decisions about public education, the choices that we make often have wide reaching, long term implications.  This is as true for those in the highest decision making positions, as it is for the individuals who work directly with students in our public schools. 

Good decisions are ones that are made for the right reasons, with the best possible information available.  They take into account both short and long term implications and are not always the most positive politically.  With the ever expanding influence of politicians in the educational decision making processes, we are seeing an increasing number of decisions being made based on incomplete information and designed promote a political agenda. 

Suddenly educators in schools are put in a difficult position.  Do they follow the course charted for them by individuals who may not have students' interests at heart?  Do they ignore their own expertise and teach in a prescribed and approved manner?  Do they base their decisions about children on standardized test scores and ignore the performance of students in their classrooms?  If they choose to stand up for what they believe to be right and in the best interests of their students are they resisting, or are the obstructing?

While this may seem like a semantic exercise, the imagery associated with the two terms is important.  Resistance has a more positive connotation and implies opposition to harmful influences.  Resistance movements are often held in high esteem with the pinnacle being resistance to the Germans in WWII.  Obstruction on the other hand implies standing in the way of progress or operating against lawful actions.  Hindering a criminal investigation is obstruction, opposing an unjust law is resistance.   

With the ongoing battle over public education continuing at a feverish pace, the defining of educators as either resistors, or obstructors becomes very important.  The general public (and many policy makers) often lacks the information, knowledge and the experience to see what the implications of the policies that make good sound bites are in the educational lives of students.  Accountability, assessment, and rigor (to name a few examples) sound great in a speech, but what do these words mean in a school setting?  What happens when educators, students or families speak out against the reforms?  Are they vilified?  Are they listened to respectfully?  Are their arguments given a fair hearing, or do we let those with political power and money control the debate?  

I've said this many times before and will continue to repeat myself.  Our schools are not perfect, and we need to address the concerns that exist.  We have a problem with Achievement Gaps.  We face ongoing concerns about school budgets and how to best use the resources we have.  However, our public schools have many strengths as well.  I would argue that public schools provide the best potential for meeting the needs of the most students and educators have a high level of accountability to their students and the families they serve. 

We have an imaging problem and an information problem.  Politicians and school "reformers" have taken control of the debate and are able to label educators who speak out against the system as obstructionist, not resisters.  Yet, the public isn't getting complete information about what is going on in our educational system to base their opinions on. 

A few examples. . .

Mainstream media sources provide headlines and articles filled with information from sources with close ties to school "reformers".  You need to actively search for information that presents alternative views.

Politicians and policy makers state that, educators need to be more accountable and we need to find a way to evaluate them.  Mayor Bloomberg (New York City Mayor) touts one model and says it will allow, "Good teachers will become better ones and ineffective teachers can be removed from the classroom." The public hears this as a reasonable statement, and educators who resist these evaluations must be "hiding something".  However,      ". . .nobody, not the Times, the New York State Education Department, the New York City Department of Education, nor the teachers' union have demonstrated any positive correlation between teacher assessments based on the Danielson rubrics, good teaching, and the implementation of new higher academic standards for students under Common Core. 

In many districts these evaluative tools have been used to penalize educators, or to force them to follow specific teaching guidelines that are not necessarily best practices supported by data.  Yet if educators speak out they are protecting their jobs, or toeing the union line.   

This is true in our institutions of higher learning as well. 

The public is also given misleading information about the costs involved in educating students in our public schools.  They are told that our students of poverty cost the system and that their tax dollars are being thrown away to deal with problems that are not being resolved successfully.  Yet, ". . . while America does spend plenty on education, it funnels a disproportionate share into educating wealthier students, worsening that gap. The majority of other advanced countries do things differently, at least at the K-12 level, tilting resources in favor of poorer students." 
We are also told to make sure that the "job creators" are given adequate resources and significant financial incentives in order to boost our economy, however, "Historically, broad educational gains have been the biggest driver of American economic success; hence the economist’s rule of thumb that an increase of one year in a country’s average schooling level corresponds to an increase of 3 to 4 percent in long-term economic growth."

Educators themselves often don't work to counter the negative imagery that surrounds their profession.  We accept a status as "lesser citizens" and don't assert our true value to society.

With all of the misinformation that is used to support legislation and educational policy and the inaccuracies that fuel public perception of public education, it is no wonder that so many policies have significant unintended consequences.  Take the Common Core Standards for example.  These standards have been used to justify standardized testing, standardized instruction and a trend towards more intense (not necessarily more effective) instruction with an elimination of less structured activities and play.  Yet the writers of the CCSS expressly stated that,
". . . the use of play with young children is . . . welcome as a valuable activity in its own right and as a way to help students meet the expectations in this document."  They also recognized that professional educators have the expertise and need the freedom to address the specific needs of the students they work with.  They recognized that there is a need to pay "attention to such matters as social, emotional, and physical development and approaches to learning." 

Given the way that the CCSS have been used it is no wonder that educators are concerned and are offering some resistance to their implementation.  The resistance isn't based on a desire to avoid accountability, or to hinder student progress, but instead is often based on genuine concerns about the welfare of our students.   

It is vital that information about the potential "side-effects" of school reforms are made available to the public.  If more people knew the "facts" and had access to the full picture then we might just see a different perception of public education and public educators emerge. 

Headed the Wrong Way…
The big political news in Wisconsin this week centered around the "debate" over the state budget.  I put debate in quotes because the GOP controlled legislature seemed to table more amendments than they debated.  In fact it appeared that this budget was created in the back rooms with lobbyists having more input than citizens.  Given the lack of success resulting from the budget that the Republican controlled government passed in 2011 it is reasonable to be concerned about the potential results of this most recent budget.  It is difficult to see how many of the items in the budget will move Wisconsin in a positive direction.     

The past several years have seen a dramatic shift in the political climate here in Wisconsin.  As Senator Bob Jauch states, "The majority party sees their role as conquerors instead of compromisers."  With the extreme nature of the current administration and legislature it is difficult to see how we will be able to regain any sense of unity in Wisconsin.  Abraham Lincoln once stated that America couldn't "endure, permanently, half slave and half free".  While some might argue that Wisconsin's current situation isn't as stark as the U.S. in the mid-1800's, we certainly are facing deep divisions and a stratification of our citizenry.  As we continue on down the current path of discord and strife it becomes more and more challenging to reverse the polarizing trends established since 2011. 

I find myself continually wondering; just how much money is enough for some of us?  

Is it possible that some members of our electorate are being manipulated?  Big money interests are using their influence to maintain their dominance in our society.  This is true on all sides of the political spectrum, but is having its most dramatic effect on the conservative side in recent years.  We need to continue to share accurate information in the hope that all citizens will try to make informed, reasoned decisions about their political allegiances.    

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Issue #119- How to Make Good Decisions About Education and Politics

Good Decision Making…
The school year ended this past Thursday for students in Madison's public schools.  With any ending comes reflection, assessment and a look ahead.  That's what educators do on a regular basis.  This process allows us to decide what worked, what didn't and how we can improve our practice in the future.  It seems obvious that this shouldn't be a strategy employed only by educators in schools.  Our administrators, political leaders and other public officials need to take time to really think about what is happening in our society and how we can make progress in our efforts to improve things.

I'm sure that many in power would argue that they do reflect, assess and plan.  However, this process is only valuable when a certain things happen.  People must set aside their pre-existing biases and honestly reflect about the results of their actions.  They must also be strong enough to admit mistakes and recognize the flaws as well as the strengths what they've done.  The information used in this process must be as accurate as possible and not simply gathered to validate existing beliefs.  Too often data used is edited to be used as a defense of policy and not as a true evaluative tool.  Finally, plans and policy based on the reflections and assessment must be developed that will address the needs of our society and create the best outcomes for the most people.  All of this with a careful look at the potential results from a variety of perspectives. 

There are many barriers that get in the way of the process.  There are political realities that exist for all of us involved in the public sector.  These make it difficult for people to really be honest as they look at what has happened.  Instead of really reflecting and assessing, too many in the public sphere simply defend their actions and hold on to beliefs/policies that are partisan in nature.  They refuse to see the strengths that integrating opposing viewpoints might bring to future plans.  Many of the issues we are dealing with are complex in nature and don't have easy solutions.  Gathering data that makes sense, and that is accurate can be challenging.  There are real differences in the outcomes that we want from our plans and policies.  We see a constant tension between short term and long term goals.  We have a diverse society and there is naturally conflict between groups that must be addressed.  We fear the potential unintended consequences of actions and look for "slippery slopes" in every potential action.  Too often we are paralyzed by our own biases and fear and end up missing opportunities for real change.  The final barrier is time.  It takes time to go through this process in a real, meaningful way.  We live in a society where quick, decisive action is viewed positively, while more deliberate thinking is maligned.  However, we often see quick actions result in inconsistent and incoherent policies that reinforce all of the barriers that exist.     

These barriers have a significant impact on the plans and policies that are implemented.  If our process of arriving at decisions about actions we are going to take is flawed, then it stands to reason that our results will be too.  We find our leaders proposing ideas that are unchanged from previous ones (often policies that have failed in the past).  We see a cyclical pattern that causes us to refight battles that were previously resolved.  We also see a lack of vision that causes us to put short term interests ahead of a more coherent plan that addresses the future of our society.  Too often we see groups that share a common interest either ignore their shared concerns, or create conflict where there shouldn't be any.  Enemies are made out of allies. 

This lack of reflection, assessment and planning is a real problem for our society in many ways.  It causes incoherent policies and leads to a breakdown in the cohesiveness of our society.  It means that we spend too much time and energy in pointless conflict and ignore many of the real issues that need to be addressed.  We can see the results of this issue right here in our own state, and we need to work to address the concerns that so many citizens have about the decision making process currently employed by our leaders. 

The flaws in our decision making processes are extremely evident in the public education arena.  Education policies have been punitive to schools and educators.  There has been a lack of clear, measurable and achievable goals.  Our public schools have not been guided by a coherent policy that is in the best interest of students.  Instead we have seen a confusing, haphazard and partially implemented series of reactive "reforms" imposed on public educators.  A few of the lowlights. . .

"Higher" standards that change the emphasis on learning from being child centered and developmentally appropriate, to mastering a series of skills that have been deemed the "core" of education.  It is very difficult to quantify what it means to be an educated citizen.  One persons idea of what is important to learn can be different from what someone else may value in an education.  No one can know everything and we will all have our own set of strengths and weaknesses.  By trying to quantify acquisition of knowledge and make the process into a sort of "checklist" of concepts and skills that students must demonstrate proficiency in (during the "appropriate" grade) we have changed the purpose of acquiring an education.  Being educated becomes something that is defined by others and is uniform in nature.  Many of the most brilliant thinkers in history thought "outside the box" and would struggle in modern, standard driven school curriculums.

In our struggle to quantify a complex concept we have turned to standards and assessments as our primary means of defining success in educational pursuits.  Yet, these standards and assessments have been rather hastily implemented and have ignored the concerns of professional educators.  The thinking behind these "reforms" may be laudable, but the results we are seeing are questionable at best.           

We have used school "reform" as a political weapon.  Political leaders who say that they don't have a political agenda when it comes to proposing "reforms" to our public school system are being disingenuous at best.  The past two years have featured wave after wave of attacks on the abilities of public educators to organize and exercise their rights to speak out on issues around their profession.  In our current situation any proposed legislative "reform" must be analyzed in a political (not educational) context.  This isn't a phenomena exclusive to Wisconsin either.  

The resulting, bitter divisions have created a climate of fear, anger and retribution that does nothing to improve educational outcomes for our students.  
In this environment, rational and realistic reforms are ignored or silenced.  Cooperation and compromise are eliminated from the equation and we see a polarizing effect on educational policies.  

Data about our schools is frequently misunderstood, or misused by people trying to advance their own agenda (which rarely includes promoting the interests of our students).  Articles and discussion about our public schools is filled with "facts" and numbers.  What these "objective" bits of information mean is open for significant debate and discussion.  Instead of allowing professional educators the ability to use the data that we collect on our students’ progress, we use the information to undermine public confidence and distort the perceptions that people have about our schools.      

The current struggles are guiding us back to a place where we have already been, and a place that wasn't a positive one for many of our students and families.  All of the "reform" efforts and the constant assault on our public schools have returned us to a bygone era of "separate and unequal schooling".  We are so busy attacking public education and eliminating the voices of professional educators that we ignore the realities that these policies create.

One of the starkest examples of this is our highly segregated school systems that exist in almost all parts of the country.  Some statistics from these articles. . .

--41% of Chicago's public schools are at least 90% black, and 68% of the black students in CPS attend one of these schools. 

--Non-Hispanic whites are 32% of Chicago's population, but only 9% of CPS's enrollment.

--In Wisconsin 41% of black students attend schools that are 90% black and that percentage doubled between 1991 and 2005.

--17% of Wisconsin's Latino students attend schools that are 90% Latino.  

We’ve seen what happens when we segregate our schools throughout our history.  Essentially when we ignore, or agree to, segregation we are saying that we are giving up on the idea that our children can live and work together.  We know that segregated schools don't have equal resources, or equal access to quality instruction that all students need.  Policy makers at the highest level don't seem to be bothered by this, but those who work in the schools want to see changes made, before we go further down this destructive path.  A report from the Chicago Teacher's Union states, "CPS does not even have a semblance of a plan for integration and equity in learning conditions and opportunities that those who fought for desegregation hoped to ensure."  The union goes on to advocate for the school district to work with other organizations to try and address the complex issues around segregation of our schools.  Cooperation to promote equity, what a truly revolutionary concept!

Education is an investment that pays off over time, but our current climate is one that calls for instant results.  Much of the damage done to our public schools has been done because of a sense of crisis.  This results in policy and budgeting that eliminates innovation, experimentation and forces educators and students to work under pressure.  It also results in constantly changing curriculums and policies that confuse educators, students and families.  The pace of change, spurred by so called "reforms" has accelerated to the point where those directly involved in our schools are frustrated and uncertain.    This also forces educators to make quick decisions about curriculum and policies that are often unsupported by significant data.  I have experienced this multiple times in the past few years as programs are implemented to "improve" educational practices, and then changed almost instantly in favor of new and even more "improved" programs.  No wonder many public educators suffer from "reform burnout".  The families we serve are equally upset and discouraged. 

"Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering."  Yoda, sums it up well in this quote.  We are operating in a climate of fear.  One where every action and reaction is analyzed with the underlying belief that we are facing an educational crisis of epic proportions.  Our students pick up on this and their attitudes and performance in school reflect this pressure and intensity.  The families of our students are given conflicting information and are encouraged to question every aspect of their children's school experience.  Educators fear losing their jobs (or working under new, unfavorable conditions), face constant criticism and encounter financial stresses that magnify their anxiety.  Very few positive things come out of a climate of fear.

Divide and conquer strategies disrupt communities and limit the ability of schools to respond to student needs proactively.  The end result of the atmosphere of fear is a loss of trust and a divided society.  Instead of becoming rallying points for our communities, our public schools become places where competing ideologies come into conflict.  The heart of any educational debate should be the impact that any action has on student achievement, yet we find ourselves in nearly constant quarrels that too frequently don't lead to more positive outcomes for all students.  A society that can come together around all of its children is one that will be stronger over time.  That modern America struggles so much in this area raises serious questions about the future of our nation. 

The use of fear and divisive political strategies means that words like accountability are defined in multiple ways.  Having been a part of some of the discussion that is referred to in this article I can attest to the power of uniting people from all levels of the Madison School District and the value of clearly defining what we mean by accountability (and other key terms).  The comments at the end of this article show just how divisive words can be.  If we spend our time responding to every perspective and every comment we will find ourselves chasing our tails and getting nowhere.  Accountability is a concept that is defined by those involved in the process.  While all of us have a stake in public education, there are certainly some who play a larger role in the system.  Students, families and educators all need to be accountable to each other in order to make the system work.  If these three groups live up to their mutual obligations then the public should be able to trust that the outcomes will be positive.  Instead we see people who have little or no idea of what happens in our schools trying to impact educational policy decisions, and it isn't working well for our schools.    

Politics/Business As Usual…
Education isn't the only arena where we see this lack reflection leading to poor policy making.

There are overt (and covert) attempts to create a sense of fear and anxiety. 

Partisan politics creates hypocrisy as leaders on both sides criticize their opponents for doing things that they do themselves.  This creates a cycle of action, reaction and retribution that spirals beyond reason.  Educators don't accept the excuse of, "They did it to me first!" on the playground, and we shouldn't accept similar excuses from our leaders and their propaganda machines.    

Conservatives in Wisconsin blame educators for poor results (although the true analysis of our education system is open to debate) while producing outcomes that are abysmal. 

Sooner or later the citizens of Wisconsin need to realize that we are all more successful when we stop fighting each other over topics that are peripheral to issues that really matter.  We have the skills, abilities and resources to be a leader in all areas, but not if we squander these assets in conflicts that undermine our ability to function as a cohesive society.  If the current leadership in Wisconsin is unable to find common ground on important issues, then it is up to us, the people, to find a way to move our state forward.