Saturday, April 19, 2014

Issue #161 April 19, 2014- Reclaiming Education and Wisconsin Politics

No Diane Ravitch (Again)
However. . .
Madison seems to be a cursed location for Diane Ravitch.  She had to cancel her previous engagement here due to illness, and now has a knee injury to deal with. 

In an earlier post, I shared with you the fact that I took a bad fall, landed on my knee, and tore the ACL ligament. The MRI showed the damage was even more extensive than it first seemed. I not on...

However, Texas superintendent John Kuhn (
and Chicago Teachers’ Union president Karen Lewis (
will speak at Monona Terrace on May 1st at 7:00 pm.  

The “Reclaiming the Conversation in Education” sessions led by Edgewood College’s School of Education will still be held prior to the speakers.  This will offer public education advocates an opportunity to connect with each other and should be a powerful event. 

Talking the Talk. . .
The need to "Reclaim the Conversation in Education" is one that is increasing in importance with every passing day.  We are facing attacks on public education that are unprecedented in nature.  The desire of many so called "reformers" isn't to really fix our education systems, but rather to destroy them and replace them with a new, privatized system.  This new system will return us to a time of segregation, inequity and a disparity in educational opportunities that we haven't seen since the end of WWII. 

The attacks on education are coming from the same sources that are seeking to return our entire social structure to a pre-New Deal America condition.  Those claiming to want to "reform" our society use the language of Progressivism, but they fail to back up the talk with policies that substantially support the ideals that they supposedly believe in.  They use data from studies to justify their actions and policies, but often misuse or misrepresent the evidence.  The resulting policies are geared to resolve problems that have been misidentified, misinterpreted, or that may not even exist in reality. 

I see it often claimed that the high rate of child poverty in the US is a function of family composition. According to this view, the reason childhood poverty is so high is that there are too many unm

» Privatizing struggling Milwaukee schools doesn’t pay off, report to be released April 24 says |...

Their words resonate with the ideals that America was founded on, almost to a fault.  Remember that the ideals that we are so proud of were based on a narrow view of who the rights, freedoms and privileges applied to.  Women, minorities and the poor were excluded from power either through design, or by omission.  Too frequently, the policies that political, social and economic "reformers" are promoting are guilty of these same flaws and prejudices.  They have targeted many areas of our society for "reform," and we have felt the effects strongly here in Wisconsin.

In recent years we have seen increased efforts to "reform" the educational systems here in Wisconsin.  We find ourselves following the same pathways that other states have followed, often with disastrous outcomes.  As a nation we should have learned a long time ago that standardized testing, standardized curriculum, cuts in funding for public schools and the privatization of education don't work for most students.  Yet, we continue to see these types of policies promoted across the country.     

We know that political, social and economic patterns tend to be cyclical in nature.  We often talk about a pendulum swinging back and forth when we talk about policies and trends in most areas of our society.  This is as true in education as it is in any other field.  For example, phonics instruction gives way to Whole Language, which then blends into a Comprehensive Literacy System, which then gives way to new ways of teaching literacy skills.  Instruction in all aspects of education changes based on our social, political and economic climate as well as the changes in our understanding of the biological and societal influences on learning.

Given that reality, why are so many educators and supporters of public education so concerned about the recent efforts to "reform" our schools?  In fact, I often hear fellow educators say that we need to weather the storm and wait for the "pendulum" to swing back towards a climate that is more supportive of public education, educators and all students.  Unfortunately, we are currently engaged with opponents who want to cut the string and eliminate the ability of the pendulum to swing back.  This isn't a debate like the "good old days" where we are arguing about subtle differences, or whether to focus on one aspect of teaching and learning over another.  The current struggles around education revolve around the goals of "reformers" to absolutely, permanently and irrevocably crush those who oppose them.

These efforts to "reform" our public schools into oblivion have coalesced around a few major areas.  The first is the use of standardized tests to identify and define success for our students and our schools.  These testing requirements have given ammunition to those who claim our schools are failing by putting numbers to a collection of Achievement and Opportunity Gaps that have been a part of our schools and society forever.  By putting concrete numbers in place "reformers" are able to point to the gaps in test results as evidence of the need to make drastic changes to our education system. 

Identifying and emphasizing Gaps isn't a negative thing in itself.  Educators have known about these Gaps for years and have received little support in their efforts to address them.  What is problematic is the fact that so much emphasis is being put on improving test scores, as if a better test score is a real indication of a better educated and well equipped student.  In fact, the way that most of these tests and evaluations are set up the Gaps we have will not only continue, but will expand.  Take ELL students for example.  Once a student becomes proficient in English they are exited from the program.  This means that the only data we have on ELL students will always contain test results from students who are developing their language skills.  Throw in the fact that for the highest stakes tests, students are usually tested exclusively in English and you can see how we will always have huge Gaps between ELL students and students who speak English as their first language. 

The tests themselves are problematic in many ways.  They are developed by companies with little input from actual classroom teachers.  When used to define success for students they limit the ways that instruction is delivered by forcing educators to spend time preparing students for tests instead of providing engaging and informative lessons.  They funnel money away from classrooms and into the coffers of test making companies.  School districts are forced to spend millions of dollars to have access to tests so that "reformers" will have data to use against the schools.         

Around the country, students are now taking preposterously lengthy standardized tests related to the Common Core Standards Initiative. To the...
The Daily Caller

First-grade teacher Kelsey Lewis has seen students in her Lee County elementary school cry, have panic attacks and vomit during...|By JESSICA LIPSCOMB

Along with the tests come curriculum and materials created by test making companies to "help" educators improve their students' test scores.  The freedom of educators to use the strategies and materials that fit their students' needs best is being eroded by the waves of initiatives that are supposed to improve outcomes for students.  We sit in professional development sessions and read articles published by the companies who are selling their product.  We spend hours learning about "new" ways to teach our students that are really just repackaged strategies we've used for years.  Real conversations about ways to reach our most at-risk students are pushed aside so that we can do "deep-dives" into "unpacking" the Common Core State Standards.  In the end, educators are left no more effective, but certainly demoralized and confused. 

A third area where "reformers" have focused their attacks have been educators themselves.  Whether by supporting union busting initiatives or by promoting mechanisms to hold educators "accountable" there is clearly an anti-educator sentiment among many "reformers."  Once again we see the power to drive education "reform" wielded by those with little or no direct experience or contact with actual students in real classrooms.  Data is used, and systems are created to analyze educators efforts, but these are flawed and impractical.  The new Educator Effectiveness initiative in Wisconsin is a perfect example of a system that will eat up time and resources while failing to improve education.      

Well-funded misinformation campaigns succeed in part by leaving no rock unturned in the quest to...

The evidence against VAM is at this point overwhelming. The refusal of school reformers to acknowledge it is outrageous.
Washington Post

Why the conventional wisdom about America's teaching corps is wrong.
Washington Post

We are seeing these attacks on educators take their toll.  Educators are retiring early, moving to new professions, or are stressed and demoralized.  Educators are in positions where we directly interact with students and families who are often under significant amounts of stress and who are struggling to make ends meet.  When those who are supposed to help these students/families are put under stress themselves it becomes more difficult for help to be delivered. 

American teachers feel stressed out and insignificant, and it may be impacting students’ educations. Gallup’s State Of America’s Schools Report,...
The Huffington Post|By Rebecca Klein

Wake County Public Schools held a press conference Thursday to talk about the alarming increase in mid-year teacher resignations.|By WNCN Staff

All of the testing, the standardization of curriculum, the pressure to meet standards and to stay on track to be "career and college ready" put significant strain on our students.  We are creating environments that are more stressful, and therefore less learner friendly, while increasing expectations.  This is truly unfair to everyone involved in the educational process.

With the constant focus on testing and data, we rarely discuss the important 'unmeasurables' -- including the emotional realities of children's lives.

Money is the final way that "reformers" seek to gain complete control over our educational system.  Education is a costly enterprise that requires significant investment on the part of our society.  In times of budget struggles we always see a movement to cut costs and to reduce spending.  Education is one of the areas that has been targeted over the years as a place to save money.  At the same time we can also see how there is money to be made in education.  Even in the most challenging of financial times there are those who find ways to make a profit, whether it is good for our students, schools and society, or not.   

The U.S. Department of Education is forecast to generate $127 billion in profit over the next decade from lending to college students and their...
The Huffington Post|By Shahien Nasiripour

Around 45 people lined up to do the unexpected at the Eau Claire school board’s meeting Monday night — instead of complaining about school...

All of these "reforms" are made possible because our public schools are, public.  We are governed by elected officials and must follow rules that are developed by public officials.  This is one of the strengths of public education, the fact that we are accountable to the public in ways that our private counterparts are not is a positive.  This means that all students are supposed to be welcomed into our public schools, no matter their race, gender, disability, income level, etc.  It means that we are responsible to our students, families and community, and must work to provide the best opportunities possible for students to achieve. 

Unfortunately, it also means that our public schools are vulnerable to those who would manipulate public opinion in order to promote an economic, political, or social agenda.  These groups see an opportunity to win victories at a basic, fundamental level, that will allow them to control the fabric of our society.  By dominating the dialog about topics like education they can dictate the direction that we take in a number of ways.  They are working to eliminate their competition and to monopolize power at all levels of government.  This is why Act 10, Voter ID and other initiatives are so problematic, especially when combined with an effort to control how education is delivered in Wisconsin.     

How new candidates get recruited and trained to run for city, county and state office is increasingly being handled by interest groups.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel|By Erin Richards

Supporters of private school vouchers have spent about $10 million on political campaigns in Wisconsin since 2003, including $2.4 million in support of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a new report released Monday...

What this means for educators and supporters of public education is clear.  We can't afford to wait for things to change in our favor.  If we allow things to continue on the current trajectory, the pendulum will continue to move further to the  right.  Instead, we must do what we did in 2011-12 and begin working to defend the things that we believe in.    

Anthony Cody here describes teachers as "reluctant warriors," as men and women who...

We must also use existing systems to make our voices heard.  This means attending school board and city council meetings.  It means writing letters, calling and emailing local representatives.  It means participating in campaigns and sharing our ideal publically.  It means getting involved in our local schools and speaking out about the "reforms" and initiatives. 

One concrete example that people in Madison can participate in is in the creation of your local school's SIP (School Improvement Plan).  According to MMSD, "Every school is required to develop, refine, and receive approval on a yearly SIP. Created by the School-Based Leadership Team (SBLT) with input from school staff, families, community members, and district administration, the SIP is a plan that defines a school’s targeted work for the year to raise achievement for all of its students. It is aimed at measurable goals, and it is monitored throughout the year."
The group of families, staff and community members (SCAPE) that has been organized in my school community is planning on becoming very active in this process.  We hope that by providing a SIP of our own we can influence the direction that our school takes in terms of curriculum, professional development, emphasis on testing and other areas of concern to us.  The MMSD website specifically says, "We hope you'll join your school to learn more and give your feedback about your School Improvement Plan.  See your principal for information on getting involved in the process."  I encourage concerned citizens to do just that. 
The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly
 (Wisconsin Political Edition). . .

The Good . . While it hasn't been given the coverage it deserves, the investigation into the activities of conservative groups in their support of Governor Walker is of significant interest, especially as we gear up for the November elections.  The fact that the GAB is a non-partisan group with several members either former Republicans or even appointed by Walker lends credibility to the investigation.

The state Government Accountability Board voted unanimously to authorize the investigation of fundraising and spending by Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and his conservative allies during the recent recall elections.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel|By Patrick Marley

Chair's 2013 November Removal Followed June 2013 Unanimous Vote to Investigate MADISON,...

The disclosure by Francis Schmitz is intended to counter conservatives' claims that they are being targeted because they backed the Republican governor.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel|By Daniel Bice

The Bad . . . I'm always terrified when I actually seem to agree with Senator Grothman on anything.  Fortunately it is an extremely rare occurrence.  However, his point that we should be encouraging people to contact their elected representatives is right on point, even if he refused to respond to anyone that I know who has tried to contact him (and who live in his district). 

The conservative senator suggests that not all communications between legislators and...|By Lee Enterprises

The kickoff for Scott Walker's 2014 campaign promises more of the same rhetoric and demagoguery.  In other words, he will attempt to make us proud to be Wisconsinites, while doing little to actually make Wisconsin a better place to live.  He wants us to ignore the fact that he fell well short of his promised 250,000 new jobs, that the businesses that have been created are almost entirely non- job producing, and that the rights of the state's citizens are being restricted on a regular basis.  

By Rebecca Kemble on Apr 15, 2014 By: Rebecca KembleWisconsin governor Scott Walker opened his 2014 reelection campaign this morning in typical... It had gotten pretty bad four years ago. Over 130,000 jobs lost. A deficit over 3 billion. And taxes going up. Wisconsin's future looked ...

Asked Wednesday after speaking to the Wisconsin Hospital Association if he would commit to serving a full second term, Walker dodged the question.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel|By Patrick Marley

The Ugly . . . Meanwhile the Republican party continues to slide further to the right.  I believe Abraham Lincoln had some strong feelings about preserving our union and a state's ability to secede from it.  

State Sen. Dale Schultz retires, shaking his head at how the Republican Party has changed.

Wisconsin Republicans will vote on whether to include the threat of secession into their party platform.

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