Monday, July 28, 2014

#173 July 28, 2014- Education Crisis or Opportunity

Real Education Reform
Uniting the "We". . .
Something truly awful is happening in America today.  I know that the prevailing message from the media and our political leaders is always one of crisis and doom.  We always seem to be on the edge of destruction and despair.  As a nation we move from one crisis to the next operating under clouds of fear and anger that cause us to look for solutions in some unlikely (and often unhelpful) places.  Once that "crisis" is averted, usually through actions that profit some specific individual or group, our attention is directed to a new one.  There is some irony in the fact that no matter the severity of the "crisis" most people continue their daily lives in relative stability and calm.  Many of our pressing crises end up fading away without really seeming to impact our lives.  This reality desensitizes us and causes us to miss many of the real problems that exist.  As a nation we are constantly "tilting at windmills" while ignoring truly disastrous pitfalls.       

What makes this even worse is that it happens right under our noses, gets talked about by many people, and yet the majority of the citizenry doesn't really comprehend the true problems and the severity of the underlying issues.  They hear leaders and public officials talk about resolving problems, and trust that someone is going to take care of things for the better.  They accept the prevailing "wisdom" that certain groups are to blame for our challenges and feel vindicated when someone confronts them and stands up for the "everyday citizen."

This real, persuasive and awful problem that we are facing is the dismantling of our public education system and the weakening of education in general here in America.  This process has followed the "script" that has been used to attack unions, take away voter rights and undermine civil liberties.  Along the way, those who seek to undermine our public schools have manufactured multiple crises, identified many scapegoats and in general done their best to camouflage there real intentions while confusing the general public.  They half self-identified as the defenders of truth, justice and the 'American Way of Life.' 

They have diverted our attention away from the two key elements that really matter about our public education system.  The first of these is that in order to have a truly functioning democracy that works for all citizens, we need to educated all of our citizens equitably.  Instead, we have seen significant efforts made to create a tiered educational system.  One where those with the social, political and economic capital are given the best while the rest of the population scrambles and fights for the leftover crumbs.        

We believe that an informed public will not give away its public schools to amateurs, hedge fund managers, rock stars, for-profit corporations, athletes, fly-by-night entrepreneurs, and religious groups....

The other key element that is distorted by educational "reform" efforts is the concept of just what exactly is meant by education and what a well educated person is.  We have tried to identify and quantify something that really can't be limited to test scores and graphs.  We have taken the joy of learning and the inspiration of discovery and put it in prepackaged, easy to follow, easy to sell products.  We have tried to force educators, families and students to accept that success is measured by assessments and standards, when the reality is that true success often isn't quantifiable.

The sad truth is that the we that I've referred to isn't really a universal we.  It isn't a we made up of a majority of educators, families, students and community members.  Instead it is a we made up of education profiteers, those seeking political advantage, and others who are looking for personal gain whether it is social, political or economic.  The real we of education is finding that their voices are silenced in the debate and that the bureaucracy of education and the systems we've created are more responsive to a limited number of people.  This leads to frustration and anger that is directed at the wrong people in the wrong places.  The confusion and divisions are perfect misdirection that allow the process to continue and more harm to be done.

There are some things that can be done to begin to take control of our educational systems and the discussion about education in our society. 

We must really understand what we are talking about and communicate more effectively.  We use a lot of "big words", complicated phrases and other jargon that really doesn't mean a lot to most people.  In fact, even among professional educators terms like "best practices", "rigor" and "accountability" can have multiple meanings.  In fact, some of the terms that are used are so confusing as to be nonsensical to anyone outside of a select few.  At a meeting earlier this summer I coined my own new favorite educational term that I would add to the following list of 10, Uniform Differentiation.    

Education is filled with jargon, buzzwords, and BS. I've had a lot of fun over...   

Until we understand that education is complex and highly personal, we will continue to see these types of words and phrases wielded as weapons, not tools.  Without common ideas and language we can't have a meaningful conversation about education.  We need to have higher level policy discussions, but the real value in any education system isn't in the big picture, it lies in each individual student.  It is at the individual level that success or failure is determined.
We need to move past the need to blame others and look for solutions that build on our strengths.  One of the real problems in education is the fact that educators themselves feel attacked and devalued.  We are grappling with difficult problems and are engaged in a very difficult and challenging occupation and process.  Education is also a process/activity/profession that is highly emotional in nature.  Working with students and families is done best when morale and confidence is high.  Those who work in other, similar professions like social work and psychology understand this, but there are other professions that don't require the same level of emotional steadiness.  We need to stop blaming and start working together or we will fail to meet the needs of many of our students and lose too many educators. 

They never tell you in teacher school, and it's rarely discussed elsewhere. It is never, ever portrayed in movies and tv shows about teaching. Teachers rarely bring it up around non-teachers for fear it will make us look weak or inadequate....

Teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate and at a cost of billions of dollars per year.

We need to realize that a significant amount of the pressure to standardize curriculums and outcomes, and to increase measurable accountability comes from sources outside of education.  There is no doubt that students need to learn, we need to measure what they learn and that everyone in the process has significant accountability for each and every student.  That is why the "back to basics" thinking and move to increase assessments gains traction.  However, if we carefully look at the outcomes of these efforts it is clear that they are missing the point and failing to accomplish the supposed goals.  In the end, we want all children to have access to opportunities and to enjoy success.  Measuring them against artificial, national or international standards doesn't allow for this to happen in any real, meaningful way.   

A kindergarten homework load you won't believe.

Next year, new Common Core exams will be given for the first time, but questions remain about whether schools and kids are ready.|By Edgar Mendez

We also need to really identify and talk about the problems that do exist in our educational systems and society as a whole.  Instead of relying on political jargon, or slogans to generate support we need to begin to have meaningful discussions about the challenges we face. 

Teachers' unions are not the reason America's schools are in trouble.

This is truly a time of crisis in American education and therefore in our society as a whole.  Yet, times of crisis are also times of opportunity.  We have an educational system that has grown over the years in ways that have rarely been planned or carefully thought out.  It is a system that is antiquated in many ways and that does fail to meet the needs of all students.  The current state of crisis can, and will, be used to make changes in our systems.  It is up to us to decide who is going to make the changes.  Will we allow a small number of politically connected individuals to decide for all of us?  Or, will we rise up as a collective whole and begin the slow, messy and painful process of creating a system that will include the voices of all and truly be equitable in nature?

In many ways this isn't about reclaiming, restoring or defending the existing system.  It is about looking at where we've failed, where we've succeeded and where our future challenges will lie and building from what we have.  It can be a time of hope, or a time of fear.  It is up to us to shape the mindset that we approach these efforts with.  Hope will always build a better future than fear.

One key factor that will shape the debate for the next 4 years is the race for governor.  We know that Scott Walker's mode of operation is to divide and conquer.  His approach will continue the assault on education and the fear of what our public schools can, and should be.  Under his administration educators have been vilified, voices have been silenced and the power of the few has expanded.  He has proven that he will not listen to dissenting views.  Mary Burke may not be the perfect answer to our challenges, but she will provide a new outlook and increased accessibility to decision making for those who are working in the field of education.  We must work to elect her and then hold her administration accountable as we look to make positive, substantive changes in our public school systems.   

The differences come down to how Mary Burke and Scott Walker would handle public schools.|By Lee Enterprises

Mary Burke: "I will also seek to repeal the new entitlement program...|By Jason Stein
The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .

The Good . . . There is so much misinformation that is floating around in the media, online and on the airwaves, and it is distorting many people's views of what is happening in our society.  Efforts to improve opportunities and increase equality for all are often maligned by those seeking to maintain power and/or profit from the existing systems.  Every effort must be made to combat this rhetoric and get alternative viewpoints into the public eye. 

A federal judge Monday threw out Ron Johnson’s lawsuit on Obamacare, saying the senator and his aide had no legal standing.|By Patrick Marley

The 13 states that lifted their minimum wage levels on January 1...|By Scott Neuman

It's hard to get your head around the rapid turn of events that has taken...

Thursday afternoon, a group of 75 Wisconsin protesters gathered in the capitol to give Gov. Scott Walker an earful and to commemorate the one-year anniversary of his crackdown on free speech.

How does this misinformation and propaganda get spread so widely?  One simple answer is money.  Money gives individuals and groups access to media outlets and allows for a specific viewpoint to become viewed as "truth" by citizens who trust what their leaders say and what the media reports.  Scott Walker's administration and campaign (frequently very difficult to separate) are masters at raising money and spending it freely. 

With new figures from campaign finance reports, Gov. Scott Walker has...|By Patrick Marley

Latest Campaign Finance Filings Show Gov. Walker Remains Popular With Wealthy, Out-of-State Donors MADISON, WI — In his campaign finance report filed today, Wisconsin...

Although the governor's campaign boasts about getting money from regular folks, wealthy donors appear to be responsible for a majority of his finances.|By Lee Enterprises

MADISON (WKOW) -- The race for Governor has taken a negative turn in recent weeks. Republican Governor Scott Walker's campaign released an ad July 16 criticizing democratic challenger Mary Burke for benefiting from...|By Pete Zervakis

There is hope for the future.

After weeks of negative attack ads against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, a new poll shows that roughly the same percentage of voters have a favorable view of her as those who don't.

The Bad . . . Very troubling and disturbing.  Students need more access to a wide variety of literature, not less.

Members of the Racine Education Association are calling on the Racine...

The Ugly . . . As a nation we have struggled to deal with the racism and inequities in our society.  While there has been some progress made over time, the current trends are negative in nature.  The process of social evolution isn't one of linear, positive progress that leads to the best possible outcomes.  Instead, it is a process that challenges individuals and groups to stay focused on the long term goals of social justice and equality for all.  Just as evolution of species can result in either well adapted organisms or extinction, so too, social evolution can raise us as a society, or pull us down. It is up to us to combat injustice and inequity wherever it occurs.     

Big success stories — Obama, Oprah — are outliers in a landscape that points to the decline of the very ideal of racial and economic justice in our lifetime.|By Lee Enterprises

Navajo President Ben Shelly is calling for answers in the gruesome murders of two homeless Navajo men last weekend in Albuquerque.

How on Earth did this happen? A New York newspaper is facing a major...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

#174 July 6, 2014- Education and the American Dream

The American Dream. . .
As we celebrate our nation's "birthday" on the 4th of July it is important that we do more than just enjoy fireworks, don a patriotic t-shirt and pontificate about the greatness of our nation.  Birthdays are times to reflect on another year's worth of achievements as well as to look back at the overall history of an individual, group or in this case, nation.  As a country there is a lot to like about America, and of course there is a lot of work that we need to do if we are to achieve the potential that we as a society have. 

As we look at our nation's history, and its present day status, it is clear that there is something special about America.  Over time, the United States has been a place that has drawn immigrants from all over the world.  People come here for economic advancement and to seek refuge from the daily violence and troubles that plague a significant portion of the world we live in.  America's streets might not be "paved with gold" and there are certainly many problems here, but on the whole Americans enjoy a standard of living, social services and safety that is above that of the majority of other nations around the globe. 

What is it that makes America such a desirable place?  We hear many differing answers to this question depending on who is asked.  Is it our economic philosophy and capitalism?  Is it the democratic institutions that are long established?  Is it the moral character of our people?  Is it the political philosophies that seek to put citizens at the center of power?  All of these ideas are put forward being the core of "American Exceptionalism" yet I believe that they all miss the mark and fail to answer the original question. 

In fact, it isn't too difficult to make counter arguments that paint a very different picture of America as a nation.  We haven't always lived up to the potential that our espoused philosophy, resources and status merit.  Too often, we have used our economic and military power to dominate others and seek advantages for profit and not social justice.  We have subjugated many different populations and engaged in acts of racism, sexism and classism.  We are not always as tolerant of a nation as one would hope, given the strong language of equality in our founding documents and rhetoric.  Our freedoms and democracy are too often threatened and limited by a minority of elite citizens.  As citizens we too often fail to be engaged and to utilize the power that is available to us because of our laws, Constitution and democratic traditions. 

Given the discrimination, the inequities and even outright hostility that exists in our culture towards the working poor, new immigrants and those who live as a perpetual underclass, why have we seen, and continue to see, people flocking to our shores seeking what has become known as "The American Dream?"  What is it that draws people, and keeps people here, even when times are difficult and significant challenges exist?  What exactly is this "Dream" that motivates, engages and drives the people of America? 

Cynics might say that the American Dream is simple greed and consumerism.  That we are defined by our constant striving for the newest, most expensive and best possible goods we can purchase.  To a certain degree they are right, success in America is defined by wealth and "stuff."  We may not respect those who have great wealth, but we emulate them and hold them up at status symbols.  However, if we simply define the Dream in economic and class terms we miss another aspect of our society that is of great importance. 

Economic success is one measurement of the American Dream, but it can't quantify the true spirit of our national identity.  When we look beyond simple economic terms we can see that the real nature of the American Dream is found in the daily struggles of its people.  Opportunity and hope are what drive our citizens to strive and achieve and they are what will provide the sparks that will move us towards a more progressive and socially just society.  We see glimmers of the real Dream of America across the nation in the Occupy movement, the Wisconsin Uprising, and in countless other movements and acts that seek to promote equality and justice for all citizens.      

The American Dream promotes the idea that anyone can achieve success and that we are able to define success for ourselves.  We aren't limited by the constraints that others, or that those in power, would put on us.  It is found embedded in our democratic traditions and our ability to have a voice in our government and other important institutions.  As FDR said,  "Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country."  I would add to this that the ultimate rulers of our nation are not the heads of corporations, or those who seek to control our nation through wealth and influence.

The rights and privileges of a free society are supposedly guaranteed to us, but we know that this guarantee doesn't come without a price.  Freedom isn't free and must be protected, cultivated and defended.  This defense doesn't have to be done in big, obvious ways.  We may focus on examples of wars, huge movements and other historical examples of people defending freedom, but the major defense of the American Dream occurs in our daily, mundane lives.  Each of us, through our daily actions and words shapes what America is, and what America will become.  FDR spoke of politics and elections when he said,  "Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education."  However, these words hold true in all aspects of our society.  A truly educated population will make wise political, economic and social choices based on the bigger picture and not individual self-interest. 

Education then is the cornerstone of our democracy and our way of life.  Without a quality education we are vulnerable to the control of others and we limit the potential achievement of ourselves and our society.  Unfortunately, America has a history of avoiding education and the work and responsibility that it entails.  

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always...

We live in dangerous times for American education, and subsequently the American Dream itself.  Too many people are abdicating their responsibilities to be informed citizens and are allowing a small number of people to control our democratic systems like education.  We are allowing, and even supporting efforts that allow our schools to be segregated and privatized.  Our discourse around education focuses on economics, not knowledge.  We forget that when we talk about cutting programs, privatizing schools and making education more efficient, we are eliminating hope and opportunity for students and entire communities.    

Charter schools have made inroads, despite lack of better educational...|By Lee Enterprises

A new report says many schools are struggling with funding.

We are seeing efforts to silence and vilify educators who seek to promote opportunity and quality education for all students.  The anti-union movement in our nation is a clear effort to silence the voices of those who dissent from the agenda promoted by the elite who seek to dominate our society.   

Ignored by our current education policies are the facts that one in four...

Mexico is doing better than us on poverty in schools. Seriously... Mexico... And there's so much more here:

Ever wonder why more public classroom teachers don’t speak out against...

While it is not surprising that those who worked for a corporate Democrat like President Barack Obama have moved on to shilling for Big Business after they

Two former top Obama administration officials are joining a nationwide legal fight against teacher unions over tenure, seniority and other job protections. The Incite Agency, founded by former White House press secretary Robert...
POLITICO|By Stephanie Simon

In February, Agustin Morales spoke out against "data walls" on which...
Daily Kos

At the Vergara trial, a student identified one of her teachers as...

Instead of listening to experience, knowledgeable educators who are embedded in communities and classrooms across the nation, we listen to "talking heads" and "reformers" who seek to profit from our schools and students.  Rhetoric and misleading data instead of the words and actions of educators guides our educational policy.    

If the pass rates on Common Core tests and the new Common Core-aligned...

'Let’s take a look at the tests, as well as the cut scores, in order to better understand the continuing march of New York’s reformist lemmings right over the cliff of reason.'

Considering a perspective for educators to view children as more than the...|By Arnold Dodge

Under new criteria, no. of states meeting federal law drops from 41 to 18;...
Washington Post

How social emotional learning is being co-opted by 'reformers.'
Washington Post

Just like democracy itself, education is messy, confusing and rarely demonstrates linear growth and progression.  Instead of clear, easily defined answers we see a myriad of choices, and a need to personalize the process for individual students, families and communities.  The answers are found in discussion, freedom to innovate and a climate that is supportive of the efforts of educators. 
Should schools use the student-centered balanced literacy program to teach reading, or require...

It is also important to remember that we are talking about our children, not some impersonal resource to be exploited.  Children need to be nurtured, cared for and exposed to a variety of opportunities as they grow up.  These opportunities are what will help guide them towards successful, productive adult lives.  

An American teacher in Helsinki questions the national practice of giving 15 minute breaks each hour—until he sees the difference it makes in his classroom.|By Tim Walker

Reading to infants in the first 1,000 days of their lives is crucial for...|By Lee Enterprises

In the stuffy, little gymnasium at Richard Kluge Elementary in...
Wisconsin Public Radio

My son’s teacher said to me, and I’m paraphrasing here, “His writing needs work.” My head swirled with panic and planning and finger pointing (at myself) for having failed at something as important as making sure my...

What is frustrating is that it is relatively obvious what needs to happen if we are to improve education in America, and we are currently moving in the exact opposite direction from where we need to go.  No matter what political affiliation, economic ideology or spiritual philosophy one subscribes to, the end goal of education is for students to emerge from a system ready to engage in advancing our society and prepared to be successful on a personal level.  How we define success and what route we want our society to take may differ, but an educated person is able to engage in thoughtful, productive and democratic dialog about important issues.  An educated person is able to find ways to satisfy their own needs and still be a part of society as a whole.

#1: Privatized education steals from the poor and gives to the rich.

If we are ever really going to improve our schools we need to listen to those who work and learn in our schools.  We may agree with what is said, we may disagree, but the important fact is that real conversations are happening.  Conversations where prejudices and biases are set aside and we truly look for solutions that are in the best interests of each student.    

When kids misbehave at the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy in Denver, they don't get sent to the principal’s office because there is no principal. At this public school, every...

CHICAGO — Few issues in education are more important than the...|By Lee Enterprises

There has to be a push-back and a response to the privatization efforts of corporate education.  This is happening around the nation and will continue as educators seek to reclaim their profession and do what's right for their students.  As we celebrate this 4th of July, take some time to reflect on what we are really honoring and what we can all do to promote true American values.

In a surprising vote at the Representative Assembly on July 4, delegates passed a new business item calling for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to resign.
The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .

The Good . . . Things do change for the better.  This type of change gives us hope for the future. 

Support for a same-sex marriage ban was so broad in Wisconsin eight years...|By Craig Gilbert

With all the negative press about worker/management relations currently circulating, it is good to hear some positive news for a change. 

A Culver's in Platteville destroyed by fire rebuilds and reopens.
Find out how the owner took care of employees even when the restaurant was closed, TONIGHT on 27 NEWS at 10.

The Bad . . . People should know that they are being studied and manipulated.  It certainly gives us reason to wonder just how far the control of our society could go if unmonitored and unchecked. 

Let the Upworthy revolution begin!

While our state's fiscal situation is based on many complex, interconnected parts, the fact remains that Walker will have a lot of explaining to do.  A governor, an administration and a legislature isn't solely responsible for the health of an economy, but the policies that have been enacted over the past 3.5 years certainly don't appear to have helped our situation much and probably have harmed our economic growth.  

Revenue Collections Continue to Fall, While Medicaid Deficit Takes Large Jump The state’s fiscal situation has gradually deteriorated in 2014, and new tax collection figures released...

These policies negatively impact our schools as well as the general economy.

Madison is expected to see a $2.6 million increase in state aid next school...|By Lee Enterprises

The Ugly . . . America is quickly becoming a nation that has forgotten the vision on which it was founded.  Our Constitution wasn't created to promote extremism and monolithic thought.  Our nation's social and political history has been one based on compromise and gradual change.  We may not always be on the right side of history, but (as the Marriage Equality movement is showing) with time and freedom to think we tend to find a better path.  Our current climate of political extremism blocks our ability to compromise and reason our way through the challenges we face. 

Eliminating unions, public or private sector, will only serve to subjugate a majority of citizens.  This is true whether on a national, state or local level. 

The administration said repeatedly it was not looking at changing the civil service system. Now, it admits taking early steps.|By Jason Stein

A 2011 state law that ended most collective bargaining for most state employees went a step further at UW Hospital, where the law known as Act 10 is eliminating union|By Lee Enterprises

Religious extremism will only divide our nation further and eliminate rational dialogue from our social, political and economic discourse.  The 1st Amendment wasn't written to allow for a overzealous religious minority to dominate and control the lives of other citizens.  In fact, this type of religious intolerance threatened the stability of our nation from the very beginning and was a significant concern for the original leaders of America. 

So while a business corporation can't go to church, fast on Yom Kippur, or...

Meet the companies battling Obamacare's contraceptive mandate.

WASHINGTON -- The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution...|By Amanda Terkel

To sell art with the phrase "Arbeit Macht Frei" in modern America is simply intolerable.  No one should ever try to profit from the suffering of millions of people in Nazi Death Camps.   

Are you inspired by Nazi's? Does the thought of an image from a Nazi...

Wisconsin, where we eliminate unions, weaken civil service laws and replace them with good old fashioned cronyism.

Cindy Archer didn’t apply for, nor was she a finalist, for the job.

That is, if we even attempt to employ people in the public sector.

Aside from the oddity that the numbers are being released on a Thursday,...