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...

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