Sunday, November 23, 2014

#189 November 23, 2014- Education as a Product

"Selling" Public Education. . .
Education is a field that is filled with words that are used in many different ways.  Terms that seem to be clear and straightforward have become tools in political struggles and have taken on meanings far beyond what they had previously enjoyed.  Accountability, achievement, assessment, rigor, standards and many other words are now catch phrases that "reformers" use to undermine confidence in our schools and to advance an agenda that has shifted our society's focus away from education as a concept and towards a bottom line, fiscal, analysis of educational efforts. 

This shift in thinking is part of an effort to privatize our schools and to profit from our efforts to educate our children.  In this school of thought, public education becomes a player in an "educational marketplace" where educational institutions compete for "consumers" and provide a "service" that can be quantified and measured.  Instead of valuing education as a concept and a tool that can be used in many ways, the "educational marketplace" reduced learning to its most base function, economic gain.  Learning becomes valued only as a means to achieve wealth and status and loses its inherent positive qualities and motivations along the way. 

Education as a means to achieving economic and social success isn't new.  In fact, supporters of public education tout the economic benefits of high school diplomas and college degrees on a regular basis.  Yet, as we continue to see costs of education rising, increases in student loan debt, and a slow economic recovery that has strained public sector budgets, the economic conversations about education have taken center stage.  Far too often we see our students and their public schools become pawns in the political, social and economic struggle that has divided our nation into separate (and unequal) camps. 

As these conflicts have escalated, the stakes for public education have increased exponentially as well.  Issues that were once pedagogical or philosophical debates have become central to the ability of our schools to meet students' needs and even to survive as viable educational entities.  Cuts to funding, enforced changes in curriculum, accountability standards with few, if any educational merits, and other "reforms" have been devastating to public schools across Wisconsin, and the entire nation.  Our public schools have become a target for political and economic figures who exploit fears and mislead a public that is given only partial truths and distorted perceptions of our public schools and educators.

Like it or not, our public schools are now engaged in a competition that will determine the future of education for a majority of citizens.  It is important to remember that change and improvement are vital to the success of any endeavor.  We can't keep doing the same things, in the same ways and expect to continue to achieve positive results.  In the same vein, we need to learn from the mistakes and inequities of the past and adapt to the changes that are occurring in technology, information about how we learn, and the shift in demographics that are happening rapidly. 

However, to think that market economics is the best way to make positive change happen is based on flawed rationales and is an incorrect application of economic theories that don't belong in the public sector.  Simply put, there are some goods and services that should not be left in the mythical hands of the marketplace.  These include all things that are necessities for survival in a modern society.  The reason for their exclusion is the reality that a market economy inevitably becomes stratified and the best is reserved for a select few.  This is fine for things like televisions, cars and restaurants.  It isn't acceptable that things like education and healthcare are subject to the whims of the market.

When we look at education as a product and treat our students and families as consumers we inject some flawed reasoning into our educational systems.  We see supporters of the market theory of education pick and choose the way that they apply their theories to the real practices of education.  One of the major flaws in the ideas of the "educational marketplace" is the idea that competition will improve outcomes for all students.  This idea incorporates the idea that families and students are consumers who will shop around for the best "product" available. 

There are many flaws with this reasoning, but among the most prominent is the simple fact that the market place doesn't necessarily promote excellence.  Instead, a competitive market often rewards the best packaged product and not the highest quality one.  As we follow this thinking, we can see how private and voucher schools have promoted their "product" through advertising and promotional material, but not delivered the "goods" to the students they have taken in.  If we continue down this path we face the prospect of a "Walmarting" of America's schools with the winners being a small number of investors and the opportunities for the majority dwindling.       

This month in Boston, thousands of teachers will gather for the annual National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference.

Suddenly "selling" education becomes as important as providing educational opportunities.  There are many different ways to use the word selling, but many of them have negative connotations.  Using a few of these we can see how economics and education can be a dangerous mixture.  One meaning of the word sell is to simply "give or hand over something in exchange for money."  This is something that is very apparent when we look at the current educational situation.  We are buying and selling our students' opportunities to get a quality education.  At the same time we are forcing our public schools to "beg" for funding.       

Where’s the big money in privatization? Take it from the teachers.

By Keri Solis With a unanimous vote, the Montello School board voted to put a recurring referendum on the Spring 2015 ballot. The school is expected to ask taxpayers for at least an additional $1.1 million every year to keep the doors of Montello Schools open. The other options to close the gap are…

School privatization is on the march in Wisconsin, thanks to a push by right-wing ideologues ignoring no improvement in results.

To sell can also mean to "offer something dishonorably for money or other reward; make a matter of corrupt bargaining."  Here is where the idea of vouchers comes in.  Supporters of vouchers will argue that they provide opportunity for previously disenfranchised students, but the reality is quite different.  The reward for these "reformers" is money and political power. 

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Republican lawmaker whose daughter has Down syndrome promised Thursday that a divisive proposal to create a voucher to help students with disabilities attend private...|By By SCOTT BAUER

Other definitions of sell include to "abandon one's principles for reasons of expedience" and to "trick or deceive."  These aspects of selling can be seen in many ways in our current educational climate.  Conservatives are abandoning their long stated belief in the concept of local control in order to cement their hold on public education funding.  Instead of allowing school districts the power to monitor the quality of education and use their discretion in virtually all aspects of educational policy making, the power of decision making, funding and evaluation is being centralized under Conservative leadership.   

Republicans are moving quickly to pass a school accountability early next year, which would give Gov. Scott Walker an early example of how e…

Court rules Michigan has no responsibility to provide quality public education Posted by: The Michigan...

One of the best ways to generate sentiment for changes in policy direction is to identify an opponent to hate and fear.  Public educator unions are filling this need for Conservatives.  In order to create this sense of fear and crisis, "reformers" are willing to use any means necessary to attack their opponents.   

The 2014 election was a major defeat for labor, but the question of who will represent the interests of economically struggling voters is still open.|By Thomas B. Edsall

The stats leave no doubt: there is huge dissatisfaction among teachers. The turnover rate is very high. We need to answer the obvious question: why don’t principals and administrators take better care of their teachers?

All of these efforts serve to create an atmosphere of crisis and make public schools seem less attractive to parents as they try to wade their way through the rhetoric and find the best opportunities for their children. 

Wisconsin is one of 21 states that allow students to open enroll into other school districts. The process is helpful to some districts but hurts others.

We see a concerted effort to both ignore the challenges that public schools face (and the successes they achieve as they work with all students in a community), and to portray student achievement in a negative light. 

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The number of homeless children in the U.S. has surged in recent years to an all-time high, amounting to one child in every 30,...

One of my little pet peeves—occasionally given expression on this blog—is the notion that kids today are dumber than they used to be. I'd say that both the anecdotal and statistical evidence suggests just the opposite, but it's hard to get...

Yet, there is another way to define the concept of selling.  To sell can also mean to "persuade someone of the merits of."  We know that marketing matters, and we also are painfully aware that in the marketing war the private schools and voucher programs have a built in advantage.  At the same time we also know that allowing the "reformers" to continue to wage their marketing campaigns without countering their message will ultimately mean the destruction of our public education system.  The most disturbing aspect of that reality is the damage that will be done to our students and families who rely on public schools as a cornerstone of their communities and as a place of hope for their collective and individual futures.  It is because of this that we must begin to change the dialog about our public schools and refuse to shy away from confronting the "reformers" on their own turf.  Our message is powerful, we just need to make sure it is heard loudly and clearly.      

When I returned from speaking at the annual...

What is a public district school to do about all of this increased competition? It's easy. Aggressively market their own schools and take the competition seriously....

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . News from the MTI recertification campaign sounds promising.  The final tallies won't be in until after November 25th, but all indications are that we will see MTI recertified in a landslide.
Don't forget to make your purchases wisely as the holiday season opens.

Here’s Your Union-Made in America Thanksgiving Shopping List
Before you put together your Thanksgiving dinner shopping list, check our list of union-made in America food and other items that are essential to a traditional...

The Bad . . . Our schools can't function without strong staffs.  Our support staff, assistants, clerical, custodial and every other school employee are vital to the success of our students.  It's time that all employees are respected and recognized in a meaningful way.  While this happened in Milwaukee, Madison's educational assistants and other employees are voicing similar concerns.   

Last week, several MPS School Board directors spent a day at work with MTEA paraprofessionals and safety assistants. Board members saw how our work...

The Ugly . . . And so it begins.  Although these really aren't the first pay cuts.  Take home pay of educators in Wisconsin has already been reduced.  My family sees around $700 a month less in net pay thanks to the "reforms" of Act 10.  To reduce pay further, and to tie it to "performance" makes education a less desirable profession for talented young people to consider as a career.    

The district reduced salaries for three teachers based on performance.

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