Sunday, December 7, 2014

#191 December 7, 2014- My Vision for Public Education

These are difficult days for public education in Wisconsin.  We face a host of challenges that threaten to, at the very least impose drastic change on a system that has long been a source of pride for many citizens.  At worst, these challenges may spell out the end of public education as we currently understand it.  With the last general election behind us the immediate future of education here has been mapped out.  This future will contain continuing efforts to expand a voucher system and to divert public money to privatized schools.   It will feature a climate that silences educators and public school advocates by enforcing legislation that targets anyone who seeks to organize and confront the "reforms" that are being put forward.  Standardized testing and curriculum, a flawed educator evaluation system and other "accountability" systems will undermine efforts to be innovative and creative while closing existing opportunity and achievement gaps.  Truly, these are troubling times for those who believe in the power of public education. 

Advocates of public education have been put on the defensive by a well coordinated, and well financed effort to promote the privatization and profiteering of education.  These attacks have used the illusion of choice and freedom, a false appeal to fairness and equity, and have taken advantage of challenging economic times to promote their agenda. 

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty released a report Monday arguing that private schools participating in Milwaukee's voucher program are held...|By Jessie Opoien | The Capital Times

By Antonia Darder | Originally Published at TruthOut. November 30, 2014 | Photographic Credit; Shutterstock / Student erases Rather than an oppressive...

Unfortunately, those who support public schools and who value the potential that they offer have not countered these attacks effectively.  Instead of providing a vision of what public schools can become, and instead of promoting public education as a vehicle for a socially just, sustainable and even economically sound society, these voices have too often been relegated to trying to simply negate the arguments offered by educational "reformers" and profiteers. 

If we are to win the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens in the debate around education in Wisconsin we must provide an argument that not only debunks the one offered by "reformers", but also one that motivates and guides our efforts to improve educational outcomes for all citizens.  After all, the opportunity and achievement gaps are real and inequities in school policies around discipline are real.  While these are symptoms of a greater ill that exists across our entire society, they have become very visible in the world of education.  However, even as we recognize the stark reality that is the inequity of our society mirrored in our schools, we must change the dialog from one that blames schools for inequity and that instead points to the possibilities that public education offers.  Those who attack and undermine our public schools are not providing our society with viable alternatives that will achieve goals of promoting social justice.  Instead, their "reforms" and policies have the potential to exponentially expand the gaps that already exist.               

Public schools are forever schools, not until schools. Public schools do not serve students until the financial returns get too low. Public schools do not serve students until those students turn out to be too challenging...

The American school system today is an offshoot of an increasingly class-driven society.|By Matt Phillips

In a potentially precedent-setting case, Delaware groups allege that charter schools are violating the Civil Rights Act.|By David Sirota

Part of the process of promoting public education is providing a powerful vision of what public schools can accomplish when fully supported by a society that values the potential that education gives its citizenry.  Examples of what this vision can be are readily available if one knows where to look, or if you are part of a group that engages in these discussions regularly.  MMSD is beginning a process to identify and articulate its vision for the future through a series of meetings and conversations revolving around what our district will look like, and provide for students in the future.  Discussion around this vision have begun by centering on two main questions:

--What knowledge and skills does a college, career, and community ready MMSD graduate need to succeed in 2030?
--By 2030 what qualities should thriving educators, schools, and family and community partnerships have to help prepare all students to be college, career, and community ready graduates? 

I attended a public input session on this visioning process last week and found the conversation enlightening and motivating.  There was a pretty good turnout on a cold December night, and there were a variety of organizations and viewpoints represented as well.  It was very interesting to hear the different ideas that were shared.  What may have been most telling is that when answering these two questions the responses offered valued concepts, skills and ideas that are not supported by the current educational "reform" movement. 

When answering the questions our table groups were supposed to come up with three words that summarized our conversation.  While this was a virtually impossible task given the scope of the conversation, my table group answered the two questions with these "words."  For #1, about an MMSD graduate in 2030, we offered: Collaborative self-advocate, adaptable and holistic- well rounded.  Question #2 generated these answers:  Embedded-empathetic-engaged-advocates, accountably-educated, and trusting-respectful.  Obviously each of these answers is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of ideas, concepts and discussion points.  Yet, what was very noticeable to me was the way that the discussion immediately veered away from the standards and measurable data that is currently driving school policy in communities across our state.  In other words, people who were engaged enough in the process to attend this session were not valuing the same things that those making policy in our legislature and DPI have promoted.   

It is in this divergence of thought that we clearly see how having a vision or message, no matter how powerful, isn't enough to create socially just educational policies in our current social, political and economic situation.  In other words, a vision is important, but it is in the daily practice and the guiding policies that are crafted where our educational vision is given power and voice, or is silenced.  We see the voice of those seeking a more socially just system of education silenced, discredited and ignored in many different ways.  As an educator I am constantly facing the disconnect that exists between the rhetoric of opportunity, choice and culturally relevant instruction and the reality of standard, assessment and policies that reinforce existing inequities.

Knowing that we want our students to be well-rounded members of a community isn't seen as valued when standardized assessment results are a huge component of our schools' report cards and our educators' evaluations.  Students who are adaptable and strong self advocates will find a standardized curriculum and a highly structured learning environment to be more challenging to navigate.  It is difficult to value diversity of culture and opinion when standards and testing are the gateways to the credentials needed for "success" and access to additional educational experiences.  A climate of respect is undermined by the magnified importance of test scores and economics in our current educational environment.  In addition, our public educators have been put on the defensive and vilified to such a degree that their voice isn't valued or respected in discussions that revolve around their profession. 

We know that these challenges exist, and we also know that they won't lessen or change without direct action by those who have a different vision for public education than the one currently offered in our public debate.  While many public educators would like to simply be left alone to teach and work with their students, this simply isn't a possibility in modern Wisconsin.  If educators don't begin to speak up, they will find themselves working in a system that not only retains its current flaws, but magnifies them while creating new problems for our students, families and communities.     

This sounds incredibly difficult and complex, and in some ways it is.  Those who want to "reform" our schools are well financed and have powerful allies in economic and political spheres.  What is important to remember is that, like the labor movement, the civil rights movement and other social justice movements, it is the power of the ideas and people working in solidarity that overcome the control that a minority of citizens benefit from.  Just like unions, civil rights and other Progressive ideals, public education is a concept that deserves our full support and our best efforts.

I know, you are in the teaching life to teach, to instruct, to give to the next generation. So am I. But, I have come to some stark realizations lately: 1. If you...

In the struggle to defend public education we have too often lost our way and diluted our message with a series of alternatives to "reforms" and efforts to justify a past that really can't be defended.  We find ourselves trying to make amends instead of creating a system that will work as we move into the future.  While we can't forget past transgressions and failures, we also must learn to forgive each other and move ahead with the most positive of intentions.  This is where our vision of what public education can be provides a framework that can support our efforts to make positive change happen.  It becomes a set of ideals that we refer to as we create policies that will actually move our system towards a more socially just and sustainable one. 

My vision for public education relies on a series of basic premises. 

Success shouldn't rely on exceptional efforts, but should be a regular occurrence and expectation for all students, staff and communities.  Too often I see interventions and supports for students that are based on some type of unusual accommodations or similar adaptation.  Yet, these types of actions are frequently ones that would benefit many other students.  We need to look at the current policies and systems that we have in place and reflect on their functionality and the results they produce.  Through analysis and reflection we should be able to provide opportunities that fit the needs of our students in ways that we currently don't see.

We need to define what we mean by success and support all stakeholders' efforts to achieve their goals.  Our current system is guided by the needs and desires of those outside the system.  Whether the motivations come from business, politicians or special interests they rarely reflect the true needs of our students, families and the community as a whole.  Because we haven't defined what we are hoping to achieve in our public schools we inevitably find ourselves dissatisfied with the results.  In the same way, we don't get input from a majority of those who rely on our schools and thus our focus is overly narrow when we define success.           

Decision-making should be the province of those directly working with students, families and who are embedded in the communities they serve working with the students and families themselves.  People who don't work in classrooms are not able to make sound decisions that work for classrooms.  What sounds good in a committee or a legislative session doesn't necessarily translate to schools and students.  The true power in a public school system should be in the hands of those who are directly connected to students and classrooms. 

Our entire society needs to be involved in, and support our public schools.  Public schools serve all citizens, no matter what their demographic may be.  This means that they provide opportunities for our students that will benefit our entire society.  To fail to support our schools leaves our society vulnerable and causes lasting harm to all of us.  Public schools need to be at the center of our conversations and should provide a foundation for a successful, sustainable democratic society.  This support should be political, economic and social in nature. 

Whenever policy decisions are made they should reflect a thoughtful process that includes these basic ideas.  Fully supported public schools that are embedded in a community that is dedicated to every citizen will provide opportunities that will benefit all of us.  By involving as many voices as possible we can build trust and break down barriers that currently exist.  Then we can craft policies that will truly move us forward towards a socially just and sustainable society.     

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . While it still will be a long, up-hill battle, the fight for worker's rights continues across the nation.    
In an agreement with the National Labor Relations Board, the e-commerce giant will inform workers about their right to organize

We need to continue to work together as a community to counter the existing barriers to equality and social justice that are so powerfully entrenched here. 

Black church leaders representing 20 Madison congregations stood united Wednesday inside the Madison Pentecostal Church to send the African...|By Channel 3000

The Bad . . . Not only are voucher programs harmful to students.  Now we have to be concerned about the impact that the money from voucher supporters has on our electoral process as well. 

Former Assembly Speaker, now a school choice lobbyist, targeted six Democrats with negative ads that never mentioned the issue.

The group spent $850,000. Democratic Rep. Wright blames their late, “false” ads for her loss.

Scott Jensen is now a lobbyist for the American Federation for Children, an advocacy group that...|By BILL LUEDERS | Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

In Monona Grove, like many other public school districts in Wisconsin, we have a code of conduct that students have to sign and we expect them to live up to. In this code of conduct this line is prominent: Honesty (Students will be trustworthy and truthful, no matter what the consequence.) The Elmbr…|By Jeff Simpson

The Ugly . . . Wisconsin may soon be torn apart by another attack on worker's rights. 

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A new battle may be on the horizon between Gov. Scott Walker and the labor movement. A group launched on Monday, December 1st, a...

RACINE COUNTY — While state government leaders including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos have said right-to-work legislation isn’t a priority, a new...|By MARK SCHAAF

There's a new special interest group in town and...

Meanwhile, one of the more vocal supporters of Act 10 and other legislation that targeted the working class speaks his "truth" about existing safety nets.  Supports that more and more families will need as wages are cut and benefits reduced.  His words are clearly meant to divide and conquer an beleaguered population.  This quote from Grothman provides clear evidence that his arguments make little or no sense and are based on a narrow, prejudiced view of those who need assistance to make ends meet.

"Well, if you tell somebody you're going to get $35,000 if you don't get married and you're not going to get anything if you marry somebody making 50 grand a year, it's certainly a strong incentive not to raise children in wedlock."
Current welfare levels are "a strong incentive not to raise children in wedlock," the U.S. House member-elect said in a TV interview.|By Todd D. Milewski | The Capital Times

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