Monday, December 29, 2014

December 29, 2014- Public Education Looking Back, and Looking to the Future

As 2014 comes to a close it is worthwhile to look back at the past year in public education, while keeping an eye on the potential that a new year brings.  Unfortunately it is easy to be pessimistic about the future of public education, especially when we look at the prevailing climate that surround our schools at the end of 2014.  Here are some of the trends that are cause for concern. . .

Promotion and expansion of the privatization movement- The Republican victories at the polls combined with their anti-public education propaganda have set the stage for efforts to expand the voucher system here in Wisconsin.  These efforts have undermined financial support for public schools and have created an atmosphere of mistrust around public education.  The potential harm to our society is significant and will serve to move us backward to a time of segregation, stratification and inequity. 

CIVIL RIGHTS-Charter schools are often promoted as a tool to address educational inequities, but a potential precedent-setting legal case launched earlier this month says the opposite. In filings with...|By Jim

Continuing the movement to hold schools "accountable" through misguided means- Accountability is a good thing, and our public schools should always be responsible to those we serve.  Yet, the current means of keeping us accountable don't accomplish the stated goals.  Educators and schools are best held accountable by the students, families and communities we serve.  Using data and economic measures don't increase real accountability.  Instead these types of measurements move us away from educating students and towards a factory model of schooling.    

The following post appeared May 12, 2011. Since then it has been the most read post I have written--nearly 28,000 views. I am updating it with a few...

A report will offer the first glimpse into the Obama administration’s plan to grade colleges, placing them into three categories of performance.|By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

Increased financial challenges for our public schools- Public schools have always had to fight for adequate funding.  In the current climate this struggle has only become more intense.  Whether being forced to justify any, and all tax money used for education, or competing with trends that too often fail to serve all students, our schools are facing significant financial problems.     

DPI data suggests that taxpayers spent approximately half a billion dollars to send Wisconsin K-12 students to chronically failing schools. And that was just...

Millions went to support the Common Core, charter schools and more.

Attacks on educators- Teaching has always been a profession that has struggled to get the recognition that it deserves.  This is especially for educators who work with younger students, those who work in supporting roles, and those who teach "specials" (art, music, PE, etc.).  This reality combined with the negative propaganda about public education and public educator unions has put all educators on the defensive.  The end result has been a real decline in morale, and an exodus of quality educators from the profession.  It is time that the general public understands just how challenging the job of educating students is.  We aren't asking for special treatment, just the respect that we earn on a daily basis.

'Teaching at a high-poverty school was different because no matter how fast or long I worked, I could not get everything done.'

Blaming public education for society's ills- Public education is a mirror that reflects all aspects (pro and con) of our society.  We can't expect our public schools to fix these problems without the support of our entire society.  Public schools need to be among the highest priorities on a local, state and national level.  Instead, we often see dialog around our schools focus on finding blame and failing to promote positive change. 

Dialog around the new Behavior Education Plan in MMSD provides an example of this problem.  We know that we need to do a better job of addressing concerns around equity and safety in our schools.  Yet, we also know that the best way to do this is to build relationships with students, families and the community as a whole.  These relationships take time and a significant commitment on the part of all involved.  Changing policy won't change outcomes without this commitment and a dedication of resources.  This means that we need to be able to have real conversations with all involved in order to move our district forward.  Public dialog is difficult, but it is the only way to make real change happen.

Will dropping the zero tolerance discipline policy keep African-American students in the classroom and everyone on task?|By Pat Schneider

Given all these challenges it is easy to wonder what the future holds for our public education systems here in Wisconsin, and around the United States.  We are seeing too many people give up, or give in to the pressures around public schools.  Whether it is retirement, resignation, or blind compliance, the results are the same.  Instead of fewer voices speaking about the potential power of public education and the value of quality education, we need more people stepping up to advocate for our students, schools and educators. 

While the present may seem bleak, here are some reasons for hope in 2015. . . 

Using data to make positive change happen- The same data that is used to attack our public schools can be used to defend and promote public education.  Our public schools do well when compared to similar privatized schools.  In fact, given the commitment that public schools have to educating all students, the data around education often favors public over private schools.  Stripping away the rhetoric around private schools exposes a truth that education privateers don't want the public to know.  By emphasizing the positive aspects of public education we can change the dialog and climate around public schooling.   

Poor schools underperform largely because of economic forces, not because teachers have it too easy

Fraud, financial mismanagement, lousy results: Reports highlight awful charter schools and people are catching on

Bad news for Pearson Education made be good news for the rest of us. The testing and publishing mega-giant is on the run, but it looks like it will not be able to hide....

At the same time we need to make sure that we are emphasizing the most meaningful data.  This means changing our discourse from test scores, school report cards and educator evaluations that are designed to undermine public schools.  Instead we need to use data to refocus the dialog back to our students and their needs.  Informing the public about the many positives in our schools can rebuild trust and confidence, while allowing educators to build on student strengths instead of focusing on the negatives. 

Developing a positive message for public educators- Too often educators are forced into a defensive position that doesn't allow us to speak our truth about what we believe education means for our students.  We find ourselves justifying our actions and even succumbing to the pressure to implement harmful "reforms" in the name of equity or to improve our students performance on standardized assessments.  Instead of being defensive we should be articulating our ideas and asserting our opinions about what it means to educate and to be educated.  Educators don't have to be a part of a bureaucratic and inequitable system.  This isn't who and what educators are.  They can, and should, be working to define the parameters of their efforts and communicate this with the public.   

Blogger and educator Slekar says it's the legislators who need someone peering over their shoulders.|By Pat Schneider

Student know how to play school like it's a game, but if teachers change the rules, they just might appreciate it.

Uniting around our efforts to promote equity and close existing gaps- One of the most unpleasant realities about our current state of affairs in public education is the fact that our students have different opportunities and experience different outcomes based on demographic factors like race, gender and socio-economic class.  No educator I know is completely satisfied with the way things currently are, but we often struggle to find ways to make change happen.  Working together as a whole community we can begin to make progress in addressing the inequities in the system.  It starts with recognizing the problems exist, and continues with a united effort to define what change we want to make happen.  Along the way we will continue to experience struggle and will face many challenges, but the efforts will serve to improve public education for all participants.      

It's been a year since Gee's "Justified Anger" essay was published in the Cap Times regarding the pervasive racial inequities in Madison.|By REV. ALEX GEE

I grew up poor, and I’ve tried to speak up for the students in my daughter’s schools who don’t eat sushi and can’t afford cheerleading. Mostly, I’ve failed.|By Debra Monroe 

The laser-like focus on math and reading ignores other things that are vital to closing it.

In the end our public schools will only be as good as we want them to be.   It takes a vocal group of educators, students, families and community members to advocate for the type of educational experience that will benefit all students.  These advocates need the support of strong organizations like public educator unions.  We can't rely on those making policy at the higher levels to recognize or understand the needs of students in classrooms.  We've seen what happens when we let the "system" run its course.  Let's make 2015 the year that public education moves in more sustainable, equitable and socially just directions.    

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . While the power of unions has been curtailed by policy, legislation and practices that are reinforced by the current prevailing anti-labor public sentiment, it is vital that we remember the power of labor isn't limited by political or economic constraints.  In fact, many of the greatest accomplishments of labor have occurred by stretching, and even at times breaking, these constraints in order to force the general public to recognize the value in collective action for the good of all.  Our system of government allows for dissent, but social, political and economic mores encourage conformity.    

WASHINGTON -- In a significant win for labor unions, federal regulators ruled Thursday that employers can't prevent their workers from using company email...

The Bad . . . We continue to allow a reality to be created for us that blames the poor and powerless for the challenges we face. 

No, single moms aren't the problem. And neither are absentee dads.

This same false reality is one that creates the climate of blame around our unions and foments anger against organized labor.  It allows politicians like Governor Walker to shift the blame for our economic struggles away from their misguided policies and onto people and organizations who are truly working for positive change.  Wisconsin has become a breeding ground for Conservative policies and divisive politics, both of which do more harm than good for most citizens.     

The American Legislative Exchange Council has worked for decades to weaken public unions at the state level.

Whenever the governor insists a policy is “not a priority,” you can probably assume the contrary.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has his eye on the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, and as he tries to boost his national poll numbers, there...

Discussions from a graduating Master's student on items including life in the Upper Midwest, the dismal science, and brilliant beverages.|By Jake formerly of the LP

In the end we are left with a divided society that will struggle to operate in positive, sustainable ways.  Along the way, discussion and compromise become difficult, if not impossible.  These things that make our system of government possible vanish in a storm of vitriol and anger.  We must find ways to stop this division before it damages our society beyond repair.     

At first glance, Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election last month looks like a carbon copy of his victory four years earlier. But on closer inspection, there is an important difference: Wisconsin is even more polarized today than it was four years ago.|By Craig Gilbert

Just read the comments after these photos to see just how bitter and angry our society has become.  Protesting is a recognized form of resistance here in America, those who argue against it are forgetting our roots and ignoring our Constitution. 

About 60 people from the Young, Gifted & Black Coalition were gathered in Madison...|By Channel 3000

The Ugly . . . My home state has a lot of work to do around issues of race and equity.  Hopefully the new year will bring an increased awareness along with increased action around important issues of social justice. 

The sad lesson of Milwaukee is that what happened to Mike Brown is no exception. Here's the terrifying reality

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