Sunday, November 30, 2014

#190 November 30, 2014- Creating a Vision for Public Education

A Vision for
Public Education. . .
Public schools are supposed to provide opportunity, community and hope for the future.  The concept of public education is one that finds its roots in the ideals that America is supposed to represent.  The idea that, as a society, we are responsible for providing educational opportunities for all students, without exception, is a powerful one.  Public education, done well, has the potential to unify our diverse society and to provide the opportunity for all citizens to achieve their goals, hopes and dreams.

Yet, this potential has gone unrealized in too many places.  This happens, not because the concept of public education is a poor one, not because those in the system are not working hard, and not because those accessing the system don't want to succeed or don't value education.  Instead, it happens because we fail to articulate just exactly what it is that we are trying to achieve and how we can accomplish the lofty goals of our educational system.  Because of this we, as a society, have never fully supported our nation's public schools and instead have used our vast resources and abilities in inefficient and inconsistent ways. 

When we think about our public schools and what we hope that they provide for students and society, we too often find ourselves simply stating broad, even unachievable goals.  Think of the mission statements and visioning statements that our schools use.  In Madison one of our previous ones was "Success for All."  Now we see a movement to make sure that every student is career, college and community ready.  These our great goals for a school district, but the important aspects of these statements don't lie in the words, but in what those words mean. 

Everyone I've ever met wants the same things from their public school.  Whether family member, educator, student, policy maker or community member the basic goals are the same.  We all want safe schools where every student achieves their potential and leaves ready to live a happy, productive life.  While this may seem simple, and even obvious, the issues arise when we begin to define specifically what we mean, and work to incorporate a diverse set of viewpoints into a complex endeavor.  What is success?  What does it mean to be productive?  What tools do we use to educate our students?  How do we provide a safe, positive environment?

We live in an incredibly diverse society, and this means that the answers to these, and any other questions we ask will be as divergent as the society that our public schools serve.  This makes people incredibly uncomfortable.  We like to think that educating our students is as simple as the traditional teaching of the "Three R's" and that any policies around our schools will be able to meet the needs of every person in the system, no matter what their background or role.  Yet, we constantly are reminded that there isn't any way to create a perfect system, and that the efforts to provide public education to all students is every bit as difficult as operating a democratic and socially just society.  Our schools, just like the society they are embedded in, are in a state of constant tension, change and evolution. 

However, because our public schools are as much a bureaucratic institution as they are an engine of change and progress, we see efforts made to "reform" and standardize our schools.  There is a strong movement that exists to create measurable, concrete objectives and to push all of our students through a system designed to meet those goals.  These efforts provide a false sense of stability and purpose in an uncertain and confusing process.  They take some of the realities and constants of education and twist them into a package that is easily sold to the general public.  Along the way, they provide opportunities for economic and political gain for some, and divide our society along different, pre-existing lines.         

Edutopia blogger Mark Phillips examines eight myths that drive education policy, including the value of homework for students and merit pay for teachers, the irrelevance of funding and class size, and the fairness of college admissions.

If we are to counter this message of standardization and profiteering from our schools, those who support public education must become a voice that offers a different narrative about our schools and education in general.  This is challenging because there isn't the same, single-minded unifying sense of purpose among the many diverse interests that seek to restore a balance to our public education system.  Instead, we have become a collective voice of resistance and opposition, something that hasn't been effective in combating the propaganda of those who seek to privatize and standardize our schools.  Those who oppose education "reform" need to articulate a vision that can be used to build a positive argument for truly reforming our schools in a socially just and sustainable way. 

This vision will be diverse in nature because it must be broad enough to incorporate the many different aspects and needs of all members of our society.  In fact, our vision of what education can, and should be, is not necessarily policy in and of itself, but rather a discussion starter that will create a climate where we can truly support and nurture our students and our public schools.  By moving the dialog away from combative and divisive arguments towards more inclusive discussion we can create an environment where we can create policies and systems that are community based and supported, as well as ones that are truly in the best interests of our students.   

Our visions may be diverse in nature, but they should address some key, universal elements. 

They must clearly identify and define key terms and concepts such as education, achievement, accountability, opportunity and success.  If we fail to do this we will continue to struggle to provide the supports that our students, staff and schools need.  Our efforts will lack focus and will move in too many directions.  We need to positively define what it is that we are doing in our schools.  This will provide us with a base from which to build policies and systems that truly work.   

Author David Price writes: "If schools are coming into direct competition with the learning opportunities available in the informal social space, it has to be said that this is a pressure, which barely registers within the political discourse."

Public education advocates have shied away from taking …

By not defining what we are trying to accomplish we will continue to see our efforts to improve and enhance our public schools derailed by misconceptions, mis-perceptions and outright distortions and untruths.  The public supports public schools, but they also support accountability and concrete results while not always knowing what they mean by these ideals.  As long as we define success by test scores we will see the emphasis on standards and assessments retain its power.  

Two new surveys try to quantify the number of standardized tests students take in school — an estimated 113 by graduation.

The visioning must include all students and families and recognize positive intentions not negative assumptions.  Currently our dialog is driven by a small number of people who have specific interests.  We must make sure that all voices are heard in the process and seek out those who have not typically taken part in the dialog around our schools.  This would build widespread support for real reform efforts and change the dialog around our schools.  Our current climate is one where it is too easy to divide and conquer those who need our public schools the most.  We can't afford to let efforts to really reform schools become one where only a small number of voices, and ones that are already loud enough, are heard.      

In the latest dispute over standardized testing, hundreds of high-school seniors in high-performing, wealthy districts are skipping science and social stu

MADISON (WKOW) -- The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released results from the final...|By Greg Neumann

We also know that our schools are part of a larger society where inequality is the norm that must be changed.  Policies like the MMSD Behavior Education Plan are steps in the right direction.  However, without the proper supports we will continue to see inequities exist.  Each suspension has a context that must be considered as we work to change our systems.  By discussing and defining key aspects of our schools with all stakeholders we can begin to move beyond the data and rhetoric and truly support the needs of all who learn and work in our public schools. 

The number of out-of-school suspensions was 773 in the first quarter of the school year, compared to 373 a year ago.|By Pat Schneider

We have to make sure that educators who work directly with students are at the center of the discussions.  Currently we see a disturbing reality where the people making decisions about our schools don't work in the classrooms that their policies impact.  This has frustrated educators and created dissension and division where cooperation and unity is needed.    

A recent Gallup poll indicates that students' emotional engagement and well-being at school is powerfully tied to academic achievement.

An open letter to parents: 'If keeping our jobs means harming children and squelching them during a prime developmental span, then we want no part. '

Educators need to seize the moment and expand the efforts of their unions and professional organizations to include issues of social justice as well as more traditional contractual ones. 

The value of public education must be made clear.  By allowing education to be defined in financial terms we have allowed it to become a commodity that can be measured.  Education becomes valuable only for economic reasons and loses its power to transform and enlighten. 

The One Question Every Parent Should Quit Asking
In an effort to prepare our kids for the dog-eat-dog, competitive world before them, we fill their days with activity. Schedule them from dawn to dusk to maximize their potential. So they can learn. And grow. But I fear that in our quest to help them,...

The public accountability and the fact that public schools are responsible for all students, not just those who are admitted based on school defined standards, is an important part of the discussion.  Public schools are inclusive in ways that privatized schools never will be.   

We can't forget that we have the power to make change happen, and we must use this power.  Families, students and educators working together have the ability to articulate, create and implement a vision that works for the benefit of all.  We can't accept the status quo as the only, or best way of doing things when we know that excessive assessment, inadequate funding and overly standardized curriculum are not in the best interest of anyone.  It is up to us to utilize our power.  To not do so is irresponsible and damaging to our society as a whole. 

I've said it many times before, our public schools are a mirror of our society.  They provide an insight into who and what we value.  They don't exist in a vacuum and can't unilaterally impact their students.  Reforming or transforming our public schools involves making positive change happen on a societal scale.  The time to make this happen is now.      

Why haven't education reform efforts amounted to much? Because they start with the wrong problem, says John Abbott, director of the 21st Century Learning...

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .

The Good . . . High turnout, huge victory for Madison educators, and educators around Wisconsin.  The struggle continues, but keeping our unions gives us more power in the fight. 

Educational assistants, substitute teachers, support staff and security staff all also strongly backed recertification of their bargaining units.|By Pat Schneider

Educators remain committed to the role of the union
The results of the November 2014 recertification elections are in and underscore the fact that educators remain committed to the role of the union. 97% of the teacher units seeking recertification...

The Bad . . . For someone who ran on the premise that he'd fixed our budget issues this seems a "tad" troubling.  Running and winning  on issues of integrity and fiscal responsibility, and then following up with a "whoops we aren't as well off as we thought" press release shows just where this administration stands.  Those who were duped by the ads and the rhetoric (or who simply didn't vote) have given Wisconsin another 4 years of this. 

Gov. Scott Walker's administration says Wisconsin faces a $2.2 billion budget shortfall by mid-2017, a problem that will have to be tackled by the Republican-controlled Legislature next year as...

The Ugly . . . Satire or not, this type of comment is easily found on real message boards, in comments online and in political commentary around the nation. 

“Are we seriously going to allow our children and grandchildren to be in a position where they’re expected to vote for a Hispanic president?!”

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.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

#188 November 16, 2014- Listen to Educators

Education- Who Are We
Listening To?. . .
It seems like everyone has an opinion about the state of public education in America today.  Education has become a hot topic of discussion in many venues.  Unfortunately, the conversations have focused on the negatives and are often fueled by misinformed, misguided or biased sources.  The news around our public schools is provided by those who profit from controversy and negative imagery.  It is also guided by those who have the money and power to shape policies that benefit their interests.  Yet, these sources are given credence, while the voice of those who work in our schools is too often ignored. 

On November 1, WITI reporter Meghan Dwyer won a local television Emmy for her investigation of bullying within the public school system of Milwaukee,...|By J.K. Trotter

By Mark Naison Nearly two years ago, a group of 1,500 principals — including many of the most highly respected school administrators in the state — signed...

After he bought into proposal to reform education nationwide, his money brought most states running.

This isn't an unusual phenomenon in our modern age of fast paced, short attention spanned coverage of issues and events.  We tend to focus on issues for a short time and rely on a limited number of sources for information.  While there are many outlets for sharing ideas and opinions, the ones that garner the most attention are often limited in number.  When we do hear from other sources, it is too frequently because they are extreme, controversial or confrontational. 

While there are those who will argue that this is simply the way the world is, that the media hype along with distortions of reality that are spewed on-line don't really have a huge impact, the end result is a climate that is polarized and misinformed.  This creates an environment where it is difficult for the everyday citizen to make reasoned and informed decisions, something that we know is vital to the very survival of our democratic institutions.

Public education is one of those key institutions that both serve as a barometer of the overall health of our society, as well as that provide citizens with opportunity and hope for a better future.  While the potential of our public schools often goes unmet for a number of reasons, they still are our best option for equitable, accountable and sustainable opportunities to unite and advance the diverse interests that exist in our nation.  That we, as a society, have struggled to fully support and promote our public schools is more of a critique on us collectively as a nation, and less on the concept of public schooling itself. 

Steven Singer: American school children know there used to be slaves; they may even know the Native Americans weren’t treated so nicely. But they don’t know nearly the scope and fallout of these events.|By Steven Singer

The consequences of who gets to establish the dialog around our public schools is significant in several ways.  Education provides a source of propaganda for political leaders who don't intend to follow through on their promises.  Almost every election cycle we hear politicians talk about improving our schools, holding them accountable, and creating systems that will produce more equitable outcomes.  However, once the election is over the schools are either ignored (if we're "lucky") or legislated/budgeted in ways that actually harm our students, schools and communities.    

Four previous years of Walker's policies have set the stage for his next four. A look back at the Governor's educational work shows an emphasis on K-12 educational reform. In 2011 alone, the state...

The dean of the School of Education at Edgewood College says the GOP call for "school accountability" should be a call to action.|By Pat Schneider

Gov. Scott Walker plans to repeal Common Core and expand the voucher program.

The Obama administration is inviting states to apply to renew their waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act. And according to guidance issued Thursday, these...

Real reforms and supports for our schools are ignored and discarded.

For the third time in four years, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers proposes changing the way public schools are funded and increasing...|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

Because we don't listen to educators working in schools, we see policies implemented that simply don't meet the needs of students in real, meaningful ways.  Instead, they make good sound bites that will bolster a political resume, ore they create situations that boost profits for a small number of educational privateers.  In the end it is our most at-risk students who suffer the most, but every child in every school across America is impacted.    
Smarter Balanced Field Tests Didn't Mirror Classroom Learning, Study Says
Feedback from states shows that most students didn't feel the test reflected what they were taught in class.

What are we doing to young kids in school?

Common Core Betrays the Civil Rights Movement
Common Core's promise does not correspond to its reality.|By Nicholas Tampio and Yohuru Williams

Educators are not immune to the struggles that our students and schools face.  In fact, because educator enter the field with the goal of making a positive difference in the lives of their students, we see the initiatives and policies destroy staff confidence and morale.  Shrinking budgets, initiatives that are conflicting and harmful, and a toxic climate that creates unreasonable expectations for educators and schools all serve to undermine the ability of our educators to effectively do their jobs. 

Assistant principal: " Is anyone in Silicon Valley paying for their own office supplies? I can assure you they are not."

If Teachers Planned Inservice Training...
I let out quite a chuckle when I saw this picture. I've been there and I've made that face. *Disclaimer* This blog is not meant to imply that teachers do not appreciate learning. It is also not int...

We find ourselves struggling with issues around standardized assessments, standards and curriculum that doesn't meet our students' needs.  We hear the negative stories about our schools, our students and our profession and are deeply hurt by them.  Yet, all the while we strive to provide a compassionate, safe and educationally sound environment for all of our students.  Maybe if more articles about education featured discussion like this one, the conversation would change in a positive direction.   

Dear Parent: I know. You're worried. Every day, your child comes home with a story about THAT kid. The one who is always hitting shoving pinching scratching maybe even biting other children. The on...

In the end, even with all of the challenges and discouraging trends, there are still countless educators who go to school every day and who are willing to speak as advocates for their students, families and community.  It's time we started listening to them. 

Dane County public education advocates gearing up to fight Republican agenda : Ct|By Pat Schneider

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .

The Good . . . While it isn't a good thing that MTI has to go through this process, at the same time the results will show the commitment that educators in Madison have to their union.  Half-way through the election period the numbers of voters is high.  Voting ends on November 25th.

It has a contract through 2016.|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

The day after the November election, Madison teachers will begin a first-ever union recertification...|By ANDREW McCUAIG | Madison teacher

The Bad . . . The election rhetoric that propelled Walker to his victory is based on flawed logic and inconsistencies.  Now we have to live with it for 4 more years.

The Wisconsin governor defended his fellow GOP leaders' decision to block Medicaid expansion, saying poor people need to enter the workforce.

For a variety of reasons we have been seeing a significant shortage of substitutes in MMSD in recent years.  Certainly a problem that needs to be addressed in a positive, proactive way.

Area school officials are ramping up recruiting, hiring staffing companies and considering changes to the required credentials.|By Pat Schneider

The Ugly . . . Nothing like rushing forward based on a mandate from 25% of the voting population.  The fact that the legislators of Wisconsin need to focus on their districts while Walker looks ahead to bigger aspirations may help slow down the process. 

The newly re-elected governor wants the state to adopt a budget earlier than it has in at least a generation, but his fellow Republican lawmakers say there is only so much they can do to speed up...|By Jason Stein