Sunday, January 25, 2015

#197 January 25, 2015- Wisconsin's Educators Under Siege

Teaching is a challenging job.  Anyone who disputes this statement has probably never tried to get a classroom of children or young adults, to engage in any productive academic task.  Teaching and education fills a vital need in our society by helping shape and prepare our young people for their future roles as community members in an ever changing world.  Finally, teaching is a profession.  It isn't something that can be done well without training, preparation and a strong dedication to the students, families and communities who are served by our public schools. 

Sadly, there are many who don't understand or accept these truths for any number of reasons.  It may be simply due to ignorance of the challenges that are inherent in guiding a diverse group of learners towards achieving academic success.  Not enough members of our society truly know what it is like in a classroom in 2015.  Some people don't respect educators because of the mis-perception that teaching is a lesser profession, or not even a true profession at all.  There is simple jealousy at the misconception that educators work short days, have summers off, and enjoy Cadillac benefits because of ill-gained, union coerced contracts.  Finally, there isn't universal agreement in our society as to just what we are trying to accomplish through our public school systems.  If public schools exist for simple skill building and transferring of "facts" then they fill a different role than if we are trying to instill a sense of community, curiosity and a lifelong love of learning.  

Recent years have taken us farther down the path towards creating a system of public education that provides a basic educational foundation resting on acquiring a set of skills within a set time-frame.  This approach relies on students moving through a series of predetermined benchmarks and standards and assumes that all students will be relatively uniform in their achievement.  Along the way we measure and quantify student achievement using standardized tools, and work to "fix" or "intervene" with students who fall behind.  In short, the emphasis on standards and testing has created an environment that is competitive, based on individual "success" (defined by people outside of the educational community), and designed to achieve very narrow and specific outcomes for students.

The United States has lost ground among developed nations in promoting quality education for its students — a troubling trend that the Common Core State Standards is designed to counter.

Gov. Scott Walker says his state's "ACT scores are up and Wisconsin now ranks second in the country." But scores are not up, and the state's national ranking is misleading.

All of this is happening under the false pretenses of equity and accountability.  Because we have clear evidence of existing gaps in opportunity and achievement in our entire society, we see blame being attached to public schools and educators in ways that are unfair, underserved and ultimately harmful to those who are supposedly being helped by the proposed "reforms."  While these "reforms" claim to be attempting to address inequities and supposedly are seeking to put all students on an equal footing and path to success, the reality is that by standardizing and measuring education we harm those at risk, while widening existing gaps.  

Instead of working as a community to address our challenges in a positive way, our current leadership in Wisconsin is taking the approach of disrespecting educators, dismantling public schools and dividing communities.  The idea that we need to privatize education and undermine public confidence in our public schools flies in the face of truly looking for equitable and socially just solutions to the existing challenges we face in education.|By Heather DuBois Bourenane

Wisconsin's Controversial Schools Bill | The Progressive
“My son and his school are not for sale,” said Peg Randall Gardner of Milwaukee, ten hours into a hearing on AB1, Wisconsin’s latest school privatization bill. “These are real children living real lives in the classrooms of our state, and it’s their future that this bill sells out,” she told the Com…

This misguided approach to "fixing" public education also targets the professionals who work in our schools.  The idea that we can achieve better educational outcomes by deprofessionalizing our educational workforce is simply ridiculous.  While it is true that we need to find ways to add diversity to our school staffs, we also need to recognize that education is a profession that requires significant training and expertise.   

Scott Walker to propose alternative teacher licenses, drug tests for public benefits : Wsj
The governor announced Thursday several budget proposals that he said will help make more Wisconsin workers ready for jobs.|By Dee J. Hall | Wisconsin State Journal

Gov. Scott Walker is proposing an alternative pathway for people to become licensed as teachers in Wisconsin.|By Channel 3000

A new proposal by Governor Walker that would allow potential teachers with "real life experience" to...

The disrespect that is shown to those working in our schools has consequences.  In order to learn and achieve our students must be engaged and motivated.  Few students will find significant success unless they feel connected to their schools, their curriculum and the educators who work with them in classrooms.  Yet, the current climate fails to recognize the importance of this reality.  We see lip service given to the importance of engagement and community, but in the end we can see the emphasis being given to test scores, assessments and measurable academic progress.  Measuring engagement of students and educators is less precise than measuring knowledge of "facts", but it is every bit as, if not more, important.    

Each year, K-12 schoolteachers in the U.S. who are not engaged or are actively disengaged miss an estimated 2.3 million more workdays than teachers who...|By Gallup, Inc.

Teachers overwhelmingly report that they love their jobs, but hate their workplaces. Teachers weigh in on why they love the classroom and how...

Is this agonized self-doubt found across most professions? Is there a dentist blogging out there whose most popular post is “Are You A Bad Dentist?”
Oklahoma is experiencing a critical shortage of teachers—and here's why
The Oklahoma legislature is failing teachers—and students. Oklahoma has led the nation in ...

This disrespect extends beyond the morale of educators and the impact that has on students.  It creates a system where the professional expertise of educators is disregarded, ignored and invalidated.  Educators have long worked to build community, nurture individual skills and provide instruction at a level appropriate for their students.  In our drive to close gaps we change our instruction and spend more time engaged in activities that fail to engage and motivate our students.  We get trapped in a cycle where we define success by test scores, and fail to meet our students' most basic developmental needs.  Testing has a place in our system, but not on the lofty pedestal it currently occupies.   

If test-based accountability were going to be a great boon to public education, wouldn't we know it by now?We've been doing this federally-mandated get-good-scores-or-else thing for over a decade now. If it were working, wouldn't we know...

China’s high-pressure high school and college examination system is contributing to a wave of student suicides, warns a study released Tuesday by the Beijing-based nonprofit 21st Century Education Research Institute.|By Dexter Roberts

This system of standardization and assessment does more than demoralize, demonize and degrade educators.  In fact, if it actually helped our students then professional educators would willingly change their ways and practices.  However, in the drive for creating a system that produces "career, college and community ready" graduates, we too often fail to see the reality that our students operate in.  Race and class are huge factors in a student's success in K-12 education and beyond.  In addition, each student is an individual and has a variety of life experiences and circumstances that further complicate and enhance their educational progress.  By tying educational success to specific indicators and outcomes we don't truly address the needs of our students.        

The real issue is not teachers, but concentrated poverty.

Current trends in education are deeply disturbing, but there is still time to change our path and regain control of the process.  It begins with educators and supporters of public education being vocal in their opposition to the proposed "reforms."  It continues with community members listening to the professionals who work in our schools and joining the fight.  Our end goal should be a system of public education that is truly public in nature, not the current system that rests in the hands of an elite few.  A system that respects the work that educators do, and that recognizes the value of every student. 

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . Dr. King's message resonates as loudly now as it did decades ago.  We are stronger as a society when all citizens have opportunities and equal rights.  This unites those of us with a Progressive vision of social justice and gives us hope for the future as we struggle against those who would "divide and conquer." 

Martin Luther King Jr. insisted that gains toward racial equality must be accompanied by living...|By WILLIAM P. JONES, UW-Madison history professor, and PETER RICKMAN, community organizer with Wisconsi...

The Bad . . . As a proud, lifelong Wisconsinite it is so demoralizing to think that the rest of the nation will be judging us by the actions of our current governor.  As he prepares to enter the national political stage we will need to make the rest of the country understand that his views are not those of all Wisconsin citizens.    It is terrifying to think that simply by tapping into the deep pockets of the Koch's, Walker could be considered a legitimate presidential contender. 

The competition among Republican presidential hopefuls for the support of the Koch brothers heats up this week at an invitation-only seminar that kicks off the “Koch primary.”|By ASHLEY PARKER

Real political leaders don't use recycled ideas that have failed miserably in other places.  They look for new, improved ways to resolve the challenges we face.

Several states had a theory: mandating drug tests for welfare applicants would save taxpayer money. The results have been nothing short of a fiasco.

The Ugly . . . As we face the prospect of right to work legislation in Wisconsin, it is important to remember that we are already a society that is less respectful of workers than most other developed nations.  Without the protections of unions to elevate all workers we won't see any improvement in our status. 

Economist Heather Boushey explains why that hurts the economy as well as American families.

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