Sunday, February 1, 2015

#198 February 1, 2015- Who Can Be Trusted in Education

Educating young people is crucial to the long term sustainability and survival of any culture, society or nation.  Without some process or system for passing on information, skills and norms any group will fragment and dissolve.  Our children provide hope for the future and represent an opportunity for progress and growth.  This is why our ongoing debates around public education are so important, and also so controversial and at times divisive.  There are few issues that strike so close to the heart of who we are, and what we stand for as individuals, and as citizens of a larger community.

Education is one of those issues that brings the conflict between individual rights and the needs of the collective whole into focus.  On one hand education provides the knowledge and skills that can propel an individual to great success, and substantial personal gain.  At the same time we, as an entire society, stand to profit or lose based on the overall quality of education that all of our citizens receive.  We have a vested interest as a society to provide high quality education for every person in order to strengthen our entire community.  Yet, the self-interest that is inherent in human nature can cause individuals to put their own needs and wants ahead of the needs of the community. 

These are the reasons why public education is such an important resource, and the commitments that we make to our public schools are a measuring stick of the sustainability of our nation.  Without a system of public education that is accountable to, and accessible by, all people we will see education become a commodity that is available only to those with enough wealth and power to access it.  Education becomes just another means of dividing our population along different demographic lines.  It loses its strength as a resource, and becomes a weapon not a tool, something to be controlled and meted out to those deemed "deserving" by some relatively arbitrary measure. 

Our current conversations around public education in Wisconsin show many of these disturbing trends.  While they supposedly focus on issues of accessibility for all, and on creating a higher quality system with increased accountability, when we look deeper at the dialog around public schools and education we see other themes emerge.  The words are there, but the deep underlying ideas are not.  The public officials who are supposed to be representing the people, are failing to fulfill their responsibilities.  Instead of focusing on education and students, we see our elected leaders choosing to emphasize assessments, false accountability, and attacking educators (and vilifying their unions).  Which raises the question, who is really looking out for Wisconsin's students?  Who should we be listening to, and who should we trust when it comes to issues involving education?  Should we be following the lead of politicians, business leaders and supposed philanthropists,  or should we listen to professional educators, community activists, students and families?

Some of the loudest voices in the current education debates are the least trustworthy and are seeking to make changes for economic, political and/or personal reasons instead of looking out for the good of the public.  Their perspective on education is shaped by a world view where the "bottom line" occupies the highest status.  This world view looks at education as an "intellectual luxury."  According to this line of thinking only those who can afford to pay for education themselves should receive anything beyond the "basics" and taxpayers shouldn't be "subsidizing intellectual curiosity."  While when this was articulated by Reagan his comments pertained to higher education, we can see how those who followed him have let the philosophy "trickle-down" to K-12 education as well.         

On February 28, 1967, Gov. Ronald Reagan spoke of "certain intellectual luxuries that perhaps we could do without." Here's why liberal education has never recovered.

There is a genuine disrespect for education and a fundamental misrepresentation of just what educators and students do on college campuses and in schools across our state.  Governor Walker holds Reagan in high esteem, and his educational policies show this devotion.  This results in policies that undermine over 100 years of progressive thinking in the Badger State.  The current Republican "leadership" is using rhetoric and false arguments to attempt to dismantle a truly world class institution of higher learning.    

When Walker demeans UW faculty while cutting budgets to the bone, job offers from competing institutions might look mighty inviting.|By Cap Times editorial

This Tuesday, news broke confirming the suspicions of many throughout Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin System’s budget will be slashed by...

The bittersweet reality for a native Wisconsinite living in Minnesota (which I have for more than 30 years now) is to rejoice with all the progress DFL Governor...

Higher education isn't the only target of these educational profiteers.  In fact, while certainly higher profile the continuing assault on Wisconsin's K-12 public education system will impact many more students and communities if implemented as proposed.  This legislation is crafted by those outside the professional educational community and disregards the voices of the communities impacted.  The electorate voted for candidates who are turning around and selling their communities schools to the highest bidder.    

Proposed legislation punishes

The Superintendent of Public Instruction says proposals would raise expectations on students but allow for lower-skilled teachers.|By Todd D. Milewski | The Capital Times

These elected officials are quick to criticize the public schools, but should we really trust the words of those who have given us the current system of "accountability" and "reform" that have been so damaging to our students, communities, schools and educators?  While claiming to be looking out for taxpayers, the current conservative majority has cut funding for public schools and the results have been dramatic.
The continuing effort to measure and assess the success of our students has resulted in a virtual storm of tests that have buffeted students and educators while failing to provide any meaningful data or change. 

If the tests aren't funded during the budget process this year, the state would have less than a year to roll out a new test by the following spring to|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

Instead of supporting schools that can work for all students, we see efforts to expand a false choice program that actually reverses any progress being made towards equity for all students. 

Charter schools are failing children of color and students with disabilities.

It's nothing more than a slick ad campaign, disguised as public service.

Educators are given policies and procedures, but are not given the resources and support needed to implement them.  The combination of rhetoric from the top and the lack of real support mean that the potentially positive initiatives will either fail, or not achieve substantial success.  This weakens staff morale, undermines community confidence in the schools and allows high profile "leaders" to continue their push to privatize our schools.  Education is a labor intensive process, and any socially just reforms will require extensive staffing, professional development and communication with the public.  Well meaning policies will not succeed without these resources, and those at the top levels of decision making are eliminating or reducing what is available to local schools. 

Misbehave, get punished. That pretty much sums up the approach to “disciplining” students that educators through the decades have taken in schools and classrooms. The most extreme form of this law-and-order strategy is zero...

Is Response to Intervention (RTI) being used to deprive needy students of special education services?

Even the language that is used by our "leaders" causes harm and has infiltrated the dialog around public schools.  Calling schools "failing" only continues to undermine the trust that the public has in our educators and school systems. 

Schools would have seven years to boost scores, but opponents say plan favors for-profit education

All of this leaves us with a current state of affairs that is challenging for our public schools.  We are seeing too many citizens placing their trust in the wrong people when it comes to public education.

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

In the end we need to remember that public schools are just that, public.  The recent "public" hearings and legislative "debate" in Madison demonstrate that our elected officials have forgotten this.  While members of the public waited to testify we saw legislators, lobbyists and other well connected individuals speak.  Our, completely Republican controlled, governmental bodies are, at best, paying lip-service to the democratic and progressive traditions of our state.  Yet, it is clear that they have no intention of really listening to those who are truly in the know when it comes to our public schools and those who rely on them. 
January 27, 2015 - At a public hearing SB1, Heather DuBois Bourenane calls out the legislators for a cynical attempt to dismantle the pubic education system ...

The Wisconsin conservatives’ public school privatization bill has already passed the Assembly....|By Jennifer Epps-Addison

In order to gain the status that professional educators, activists, students and families should occupy in our public system of education we need to begin to work to make our voices heard.  Persistence is vital to our efforts.  Public statements demonstrate the concern that we have for our schools.  Working within the system is important for the credibility of the educational resistance movement.  At the same time we must also act in ways that will directly impact the current conditions for our students.  Changing the system through the legislative and policy making process will take time.  Other actions can help to speed the process along.   

At a national conference this month, advocates and parents strategized on getting more people involved in the growing practice of "test refusal."

Teacher Julianna Kreuger Dauble's statement of professional conscience, declaring that she will no longer administer standardized tests to her students.

Along the way we need to make it clear just who is really looking out for all students.  We should be trusting those who have made a personal commitment to students and schools.  Education isn't, and shouldn't be, a business.  Education is a resource, an unlimited one, that should be accessible and available to all.  As citizens we are all responsible for making sure that it occupies its place as a cornerstone of our democratic society.  

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . While the present labor climate may appear bleak, it is important to remember a few things about workers, organizing, economics and history.  Workers have always sought to improve their wages, benefits and working conditions.  Over time it becomes clear that organizing and collective action are the best ways to advance the cause of labor.  These organizing efforts intensify in periods of inequity and are very powerful forces that achieve great things, even against tremendous opposition.  Putting all this together gives us hope for the future of organized labor, here and across the nation.   

The release of today’s Bureau of Labor Statistics annual union membership report, according to a statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, shows...

A very practical reason to unionize.

On average, union members make $207 more dollars a week than non-union workers. That’s $10,000 more each year, according to the latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Bad . . . Unfortunately, neither facts nor logic are enough to change some politician's stances on important issues.  What is worrisome is that these "leaders" are able to put their views forward in ways that don't allow for real discussion and debate to occur.  Too many of our citizens get all their information from biased sources and are not exposed to views that are different from their existing biases.   

Don't confuse them with the science.

After growing up in a small conservative town, I’m used to hearing casual complaints about free-riders and government overreach. They are important...

Dr. Robert Bruno, professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois, said studies have shown the promises of job growth under so-called...

The Ugly . . . The lack of unbiased information becomes a tool for politicians who are willing to use fear and anger to gain political power.  Wisconsin has become a poster state for this division and we have seen the strategy play out in our last few gubernatorial and supreme court races.  Now, Governor Walker is preparing to move his "divide and conquer" strategy to the national stage. 

By the somewhat tamer standards of the Midwest, Scott Walker’s speech to the Iowa Freedom Summit last Saturday was a smorgasbord of red meat. In just 20...

This past weekend in Iowa, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker rolled out one his favorite talking points: The story of how Wisconsin's 2010 "outstanding teacher...
Uppity Wisconsin

The Wisconsin governor concedes nothing to his critics, and Republican voters are embracing his message.|By Peter Beinart

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