Sunday, April 19, 2015

#207 April 19, 2015- Education as a Measure of Society

Americans pride themselves on living in the nation that is the biggest and best at everything. We are an intensely competitive culture and have difficulty accepting anything less than top level success in every endeavor we embark on. We also take great pride in the role of being a world leader, whether in economic, political, military or any other aspect of human activity. We have set ourselves up to be the "center of the free world" and the proverbial "city on the hill" that every other nation is supposed to look up to as a model for equality, justice and freedom.

Unfortunately, this competitive culture and this image of America as the ultimate source of all that is good and right in the world sets us up for some unrealistic and even harmful expectations and outcomes. America is a nation built by humans and our past, present and future will always be shaped by the imperfect nature of human beings. We may espouse lofty values, we may intend to achieve lofty goals, but in the end we will struggle with the challenges that every culture and nation in the history of the world has encountered. The real measure of our nation's progress towards the goals of "liberty and justice for all" is in how we respond to these challenges and what we do when we fall short of the expectations laid out in our founding documents.

It is in overcoming the challenges that divergent ideas, diversity in population and existing in a world that is volatile in nature that we truly see where we stand as a society. When we measure our progress towards equity and social justice we can see that we have a long way to go, and that the path we must follow is not an easy or direct one. Yet, at the same time we have the resources, the tools and the abilities to achieve great things as a nation. In the end it becomes a matter of really defining who we are as a people and what we truly stand for. What does it mean to live in a nation where all citizens have equal rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?"

There are many places where we can observe and measure our progress towards a truly socially just society. One of these is in the area of education. We know that education is a vehicle that provides opportunity for social, political and economic advancement on an individual, group and societal level. Our national rhetoric is filled with platitudes about the value of an educated citizenry and the potential for education to lift any individual to success. We have developed a system of public education over the years that is unusual on a world scale and that has the potential to provide equity in opportunity for all citizens regardless of demographic. While faced with many struggles and experiencing frequent setbacks, our nation's public schools have always been an integral part of the effort towards social justice.

Control over the way that education is delivered is one mechanism that has been used historically to control the citizenry of a society. This is why the drive to integrate our schools, to provide schools that are equal in resources and to insure that every student has access to education has been at the center of Progressive movements throughout our history. It is why Wisconsin's state constitution explicitly makes public education a priority. It is why public schools that are accessible to all students are so vital to the continued progress of our society towards equality and justice.

At the same time, it is also why we are seeing a push by conservatives to undermine and destroy public education here in Wisconsin and around the nation. An educated population is one that pushes back and doesn't accept the status quo. An educated population challenges all aspects of a society to grow and change. This means that an educated population becomes a threat to established norms and to practices that undermine the stated values of our national identity.

The current climate around public education reflects this ongoing struggle. We see opportunity and hope, but this is too often thwarted by a system that too often promotes stability and stagnation. Conservative "reformers" are using the rhetoric of freedom and justice to keep a stranglehold on our schools and to maintain their status in a society that is changing significantly demographically and that want to see our nation live up to its lofty goals.

These reformers tap into existing preconceptions and thinking in many ways in order to exert their influence. The use the competitive nature of American society to undermine confidence in our schools. By comparing the test scores of our students to those of schools from other countries they create a sense that America is falling behind. Yet, they don't share the information that when you compare scores from similar backgrounds and circumstances American students do very well internationally.  They confuse the public and use economic language to make it appear that our public schools are not "good investments" when in reality they are one of our most important national resources. They use the language of freedom, opportunity and equity when their policies end up having the opposite effect on those that are impacted.

A few key ways that educational "reforms" harm our entire society.

Standardization doesn't equal equality. Few educators will argue that we shouldn't have standards and that there are important concepts and ideas that every student in America should be exposed to. At the same time, the dialog around the Common Core has become increasingly constraining for educators. As a teacher I've been exposed to countless hours of professional development designed to help me understand things that I already knew. I've been told that the new ideas are more "rigorous" and "challenging" for my students, but have yet to see how this is actually true.

The Common Core State Standards are not inherently bad for education, but their implementation has been horrendous for students, educators and schools. Instead of being a unifying force that provides guidance for educators and students, the CCSS have become a vehicle for profit and control. Companies are making millions off of new curriculum, books and other resources while educators are left with reduced budgets and less freedom to truly meet the needs of the students in our classrooms.

California flipped education-reform script, knowing sanctions/test-driven accountability helps no one. Here's how|By Jeff Bryant

Assessment isn't true accountability. In our drive to compete on all levels, we have to find a way to "keep score." Testing provides numbers and data that can be used to compare our students and to make our schools "accountable." This has resulted in a barrage of standardized tests that have negatively impacted our schools in multiple ways.

-Schools are spending money on tests, not on things that really impact achievement like staff, materials and supports for students.

The more I look at the Common Core approach to reading, the more it seems to be a shill for publishers like Pearson to sell new "Common Core" aligned textbooks, workbooks, and online packaged learning programs....

-Tests are biased and result in invalid or inaccurate results. Then these results are used to drive budgets, evaluate educators and create policy. Our achievement gaps are real, but closing them through increasing test scores is not a way to improve equity of opportunity. Being told that improving test scores is closing gaps is disingenuous at best and outright deception at worst. We could be working in so many other ways to improve educational outcomes for our students.

“…the Opt Out movement is a vital component of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles for social justice in our region. Using standardized tests to...

-Testing takes time away from instruction, don't provide meaningful information to educators and are damaging to students. I could provide countless examples of the struggles that I've observed with my own students, and I'm only one educator among many. This year has been especially problematic with inaccurate or misleading questions, failures in the technology, and confusion about the future of the current tests.

A parent reported in an email to me that questions from the ELA tests are plastered on Facebook and other social media, despite Pearson's efforts to monitor students' comments on FB or Twitter. Whi...

True accountability exists when educators, families and students are in regular, open and meaningful communication about a student's progress. Test results can be an important part of this process, but shouldn't be the only one. We need to trust those who work most closely with a student and not impose unnecessary and harmful assessments in order to achieve false accountability.

Choice shouldn't mean segregation. "Reformers" love to use words like choice and freedom to justify their policies, but the reality is that the choices and freedoms that are created are not universal. Those who already have choice and freedom are seeing their rights and privileges increase, while those who don't are often seeing their options limited by "reforms" like vouchers and school choice.
Professors at Duke have traced a troubling trend of resegregation in North Carolina's school system since the first charter schools opened in 1997.

Education policy should be democratically developed. Too often we are seeing the "data" and other information used to drive policies that are either ineffective, unnecessary, or counterproductive. Real education reform happens at a very personal level and is centered on the student. Implementing large scale programs and changes often misses the mark, even if the ideas sound good in public dialog, or the committee room. Expanded technology in schools is one example where large scale programs have fallen short of expected outcomes. Here in Madison we have heard from many citizens and educators that we need to approach technological expansion carefully, but this advice isn't always heeded. 

The Los Angeles Unified School District has canceled further plans to use expensive curriculum that was part of a $1.3-billion effort to provide iPads to...|By Los Angeles Times

Just like accountability in educational outcomes should be driven by the needs of our students and specific to them, so too our educational policies should be based out of classrooms and schools. This means that the ideas and input from all stakeholders needs to be solicited and actively sought. Once information is gathered, there must be process that allows for constant communication and that honors the input in meaningful ways. 

We also must recognize that our families, educators and students have a voice on existing policies. When they speak they should be listened to. It may be challenging and uncomfortable for those in decision making positions, but at the same time these voices provide an impetus for change and accountability for the system.

This spring, 237 students in the Madison Metropolitan School District have been excused from a new standardized test.|By Pat Schneider

Educators should be respected and trusted, not vilified. Our current system ignores the professional expertise that our educators have, and often puts the blame for unequal outcomes exclusively on their shoulders. The most disturbing trend that I've witnessed is that this has become more prevalent, not just in public dialog (where conservative politicians have made a habit of bashing educators) but in professional development sessions and other professional settings. We are being told (by individuals who don't work in classrooms) that we are doing the wrong things, in the wrong way and that our efforts are not satisfactory. Instead of attacking educators, professional conversations should focus on improving our practices and supporting our efforts. It's no wonder so many experienced educators are leaving the field.

Interference from above and commercialization are driving teachers out of the profession.|By Steven C. Ward

The constant churn affects schools' ability to provide all students with skilled teachers. But professor Richard Ingersoll says schools can fix this without...

The attacks on unions hasn’t helped the morale of educators, or positively impacted the efforts to improve education. Instead of being a true, good-faith, effort to actually improve education, destroying the power of educator unions was simply a political move. Educator unions have the potential to give another voice to the discussion about improving schools for all, but without them educators will be reluctant to dissent, even when policies are clearly not in the best interests of students. Educators have been actively speaking out against excessive testing, standards that aren't developmentally appropriate and other important issues. To lose that voice is damaging for students, families and schools. 

The company that manages one of three Detroit charter schools that may form a union has told teachers at the school they're walking away from the school they...

Systems should work for all. We know that our public schools haven't been places of equality for all students. We know that we need to make changes to improve our schools. Educators want to be part of a system that provides equitable access for all and creates an environment where the opportunity for student success is optimized. Families want to feel confident that the system will work for their child(ren). The current state of unrest has caused confusion for all who work and learn in our schools.

In the end we have an obligation to make our public schools work, and work exceptionally well, for all citizens. We have the all the pieces to make this happen, we just need to have the will and desire to achieve the desired outcomes of equity and social justice. 
The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . The second MTI Bowl-athon was a success. Thanks to all who organized and participated. Another great example of educators working to help their community and going above and beyond the "call of duty."

Teachers bowled for a good cause Sunday afternoon.|By Jennifer Kliese

This is good news, but should be taken with a grain of salt. They will continue to try and find ways to undermine and attack public education. We should celebrate the fact that their willingness to do so does have some limits.

MADISON (AP) -- The chairman of the Assembly Education Committee says it appears unlikely that...

Despite Walker's claims that every governor sees their approval ratings drop during a "tough" budget cycle, I'd like to think that the citizens of Wisconsin are finally beginning to realize just who and what our governor is.

Gov. Scott Walker has enjoyed decent job performance ratings since the Marquette Law School poll began in 2012. But, it was all bad news for him in the|By Marti Mikkelson

The Bad . . . We pay for what we value and the current political leadership in Wisconsin clearly doesn't value public education. The full impact of their decisions have yet to be felt across the state, but we are closing in on some incredibly challenging times for public schools here. While it is bad now, it will get worse unless changes are made.

Spending per pupil in Wisconsin is down $1,038, compared to $1,242 in Alabama, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports.|By Pat Schneider

As the Joint Finance Committee hearings on the proposed state budget wrap up later this week, funding changes for Wisconsin's K-12 public education system...

The cuts include about 110 positions, about 72 percent of which come from staffing based at schools.|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

The Ugly . . . Student loan debt is just one more indicator of how distorted, unsustainable and unethical our current economic system is. How can our economy grow, our middle class survive, and our economically disadvantaged citizens gain the advantages of a college education when so many are saddled with huge debts after graduation?

Is there relief in sight?|By Nicholas Rayfield

Governor Touts Tax Breaks for Wealthy and Corporations While Remaining Mum on Common Sense Relief for Hardworking Borrowers Seeking Education and...

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