The Mischief of Standardized Teaching & Learning

The conservative world-view is at the root of educational reform, not only in the United States, but in most countries around the world.  This world-view has set in motion the reform of education based on a common set of standards, high-stakes tests, and accountability metrics that demoralize not only students and their families, but the educators who families regard as significant others in the lives of their children.

The Mischief of Standardized Teaching & Learning is a new eBook that is available on Amazon Kindle.  For readers on my blog, the book can be downloaded free from December 21 – 24, 2014.

Figure 1. The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning.  Free download from December 21 - 24, 2014
Figure 1. The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning. Free download from December 21 – 24, 2014

This eBook explores how these educational reforms, which are rooted in authoritarianism, have damaged public education with its canopy of a Common Core, high-stakes tests, and market based tactics which are nothing but hooey.

These reforms have largely been funded by non-educators, and very rich people, who think that because they made a success in the business community, then their ideas should be accepted by public education.

The Gates Foundation has invested more than $3 billion into standards development & test-based reform.  Did you know that since 1999, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (technically founded in 2000) has made over 4,000 grants in its US Program, one of the major categories of funding for the Gates Foundation?  The 4,000 grants were distributed among 16 categories such as College-Ready Education, Community Grants, Postsecondary Success, Global Policy & Advocacy, etc.  About 2,000 of these grants were made to carry out the Common Core State Standards, the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, and support technology that would increase the surveillance of students, parents and teachers to create sets of “big data” that can be mined by private companies to seek out customers and clients for their products.

Corporate Spray

Lets think of corporate standardized education reform as a kind of “spray” whose mist and slag has covered public education killing creativity, innovation, and spontaneity. This corporate designed “standardized” spray is analogous to DDT spray which was used as an agricultural insecticide, to control malaria and typhus among civilians and troops,  and as contact poison against several arthropods.  The academic formulation of the corporate spray mechanisms is planned violence with very little intellectual , moral, and emotional basis.

For example, from 1940 – 1972, 1.3 billion pounds of DDT were released into U.S. communities indiscriminately.  In 1962, Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring (Library Copy) explained how the release of DDT into the environment caused havoc and great harm to the affected ecosystems, as well as human health.  Even though the bio-chemical industry tried to subvert Carson’s work, she was eventually vindicated of the criticisms being leveled by this industry, and the US Congress went on to pass legislation banning DDT.   Later the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established.  Carson had started the environmental movement, and many leading ecologists and environmentalists from around the world looked to her work as an inspiration.

Rachel Carson, in the word’s of Mark Hamilton, one of Carson’s biographers,  was a “gentle subversive.”

There is a vanguard of gentile (and not-so-gentile) subversives who are leading the way to uncover and expose the damage that is being done to educational ecosystems, as well as  student  health (social, emotional, intellectual) by the standardized, test-centered and market-oriented reform that is spreading like a virus with global implications.  This vanguard is composed of educators who offer different accounts of what teaching and learning is about.  They are leading an effort to challenge the current reform movement.

And  just over the past two years, we’ve witnessed the movement to get states to vote against the use the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), to support parents who choose to opt their children out of high stakes test and support back lash against the U. S. Department of Education (ED) from using an unsubstantiated Value Added Model (VAM).

Please follow this link to read about some of the people identified as part of this vanguard.  There are many more, and most of them are teaching in classrooms across the United States.

So, what is this vanguard voicing opposition to?  They all are questioning the lack of wisdom, the signs of ignorance, and ineptness of an educational reform movement that is rooted in a very narrow purpose of schooling: teaching to the test.  Many of the ideas integrated into The Mischief of Standardized Teaching & Learning are fruits from the voices of the vanguard of teachers and researchers that I identified earlier.

Global Educational Reform Model (GERM)

The Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) promotes and spreads the “strategies and interests” of global agencies, billionaire donors, and private consultants as if it was a live virus (Sahlberg 2013).  According to Sahlberg, three primary sources led to the spread of the GERM virus including:

  1. The need for proficiency in literacy and numeracy,
  2. A guarantee that all students will learn the same set of standards in math and language arts and reading, and value placed on competition, and
  3. Accountability by holding schools to a set of standards, and benchmarks using aligned assessments and tests.

The Guardian newspaper published a series of articles about the 2013 PISA international test results.   Sahlberg points out that creating league tables that showcase or shame countries based on their student’s performance on standardized tests is simply not a proper use of international test results, in this case PISA.   As I’ve reported many times on The Art of Teaching Science blog, international test results fall prey to newspaper headlines that predict the collapse of economies, or the inability of its students to compete in the ‘global market.’  The ‘sky is falling’ mantra was alive and well when the 2013 results were announced.

Imagine reading the headlines in Helsinki after its students fell from second place to 12th in just three years.  Sahlberg reports that in Sweden, the test result for its students was considered a national disaster.  In the United States, the Secretary of Education (Arne Duncan) said the U.S. the results are “straightforward and stark: It is a picture of educational stagnation.”

But Sahlberg suggests that the PISA results are proof that the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) is working and spreading itself around.  According to Sahlberg, GERM is a virus that has infected many nations in their march to “reform” education.  In his view, GERM is characterized by

  • standardization (Common Core),
  • core subjects (math, reading, science),
  • teaching to the test,
  • corporate management style, and
  • test-based accountability.

When Duncan commented  (Guardian News, 2013) on the 2013 PISA results, he said it was clear that this “must serve as a wake-up call against educational complacency and low expectations.”  And to correct American education’s shortcomings, “we must invest in early learning, redesign high schools, raise standards and support great teachers.”

Good examples of GERM schools can be found in the US, England, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden and Chile.  Here is how they fared in the PISA tests (Table 1).

PISA Results for Nations that have adopted the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM)
Table 1. PISA Results for Nations that have adopted the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM)

These nations have adopted a model of education based on competition, standardization, and test-based accountability.  In Sahlberg’s view,

GERM has acted like a virus that “infects” education systems as it travels around the world.

A New Vanguard for Educational Reform

But Sahlberg, if he were ever asked by Duncan how to improve American schools, would not suggest the “reforms” that Duncan has funded for the past five years.  Instead Sahlberg would suggest that the standards-corporate styled reforms (GERM) are based on premises that are rejected by educators and policy makers in nations that seem to be successful.

Another voice, if Duncan were asked to listen, is that of Mercedes Schneider, a high school English teacher who holds a Ph.D. in Applied Statistics and Research Methods.  She is relentless in her writing about corporate reform, especially the way the Common Core State Standards came into being, and how they have corrupted American education.  In her recent book, (A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education) I wrote this as part of a review on Amazon of her book:

In this book we have at our fingertips answers to important questions about how such a limited number of individual’s faces crop-up in various media outlets as the experts on public schools. If you want to find how to get wealthy and have a really big office, read about Joel Klein in chapter 1. Find out how Teach for America is transforming teacher education into a temp business by reading the Wendy Kopp story in chapter 3. You’ll find important episodes about characters including Eva Moskovitz, Michelle Rhee, Erik Hanushek, Arne Duncan, David Coleman, Chester Finn, and others. You’ll also find out about organizations that fund each other in the name of reform, but in the end seek to dismantle public education. Welcome to TFA, the New Teacher Project, the National Council on Teacher Quality (not), the Aspen Institute, the Gates Foundation, and cousins Walton and Broad.  And the best is yet to come as she saves the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation’s bill mill for the last chapter.  The content of the book is thoroughly researched and authenticated. If you read her blog, you’ll certainly enjoy this book.

Beyond GERM

The conservative view of schooling must be challenged and the battleground for this is on the front lines in American schools and districts.  There is a pressing need to reverse the overreach of a few organizations and very wealthy people whose foundations have reigned havoc on American schools.  Here are some suggestions that Sahlberg makes, and many teachers and researchers would agree with:

1. Schools should have autonomy over its curricula and how students are assessed.  Teachers should work collaboratively to design and develop curriculum, and make decisions about the nature of instruction in their own classrooms.  This is contrary to the reforms that have dominated American education for decades, especially starting with the publication, Nation at Risk, followed by the No Child Left Behind Act during the Bush Administration, and The Race to the Top during the Obama administration.  Sahlberg says:

PISA shows how success is often associated with balanced professional autonomy with a collaborative culture in schools. Evidence also shows how high performing education systems engage teachers to set their own teaching and learning targets, to craft productive learning environments, and to design multiple forms student assessments to best support student learning and school improvement.

2. Schools need to focus on equity by giving priority to early childhood (one point for Duncan), comprehensive health and special education in schools, a balanced curriculum that sees the arts, music and sports as equals to math, reading and science.

3. School choice does not improve academic performance in a nation’s schools.  In fact, the overemphasis on school choice and competition between schools leads to greater segregation of schools.

4.  Successful schools are public schools and are controlled locally, not by a state or federal government. If we want to improve education in the US, we need to move away from the competitive, corporate-based model that is based on standardization and test accountability.

As Dr. Nel Noddings says in her book, Education and Democracy in the 21st Century,

Education in the 21st century must put away some 20th-century thinking. All over the world today, many educators and policymakers believe that cooperation must displace competition as a primary form of relating. Competition is not to be abandoned— some competition is healthy and necessary— but it should no longer be the defining characteristic of relationships in an era of growing globalization. If we agree with this judgment, then we must consider how to prepare students for a cooperative world, not solely for one of competition.  (Noddings, Nel (2013-01-25).

American public schools are not failing.  The premise that they are failing is based on one factor–test scores.  We need to move beyond this concept of schooling and embrace collaboration, dialogue, interdependence, and creativity (Noddings, 2013).

The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning

Mischief investigates the nature of the corporate reform by challenging its approach and results. We also investigate how progressive educators are marching to their own drummer charting new paths and walking away from The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning.

The book’s 12 chapters are organized into three parts as follows:

  • Part I. The Cloud of Authoritarianism
  • Part II. The Ideals of Progressivism
  • Part III. Education: Public and Local

For a limited time (December 21 – 24, 2014, you are welcome to download my book for free from Amazon Kindle at this link.

A Vanguard of Voices for Educational Reform–Updated

Creative Commons Emerge with Intelligence and Creativity by Stefano Chiarelli is Licensed under CC BY 2.0
Creative Commons Emerge with Intelligence and Creativity by Stefano Chiarelli is Licensed under CC BY 2.0

I started this blog in 2005 to augment my book The Art of Teaching Science (Public Library), and to write about progressive & humanistic science teaching.   Over the years it morphed into a blog that not only explores science education, but its more of a discussion of the unnerving intrusion of corporate education-wannabes with lots of money who want to change education for their own ends.

In the research and reading that I do to write this blog, I’ve come to know a vanguard of voices who have created a movement to oppose a cabal of corporate pirates whose goal is to privatize public education, and mutate the teaching profession into nonprofessionals who have little experience and even shorter life expectancy as teachers.

In the title of chapter one of my 1992 book, Minds on Science (Public Library) I used the word “reconnaissance” as a way to introduce readers to the field of science teaching.

In this blog post, I am using the word “vanguard” to introduce you to people who are on the forefront of a movement to oppose and take action against groups and people who seek to privatize public education, and inflict harm into the nation’s schools by advocating standardization and high-stakes accountability.  These persons are for the most part people or small groups who have taken risks to speak out and act on the positions they hold, often in opposition to forces more powerful and financially more resourceful.

I used the word vanguard in a review I wrote of Mercedes Schneider’s new book, on Amazon, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education (Public Library).  I titled the review of her book as Uncovering the Culprits Causing Harm to Public Education.  Here is what I wrote:

Dr Mercedes Schneider’s book arrived the other day and I was thrilled to see the names and chapters devoted to many of those who I have written about on my blog. But you won’t find the kind of writing in Mercedes’s book about these people and organization anywhere else. In my view, Mercedes Schneider is at the vanguard of voices who are uncovering the harm that the people featured in her book are inflicting on public education. In amazing detail and wonderfully written you’ll be taken on journeys into the minds of corporate and education thieves, many of whom have become wealthy on the backs of American school students and teachers.

This vanguard is composed of educators who offer different accounts of what teaching and learning should be, and who should lead the effort to improve eduction. Here are a few that have influenced and inspired me.

A Vanguard of Voices

Mercedes Schneider

One of these educators is Dr. Mercedes Schneider, who writes a blog at deutsch29 on education reform.  Dr. Schneider has a Ph.D. in Applied Statistics and Research Methods from the University of Northern Colorado, and was a professor at Ball State University.  With teaching experiences in Louisiana and Georgia, she returned to Louisiana to teach high school English.  From there she launched her blog, and just last week, published her first book.

Her book identifies people and groups that are very different from the “Vanguard” of voices that I’ve included in this post.  Here is a little more of what I said about her book:

In this book we have at our fingertips answers to important questions about how such a limited number of individual’s faces crop-up in various media outlets as the experts on public schools. If you want to find how to get wealthy and have a really big office, read about Joel Klein in chapter 1. Find out how Teach for America is transforming teacher education into a temp business by reading the Wendy Kopp story in chapter 3. You’ll find important episodes about characters including Eva Moskovitz, Michelle Rhee, Erik Hanushek, Arne Duncan, David Coleman, Chester Finn, and others. You’ll also find out about organizations that fund each other in the name of reform, but in the end seek to dismantle public education. Welcome to TFA, the New Teacher Project, the National Council on Teacher Quality (not), the Aspen Institute, the Gates Foundation, and cousins Walton and Broad.  And the best is yet to come as she saves the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation’s bill mill for the last chapter.  The content of the book is thoroughly researched and authenticated. If you read her blog, you’ll certainly enjoy this book.

This is a must read book.

Anthony Cody

I met Anthony Cody several years ago online through his blog Living in Dialog which is published on Education Week Teacher.  He was gracious enough to re-blog some of my blog posts, and introduce me to NEPC’s Best of the Ed Blogs.  Anthony Cody worked for 24 years as a science teacher  at a high-needs middle school in the Oakland Public Schools.

Anthony is a National Board-certified teacher, and leads workshops on Project Based Teaching.  Recently he co-founded the Network for Public Education, which had its first annual meeting in Austin last month.  He has worked endlessly to bring dialog to the issues surrounding educational reform.  He was brave enough to engage the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation in a series of exchanges, and has written more than 100 blog posts about the billionaires intrusion into public education.

His blog articles are some of the best on the net.

He can be followed on Twitter.

Chris Thinnes

Chris Thinnes is one of those educators you wished you had for a teacher.  If you are a teacher, he is the kind of administrator that you would want to work with.  His blog consists of his reflections and thoughts about education, and his reflections are deep and powerful.  He blogs at Chris.Thinnes.me.

I’ve been a lifelong advocate for inquiry and progressive & humanistic education, and shared on this blog some of the work that Chris Thinnes was doing with his colleagues at school.   I wrote this about his work:

Working together from the ground up, rather the top down, Chris Thinnes says on his blog how he and his colleagues work together to “formulate, analyze, prioritize, and activate driving questions that democratically find the intersections of personal interest and shared priorities.” You can go to Chris Thinnes blog, and read the kinds of questions he and his colleagues asked at their first meeting which focused on how a teacher creates an environment and climate conducive to learning. It is this kind of democratically organized work that leads to teachers growing into cultural workers, inquiry teachers, and artists in their own right.

As way of introduction, here is what Chris said about the in-school meeting among all the staff to explore ways to improve teaching:

For a variety of reasons, I have been inspired for several years by the idea that our teachers’ professional learning and collaboration should be governed by the same principles and aims as our students‘ learning and collaboration. To that end, each of six domains from the framework of our Goals for Learning (Create – Understand – Reflect – Transmit – Include – Strive) will be invoked as we establish language to articulate our core commitments to effective teaching practice; design driving questions that will facilitate further inquiry among our teams; identify teaching practices that should be visible to teachers, learners, and observers; explore resources drawing on a wide range of expertise outside our community; and create our own rubrics for self-assessment, reflection, goal-setting, peer observation, instructional coaching, and administrative evaluation.

He wrote his reflections on the first Network for Public Education and titled it An Education Spring in Our Step: Reflections on the #NPEconference.  He says:

But I want to reflect on the conference from a more personal, perhaps more emotional, and potentially more self-indulgent perspective. I want to explore some patterns that I noticed, and some dynamics I found inspiring, in the community of #NPEconference participants. These had a profound impact on me that I’m likely to explore in the weeks and months to come: they helped restore, and to create anew, a faith that we can ensure – precisely by recognizing the nature and the impact of these dynamics in our community, and in our solidarity — the fulfillment of a vision framed most eloquently by my dear friend Peter Gow: “We want to see democracy, not capitalism, survive as the root, stem, leaves, and fruit of American education.”

You can follow him on Twitter.

Diane Ravitch

Like many of you, I became aware of Dr. Ravitch through her writings, not only through her most recent book, The Reign of Error (Public Library) but also when she published The Death and Life of the Great American School System (Public Library), and the blog she co-hosted with Deborah Meir called Bridging Differences.  Dr. Ravitch’s blog, perhaps one of the most visited education sites on the net, uncovers and reveals the actions of a very large population of educators who are pushing back the efforts of the “billionaire boys club. (a Ravitch term).

For the people in this article whose ideas have inspired me, they would probably name Diane Ravitch as a person they look to as a beacon of strength and wisdom about the current state of education in America.  I would, too.

Dr. Ravitch is an historian and a research professor at New York University.  She is co-founder of Network for Public Education, and was the keynote speaker at the first conference of the NPE.

Read her on Twitter.

Paul L. Thomas

Dr. Thomas, a professor at Furman University is a voice that I go to learn the truth about poverty in the United States and how it affects the education of about 30% of the nations children and youth.  His writing on “the becoming radical” (blog), is must read for education reform.  Paul taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is a column editor for English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English) and series editor for Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres (Sense Publishers), where he authored the first volume—Challenging Genres: Comics and Graphic Novels (2010).

He has served on major committees with NCTE, and has been named Council Historian (2013-2015), and formerly served as co-editor for The South Carolina English Teacher for SCCTE. Recent books include Ignoring Poverty in the U.S.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Education (Information Age Publishing, 2012) and Parental Choice?: A Critical Reconsideration of Choice and the Debate about Choice (Information Age Publishing, 2010).

You can find him on twitter and NEPC’s Best of the Ed Blogs.  His writings are linked from here.

Julian Vasquez Heilig

Dr. Heilig is professor of Educational Policy and Planning, and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas.  I’ve come to know him through his blog, Cloaking Inequity, which brings a level of research, mixed with anecdotal experiences, that is very difficult to beat.  It’s one of my favorite stops on the Internet, and I recommend it highly.  Dr. Heilig writes about important issues and topics.

One of the organizations that I think has connived its way into American schools is Teach for America.  Julian Vasquez Heilig has done extensive research to refute  claims that TFA is a practical way to produce teachers for public schools.  You can find his report here at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado: Teach for America: A Return to the Evidence.  You will find that Dr. Heilig’s blog is a real experience, and one that will bring you in touch with crucial issues on educational reform.

Follow him on Twitter.

Fellow Van-guardians

My intention in this article was to make the claim that there is a grass-roots movement of people and organizations that are unearthing new realities to prevent public schools from falling into the hands of corporate and philanthropic America.

I can’t even make a dent in the number of people who are calling out the billionaires such as Gates, and Broad, and saying “enough is enough.”  The struggle to prevent the continuation of test obsession and standardization is one that is fought on the ground every day.

To complete this article, I want to include the following people and organizations that are representative of a large number of courageous people who are willing to take risks to oppose actions of corporations and government that are not in the public interest.

Jean Sanders

Dr. Jean Sanders is an educational researcher and consultant who I met through this blog.  She says on her LinkedIn site that “my main concern now is the travesty of “takeover” of public education by mandarins, neophytes and corporate types who never spent a day teaching anything in a classroom.”  She has been gracious to read my blog, and take the time to write comments that extend my own learning.

Hanna Hurley

Hanna Hurley is a fellow Georgian, and activist who questions and writes about education.  She is a child advocate and special education consultant.  Follow her on Twitter.

Grant Lichtman

A fellow progressive educator, and geologist, Grant Lichtman is the author of The Learning Pond, a blog he writes, and The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School, and a forthcoming book on his 60 day trip around the United States visiting innovative schools. Follow him on Twitter.

Ed Johnson

Ed is a fellow Atlantan, and is an advocate for public education, and a Deming scholar.  He has written several posts on this blog, and he has shared Deming-based research on systems education, and in particular has analyzed NAEP Trial Urban District Assessments using control chart processes.  He was a candidate for the Atlanta School Board. He has inspired me by his activism, and relentless service to improve education in the Atlanta Public Schools.

Ed Johnson can be reached here.

Matt Jones and EmpowerED Georgia

Matt Jones, a public school educator, founded EmpowerED Georgia, and working with citizens in the state has created an advocacy group supporting public education.  EmpowerED Georgia has used its resources to oppose legislation that would privatize public education, or cut the funding for Georgia schools.  Matt Jones has been the leader of this group, and has inspired many of us.   Visit the EmpowerEd website for a collection of papers and positions on important education topics.

Follow EmpowerED Georgia on Twitter.

Chicago Teachers Union

The Chicago Teacher’s Union, representing more than 30,000 teachers, has set the tone for the way teachers can work together to protect public schools from corporate intrusion and government give aways (to charter management), and to pavé the way to improve education in public schools.  The union blogs at this site.

The Garfield High School Faculty

Teachers at Garfield High School boycotted the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP).  It was one of the first efforts by a school faculty to say no to administrators who insisted on using a test that the teachers felt was a waste of time and money.  MAP represents (in my view) the extreme in our obsession with testing.  Students are administered the test four times during the year to offer “measures” to tell if students reached certain benchmarks.  The use of benchmarks is a clever device, but the problem is there is no research or scientific basis for benchmarks.  They are pure opinion, and as the Garfield teachers rightly said, the tests don’t measure what they teach.  You can go to their Facebook page at Solidarity with Garfield high School testing Boycott.

John Kuhn

John Kuhn is a Texas superintendent, but to many of us he is a fearless leader whose presence at various conferences and meeting, and his new book Fear and Learning in America: Bad data, good teachers, and the attack public education (Public Library) provides the kind of evidence and support needed to further the opposition to the demise of public education.

Follow him on Twitter.

Joyce Murdock Feilke

Joyce Murdock Feilke came to my attention when we learned that Atlanta’s new superintendent was before superintendent of the Austin Unified School District.  Joyce, a school counselor with 30 years of experience, described what she called toxic environments in many schools because of our testing obsession.  She and I communicated, and I wrote several posts (Psychological Abuse: A Springtime School Ritual?) about her struggles, and later resignation when the superintendent simply denied that any of this was going on in these schools.  You can read her article in the Austin American-Statesman.

Edy Chamness

Ed Chamness, a former teacher, and parent in Austin, Texas, and professor Julie Westerlund founded the Texas chapter of the Opt Out Movement. I came in contact with Chamness and Westerlund when I reached out to Joyce Murdock Feilke to find out about what she called “psychological abuse” created by the state-wide obsession with high-stakes testing in an Austin elementary school where she was a school counselor.

Edy Chamness and Julie Westerlund were professional colleagues of Joyce’s and provided more and compelling evidence that children are being used in an experiment, rooted in punitive classic conditioning to meet the goals of the school district, which is increase student test scores and eventually graduation rates.

 

Yong Zhao

YONG ZHAO is currently Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, where is a full professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy and Leadership(EMPL). His recent series, “How Does PISA Put the World at Risk” (http://ow.ly/x0g48) is only one example of his evidence-based deconstruction of prevailing myths in education policy and politics, both on his blog and in a series of must-read book-length works.

Blog: http://ZhaoLearning.com

Twitter: @YongZhaoUO

Jose Luis Vilson

JOSE LUIS VILSON is a math educator for a middle school in the Inwood / Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, NY. He’s also a committed writer, activist, web designer, and father. He co-authored the book Teaching 2030: What We Must Do For Our Students and Public Schools … Now and In The Future with Dr. Barnett Berry and 11 other accomplished teachers. He writes for Edutopia, GOOD, and TransformED / Future of Teaching, and has written for CNN.com, Education Week, Huffington Post, and El Diario / La Prensa NY. His first (and must-read) solo project, This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and the Future of Education, has just been released by Haymarket Books.

Blog: http://thejosevilson.com

Twitter: @TheJLV

Deborah Meier

DEBORAH MEIER encourages new approaches that enhance democracy and equity in public education. She is on the editorial board of Dissent magazine, The Nation and the Harvard Education Letter. She was a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1987. Her books, The Power of Their Ideas, Lessons to America from a Small School in Harlem (1995), Will Standards Save Public Education(2000), In Schools We Trust (2002), Keeping School, with Ted and Nancy Sizer (2004) and Many Children Left Behind (2004) are foundational texts for those interested in the intersections and dependencies of education and democracy: so, too, her EdWeek blog on “Bridging Differences.”

Bridging Differences Blog: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/

Twitter: @DebMeier

Thomas Hobson

THOMAS HOBSON is a preschool teacher, writer, speaker, artist, and the author of “A Parent’s Guide to Seattle.” For the past 11 years, he has been the only employee of the Woodland Park Cooperative preschools, allowing him to work very closely with families in a true community setting. His blog, by turns, demonstrates an exceptional acuity of insight about learning, teaching, children, and community — and lights a fire for us all to ask deeper questions about education in a democracy.

http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/

@TheTeacherTom

 

Who would you like to add to this Vanguard page.  Send me names and a bit of information, and we’ll add them to the list.  Thank you.

Why Education Must Be Public & Not Privatized

Education needs to be in the public domain, and citizens need to fight to make sure that the slow creep of privatization does not turn into an avalanche. The democratic values that are the centerpiece of our society have been under assault, especially with the rise of the extreme conservative movement that began with Barry Goldwater, and continues today with the take over of the Republican party by extreme right-wing ideologues.

However, the ideologues, who won’t go away, were dealt a blow by the “47%” who wouldn’t go away either. Although the election might mean an opening for progressives to move their agenda, and hold firm against on issues such as health care, social security, and education, there is the need to be vigilant, as well as activist.

Why education should be public and not privatized.

But there is a conundrum about the nature of education, and the ideas that are flowing out of Washington about the future course of public education. Both major political parties show little difference in how they approach education, including standards, testing, teacher evaluation, and funding. Neither party seems to understand why education needs to stay public, and should not be privatized, or sold off piece meal to the point that all of education is in the hands of corporate education wanna bees. George Lakoff and Elizabeth Wehling are helpful in making clear why education must stay in the public domain. They write

American democracy is built on the ethic of citizens caring about other citizens— empathizing with each other, taking responsibility, both individual and social, for our citizenry as a whole, and creating a public government through democratic participation. Democracy’s sacred mission is to protect and empower everyone equally by the provision of public resources, what we call the Public.

There are two views of education that are helpful in understanding the nature of what public education should be, and not be. We’ll analyze the conservative (in this post) and the progressive (in the next post) views of education and find out that the conservatives have used the language that enables them to dominate schooling today. Progressives have good ideas but they have been too reactionary to the conservative education agenda. They have not made convincing arguments. Progressive educators have a long history of accomplishments and the theory to support their views.  Now is the time for progressives to not only make their case, but figure out how to get seated at the policy tables.

Conservative View of Public Education: Business as Usual

I’ll start with the conservative view of education.  It dominates education today.  We need to know why, and how to change this.

In schools today, the most important result or outcome is the achievement level (test scores) of students and schools. Higher scores are better, of course. But a further inspection of using test scores as the measure of success for students (and teachers) and schools leads us to the conclusion that eduction is a business. George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling have looked into this and here is what they have to say:

The conservative view of education can be thought of as the application of the laissez-faire free market. Good grades are profits; bad grades are losses. Greed is good. Classmates are competitors, not cooperators. Grade inflation is a metaphorical version of economic inflation. The more good grades there are, the less valuable they are. Innate talent that makes school easy is like being born wealthy, but for most students it is assumed that success is a direct consequence of discipline. The lack of natural talent is like being born poor; the only way to succeed is through discipline, by pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

When we begin to think of schools as business, then test scores are a measure of profitability.  Indeed, students of teachers who get high achievement scores are rewarded in the same way that employees earn bonuses.  But when scores are low, it is analogous to an unprrofitable business, which might mean layoffs, store closings, and fired staff. Lakoff and Wehling put it this way:

Schools whose students regularly get bad test scores are unprofitable and considered failing schools. Like divisions of companies that lose money, they can be closed down, and just as managers whose divisions regularly lose money stand to get fired, so do teachers whose students don’t get high test scores.

The No Child Left Behind Act of the Bush administration, and the Race to the Top Fundof the Obama administration are based on the conservative world view of public education.  In each of these programs it is only natural to think of education as a business.  The mandate (NCLB) to test students annually and to insist that the scores increase each year is analogous to many businesses that base their success on increasing  profitability each year.

There is nothing wrong with making a profit.  But in education, we have to ask, “In whose interest is it to insist that students reach a minimum score on an achievement test?”  Is measuring achievement a convenience that allows the authorities to use test scores the way CEOs using numbers to  measure company growth?

A common core of standards is the centerpiece of the conservative view of school.  With corporations, non-profits,  and billionaire individuals financing and lobbying policy makers, the standard’s movement defines curriculum and evaluation.  With single sets of content standards (in mathematics and English/Language Art, and in a short time, science) and computer based testing soon to put in place, school managers will have spreadsheets on their computer screens to reward and punish schools, teachers, and students. Private companies quickly realized that they could design schools that taught to the test, claiming that their schools could out do regular public schools.  The original  idea of a charter school as a teacher led innovation was corrupted by national charter management companies.

Charter schools are seen as a cure-all to raise test scores of American students. It’s ukind of like a 19th century elixir, or remedy that will serve as an antidote for the ills of traditional public schools. Many policymakers are motivated by the delusion that choice and competition is the answer to solving problems facing our schools. Public schools are the only agent that can create a sense of community among diverse communities from which students come. Charter schools have not done this. In fact, charter schools have further segregated children from each other, and we know that this is not a good idea.
Yet, it is quite obvious that policymakers have ignored the research that has been conducted by university-based researchers, and not “partisan think-tanks.” Instead they are enacting laws around the country that will enable for-profit charter management companies to swoop in and set up charter schools, almost at will. These laws further destabilize public schools, and remove the locus of control of local schools, and put it into the hands of unelected bureaucrats (political appointees). Some of the charter bills that have been passed will result in an increase in politics and influence peddling in the context of multimillion dollar opportunities by establishing charter schools in various counties in each state. Real estate investment firms will find a pot of gold in these states. Firms will come in a buy land and/or empty buildings (schools, factories) and then in turn lease them to for-profit charter school management companies, such as KIPP, Academica, or Charter Schools USA.
Two weeks ago, Georgia voters, connived by conservative politics and politicians, and lobbied by millions of dollars of out-of-state funding, voted yes to change the constitution making  schools less-democratic by authorizing the Governor and legislative leaders to appoint a commission of fellow conservatives with power to approve charters anywhere in the state.  The local district is left out of the decision, as are the voters since the commission is an un-democratic agency. The  sell off of public schools is underway.
Privatization is the transfer of public property, functions,  and institutions in to private hands (Lakoff and Wehling).  Privatization of schools, through charters or vouchers, is a colossal and moral mistake.  Lakoff and Wehling explain how privatization of education is taking place.  They write:

Certain companies have set up widespread chains of corporate-owned charter schools, taking over public buildings and luring local students with claims of superior education while hiring teachers with little training at lower salaries and no or meager benefits and pensions. And all of this is paid for with government money that would otherwise go to support public schools. The public schools meanwhile lose their building spaces and funding for teacher salaries and pensions as money goes instead to profits for the charter school owners. Some charter school companies actively try to put public schools out of business. And some charter schools pay their principals hundreds of thousands of dollars a year but pay teachers a pittance. Moreover charter schools tend to teach to the test, turning schools into testing factories and undermining learning. Yet on the whole, charter schools do not perform better than public schools (though there are exceptions). Control over our children’s education has been handed over to private companies.

In the next post, we’ll exam the progressive view of public education.

Do you think the trend of privatization is good thing for education?  

 

 

Be On the Right Side of History

An Essay by the Teaching Georgia Writing Collective

About the Collective: The Teaching Georgia Writing Collective is a group of educators, parents, and concerned citizens who engage in public writing and public teaching about education in Georgia. Some goals of the collective include: 1) empowering educators to reclaim their workplace and professionalism, 2) empowering families to stand up for their children and shape the institutions their children attend each day, 3) empowering children and youth to have control over their education, and 4) enhancing the education of all Georgians.

As Georgia citizens, stakeholders, and voters we sit at a crossroads in deciding the long-term health of our public education system. Opening the floodgates to for-profit charter schools across the state of Georgia will have devastating long-term effects on our state’s public education. Vote No on House Bill 797 this November, but don’t do it because we want you to. Vote No because you know the facts.

Some Facts

Voting No will not change the authority of local school districts and the state to approve charter schools. Charter schools will still exist, and they will still be approved. If passed, the constitutional amendment will shift more authority to the state for approval with strings attached to state funds that will flow to those charter schools when we aren’t even fully funding our existing public schools.

On May 3, 2012, the Governor Deal signed a bill that will restore the state’s power to approve and finance charter schools without local school district approval. The legislation, however, needs voter approval in November because this bill – HB 797 – is a constitutional amendment.

The governor signed the bill at Cherokee Charter Academy, in Canton, Georgia, a school that received in excess of $1,000,000 in state funds as start-up capital. That is a million dollars just to get started, in an era of austerity when public schools are forced to furlough and lay-off teachers, shorten the school year calendar, and cut crucial support for media centers and the arts. If our state can’t afford to fully fund our public schools now, why would we invite for-profit charters in and promise them dollars we don’t have? This, alone, should cause an eyebrow or two to be raised.

Without the approval of local districts, Georgia will open its educational system to a stampede of charter school corporations and real estate brokers who see this bill as a cash cow. These out-of-state corporations are funneling dollars into Georgia now to get this amendment passed, and if we pass the amendment, we will funnel those dollars and many more right back into their corporate pockets.

How well do charter schools perform?

Most charter schools simply do not do as well as their public school counterparts, and according to research most students would be better off going to public schools.

Why would politicians be willing to “sell off” our public good – state education – and turn it over to other interests? Michael Klonsky claims that powerful conservative forces are pushing for less regulation over charter schools, and more teacher evaluations tied directly to student test scores. These moves by the Georgia legislature will result in the overall weakening of Georgia Public Schools. Pushing professional educators to the sidelines and moving corporate interests into public education is a huge mistake.

Corporate interests?

Yes, behind this move to make it easier to set up charter schools are for-profit charter school organizations that are ready to move in and use state and local funds to manage charter schools. In some states, new charter schools receive start-up funds at a time when public schools are having to furlough teachers and administrators and cut jobs and services just to meet the budget.

According to a report by Dick Yarbrough, charter schools appear to be about money and politics and influence peddling. He wonders why, with the Georgia Department of Education reporting that charter schools don’t perform as well as traditional public schools and their graduation rates are no better, the Georgia legislature is so bent on changing the State Constitution to allow charters to be created by an appointed state commission. The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that doing so is unconstitutional – which is why we are now faced with a vote that would change the constitution.

Charter schools in other states do not compete favorably with traditional public schools. Why this big push for more charter schools?

Answer: For-profit charter networks

As Yarbrough reported, the Miami-Herald did a study of charter school operators in Florida, and found that it is nearly a half-billion dollar business, and one of the fastest growing industries in Florida. According to the newspaper report, charter school industry is “backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians” and “rife with insider deals and potential conflicts of interest.”

In Florida, management companies run almost two-thirds of charters. The management companies charge fees that sometime exceed $1 million per year per school. On top of such fees, these management companies often own the land and/or the buildings where the school located, and charge either the state or the local school system rent.

Would the state use taxpayers’ dollars to fund McDonald’s?

Let’s think about this in terms we might better understand given our limited experience with for-profit schooling: Imagine McDonald’s receiving money from the state to build its restaurants and open the doors; after its restaurants are built the state gives McDonald’s money for every customer that walks in the door; then state money has to go to pay the annual fee to McDonald’s to pay for its accounting and human resources management; and since McDonald’s owns the land or the building where the restaurant is housed, it charges the state rent.

What if the result of this kind of business model? McDonald’s (or the privately owned and run charter school) accumulates more and more money from taxpayers, leaving them with a good they can no longer call their own and no longer have control over. Would we ever put up with McDonald’s siphoning off taxpayer dollars to this extent? Would we amend the constitution to allow this to happen at the state level with no local approval?

No.

Vote No on the Charter Bill Legislation in November and tell Georgia Legislators that we don’t want to end up like Florida. Tell them we don’t want the locus of control of public school districts outside of local elected school boards, and placed in the hands of for-profit charter schools run by corporations that don’t understand or care about local needs.

Our political leaders have turned what started out as a good idea—the creation of charter schools to meet particular local needs—into a political battleground where money takes precedent over education. Lurking in the fringes of this battleground are corporations that see public education as a new market to make bets and money – on the backs of our Georgia children and youth.

Be on the right side of history in November, and on the right side of our children and their futures. Vote No on House Bill 797.

K-12 Education Through the Lens of the Progressive World-View & Values

Note: This is the third post on a discussion of progressive and conservative values and how they impact education in America. In this post we will explore the progressive world-view and its values, and try and understand why the progressive ideals ought to form the foundation for American K-12 education.

Progressive values should set the ideals of teaching, and learning in American society.  Unfortunately, the “cloud of authoritarianism looms over education, making it very difficult to design instruction around progressive values. In this post we examine education through the lens of the progressive world-view.

Progressive and conservative approaches to education have competed with each other in America for more than a century.  The conservative view has dominated American education, but we’ll also find that the progressive view has impacted American education in powerful ways at different times during this period.  We’ll examine the foundations of the progressive view and then apply our findings to the nature of education, including teaching, learning, and curriculum development.

Progressive World View

In order to understand how world-views can be used to examine education, we are using the cognitive modeling and cognitive theory of metaphor by George Lakoff.  Lakoff in his book Thinking Points:

formulated the nation-as-family metaphor as a precise mapping between the nation and the family: the homeland as home, the citizens as siblings, the government (or the head of government) as parent.  The government’s duty is to citizens as a parent’s is to children: provide security (protect us); make laws (tell us what we can and cannot do); run the economy (make sure we have enough money and supplies); provide public schools (educate us).

World view refers to the culturally-dependent, generally subconscious, fundamental organization of the mind,” according to William W. Cobern, who has done extensive research on world-view and how it impinges science teaching.  One’s world view predisposes one to feel, think and act in predictable way, according to Cobern.  World-view inclines one to a particular way of thinking.

My argument about trying to explain the current state of schooling in the U.S., will take into consideration two different political and social world-views, the conservative world-view, and the progressive world-view.  Both world-views have played significant roles in American history, including public education.  In the most recent post on this blog, we looked at the conservative world-view.You might want to read that post first, before going on with one.

In this post we’ll examine the progressive world-view and how progressivism affects schooling.

Nurturing Family & Progressive Morality

In Lakoff’s research, the nation-as-family conceptual metaphor can be used to help us understand our political worldview, and in my argument, this will also enable us to explain how progressive values differ from conservative values, and how they affect education in America.

In Lakoff’s research he has shown that this conceptual metaphor produces two very different models of families: a “strict father” family and a “nurturant parent” family.  In his view this creates two fundamentally different ideaologies about how the nation should be governed.  I am suggesting that these two views can teach us about how education in America should be organized and “governed.”
Continue reading “K-12 Education Through the Lens of the Progressive World-View & Values”