The Education Reform Oligarchy & Their School Choice Conversation

Wish I could just turn back the clockThe education reform oligarchy of the 80’s had a school choice conversation —at least one that is a matter of record.

It’s doubtful that the public can recall what was discussed. It’s doubtful that very many were really invited to listen. What is more likely is that most people are left asking, what school choice conversation?

So here’s how the story went

“At its meeting in August 1985, the members of the National Governors’ Association [NGA] formed seven task forces for the purpose of examining in-depth critical problem areas in American education.”

Time for Results?

Time for Results?

It’s unlikely that very many people would argue against the idea that parent involvement in education is critical. Then — now, forever, and always — parent, community, and national involvement and support for public schools is a problem in critical need of being addressed with real solutions. How exactly school choice came to be seen as a “critical” problem depends …

“Whether the push for school choice is driven by economic and political forces, or by parents and educators, depends on whom you ask.”

What we know for sure is now our history.

To be clear, since the development of free desegregated public school education, people in the United States of America have had the freedom to choose between their local public schools, private schools, and home-schooling. There is no forced attendance at government-run schools only. There are compulsory attendance laws to protect a child’s right to an education but people have always had a choice in how to comply with that law. We have always had school choice. … to date.

But when was it discussed that school choice is the best answer for a lack of parental involvement? Who knows?

What was decided was to attach the issue of school choice to that of parental involvement. However, at the 1986 NGA meeting, a year after the topics had been decided, then Governor Lamar Alexander introduced the topic like this

“We will then hear presentations from three of the Governors who led the task forces on teaching, on leadership, and on choice.”

Their presentation of a critical problem area went from “parental involvement and choice” to “choice”?

Governor Dick Lamm of Colorado chaired that task force. As he explained it,…

“What we were looking at is how can we give additional flexibility to parents and students in choosing their schools within the public school context.”…

“Some of these could be magnet schools, some of them could be alternative schools, some of them could just be different options among the public schools.”

Lamm recommended PUBLIC choices. These choices were all under local district governance. And even though the topic was introduced as “choice,” Governor Lamm did share some views on parental involvement.

And he did acknowledge…

“The two things we looked at: choice, parental involvement. They are related but they are also separate.”

But in publication after publication, parental involvement and choice would be lumped together without any emphasis on “the choice” being “within the public school context.” It was never a significant part of the school choice public conversation.

The chair of the Choice Task Force wasn’t the only one voicing concerns.

Mr. Al Shanker (then head of the American Federation of Teachers) was one among many who tried to explain the potential pitfalls of “choice.”

“We live in a society where that [choice] is one of our top values.”

“Kids have more of a commitment when they decide on a program or a school than parents do.”

“I am very concerned, and I think all of us have to be concerned, that there are situations where choice could result, let’s say, in the top 25 percent of the students in a major city being offered nice spots in suburban schools, and leaving the schools in that city that might very well be on their way to coming back, leaving them without any role models at all for those other students.”

“Therefore, as we move towards systems of choice, I think you ought to be very sensitive that we may be leaving a lot of kids behind, and we have got to look at that. That’s not to argue against choice, it’s just to argue that we do it in a thoughtful way.”

“There is one other downside which hasn’t been mentioned on this…. The parents’ associations in England complain bitterly that if you have the right to switch, nobody wants to fight. That is, nobody is left to argue that you need improvement in the school because the dissatisfied people move out, leaving only those who either don’t know what is going on or who don’t care, or don’t have the time or the energy to move.”

“You rescue your own kid and say the heck with the rest of it. These things have to be watched.”

“I don’t know all the problems that are going to arise….I want to experiment. I want to make sure we don’t 
decimate the cities.”

Was it just the teacher’s union and a governor or two that questioned school choice as a reform strategy?

Ms. Georgeanne Sherrill, a career ladder 3 elementary teacher in Tennessee, was attending the 1986 NGA meeting to present information on instructional leadership and “career ladders” — an initiative of Lamar Alexander’s. She joined the conversation.

“I would just like to say one thing. I think it’s in connection with what Ms. Futrell [then president of National Education Association] said. I think we can give parents a choice in education without having to pull the students out of one school and put them in another school. We can work with parents to structure the program in that school to meet the needs of the parents that have children in that school.”

That suggestion seemed to be discarded at the time but is finding favor in some areas of the country now.

So it wasn’t just one union leader, or two, or one teacher that voiced objections and concerns. As the chair of the Parent Involvement and Choice Task Force, Governor Lamm went on to explain…..

“I, like I think most of the other governors, are desperately concerned about opening up choice to public or private school and the choice of a voucher or any similar thing, with cannibalizing the existing public school system, about taking resources that are already really too limited.”

There was definite dissention in the ranks of leadership. But the dissenting voices were effectively struck down at every turn by then Secretary of Education Bennett and the Chair of NGA, Governor Alexander.

The conversation going forward? It was framed.

Summary by Lamar Alexander

Summary by Lamar Alexander

What did we hear from the chair of NGA? We heard the question,

“Why not let parents choose the schools their children attend?”

And the talk was of a “better schools movement.”

“It will mean giving parents more choice of the public schools their children attend as one way of assuring higher quality without heavy-handed state control.”

And the project moved forward with the help of the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Bennett’s leadership. The nation had a new project, officially —Project Education Reform.Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 3.09.50 PM

The newsletter gave no explanation of "choice."

The newsletter gave no explanation of “choice.”

The critical problems of parental involvement and choice became joined at the hip —one dragging the other forward—but at this point in the story, not much was really said about the details of choice.

 

Did the report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education (A Nation at Risk) have school choice as one of its recommendations? No. The school choice agenda moved forward because influential and “gifted” people pushed it.

William Bennett was one such leader, for sure…

“He is a man of great brilliance and strong convictions, but he is a preacher, not a teacher. He is trying to manipulate public opinion to accept his ideas of what is right and wrong. This would be forgivable if he were not as gifted as he is and if he were not the Secretary of Education.”

”Bill Bennett is the first Secretary to understand the ideological and political possibilities of the office that were there from the beginning. In Bill Bennett we’re getting our first Minister of Education.”

“…he waded in with a controversial new voucher plan that would give parents of disadvantaged children funds that could be spent in private and parochial as well as public schools.”

School choice was part of the Bennett agenda from the beginning. How much he really cared about the disadvantaged, who knows?

But by 1989, we had a new president, a different secretary of education, and had some changes in governorships. What did not change was the Project Education Reform agenda —with one exception. The facade of parent involvement had been dropped. Instead of a task force on Parent Involvement and Choice, we now had a working group for Choice and Restructuring (pg.44).

Insert1And by 1991, it was Lamar Alexander who became secretary of education putting himself in a prime position to carry their reform agenda forward.

Today as head of the senate education committee, he has done his part to federalize the plan for school choice while being the artful dodger in avoiding any conversation concerning “choice.” The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is in conference committee…..tick, tock….

The bill to replace No Child Left Behind is a critical problem.

The bill to replace No Child Left Behind is a critical problem.

 

Time for the school choice conversation again? In light of the fact that the Dyett Hunger Strike is occurring in Chicago because an open enrollment neighborhood public high school is no longer a choice, we need to have the school choice conversation all over again…now. What is America’s choice?

“The hunger strike is now at Day 28 as of this writing (9/13/15) and the Chicago Board of Education has finally opened talks with the strikers.”

This level of sacrifice by a small group of people should make us all feel a bit humbled by their resolve, but a little sick inside that it has come to this — the oligarchy rules and, in general, they don’t feel the need to listen to any of us.

You-Haver-A-ChoiceThe public’s choice?

Double Standard

670085Some say it is a matter of black and white. Some say it is a matter of rich and poor. Some say the double standard in educational opportunity goes both ways — racial and socioeconomic.

“The nation is clearly no longer content with mediocrity, with just ‘getting by.’ It is demanding excellent education for all. Quality education has come to imply integration, for a white child taught in isolation is a deprived child. It implies an end to the double standard in education, a double standard that gives high-quality schooling to students in exclusive suburbs and inferior schooling to children in slums, that gives preference to some states over others.” —Francis (Frank) Keppel, architect of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

In the battle for access to quality learning opportunities, discrimination runs the gamut.

As this young man explains in Academic Imperialism

“Less conspicuous is the soft bigotry of educational ‘norming,’ that operates on the false binary of achievement and its diametric opposite of under-achievement….

When fourth-grade reading scores are paramount to forecasting prison matriculates, the social fabric is not only torn but also seismic shifted from protecting vulnerable members of our society, ….

If the idyllic version of community-centric schools is an expression of social inclusion of knowledge, then youth incarceration represents the symbiotic underside of social exclusion.”

How is it we have not found the will to address the issues so poetically articulated here?

“To follow historical trends, colonization is a magician that erases student identities and self-interest without the reciprocal chains of transcontinental slavery. It’s legacy still lives in today’s standards of high achievement…

The subtext of colonization is always ownership and representation. Whose veritable voice continues to echo throughout history but fails to reach the curriculum that serves its offspring? This is the soft bigotry of hidden curriculum.”

Very plainly stated, in The Crucial Voice,…Now would be a good time to consider the view of M. R. Olneck that, in addition to inputs and outputs, ‘two other concepts may serve as the basis for judgments about equal opportunity: representation and participation.’ We must have ‘participation in the process to have our ideas about what successful schooling is and how it should be judged represented . . .. In the absence of equal representation and participation, unequal outcomes are likely to persist since the terms of success are dictated by dominant groups’ (Gamoran, A., and D. A. Long. Equality of Educational Opportunity: A 40-Year Retrospective. Wisconsin Center for Education Research, December, 2006, p17).

IS it unreasonable to expect representation and participation in deciding how to judge equality of opportunity in our schools? This isn’t just about tests. This is about people deciding what success looks like for children. It isn’t all measurable.

And when it is clearly recognized that standardized tests don’t measure the quality of education and that tests are biased, why don’t we demand representation and participation when it comes to deciding what constituents student success and equal opportunity?

Is it ignorance, stupidity, apathy, self-imposed blindness, self-absorption? … I don’t know bobby-scott-bobby-scott-the-promise-of-equal-educational-opportunity… but obviously, offering quality learning opportunities to all K-12 children has not been a national priority. People always think it should be easy, just do what Finland did. Well, their first step was to make improving the quality of education a national priority.

In 1991, researchers acknowledged that this very issue of consensus would be a problem for America. But we never discussed or acknowledged it to be a problem. The only thing on this list that we have

Perspectives on Education in America, Summary from the Sandia Report, 1993.

Perspectives on Education in America, Summary from the Sandia Report, 1993.

addressed is data and really went overboard with it!

 

 

 

 

 

But let’s look at the BIGGEST double standard in our education reform process — federal education law.

We people have been taught that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Both Congress and President Obama need to be called-out on this one! Do they not know what the aim, purposes, and reasons for the titles of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) were? Their ignorance of this law is no excuse for perpetuating the pretense of reform set by No Child Left Behind and its “accountability, flexibility, and choice.”

There is a fix for ignorance; it’s called education.

But maybe I’m wrong; maybe it isn’t ignorance that has kept them beating the test-based “reform” drum. If it isn’t ignorance that has set the nation on the wrong path, what is it? Political ideology? Putting politics ahead of children’s needs?

Is it the pretense of reform set by free-market competition?

When competition for dollars splits us into groups each groping for a share of the pie, we lose sight of the real meaning of fairness. Each time we set up a public school education “program” that is not strictly aimed at meeting individual children’s needs, we are setting up a practice that will potentially discriminate. In these ways, we become divided in the quest for quality learning opportunities for all children in America.

“Equality, in the American sense of the word, is not an end but a beginning. It means that, so far as the state can do it, all children shall start in the race of life on an even line. The chief agency for this purpose is the public school system.”—Edwin E. Slosson

In the past, some have seen the need for the public school system to offer equal opportunity. Some do now. So how is it we have not ended the double standard in education? Should we call it a double standard? Should we call it inequality? Should we call it discrimination?

How about soft bigotry?

How about calling your Senator before the July 7th vote on the Every Child Achieves Act (S.1177) and simply telling them to vote NO. Their version only continues the mindset that we obtain quality education for all through “accountability, flexibility, and choice.” After following that belief for 13 years, we know it isn’t true.

It’s time we demand they go back to the original law for guidance. It’s time to demand they #GetESEAright !

If this nation cares about poverty-stricken children getting a fair shot, this law is one avenue through which to do it. But neither the House Student Success Act nor the Senate Every Child Achieves Act has the original aim in mind.

The Public’s Choice

Parents, educators, and politicians moved forward with the illusion of reform based on individual “choice” without considering the public good.

If public education is a public good, what choice does the public have in deciding its direction?

If public education is a public good, what choice does the public have in deciding how it is provided?

We put choice into education law without really having a conversation about our choices.

The Power of the Word

In Understanding the Psychology of the American Idea of Choice, researchers noted that Americans respond more strongly to the word “choice” than people from other countries. They found that when we think about our lives framed in terms of choices, it …

  • “reduces our support for public policies that promote greater equality,…
  • leads us to feel less concerned about the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor,…
  • leads us to feel less empathy towards others who have experienced negative life events,…
  • [shifts] attitudes in favor of policies that promote individual freedom.”

At the heart of the issue of “choice” is our strongly embedded love of freedom. There’s nothing wrong with that, except, these findings may very well have been used against us. Overall, researchers found the effects that the word “choice” has on us seems “to bode poorly for solving social problems that require cooperation.”

Public education of children is a cooperative effort.

Choice Laws

The education law of the land, No Child Left Behind (now 12/5/15 called Every Student Succeeds Act), is a law promoting school choice.Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 5.30.00 PM

It didn’t used to be. It used to be a law promoting quality and equal opportunity.Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 3.52.56 PM

But even if we eliminated the big bad hand of the federal government in education reform laws, state charter laws abound and ALEC is ready for the State to control education reform.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is advancing the “principles of free markets” and makes claims that they promote…

“public private partnerships between America’s state legislators and concerned members of the private sector, the federal government, and the general public.”

ALEC is looking out for the general public?

ALEC supports “more choices in education both as a matter of principle and as a promising solution to the increasing challenges facing America’s K-12 education system.”

With charter laws in place across the country, here’s ALEC’s smorgasbord of other “solutions” to choose from ….Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 7.41.11 PM

But is “choice” a solution for the American K-12 education system?

The Assumption of Choice as a Reform

The basic assumption is that ALL parents are very savvy and their school choices will be well-informed. They will be able to judge the schools accurately and won’t get sold on advertising gimmicks similar to how the country was deceived by test score comparisons.

I admit my bias here; I volunteered in classrooms for 11 years and saw these same kids with their families in different settings in my community. This is my opinion…

The ignorant crack head is not “savvy”; the single working mother struggling to get everything done in a 24 hour day doesn’t have time to adequately do her homework on schools, she isn’t “savvy”; the homeless but proud (and yes, I can put a face to them) can only use the library computer for a limited time, not enough opportunity to become “savvy”; and those parents whose children are their translators have a real barrier to becoming “savvy.”

Put another way in “Choice or Commonality” by Martha Minow, a law professor and inspiration to a young Barack Obama,

“if educational responsibility remains solely on the immediate family, ‘choice’ may take place in a world of insufficient numbers of quality schools, inadequate information about the stakes and alternatives, and large numbers of people unable to use the choice system effectively. This state of affairs means choice for some and not for others, and whether a child’s educational needs are met will depend on her parents’ ability to choose.

So with federal education law originally meant to support the public education system in order to break the “poverty-ignorance-ignorance-poverty cycle” by providing ALL children with quality education, we know “choice” cannot logically get us to equal educational opportunity.

What problem is fixed by “choice” through charters?

Quality? You can put the word “quality” in front of “charter” in law but it doesn’t make it so. In the new federal law set to replace No Child Left Behind they use the term “high quality” while others say “high-performing”; still, words don’t make it so. Only 17% of charter schools perform better than traditional public schools. Unequal quality isn’t fixed and that is the major problem.

While the problem being fixed by choice through charters is illusive or non-existent, the growing troubles are well documented in this Washington Post article, A Dozen Problems with Charter Schools.

  1. Most are not helping kids.
  2. Some are actually hurting kids.
  3. Far too many are cash cows.
  4. The industry is rife with fraud and corruption.
  5. Lack of transparency and accountability.
  6. Skimming and weed-out strategies.
  7. Contribute to the re-segregation of U.S. education.
  8. Drain resources from struggling districts.
  9. Closing traditional public schools.
  10. Lack of innovation.
  11. Hard to get rid of the bad ones.
  12. Charters promote “choice” as solution.

As the curtain goes up on all the complications with charters, that will not slow the Choice Movement. Look at Nevada and their Universal School Choice.mistakes

Is this informed choice? What are the risks? And really, what is the difference between shopping for a charter and shopping for education products with public money in hand? How informed will parents be, how inefficient is the system to become, how unequal will the quality be, and who will be responsible to the children left behind in the end when their parents don’t make good choices or are fooled into bad choices?

The choice to leave a school never improves that school. For certain individuals, a different school than the one they are assigned is appropriate, but those situations must be handled at the local level. They are the exception, not the general rule.

The choice this country was never given is the one to continue to strengthen and improve all schools through proven methods. The choice we never got was to put in place the best practices we know that match our students’ needs. The choice we never got was to improve the teaching profession as a nation. The choice we never got was to fund schools in a manner that is fair and reasoned.

When all reform is based on responsiveness to the needs of community members, continuous improvement happens. That’s what we have always needed, always will.

Choice is a very powerful propaganda weapon; choice is not a reform. School choice is not a solution. To create more equitable educational opportunities, continuous school improvement of every public school is the only logical solution.

But I’m not the one making this choice.

personal-choice-quotes-3The public must choose. Do you want public education to be a public service provided by our government, or, a commodity provided by private individuals or organizations paid for by tax dollars? This is about control. This is about how we govern our schools.

This is a BIG choice. We urgently need to decide.

A Nation Misled

How can we reach the goal is we continue to be misled as a nation?

How can we reach the goal if we continue to be misled as a nation?

Do you know the history behind our nation being misled? Many have asked WHAT brought us to this point in education reform where we blame teachers rather that support improvement in their profession, where we close schools and move students around rather than improving all schools, and where education policy is controlled by lobbyists for foreign corporations rather than the crucial voice of the local people.

We were misled.

In 1991, then vice president of Sandia National Laboratories, Lee Bray, was asked to be in charge of overseeing an analysis that “sought to provide an objective, outsider’s’ look at the status of education in the U.S.”

The Sandia researchers did what they do best — they thought things through and questioned their findings. They did an honest analysis that was never used to guide national education policy from that moment going forward. It —the Sandia report brief titled Perspectives on Education in America — still has not served to lead us in the right direction because “…it was definitely suppressed” according to Lee Bray. We need to right that wrong.

So, WHAT information did the Sandia Report provide?

On International Standardized Test Comparisons:

“The utility of these assessments to educational improvement in the United states is negligible.” Some of the reasons presented included;

  • “Student tracking is common in many countries,”
  • Since these tests are single-point comparisons, “curriculum timing and content are essential issues,”
  • Cultural differences in that “some cultures place great emphasis on exams,”
  • “The educational needs of immigrants cannot be ignored.”

On Future Workforce Needs:

“If business needs workers with higher skills by the year 2000, it is the adult population that must be trained.”

“Forecasting workforce skills beyond one or two years into the future is highly speculative.”

On What Were Then Only Proposed Changes (Education Reforms):

“Some proposed changes appear to be in conflict.”

"There is little agreement on what changes must occur." Sandia Report missing from the nation's view.

“There is little agreement on what changes must occur.” The Sandia Report was missing from the nation’s view and allowed us to be misled on the state of our education system and reforms.

The Sandia report went on to summarize the primary challenges facing education and the barriers that can impede educational improvement.

One of the barriers to improvement is inadequate information. That’s where we stand today — a misled nation.

Choices We Must Make

No Child Left Behind (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – ESEA) has forced the direction of education “reform” without bringing to the table those who understand the needs of our communities and our children — the real stakeholders — the People.

That federal law combined with our financial wrong turns as a nation and the misguided reforms of the last three decades has brought public education to a crossroads. Only as a united nation can we prevent the system from being brought to its knees.

Decide and Take Action

Decide and Take Action!

Choices must be made.

Provide standardized education for the masses with individualized instruction for the lucky few and those that can afford it, or provide equal access to quality education?

Allow teaching to become another low-wage trade, ripe for outsourcing and importing, or remain a profession that we can continuously improve?

Spend our education dollars to support privatization of public schools, or invest in supporting and strengthening the institution of public education?

Continue to follow the pretense of reforms, or solve school improvement problems?

Stop the No-Win Blame Game

Excerpt from The Crucial Voice: Chapter 5 What Is the Problem? Why Children Get Left Behind

WHAT WE HAVE IS A SYSTEMIC FAILURE

The system has failed to thoroughly educate the public about educational issues. Our inaction on this long-ago identified problem has led us to accept the unacceptable. As Yong Zhao observed in his book Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, “The American public, short of other easy-to-understand measures, seems to have accepted the notion that test scores are an accurate measure of the quality of their schools” (2009, 33). It is not right.

The takeover of our education policy and practices at the exclusion of “us” in the process has not been a result of the “business-model”; it has been a result of a greed-driven, self-serving society. It has brought more education wars: competition in opposition to cooperation, choice against commonality, rigor versus flexibility. Stop. The collateral damage has been too great.

The system has failed to show understanding of the learning environment that 89dd4de0e80a965b6d93a07100f7af0dneeds to be created in classrooms and in communities to provide what children need to be educated to their fullest potential. We have unknowingly created another “gap”—the wisdom gap. It is reminiscent of the story of the old man picking up starfish on the beach and throwing them back. A young boy thinking it foolish tells the old man, “it doesn’t matter; they’ll wash up again tomorrow.” The old man flings one far into the sea and says, “It mattered to this one.” That story didn’t just demonstrate that we can save one at a time; it also expressed the vision of the elder passing on wisdom to our youth.

Wisdom comes from knowledge, experience, and understanding. It comes with time. And as John Taylor Gatto expressed in Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, “without children and old people mixing in daily life, a community has no future and no past, only a continuous present” (2005, 21). Gatto originally wrote that book in 1992 and used the term “pseudo-community.” In far too many places today, our “present” is no different from our past. Our nation is at risk.

But remember, not all schools are a problem. Schools that fail to properly educate children have a common underlying issue, as expressed by Ratner, “the absence of the key human resources” necessary to be effective (2007, 22). And if “academic proficiency” is our educational goal, current policies incorrectly assume “that schools and districts already know what to do to accomplish this goal and have the capacity to do so. . . . And it incorrectly assumes that if districts cannot turn failing schools around, the state departments of education have the capacity to assist them to do so, or, if necessary, to do it themselves” (49).

Capacity means possessing the knowledge, skills, abilities, motivation, and desire to accomplish a goal. In the case of school improvement, it means being able to take the handbook off the shelf and make things happen. First, we have to stop blaming each other. And then as Philip K. will tell you, “We must put aside our differences.”

We’ve all heard teachers who complained about how “the families of their students simply did not value education” (Noguera, 2003, 47). Yet it turns out that this statement, as Noguera points out in his story, was made by people who in reality didn’t know this to be true. It was and continues to be an assumption. If lawmakers and educators are out there “blaming uncaring parents, lazy students, or a society that does not provide adequately for the needs of poor children” (49), they need to stop playing the no-win blame game so we can get on with meeting our shared responsibility to serve the educational and developmental needs of all children.

When we have underperforming schools anywhere in our country, we have a systemic problem. If you believe there is no way to “reform” the public school system, then it is understandable that you would want to throw in the towel and privatize the whole business. But there is another choice.

We now understand better than ever what needs to happen and where that change needs to occur first—in the boundary waters where teachers, parents, and kids are found floating around searching for solutions to grab onto. ©2012 The Crucial Voice of the People, Past and Present (Note: Boundary Dynamics explains my use of “boundary waters.”)

Will society throw them a strong lifeline?

Will society throw out a strong lifeline?

Gatto, John Taylor. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, Iceland Gabriola: New Society Publishers, 2005.

Noguera, Pedro A. City Schools and the American Dream: Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education. New York: Columbia University, Teachers College Press, 2003.

Ratner, Gershon (Gary) M. Why the No Child Left Behind Act Needs to be Restructured to Accomplish Its Goals and How to Do It. University of the District of Columbia Law Review, David A. Clark School of Law, Vol.9, Number 1, Winter 2007.

Zhao, Yong. Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization. ASCD, Alexandria, Virginia, 2009.

Reformer, or Transformer?

To transform means to change the appearance, character of, or function of.  To reform means to make better. Now, what ARE we doing to our education system?

I saw problems in my local schools and I offered solutions. Is there a high poverty rate in my area? Yes, now 83% free & reduced lunch children. Could the solutions not be accomplished because of poverty? No. And let me give you an example.

When we were in the process of expanding into a brand new school building, our district was going to have empty classrooms. Having helped in first grade classes with 28 students and seen the behavioral distractions that then led to decreased instructional time, decreased personalized attention, and the creation of at-risk students — I didn’t give a damn what research said or didn’t say — it makes good sense to start kids off on the right foot! Race of life and all that, ya know?

So, I did my math and brought a proposal to the school board to decrease only first grade class size; not as an experiment, but because it was the right thing to do at the right time. Before this, limited facilities had always been the excuse for the crowded classrooms. Could we not afford to do it? No, we could at the time. “We” just chose not to. Proposal rejected; no explanation.

Enter what Diane Ravitch in Reign of Error called the “’reform’ agenda including high-stakes testing, test-based accountability, competition, and school choice.” Did these efforts make the public education system better? NO – they are not reforms. Did they change the appearance of the system? YES – it appears more dysfunctional than ever. Did they change the character of schools? YES – much more test-based. Did they change the function of the system? Let me answer using Ravitch’s words here: “What began as a movement for testing and accountability has turned into a privatization movement.” The function of policies and practices did change.

The people pushing the privatization movement are transformers, transforming public institutions into private profits.

I am a reformer. They have not earned the right nor deserve the privilege to wear that label. Reformers work to make things better, not destroy them.

Call them what they are - TRANSFORMERS.

Call them what they are – TRANSFORMERS.

 

Transformational change is not the change we need. STOP the Dismantling of the PUBLIC SYSTEM so we may begin to make things better.

Understand what reform is and is not.

At The Core

We ask for common sense to be used. We seek common ground. Most of us have a need to be part of a community; we search for commonality with someone.

The word “common” has a softly seductive appeal that brings to mind a sense of belonging as though we are sharing something of value.

Common Core National Standards?

Some of us can’t help but see patterns common to our still-fresh experience with state standards and No Child Left Behind. As standards were demanded as part of an accountability scheme, children were put in harms way in an unprecedented experiment in education reform.

If the child didn’t fit the standards and how they were being implemented, many parents and grandparents opted to teach the children how they knew better fit their needs. I know I did, as did others I know who hired tutors or entered their kids in “programs” to fill the gaps.

The standardized tests can never ferret out the effects of our actions giving the appearance that the standards “worked.”

There is no doubt that the practice of re-teaching or supplementing was done during the first thrusts of the test-based accountability experiment and it is being done again with The Core. As one anonymous parent put it, ” At times my son was very confused by what was going on – so I taught him myself. While the schools probably assume that his level of mastery is due to the teaching and books, the truth is far different. I am sure I am not the only case where parents supplement their kid’s education.” JRM (Huffington Post article Oct. 11)

How can we possible judge a system, a school, or a teacher based on this?

The sell job of outcome-based accountability was in the wording: want “better student outcomes,” “higher achievement,” to “leave no child behind,” like the idea of “accountability, flexibility, and choice”? …yes, yes, yes, yes.

Now, a return of some of what was taken away by Round One — critical thinking and writing through more project-based activities — is the commonsense carrot enticing us to swallow the whole Core National Curriculum.

Billed as “new” and “unique,” The Core is neither. Promising to bring “success” and make students “college and career ready,” it is more certain to sell new curriculum materials, new tests, and new remedial materials and programs when students “fail” the tests…and the pattern continues.

Parents, if you are “supplementing” your child’s education, your child in particular should be opted out of the testing. If this national experiment is to go forward, it should be based on an honest evaluation.

My own opinion — for what it is worth — at The Core of this issue is not our agreed need for some commonality of knowledge; at The Core is conformity.

Narrowing of the curriculum was no little glitch. Unintended in Round One; no doubt foreseeable in Round Two.

Narrowing of the curriculum was no little glitch. Unintended in Round One; no doubt foreseeable in Round Two.

“…conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” JFK

 

POWER

By using what has historically worked for America — a balance of power with the ultimate authority resting with the people — we can reclaim our public schools. To do so, we must uproot what holds us down.

The roots:
(1)    control of government by big-money, and

(2)    an uninformed public.

In this toxic climate, we have allowed power-hungry leadership to open the doors for education investors who couldn’t care less about the children of ordinary Americans. If they did care, they would quit doing things that make children cry, deprive them of the love of learning, and create stress in families.

What is happening in our public education system is running parallel to what is happening in all aspects of our political system. Moneyed interests have divided us by tapping into our frustrations, values, and passions — through effective marketing and propaganda techniques — and the coercive nature of laws of their making, not ours. They “move us” to do their bidding; we are pawns in their game. I imagine they feel very powerful.

Our move.

Our move.

People, we must rediscover our power. The allocation of power is not meant to be “them” allowing “us” some power; it is us granting them the privilege of representing OUR interests.

Who should govern American schools?

We have a choice.

We are NOT powerless.

Learn more about becoming politically active and effective. Tools for Change has a guide for the powerless…that shows you how we are far from being powerless.

And, TEACH – educate another person today. Learn more about Common Core Testing and who will control what is taught.

Where We Fail

As people, we fail when we react to words rather than trying to understand what is meant by them.

Sometimes it is good to start with a blank slate.

Sometimes it is good to start with a blank slate.

Business, political, educational, and civil rights leaders jumped on the idea that outcomes in the form of test scores were the way to go for education reform partially because the words made the idea sound good – “close the achievement gap.”

The idea was sold to the public, and many, many very intelligent people bought it. The end result was the federal testing law called No Child Left Behind.

Achievement, judged by standardized tests, is the basis of the “accountability” mechanism that has yet to hold the system itself accountable for the high cost and little results of the last eleven years—let alone the damage. “Flexibility” disappeared from classrooms whose children most needed it, and “choice” didn’t leave many options for improving all schools.

During this whole fiasco, we failed to keep an open mind that would allow us to accept the evidence and our mistakes. Denial is a human defense mechanism. But it is time for adults to put aside their own stance and do the right thing — admit that testing is not what improves schools.

Our education dollars, time, and efforts will be better spent developing an understanding of school improvement and what it will take to fulfill our obligation to provide equal access to quality education; setting excellence as the norm, understanding change, the importance of school culture in the change process, and how change can lead to improvement and lasting progress.

But who is asking us? Certainly not open-minded people ready to hear and accept solutions.

To all those who were wrong; do the honorable thing, accept your failure, and open your mind.

To all those wanting to help the effort to do the right thing for public school children, share this with someone outside your circle of like-minded associates. Start a conversation.