Bush’s Education “Blueprint” Before 9/11

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Before 9/11 of 2001, there was an article printed in The Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts titled “Bush’s education blueprint bound to be inadequate.” It was published on September 6th.360_bush_sep_11_classroom_hfs_0502

Bush’s education blueprint became No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

The national discussion of the issues with this reauthorization of federal education law never rose above the rubble left behind by the unfathomable reality of that terrible September day. NCLB’s importance paled in comparison.

I’m presenting the essence of the inadequacies presented in that September 6th article— now— not to point blame at anything or anyone but in hopes of bringing up the conversations that were buried by the 9/11 national tragedy.

About Bush’s education blueprint, Gary Ratner wrote:

“Its approach —increasing accountability— does not address the fundamental need: providing effective teaching, challenging curriculum and family support for all students.”

“If we are serious about maximizing the possibility of all students succeeding, we must provide these conditions for all students.”

“…merely intensifying pressure on employees to improve performance does not succeed where they lack the required knowledge and skills.”

Ratner recommended that President Bush follow a different approach by breaking the chore of school improvement into doable, logical, targeted pieces based on what we know to be common elements of effective schools.

As to curriculum, make it challenging for all classes, for all students.

As to existing teachers, make their professional development directly relevant to improving classroom instruction specific to their needs and the needs of their students. Ensure this happens through a targeted investment in professional development budgets. And, provide better education and training for principals and superintendents so that they are better able to support teachers in improving instruction.

As to future teachers, financially support improvements in teacher preparation, and personally support those individuals seeking to become teachers as well as those existing teachers wishing to advance their education.

As to family supports for student learning, expand adult education programs and parenting skills classes as well as mentoring programs for the students who do not have sufficient family supports.

None of this is new. Some of this is even in the newest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But, it is buried under the weight of the standards, testing, and accountability movements’ failed mechanisms of reform that have crippled our educational progress.

We do not have unlimited resources. We must make wise investments in our future.

Ask yourselves, has the progress been adequate enough to meet the needs of our students, our teachers, our families, and our nation?statue-of-libertyCan you see a better way forward?

What Debate?

The marketing campaign to FIX No Child Left Behind began back in January with announcements that there would be debate.

A draft of the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015 was released and many newspapers and education associations picked up the story including the American Educational Research Association.

“The draft bill contains several provisions related to research. If enacted, the bill would task the Institute of Education Sciences with evaluating Title I activities. In addition, state plans submitted to the Department of Education would be approved unless the department presented “substantial high-quality education research” that demonstrated that a plan would be ineffective or inappropriate. The bill does not define high-quality education research.

Alexander has made it clear that he hopes to have a substantial discussion about ESEA.”

Discussion? Debate? Both are important and citizens should have been included to help shape and direct the debate about “fixing” the law. After-all, we were the ones who were subjected to the consequences of bad ideas being passed by congress and signed into law, in this case, by then President Bush. And there was never an official parental complaint process!

But instead of the anticipated discussion, Senator Alexander immediately directed “the debate” to the topic of Testing and Accountability while avoiding the topic of national standards themselves by pacifying people with his standard “no national school board” meaningless rhetoric. And the marketers changed the law’s name to get away from the identifying language of the controversial Common Core Initiative (College or Career Ready). The Every Child Achieves Act proved to be more palatable.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 4.32.20 PMHow did the so-called debate go? Both the House and Senate bills to replace NCLB maintained the yearly standardized testing for accountability purposes in math and language arts just like in NCLB. What they did do, to sell this fallacy of test-based accountability again, was shift the responsibility for accountability mechanisms to the States. Does that change the problem with high-stakes testing? No. Resources focused on testing are spent. They can’t be used for other things.

But to appease the arts groups, the Senate threw them a bone.

“By naming music and arts as core subjects in the Every Child Achieves Act, the Senate has acknowledged and begun to address the national problem of the narrowing of the curriculum that has taken place under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for more than a decade now.”

How that will “work” in already underfunded and under-performing schools is questionable but these groups base their feeling of success right now on hope. And they now feel their voices have been heard —one group appeased.

The next topic Alexander approved for a “hearing” was that of Supporting Teachers and School Leaders. Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 4.32.28 PMAfterwards, Senator Murray delivered statements that sounded much like what we have heard for years —expressing things upon which we generally agree.

But in the bill itself, although teacher residency programs are prominent in the “definitions” section, it is other elements of teacher and school leadership development and evaluation that dominate the law. Federal “incentives” for teacher and school leader certification and licensing (aligned with challenging standards), alternative routes to teaching, and “reforming” tenure systems are all included. These things are not supported by research as being effective “to ensure that ever child achieves” —the purpose of the law.

And looking at the bigger picture, both the House and Senate versions claim to be shifting the control to the States. In the very real world of D.C. politics, certain organizations that represent the States stand to greatly increase their influence. Take the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO, chief creators of the Common Core Standards System) for example.

CCSSO has a teacher and principal preparation program ready to go. They have included multiple new elements requiring the expansion of technology and data collection systems including….Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 10.25.04 PMand…Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 10.26.45 PMThey have it under CONTROL. Kept in mind, CCSSO is a non-governmental organization that has no responsibility for being responsive to the public’s desires. They are in no way accountable to us. And they have had their sights set on ESEA reauthorization for years —the same number of years as the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

They have a “new deal” for us and for themselves it looks like. We should debate who’s goals they represent.

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Did we get to debate any of this? No, it was set in motion years ago with no public participation. Remember, there was no official complaint process for No Child Left Behind and these actions don’t fix that.

No record; no accountability. No debate, only a very controlled dog-and-pony show.

The House and Senate bills passed their respective houses proving that On The Hill, “We mean business on K-12 education.” Those in the education industry know that to be the truth!

Here’s how the market-based reformers see it….

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 9.19.33 PMExpanding charters and retaining annual testing ARE in both bills. But wasn’t that federal mandate at the heart of the problem?

Charters? Never debated. Never research proven to be an improvement over existing public schools. Not a reform.debate

“Streamlining” is a questionable term since programs are actually being CUT and we can’t debate whether or not that is a good thing since we don’t know specifically which ones are being cut other than the School Improvement Grants (which had some useful but never openly discussed results).

Transparency? Increased transparency? I don’t see it. Do they mean like we saw with Common Core<sarc>? Do they mean like we might get if the media covered what is really happening instead of what information is released? Do they mean transparency like we might develop if topics were openly debated in public and the alternative view WAS allowed to be heard?

Have we even had public officials openly debate what was wrong with No Child Left Behind? How do they know if they “fixed” it if the problems was never fully exposed?

Obviously the marketers know what people want to hear; on that, they did their research.

We want to hear that education reform was honestly discussed and debated. But, the question remains…

JFKdebate…what debate?

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.

It Is This Simple

We know there are problems. We know there are solutions. And we know that one size does not fit all. We know “Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man.” JFK

So improving education is simple (not easy) when you follow John F. Kennedy’s guidelines:

  • Do an appraisal of the entire range of educational problems (which we have);
  • Apply a selective (not “competitive”) application of Federal aid – aimed at strengthening, the independence of existing school systems AND aimed at meeting our most urgent identified education problems and objectives;
  • Use existing laws more effectively.

We know there are pockets of educationally-deprived children. We know we can do better – all of US.

Parents – President Reagan’s Commission on Excellence in Education spoke to you.

B-P4TBDIEAAVPWv.jpg_largeStudents – “Because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our Nation,” President Kennedy wanted you to be educated to the limits of your potential and understood that it would require smaller class sizes and adequate facilities.

Teachers – JFK felt “our immediate concern should be to afford [you] every possible opportunity to improve [your] professional skills and [your] command of the subjects [you] teach.” He believedteachers would profit from a full year of full-time study in their subject-matter fields.” And he proposed the government fund that effort targeted at the fields of study identified through “the appraisal.”

Communities – You want results but you won’t get them by sitting back and telling others what to do. What will you do? Do you understand your role?

LeadersLead in the right direction, the way defined by the people, or get out of the way!

We must set the right goals and “Let us keep our eye steadily on the whole system.” Thomas Jefferson

It is that simple — for starters. It isn’t the easiest road to travel, but, it is simple to get started because it a road that has been traveled before.

"We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."

“We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”

 

 

In a Word – Expectations

Standards are “things” we decide and use in comparative evaluations. Having expectations is not the same as setting standards.

And to make the right decisions about education reform, we must consider the words of reform for the wizards of the written word would have the public once again believing their propaganda. To be clear, it is standards-based education reforms that we have been witness to and victims of for the last two decades.

The use of the word “standards” is being periodically replaced in documents and in talking points by the word “expectations.”

An expectation is a belief that something will happen. It is not a thing. It is a human emotion, an idea with the potential to convey confidence in another person’s ability to succeed.

“High expectations” cannot simply be set down on paper for others to read and follow; they need to be felt. When students feel someone believes in their abilities and capacity to learn, they grow and “reach higher.” High expectations “work” because the student feels supported in their efforts.

Reaching for goals, together.

Reaching for goals, together.

So as the last two decades of “reform” of public schools has dragged on, little real change has been accomplished compared to the 70’s and 80’s — gaps in learning persist and schools in many areas have re-segregated themselves to the point where we must revisit the issue of separate but unequal.

And as we do, we should take more than a little time to consider the ideas of Rhona S. Weinstein in Reaching Higher: The Power of Expectations in Schooling. As she explains, “Change has not been dramatic because we have yet to address the deeply institutionalized roots of expectancy processes in schooling and we have failed to equip teachers and principals with the knowledge, resources, and support to teach all children in ways that help them reach their full potentials.…Suffice it to say that until unbiased instruction is provided to children — resulting in equal exposure to challenging material, equal opportunity to respond and demonstrate knowledge, equally nurturing relationships, and the absence of discriminatory labels and barriers to accomplishment —one cannot fully rule out environmental explanations for the achievement gaps that are documented.

We should use the power of expectations in our classrooms and communities.

This isn’t saying that all children need a set curriculum for “…the danger of a common curriculum and common method is that the individual differences of children (in learning style, pace of learning, and interests) are likely disregarded, ultimately leading to greater rates of school failure.”

This is about developing a school culture — an atmosphere —where the principal, counselors, and teachers have a deep-seated belief that every student is capable of being educated to the limits of his or her talents. And that belief is expressed through words and actions that set the expectations for the student. If they feel they can, they can.

Dare You Face Facts?

If there are 3 million teachers (roughly) in the US, that’s 1% of the population. And frankly, you teachers out there are not all on the same “education reform” page!

So if teachers are fighting among themselves as to the need for “reform” and what the right way to go about “improvements,” what do you think is going on with the public in general? If the public cared enough about public schools and the children within them, how can they participate in the improvement process without being led down the wrong path —the one we are on right now? face_facts2

People 18 years and under make up 24% of the population — some of them are living in two or more children households, are under school age, attend private or charter schools, are home-schooled or have dropped out. So the number of people directly associated with public schools at any one time is relatively small. And how many of these are struggling to just get by, daily?

My point is: how many people know about the condition of their local schools let alone the real story across the country? And, how many care?…Now that is something to ponder!

Then, think about who is watching the hen-house.bill-allison-quote-youve-got-the-foxes-guarding-the-hen-house-and

The Quest for Clarity

How do we have conversations and bring about clarity of ideas when we don’t speak the same language? I’m talking about the language of education reform. It is too full of codes and triggers. The general public, the people whose education system we are talking about, can’t possibly be clear about what is really happening to their system. And how can they possibly crack the “code”?

I know that I personally can’t help with deciphering everything but I can help with one item of reform that we should all try real hard to understand – The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. I will say right up front, Harold “Doc” Howe II, the commissioner of education in charge of enacting the law said, “I doubt that anyone could have dreamed up a series of education programs more difficult to administer . . . but ESEA was not designed with that in mind.”

It was designed to provide equal access to quality educational opportunities. It was going to “level the playing field,” as we like to say. And it was going to accomplish this by addressing the needs of children from low-income families. I believe this would be along the lines of the idea that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” When we improve the educational opportunity for the under-privileged, we improve opportunity for others in the process.

But the “process” can’t be explained in a blog or a three minute testimony.

So, please don’t get thrown by a person’s choice of words. “Turnaround” doesn’t ALWAYS mean the Race to the Top ways, “indicators” or even “assessments” don’t ALWAYS mean standardized tests, and even “always” rarely really means “always.” You get my drift. And also keep in mind that if you are talking to a teacher, they have been hyper-sensitized; they have been in the trenches of the education reform wars for far too long.

Right now, the right education battle is the one for clarity. We win that battle; all children could have a shot at being a winner.

When someone pulls your trigger or you find yourself wondering “what is this person talking about?” – my advice is to slow down. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Isn’t that the very thing we would expect from good students?