The Common Good & Education

Republican political analyst and writer David Brooks’ spoke about Character and The Common Good last week in Boise, Idaho. His conflicting views on the importance of community versus our current education “reforms” were striking — to me.

Is doing what is best for the next generation considered a common good?

Is doing what is right for the next generation considered a common good?

Brooks spoke about how love, relationships, and friendly interactions changes lives.

He believes the country is suffering from “a crisis of the social fabric.” He sees the hope for humanity in communities’ picking up communities thereby building a “denser moral fabric.”

He knows we are divided by education.

He feels our need for personal relationships.

He sees how both Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln supported “limited but energetic government to enhance social mobility.”

But my theory here is that David Brooks can’t see how education reform policies are destroying our social fabric. There’s a couple of reasons. One, A Nation At Risk (in his own words) marks his involvement with education reform. And two, if you view education reforms from a narrow political perch you can easily fall off. If you fall off, you can’t see far enough back to clearly view the road to educational quality and equality. You can’t see our history.

But, let’s consider the education reform road he, and the nation, traveled.

After the release of A Nation At Risk in 1983, there was a flurry of media sound bites unleashed on the public (more propaganda than substance). But what followed is what really set the stage for standards, assessments, accountability, and technology to be the education reform “gift” from the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and others. (See the fine print below.)

The gift that keeps on giving or taking?

The gift that keeps on giving, or taking?

In the decades that followed, many attendees of this 1996 Education Summit remained major players in education laws that govern our public K-12 system. That reality did not change with congress’ newest law – the Every Student Succeeds Act – ESSA. “They” pushed the law into existence. They rule.

Their governing philosophy —the foundation upon which they built our reforms— is that we were entering the information age and the economy was dependent on dollars flowing into the education “industry.”screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-6-00-59-pm

The fact that the majority of parents were satisfied with their child’s school drove the need to wage a propaganda war on public schools. “They” needed to create a market. (To Market to Market, 1997)

Keep in mind, changes in education take roughly a decade to unfold. During the period prior to the standards, assessment, accountability, technology movement, the United States was making significant educational progress in our K-12 system. This was also a time when our higher education was still the most highly revered in the world.

What the hell were we thinking?

Fast forward to post-9/11 of 2001 when David Brooks wrote One Nation, Slightly Divisible. He talked about the education gap and how the income gap had widened as we entered the information age (aka knowledge-based economy).

And in 2005 Mr. Brooks noted the maturation of the information age, in The Education Gap, as he linked “economic stratification” to “social stratification.” He documented behavioral differences in divorce rates, smoking, exercise, voting, volunteer work, and blood donations linked to educational attainment. Stating that this might be a “more fair” (?) system, he acknowledged that the system was creating

“brutal barriers to opportunity and ascent.”

A couple of months later (and four years after No Child Left Behind), Brooks noted in Psst! ‘Human Capital’ that…

“When President Bush proposed his big education reform, he insisted on tests to measure skills and knowledge…. No Child Left Behind treats students as skill-acquiring cogs in an economic wheel, and the results have been disappointing.”

… Brooks saw skills and knowledge as superficial components. And he went on to mention one of our “classic” government studies…

“…James S. Coleman found that what happens in the family shapes a child’s educational achievement more than what happens in school.”

So despite recognizing inadequacies and the misdirection of the No Child Left Behind law, ITS GOVERNING PHILOSOPHIES REMAIN IN PLACE — student outcomes as measured on standardized tests continues as the basis of our “accountability” mechanism?

Call it fed-led or state-led; it doesn’t matter. The nation doubled down on it…quietly.

And in 2009, David Brooks got caught up in the frenzy of “standing up to the teachers’ unions” as expressed in The Quiet Revolution. He, and many other Republicans across the country, jumped on-board the Democrats’ Obama/Duncan bandwagon of what they were calling “real education reform” — coupling student outcomes and teacher pay.

Never mind that test-based accountability didn’t yield real reform.

Never mind that family and other social supports are extremely important to student success in life. … regardless…

…the Quiet Revolution was celebrated.

By 2010, many involved in the American education reform war declared that Teachers Are Fair Game. Many people still believe that the major problem in education reform is that union rules “protected mediocre teachers.” I know many of my representatives here in Idaho do. But the vast majority of American parents don’t see their children’s teachers as the problem.

Time to Reflect, Reconsider, and Respect the Evidence?

By 2005,  the country recognized the major faults with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). But it remained the education law of the law for an additional decade. The name was finally changed to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) but these guiding principles (the major problems with the law) remain in place…

  • yearly standards-based, test-based accountability,
  • the push for “personalized” learning through technology instead of supporting better teacher-student personal relationships, and
  • “choice” through funding of charter schools (which has been sold to us in the name of “parental engagement,” “flexibility,” “competition,” “free-market,” “a civil right,” and “equality of opportunity” to name a few). It’s the ultimate education-real-estate market.

We know what doesn’t work but we’re being pushed into more of the same through the rules that govern our schools —federal, state, and local.

Consider This: Our Common Ground

In 2001 in One Nation, Slightly Divisible, David Brooks asked; Are Americans any longer a common people? Do we have one national conversation and one national culture? Are we loyal to the same institutions and the same values?

According to his research, we agree “too many children are being raised in day-care centers these days.”

You see, we do value family and support the ideal of family.

In The Education Gap (2005) he stated that we “believe in equality of opportunity.”

You see, we do value the ideal of equal educational opportunity as expressed in the aim of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965 ESEA, changed to 2001 NCLB and now 2015 ESSA).

How We Missed Seeing the Trees for the Forest

In keeping with most journalists, Brooks only quoted PART of the work of James S. Coleman. Missing is the rest of the Coleman story.

Brooks touched on the importance of a child’s willingness to learn which Coleman delved deeply into and discussed it as “the pupil attitude factor.”screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-6-45-44-pm

Coleman discovered, as Brooks finally did, that a strong community support system for school children is essential to giving every student the opportunity to excel. Coleman dubbed that safety net “social capital” and defined it.screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-6-45-56-pm

So we do see!

In Psst! ‘Human Capital’ (2005), Brooks expounded on what works.

“The only things that work are local, human-to-human immersions that transform the students down to their very beings. Extraordinary schools, which create intense cultures of achievement, work. Extraordinary teachers, who inspire students to transform their lives, work.”

And by 2015 Brooks looked smack in the face of the solution. He does see. In Communities of Character he talked about …

“super-tight neighborhood organizations” and revealed, “…very often it’s a really good school.” These schools “cultivate intense thick community.”

And earlier this year, Brooks once again brushed-up against a solution to offering equal educational opportunity in The Building Blocks of Learning. About this I write with extreme trepidation!

David Brooks wrote,

“Education is one of those spheres where the heart is inseparable from the head.

Even within the classroom, the key fact is the love between a teacher and a student.

For years, schools didn’t have to think about love because there were so many other nurturing social institutions.….emotional engagement is not something we measure and stress.

Today we have to fortify the heart if we’re going to educate the mind.”

So here’s my reason for concern. Just because something is important to student learning does NOT mean WE should:

  • measure it in the children,
  • scapegoat the teachers if the outcomes don’t meet our arbitrary standard, and
  • make damned sure it is anchored to standards, assessment, accountability (and the technology to do that accountability) in our laws!!!!!

Stop already!

We know functional communities are safer, healthier, and better educated. The people in those communities instinctively understand the concept of a strong social fabric and supporting the common good.

Dysfunctional communities don’t get it. Their safety net does not include the strong fabric of our common good. And standards, assessment, accountability, and technology are no substitute for increasing the resources necessary to supply the proper and necessary fabrics.

“Better policy can help.” We need education reform laws that are free from the dirt and stench left behind by the education reform vulture-capitalists. Does the nation agree?vulture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And are David Brooks’ views on the common good and education reform policies conflicting to others, or, do they clearly echo the sentiments of the nation?

“We” should have a national conversation about that!

Unequal Access

Unequal access to quality education is what used to define the Great American Education “Reform” War. It was a civil rights issue. So now, let’s redefine the sides in those terms — give all of America’s children equal opportunity, or not.

The Brown v. Board of Education decision that went into law on May 17, 1954, stated, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” That is a truth. At the time the issue was clearly a racial one – the law ended legal segregation of public schools based on color.

The truth stated in law, then, still stands today — “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” And that tendency will always exist. But as James S. Coleman pointed out, inequality exists within schools also. So we must recognize the barriers to equality in our schools and classrooms and fully address those problems directly as well as the inequality between communities.

So what can I say to convince you that federal education law exists because it was the next necessary step in the march towards equal opportunity for children?

Over a decade after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was written because it was recognized that where poverty exists families and communities are less able to offer the quality of education that richer communities can do for their children. Separate facilities are inherently unequal. Without assistance and support, disadvantaged schools are less likely to offer quality learning opportunities.

The chief architect of ESEA, Francis Keppel, felt that equality in education would only become reality when we provide quality education in all our schools. Simple, not easy. Federal law could help but the final solutions can only happen in schools themselves. For the children’s sake, it is in our schools where the barriers to equality must be recognized.

Keppel went on to write The Necessary Revolution in American Education. He meant a “quality revolution.”

If education is the civil rights issue of our time — like many continue to say — and we know that quality matters, what barriers must we overcome to finish this fight? Children across America deserve better. There is nothing acceptable about inaction when we know there are better policies and practices that we can follow.

For the nation’s sake, we must change the test-based accountability education law — No Child Left Behind (NCLB)— because it is now a barrier; it is nothing like the anti-poverty, quality-based, federal investment in equality that the 1965 ESEA law was.

Take a step back 60 years, then a step forward to 1965. Ask every one of your federal and state representatives and candidates to do the same. Consider the Three R’s. Roll back, Review,and Reaffirm a commitment to quality and equality. Ask your representatives to do the same.

What will it take?

What will it take?

Every decade, every year, that policy makers drag their feet on NCLB is a sign that they don’t care that children are being denied access to quality education.

The proof is their inaction.

The Crossroads of Opportunity

The modern-day march towards equality has always been — at least partially — about public education.

When educational inequality was studied by James S. Coleman, they used tools —surveys and tests— to determine outcomes. And those that saw equal educational opportunity being established in high-minority and high-poverty schools looked further into the means by which educational quality was being improved.

Since researcher Ronald Edmonds and others made their observations known, no one has been able to definitively dispute them. The correlates for effective schools have been expanded; they have been rewritten and renamed; they have been reorganized and re-researched — and they stand as guiding principles.

Edmonds had followed in the footsteps of the leaders of the community school movement. Father of the concept, Frank Manley, drove the idea as far as he could and handed it over to Frank (Francis) Keppel who wrote the essence of it into law as best he could.

Jefferson's express of the need to educate the common people.

Jefferson’s express of the need to educate the common people.

Now, we stand at a crossroads in education law. What principle will we stand upon in order to do right by the children of this country? Will we side with what has proven itself effective, or go with what so many desperately want to make “work”? Will we repeat mistakes of the past only to discover it leaves children behind? Or will we travel the hard but proven path of equal opportunity?

Does a rising tide lift all boats?

It is only when you stand on the shoulders of giants that you can see what they saw. Understanding the concepts of standards, testing, community education, and the personal and shared responsibility of educating a nation of children is the ladder that can take us high enough to see the best way.

The opportunity we have now is to use the law —the reauthorization of ESEA currently called No Child Left Behind— to put in place the foundational principles of equal educational opportunity, the principles of effective schools.

Part 9 of ten blogs on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins.

Inequality Was Studied

The results of school segregation were studied.

The results of school segregation were studied.

As part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a national survey on inequality was commissioned to assess the degree of segregation of students and teachers, and its relationship to student achievement. The findings were discussed in a report titled Equality of Educational Opportunity by lead researcher James S. Coleman.

The study used “indicators of educational quality” to determine whether schools offer equal educational opportunity. Researchers looked at both “school inputs” such as curriculum, facilities, practices, and teacher and student characteristics as well as “outputs” as judged by standardized achievement tests. They did so with the warning that a “statistical survey can give only fragmentary evidence” of a school environment.

Looking inside "the box."

Looking inside “the box.”

This research model is called “an education production function or input-output model.” It is the type of model economists use to assess “how an economic process works in a particular firm.” It “allows for aggregate analysis without requiring an examination of the details of what happens within a particular firm or school.”

The dominate “take-aways” frequently quoted from The Coleman Report  are:

1) family background and socioeconomic status have more effect on student achievement than school resources, and
2) that disadvantaged blacks show higher achievement in racially mixed schools.

The first fed the “funding has little effect on achievement” argument and the second led to forced busing to racially integrate schools which produced the unintended consequence of “white flight.”

The overlooked or forgotten finding was the “pupil attitude factor which appears to have a stronger relationship to achievement than do all the school factors together, is the extent to which an individual feels that he has some control over his own destiny…” This is largely a consequence of a person’s experience in the larger society” and is “not independent of his experience in school.”

What happens in schools and communities matters? School climate and culture matters?

Part 2 of ten blogs on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins.