CBE: The Trojan Horse that Will Destroy Public Education

Are we looking at a classroom that is conducive to learning, or the delivery system for Competency-Based Education?

At one point in time, many of us saw Common Core as the Trojan Horse sent to destroy public education. But buried deep within its belly is CBE — Competency-Based Education. It is outcome-based education reform by another name —in another form. Just the same, it stinks of decay and ruin. No, the stench is worse.

Read on as my guest, a parent, explains the problems with standards-based assessments and the fallacy behind the label “competency-based education.” The following Facebook comment was spurred by an article about standards-based grading.

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In the real world, subjective assessment varies from person to person, group to group. Book and movie critics, for instance, vary widely as do reviews of plays and performances. Conversely, the correct answers to calculus and physics problems are the same regardless of the “assessor.”

For subjective subjects, a simple grading rubric for assignments used for the past 100 years or more allows the student to understand the keys to success for that assignment and to meet stated requirements. This is an important skill to master; in business one boss’s idea of success may not be consistent with another, and learning to flex your focus or style to please the assessor is a vital life skill.

The Standards-Based Grading article ignores this reality and instead hammers home the need for generic, uniform common core curriculum and regulated, dictated grading so as to strive for identical educational experiences.

Does this not take away the creative and unique ways individual educators can inspire and challenge and mold students according to their own God-given gifts for teaching?

Can we all not remember that special teacher in our schooling that changed us or “turned us on” to a topic that eventually brought us into a career path?

WHAT ARE WE BEING SOLD? Competency-based education?

CBE (Competency-Based Education/Standards-Based) reduces the teacher to a sidelined coach, while the message is delivered by the standardized computer message or electronic text.

Since the days of Greek philosophers the concept of students being instructed and led through thought-provoking discussion to debate and challenge each other has been a successful model. Now suddenly, whether 100 or 2,800 years old this method is no longer valid? Because of iPads and Chromebooks? They are just tools, like wrenches or shovels or chisels or paint brushes; used to make a masterpiece.

The educational masterpiece itself is created by tapping the potential of students for creation of beautiful self-expression and thoughtful debate. Educators who groove on passing knowledge to students are crucial to the process. The educator/lecturer should never be just a sidelined coach that allows the computer to do the instruction.

God help us if we buy into this philosophy.

Further, God help us if we think rote memorization of fundamental math facts and spelling words are not needed and deny they are essential building blocks in the formative grades for advanced skill set proficiency in the latter grades. Writing an essay on a piece of literature requires actually being able to write (penmanship) and to create sentences with appropriate structure and grammar, and to be able to spell words as they flow from the mind quickly.

And, none of the dangers pediatricians are warning of today with regard to limiting device time because of negative impacts on neural network development are mentioned in the Standards-Based Grading article.

Parents: please read and educate yourselves on CBE. It is designed to make students “worker bees” that generation by generation are dumbed down, dependent on the Federal government and unable or unwilling to challenge the “Powers that Be.”

Let’s not forget Jefferson, Franklin and the Founding Fathers were able to gain independence from the England and halt imperial expansion with firepower yes, but overwhelmingly with the Power of the Pen.

Truly free people must have free thinkers, not cookie cutter worker bees that just want enough jingle for a pack of smokes and a Red Bull. The elitists would be happy to write-off most of our kids in this way

Will you stand by and let them?

Or do you believe in the American dream as I do? That any child, from any home no matter how humble, no matter your skin color or your parental educational level or marital status …. ANY child can use the public education system to the fullest extent – extra credit if necessary – to be ANYTHING they want to be. And if they do, and if they make good choices, in three generations their entire family line can be pulled from poverty and be self-actualized. TRUTH: as long as we fight these ambitious, young, deceitful politicians that seek to suppress your child’s potential.

Are you going to let them do that to your child???? Your grandchildren? Our nation’s next generation?

Stay tuned folks, get informed, participate and show up to make your thoughts known. Let’s engage in thoughtful, respectful exchange of ideas, organize, and do something to CHANGE the overreach by the state and Federal government into our local education system. You can make a difference.

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Thank you to writer, Alyssa Collins (pen name). “Alyssa” is a full-time working mom and a conservative. She isn’t taking the wrongful action of our government/corporate directives in our schools lying down.

“I’ll be organizing routine meetings at local restaurants in the near future to fight CBE, Competency Based Education.”

The Purpose of Education

In their annual poll of the public’s attitude toward public education, what prompted the well-respected PDK (Phi Delta Kappa) association’s new question about the purpose of education?

And how is it the question asks about the main goal of a public school education while the website and discussion shifts the conversation to the purpose of education?

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-3-46-47-pmJust semantics? Maybe. But, did you know that one definition of semantics is “a deliberate distortion or twisting of meaning, as in advertising, propaganda, etc.”?

Purpose is the reason for which something is done.

Goal is an aim or desired result.

And because struggles in the education reform war continually demonstrate that words are determining outcomes of our battles, we should pay close attention. Words have become the weapon of choice against an unsuspecting public.

The words of reform sold us a perceived need to reform a whole system. The reality is that we needed to only reform the schools in our country that needed re-forming — high-poverty, low-performing schools. We had already identified them before the 1980’s.

The truth? Test-based accountability methods changed nothing. And school choice only reshuffled the deck.

But let’s look at the question of the hour…screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-3-30-15-pm….and look at what one long-time. …long, long time… education-and-the-economy expert, Mr. Marc Tucker, had to say.

This would be a good guess since the marketing of the purpose of education seems to be increasing.

This would be a good guess since the marketing plan appears to be focusing on promoting the purpose of public education as a workforce pipeline. America’s choice?

Our expert is guessing? Let me guess; he knows something we don’t. After all, he is a long-time occupant of the D.C. inner circle, father of the Education/Labor Market System, and an international systems expert. He knows what is going down.

Tucker believes that parents should be choosing BOTH prepare students academically and for work…always beating his education-and-the-economy drum. But why not choose “to be good citizens”?

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This is one more topic where my opinion differs from Marc Tucker’s.

I confess, there is just something about Mr. Tucker’s narrow-mindedness (and his continuing position of power) that makes me want to write. So, here’s my view of this question….

Only 26 percent of respondents in this PDK poll think that preparing students to be good citizens is the most important goal of a public school education. Only!?! Yes, that should be alarming.

Let me ask you; what does it take to be a good citizen?

I thought we needed to learn to read so that we could inform ourselves. I thought we needed to be able to do the math, including understanding statistics, so that we would be less likely to be fooled.

I thought we needed to learn to gather our own facts and think critically because that’s what we need to do in order to be the ultimate authority (the check and balance) in maintaining a representative form of government.

I thought that the pursuit of happiness was a fundamental America value and it meant that our personal interests were important.

I thought that being a good citizen included not being a drag to society, which means being prepared to work and doing the best you can to support yourself.

Academics and work?

Yes, they are part of being a good citizen. But, there is much more to producing an educated electorate than what is being offered in the narrow curriculum of way too many disadvantaged districts —a situation worsened by our outcome-based reforms. Mr. Tucker created and pushed this test-based theory from the get-go.

Tucker has been and continues to be a go-to for The Education Oligarchy.

Yet, Tucker goes on to blame the United States for the damage done to vocational education. — But it’s the STANDARDS STUPID! — Look in the mirror, oh creator of the outcome-based system.

How many times has Mr. Tucker’s publications directed those in power to “start first with academic standards”? Have they ever faced the facts?

The focus on standards narrowed the curriculum.

The focus on standards was deadening to instruction.

The focus on standards almost killed the idea that students need to apply what they learn to real world experiences.

Wake up, America! It’s time to fight for a broad, balanced curriculum, not a narrow set of standards.

We are a nation at risk and the enemy is masked as an expert.

And since when has the purpose of our public education system been to produce already trained workers for private industry? Granted, one purpose is to ensure a solid educational foundation upon which to build. BUT,….

Since when is the goal of public schools to run kids through the workforce development pipeline and pour them directly into jobs? Of course we all need a job but test-and-sort is a recipe for unhappiness.

And, is it a coincidence that editorials are appearing in my local newspaper parroting the same “purpose of education” as the new PDK poll and Mr. Tucker?

“Accelerating talent pipelines is a deliberate effort to prepare our kids, and adults, faster than traditional education pathways, for high paying jobs we know exist today.

How do we build talent pipelines? We embrace three fundamental realities changing our world.

First, we acknowledge the purpose of education is to get a good job and improve our income.

Second, we recognize companies are rapidly shifting their focus to skills and not diplomas for hiring.

Third, we recognize industry is the primary customer of our education system.

Finally, the solution demands we empower industry to influence education outcomes.

NO! This is NOT the purpose of OUR free system of public schools as envisioned by our founding fathers. This is a takeover of our public education system by THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE WORLD (that includes information systems).

 Please don’t let the public schools become just another one of their information delivery systems and their publicly funded training services. Is this the expectation parents have for their children’s schools?

When those who run the show begin giving us the illusion that public opinion is driving education policy, we should be very, very concerned that the PDK annual poll has a new driver.  We — and our representatives — will hear what they say is public opinion. ….. Think about it.

For the first time since the inception of the PDK/Gallup poll on education in 1969, Langer Research Associates did the polling instead of Gallup. That in itself might not mean much. But, how much do we know about this relatively new firm other than they did work for ABC News and Bloomberg? And this particular question, about the purpose of education, is straight out of the standard-bearers playbook….?…

The Reality of the Education Reform War

They” control the language, develop the conversation, and convince the public that their way is the right way.

When you have high-powered marketing firms pushing your agenda, your message pops up everywhere. It’s no coincidence.

Thankfully, Gallup (on their own without PDK) continued their tradition of asking parents about their satisfaction with their own schools.screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-4-41-07-pmWith 76 percent of parents satisfied with their child’s education, isn’t it time we asked; what are we reforming? And how is it we are changing the whole system and not focusing on what needs fixing (23%)?

Ask Mr. Tucker. He was the go-to education expert back when the standards,testing, accountability movement took off and apparently he continues to be a power player. He’s one national driver who hasn’t changed.

Do you know who is driving education reform in your state?

If charters and “choice” are high on your state’s list of laws to pass (or have already been passed), good chance ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is involved. The wild west is certainly in their pocket and the conversation about the purpose of education has been going on for some time here.

In Idaho (2013), our Governor’s Task Force on Improving Education stated that …

“the higher purpose inherent in education is obvious.”

But it is not obvious in their plan. Their words mean nothing. Their focus continues to be on a narrowed, test-based curriculum with the same old outcome-based accountability that never held anyone accountable. This is state-led?

If this is called “state-led” under the dictates of the new federal education law (Every Student Succeeds Act, ESSA), it is no different from the fed-led dictates of No Child Left Behind. The outcome is the same. The law is driving us towards the development of a corporate-controlled, labor development system dubbed public education.

Are we sure this is the direction we want public education to go?

Are we sold on the purpose of education as workforce development (and military recruitment)? Mission accomplished?index

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?

Obama’s Education Platform

I never liked Senator Obama’s education platform. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that too much of it reflected the outcome-based theory that is the basis of No Child Left Behind and the cause of the “unintended consequences” this country experienced as a result of its adoption.That doesn’t mean that Mr. Obama didn’t put forth some good ideas. He did.

Senator Obama spoke of…

an education agenda that moves beyond party and ideology, and focuses instead on what will make the most difference in a child’s life.”

And his  stance on education was most thoroughly and clearly expressed in Ohio.

“Closing the achievement gap that exists in too many cities and rural areas is right. More accountability is right. Higher standards are right.

But I’ll tell you what’s wrong with No Child Left Behind: forcing our teachers, our principals and our schools to accomplish all of this without the resources they need is wrong.”

And “…we have to make sure that subjects like art and music are not being crowded out of the curriculum.”

So at that moment in time, September 9, 2008, he stood firmly on the failed theory that standards and tests reform schools, but, he grasped the idea that resources —supporting children, families, and school personnel— were required to not only achieve test scores but to also provide a broad and varied curriculum that defines “quality” education. He almost had a clear vision for real reform.

But thus far, he has done what those before him did; he focused on the easier path of standards and testing.

His ideas back then,

“…a new Service Scholarship program that will recruit top talent into the profession, and place these new teachers in overcrowded districts and struggling rural towns, or hard-to-staff subjects like special education, in schools across the nation.”

“…more Teacher Residency Programs … especially in math and science.”

“…expand mentoring programs that pair experienced, successful teachers with new recruits.”

“…access to quality after-school and summer school and extended school days for students who need it.”

As the New York Times wrote,

In his last major educational speech of the campaign, Mr. Obama said: “It’s been Democrat versus Republican, vouchers versus the status quo, more money versus more reform. There’s partisanship and there’s bickering, but no understanding that both sides have good ideas.”

And he made the choice of Mr. Arne Duncan for Secretary of Education because as the director of educational policy at the Business Roundtable, Susan Traiman, said;

“Both camps will be O.K. with the pick!”

The Business Roundtable accurately represents one camp.

Political camps? What about reform philosophy? What about Obama’s education platform?

Mr. Duncan once wrote,

“When organizations and individuals harness their resources to support children and families, both schools and neighborhoods benefit….By inviting parents and diverse stakeholders into the school reform effort, we can collectively raise education to the next level in our neighborhoods and across the country.”

Problem? The political camps aren’t inviting everyday parents or welcoming diverse ideas. Their ideology is set. And obviously there is no understanding of the fact that the people working day-to-day with the children are the ones who are in a position to best identify and support “what will make the most difference in a child’s life.”barack-obama-quotes-4

We folks who care about our children shouldn’t need an invitation.That door should be open; these are our schools. And I’d be willing to bet that none of us invited the Business Roundtable to come save our schools! These groups could go away and not be missed.

But the politics of education reform isn’t going away any time soon; the camps have dug their trenches. What we can do is minimize the damage.

President Obama’s introduction to A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act included these words,

“We must recognize the importance of communities and families in supporting their children’s education, because a parent is a child’s first teacher. We must support families, communities, and schools working in partnership to deliver services and supports that address the full range of student needs.”

But the Blueprint did not reflect the rhetoric. It more accurately reflected the Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee camp which is a big one! It reflected the plans of those who support an illusion of reform based on testing, labeling, closing, and chartering our schools. four pillars of ed takeoverMeanwhile, a concept expressed by both the president and his secretary of education, that of community-based school improvement that was once favored by these men, was written into the Blueprint in a manner doomed to fail. The choice of wording was divisive.Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.44.08 PMAny education writers savvy to the politics in this country would not have stated the community education concept like that! These words had to have been written intending to draw fire from the right-wing. They are a politically divisive choice of words that takes a great concept and makes it sound like a federal take-over of our children.

So this is where we need to ask, was this administration sabotaged or simply swayed by the prevailing politics of “reform”?

I always wondered, but I’m no longer sure it matters. What matters is where we go from here. We could still follow the Obama vision even though he hasn’t.

Accountability?

“…in Washington [it] starts by making sure that every tax dollar spent by the Department of Education is being spent wisely. When I’m president, programs that work will get more money. Programs that don’t work or just create more bureaucracy and paperwork and administrative gridlock will get less money.”

I want you to hold me accountable. And that’s why every year I’m president, I will report back to you on the progress our schools are making because it’s time to stop passing the buck on education and start accepting responsibility. And that’s the kind of example I’ll set as president of the United States.”

Accountability?

“In the end, responsibility for our children’s success doesn’t start in Washington, it starts in our homes. It starts in our families. Because no education policy can replace a parent who’s involved in their child’s education from day one – who makes sure their children are in school on time, helps them with their homework after dinner, and attends those parent- teacher conferences. No government program can turn off the TV set or put away the video games or read to your children.”

Accountability?

“But we can help parents do a better job. That’s why I’ll create a parents report card…

…we need to hold our government accountable. Yes, we have to hold our schools accountable. But we also have to hold ourselves accountable.”

Yes We Can. By all means, let’s call for accountability.

Test Refusal Justified

Not only is refusal —or “opting out”— of standardized testing justified, it is necessary. Here’s why: the “reform” process of No Child Left Behind failed and the system failed to respond, or even acknowledge, the crux of the problem despite the repeated attempts of many to help make the law better.

Many parents in low-income communities endured the senseless, useless, time-consuming, curriculum-narrowing, opportunity-limiting implementation of the No Child Left Behind standardized testing regime. Quietly? No, not all of them. Many wrote letters to representatives, editorials to newspapers, dozens upon dozens of researched papers, and even books!

We dissenters attended meetings; we petitioned, protested, and marched. We should have seen things change for the better during the last decade but instead; the next generation of parents got “higher standards” and “next generation assessments.”

This was from Idaho in 1999 when "achievement standards" were introduced as "exit standards."

This was from Idaho in 1999 when “achievement standards” were introduced as “exit standards.”

The “silver bullet” of standards and testing tied to “accountability” was sold to the public as the path to school improvement. No proof then; no proof now.

Familiar words? Same promise?

Familiar words? Same promise? Different year – 2011.

We should be outraged.

Not paying attention or has the information been very tightly controlled?

Not paying attention, or, has the information been very tightly controlled?

Last straw? Prompted by tactics and threats aimed at parents that have refused to allow their children to take the “next generation” Common Core aligned tests, I reached a tipping point and directed my words of condemnation at a school district administrator —who had written a disturbing letter to parents and guardians. My letter in response included questions that should have been allowed to be asked, and been answered, in an “open, large scale forum” on education reform BEFORE it happened to us.…Let me step off my soapbox …. and cut to the chase for you readers. …

The concern for compliance with rules and laws mandating testing participation was clearly stated in the districts’ letter, “…the district must ensure compliance with State and Federal laws.”

QUESTION: how do these laws and codes supersede the civil rights of parents as guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States?

Also in the letter was an expression of consideration, “I fully understand every parent’s desire to make educational decisions they think are best for their child…” But… the tone of the letter was meant to discourage parents from doing what they felt was best. How can there be “full understanding”?

FURTHER QUESTIONS: How do parents decide what is right without a full disclosure of information?

With the “next generation assessments” being computerized, being “adaptive” in nature, and teachers not being allowed to view the tests unless specifically certified by the company or state and then not being allowed to discuss the test, what are parents or guardians consenting to when they allow a child to be tested through the new testing consortium? ( COPPA-Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule  requires schools obtain verifiable parental consent for their children’s personal information to be entered during the testing process.)

Are our data exchange projects with other states still ongoing?

With student data being linked with information from agencies outside the State Department of Education, will parents or guardians be given the chance to give consent to each transfer of their student’s data?

In informed decision making on this matter, all facts are required to decide if the decision to refuse this testing will severely impact the quality of education in the district, as stated in the letter. Does the risk outweigh the impact of lost instructional time, lost instructional dollars, and loss of control of curriculum content as well as private student information?

There is a reason the dissenters to high-stakes testing have not been sufficiently heard.

Here’s an example:

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations are major sponsors and this piece was essential for the Common Core State Standards Initiative package deal.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations are major sponsors and this piece was essential for the Common Core State Standards Initiative package deal.

With the push for development of longitudinal data systems during the pit of the Great Recession, many issues surrounding the Common Core State Standards Initiative and its “next generation” tests were not fully vetted in the arena of public opinion partially because it became a “best practice” to “not engage in large scale, open forums.”Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 2.04.25 PMThe not-to-be open debate on education reform could have benefited the public’s understanding of No Child Left Behind, the Common Core State Standards Initiative and its “next generation” assessments.

Now, the public should consider why test refusal is necessary:

1) No Child Left Behind is the federal law upon which the nation was convinced they must comply with high-stakes standardized testing. Thirteen years later, that nonsensical overstep by the federal government has yet to be challenged in our superior courts. Disregarding research about appropriate uses of standardized tests and with no regard for objections raised by the people affected by the law, the law remains in place and the reauthorization process is far from transparent. Consent by the People has not been deemed to be of importance therefore leaving civil disobedience as the next step in a parent’s duty to defend what they think is best for their children.

2) The Common Core State Standards Initiative was never about “just” the standards. There was always the intent to develop the “next generation assessments” to correspond with the Common Core Standards. Our American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA/TARP) dollars served as the seed money for the two consortiums to develop these tests. What has always been missing from any public discussion was the intent of the two private, non-profit groups that hold the copyright for the standards — the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA). The intention was/is to “direct the collection of student data to a single reporting office within the U.S. Department of Education through the reauthorization of ESEA” (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) otherwise know as No Child Left Behind. This is item #10, on page 9, of the CCSSO/NGA “new deal” for ESEA reauthorization.

3) What should be respected and understood about a parents’ refusal to comply with the rules, regulations, and laws set down for them by their elected representatives, who have not represented their views, is that they feel a strong moral responsibility to do what is right for their children. Many parents feel forced or coerced participation in testing is wrong, and is potentially, and in reality, driving a wedge between them and their child, their teachers, their school administrators, their neighbors, communities, and the larger society who can’t comprehend or understand their stance. What we should understand as citizens is that it is morally reprehensible to turn a blind eye to rules, policies, and laws judged to be wrong for children by their own parents.

4) As ordinary law-abiding, tax-paying citizens, we pay our taxes because we know it is the cost of maintaining a civil society including “free” public schools. In a representative form of government founded on the Consent of the People, our choices in this manner should include having “large-scale, open forums” where a meaningful exchange of ideas could occur, or, civil disobedience as a second choice when the first choice has been denied us.

With No Child Left Behind testing mandates, the Common Core State Standards Initiative, and their “next generation” tests and all that go with them, the choice was made for us.

Our “consent” in the decision-making process was denied.

Civil disobedience through test refusal is a parental right in need of supporting.

Politicians put parents and children in the middle of the mess they created through a corrupted political process. There was always a better way.

Keeping PACE & ESEA Reauthorization

“We must support families, communities, and schools working in partnership to deliver services and supports that address the full range of student needs.”482045From A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), 2010

Sounds great! But the Blueprint was written to fail. Parents became an afterthought, the funding was backwards, and privatization was stamped all over it. The plan designated formula funding for wants, experiments, and pushed a political, ideologically driven, education industry agenda while leaving student needs to be filled through competitive grants. And the time-proven, research-based, essence of the original ESEA was hidden behind verbiage sure to raise political conflict. Written to fail.

But, never mind. The Blueprint isn’t really a big obstacle because the real responsibility for ESEA reauthorization is in the hands of Congress. The best thing that could happen right now would be for the people in this country to decide if they agree or not with the proposals coming out of the House and Senate.

And we deserve to know if the president is clear in his own mind as to what principles he stands upon. When the law lands on his desk, by what standards will he judge it? He has given us mixed signals.

Does the Obama administration firmly believe that education is a “shared responsibility”? Will policy reflect that concept? Does the administration comprehend how parents, families, and communities were once central to federal education policy? Do they know how parents are treated in dysfunctional districts, the under-performing ones that they say they want to “turnaround”?

In education policy in general, we parents have not just been directed to the back of the bus, we’ve been shoved out the rear door and left on the curb.

The reality over the years has been that parental “involvement,” “engagement,” “participation” — whatever the flavor of the year happens to be — has been more of a sound bite than sound policy. In too many districts, No Child Left Behind’s parental participation requirement was implemented on paper only — schools meeting rule compliance without doing the right things.

Knowingly or not, President Obama clearly expressed a focus for ESEA reauthorization — to support partnerships that deliver services and supports that address the full range of student needs.

Then under the heading Rigorous and Fair Accountability and Support at Every Level (p9), the presidents’ Blueprint went on to state;

“States and districts also will collect other key information about teaching and learning conditions, including information on school climate such as student, teacher and school leader attendance; disciplinary incidents; or student, parent, or school staff surveys about their school experience.”

In those words, we have a new beginning for an accountability structure originally envisioned in Education Counts.

“The information system needed to develop education indicators should be organized around major issue areas of enduring educational importance.”

If parental, family, and community support for students isn’t of enduring educational importance, I don’t know what is.

So with a focus and a way to monitor improvement, all we need is a research-based proposal to finally make right the school improvement portion of ESEA to ensure it is truly inclusive of parents, families, and communities.

That’s where “Keeping PACE” comes in. The Keeping Parents and Communities Engaged (PACE) Act was sponsored in the 111th Congress (2009-2010) by former Senator Edward Kennedy. It was introduced into the Senate Education Committee and never went any further.

The problem with Keeping PACE as it was proposed is that, like the best ideas in the Obama Blueprint, it was a competitive grant proposal for something that impoverished communities badly need — it’s not a want; it’s not an experiment. It is a need. Parent and community engagement must be given the priority that only adequate and fair formula funding can do.

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 5.11.23 PMWe have research-based best practices for family and community engagement. Research shows there is “…strong and steadily growing evidence that families can improve their children’s academic performance in school. Families also have a major impact on other key outcomes, such as attendance and behavior, that affect achievement.”

Fund what works!

The basic idea of Keeping PACE is this: Title I money is used to hire Parent and Community Outreach Coordinators to coordinate already existing community resources to support students, their schools, and their families making schools the centers of communities through education and services focused on a community’s identified needs.

“It isn’t just about more programs. It’s about leveraging existing resources to help students succeed in the classroom.”

“Wise use of existing community resources” was one of the basic foundational philosophies of the community education concept that was the essence of the 1965 ESEA.

Fund what works!

One of the faulty assumptions of No Child Left Behind is that struggling schools “just lack motivation” so they need punishment and competition to spur them to improve. Not true. They lack the resources to build a strong foundation for success. They lack the “capacity” to do their jobs.

Capacity building is any process that increases the capability of individuals to produce or perform; it enables all stakeholders to carry out their tasks to the best of their ability.”

To enable federal education law to support improvement in the struggling schools in this nation, we need publicly trained and educated leadership who understand the community education concept so they will work WITH families and communities. Plus, we need our U.S. Department of Education to disseminate information that has been researched with the utmost integrity so that it does NOT have to carry a disclaimer like this:

The expectation should be that all information disseminated by our government agencies is fully vetted and represents research of the utmost integrity.

The expectation should be that all information disseminated by our government agencies is fully vetted and represents research of the utmost integrity.

Bottom line, we need the big money out of education policy and we need to take “meaningful, practical” steps like Senator Obama suggested in 2008.

With a resurrected and improved Keeping PACE Act, a new emphasis on leadership training, and renewed prominence of dissemination of “research-based” best practices in community organizing for improvement, we can take a giant leap forward in building community partnerships that support and serve students.

We the People need to demand that Congress and President Obama make the most important student supports — parents, family, and community — a priority in ESEA reauthorization. Speak Up!

What Teachers Need

The National Science Teachers Association understands that the cultural setting or environment where “accountability” is expected to take place (schools and classrooms) must be a place based on “mutual trust and support.” They laid down “the conditions under which accountability needs to take place.” Here is a summary of their declaration.

Teachers must be given:

  • The appropriate resources,
  • Access to quality educational opportunities,
  • The time necessary to develop skills,
  • The opportunity to participate in development of accountability measures,
  • Information about the plan and timeline for compliance,
  • And the opportunity to address accountability issues within a local network.

Let me use Idaho as an example. Voters – the People – rejected a “pay-for-performance” law. In the process, the Idaho legislature ordered a study looking at issues that affect our Idaho teachers and schools.  When they looked at teacher preparation (summary, pgs. ix-x), three requests for improvement stood out — all having to do with teacher’s opportunities to learn and resources, some of the same things the students need.

We don’t have to look far for solutions.

http://pdkintl.org/noindex/PDKGallupPoll_Oct2014.pdf

http://pdkintl.org/noindex/PDKGallupPoll_Oct2014.pdf

But Idaho ignored their own research to continue on the path of standards, testing, and teacher accountability tied to student outcomes (standards-“based” education, outcome-based “reform”). Our whole nation does not have to make that same mistake. We have an instrument for improvement – federal education law – that is currently called No Child Left Behind (ESEA). What must be known is that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was not intended to be an accountability law. It was to strengthen and improve the education of all those involved with educating children.

Better “public” education will make a better public school system. But before we go putting teacher preparation on center stage, let’s be fair. We need “opportunity to learn” indicators for teacher preparation and continuing education in place FIRST. Measurements matter, right?

Repeatedly, parents have voiced their support for their own child’s teachers and they trust them. Will lawmakers continue to ignore the People’s voice?

PDK/Gallup Poll

PDK/Gallup Poll

 

What Parents Desire

What parents desire for their children’s schools has been largely ignored in the education policy debate for decades. So was this recent article.

Laurie Levy’s community differs from my own (hers more affluent while mine is poverty-stricken) but our desires, as parents, seem almost universal. She wrote her article based on what other parents had written in a response to two questions: What conditions promote learning? And, what is an optimal learning environment? (Italics and “bolding” is mine.)

  1. Make space and time for kids to pursue individual, passion-based learning projects.
  2. Incorporate much more movement throughout the day, especially in winter.
  3. Make history and literacy assignments culturally relevant.
  4. Ensure that kids have enough time to eat lunch every day. The break for lunch and recess should be a minimum of an hour per day.
  5. Focus on building community, both within classrooms and within the whole school.
  6. Provide opportunities to drink water during the day. Some teachers still don’t let kids get water, which obviously makes learning hard. (OMG on that one!)
  7. Set up “quiet corners” or areas where kids can go when they need a break.
  8. Make classrooms well-organized, so kids feel comfortable and safe. It’s time to de-clutter some spaces.
  9. Consider what we are forcing our children to endure in order to cram them full of testable content to satisfy the insatiable maw of the “education” industry. The kids need more art, more recess, less testing, and less lecturing.
  10. Target and celebrate learning for all types of learners. Maybe pieces of the current curriculum don’t work well for some learners (e.g. the language heaviness of Everyday Math).
  11. Have more free time where kids can just be kids and run around…a calm, stress free environment where learning comes naturally.
  12. Remember what the “square-peg child” needs to learn: more child-driven, open-ended time and spaces; quiet spots to take a break from the intensity of being with other kids all day long; more hands-on materials and activities.
  13. Put away the standardized testing, except in the most minor way, until middle school. If it has to be done, don’t put so much time into preparing for it.
  14. [Consolidated and paraphrased by me] Developmentally appropriate practice/methods (meaning the material keeps in mind the capacity of children’s working memory at different ages i.e. more concrete learning and explanations for younger learners, moving gradually toward abstract concepts and the ability to reflect on one’s own thinking as they approach middle school) where learning is broken into reasonable time segments with frequent breaks to improve attention throughout the day to better facilitate long-term memory.
  15. [Consolidated and paraphrased by me] Classrooms are created by teachers that are educated, supported, and coached in classroom management best practices that create a warm supportive, safe, secure, community environment where students are given attainable tasks based student interest, learning style, and strengths to make learning engaging, meaningful, and naturally motivate students to succeed. They create a place where success is a model to be emulated and assessments are what teachers use to measure if students understand and then instruction is adjusted accordingly.

This was Ms. Levy’s summary of what parents want:

  • less time spent on teaching to standardized tests and fewer of those tests,
  • learning environments that actually are conducive to learning,
  • their kids to be viewed as unique individuals with differing needs and to see their learning styles supported and respected,
  • learning environments to promote physical and mental health, with sufficient breaks for play and exercise,
  • their children to feel less stress and anxiety about school,
  • their kids to love learning and have the tools to go wherever their curiosity takes them.

All in all, my take is that parents seem to be saying that they want assurance (accountability) for a standard of educational practices that will provide high-quality learning opportunities in an environment that fosters development of their child’s talents and allows them to explore their interests.

If there is anything that we should have learned from the failure of standards-based reforms – and the No Child Left Behind law – it is that high quality learning experiences are much more important than “meeting” any set of standards we have ever developed. We can have standards-referenced curricula without the detrimental unintended consequences of our current standards-based federal accountability scheme.

Repeatedly we hear said that parents are important but education policies do not reflect that fact. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) parental piece was without substance.

Parents matter.

Parents matter.

Let’s focus on the children this time in the re-writing NCLB.…Let’s focus on giving all children the best opportunities to learn. Let’s give the parental voice the respect it deserves and quit putting policies in place that create stress in families. Respect the family unit. Respect the child.

Parents, do your jobs well and expect the same from all those involved in your child’s education – including policy-makers.

What parents might not realize is that what they desire can be collectively seen as quality in the child’s classroom experiences and school environment. Those are elements of the “opportunity to learn” standards. There are indicators for judging their quality and availability!.….That’s what parents want from an accountability mechanism.….Time to start making that demand?Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 4.57.47 PM

Tough Choices or Tough Times

Tough choices? Not for our lawmakers. They never entertained the alternative to the Tucker plan so they had no real choices to make. Tough times? Yes, especially for those of us that had kids in impoverished districts while this cow manure came down on us.

http://www.lawyer-jokes.mytwotails.com/

http://www.lawyer-jokes.mytwotails.com/

Susan Ohanian can tell you all about the High-Powered Panel that put together and endorsed the 2006 release of another creation from Marc Tucker’s think tank, National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). This one was labeled – Tough Choices or Tough Times. Same theory, same plan, new wording.

In “Tough Choices,” a dozen or so problems were identified. Then, the Tucker gang offered 10 steps necessary to development of their system. I’ll just use the first one to demonstrate the problem I see with “the think” coming out of this tank.

Step 1: Assume that we will do the job right the first time.

That is a great statement. Totally agree. Details?

The Tucker Plan: Create a set of Board Examinations based on a set of standards set at the “expectations” that are “no lower than the standards for entering community colleges in the state without remediation.”tough-times-ahead

Common Core Controversy followers; does that sound familiar?

Just a Parent’s Plan (mine): Let’s assume “we must do things right the first time; let’s call it the ‘R rule.’

We must be wiser in choosing how we educate. We are obliged to consider the potential effect our decisions have on children before we put them into action in the classroom. And we have got to receive feedback and take it seriously. It’s time to acknowledge that what we do in first grade sets the stage for the reading, writing, and math skills children need for the rest of their lives. Our actions need to speak to that fact. Mistakes can be devastating” (The Crucial Voice, page 12).

“First grade must be a successful experience for all children. The only way to ensure success ‘happens’ for all is with proper guidance and personalized attention to the learning and developmental needs of the child. That will only be accomplished through exceptional, specially trained teachers in small classes” (page 90).

Tough Choice? For parents, I don’t think so.

What I hope is that our toughest times in education reform are now behind us.

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.