Choices We Must Make

No Child Left Behind (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – ESEA) has forced the direction of education “reform” without bringing to the table those who understand the needs of our communities and our children — the real stakeholders — the People. The choices we wanted in policy were never brought to the decision-making table.

That federal law combined with our financial wrong turns as a nation and the misguided reforms of the last three decades has brought public education to a crossroads. Only as a united nation can we prevent the system from being brought to its knees.The choices made in the federal law No Child Left Behind experimented on the nation's public schools. That experiment failed to produce reforms.Choices must be made.

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

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

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

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

Keep —through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—the failed national practices cemented in place by No Child Left Behind, or force politicians to listen and act upon the choices that should have been on the table to begin with?

Decide and Take Action

Decide and Take Action!

There is an alternative and federal law requires lawmakers to evaluate and update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA/NCLB/ESSA) in 2020. But if we don’t put our choices on the table, the law will not serve us well. Isn’t that what we learned from the failed No Child Left Behind experiment?

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.

“Just” Standards

“These standards are just that—they are standards.” These are the words used by Luci Willits of Idaho State Department of Education, Chief of Staff to Tom Luna, as she introduced Common Core to our Senate Education Committee (1/19/11). And you will hear that sentiment parroted by others;

“The standards are just that: standards.” Bill Gates (2/12/14)

But when you look further, you can find the claim that,

“When the grant [Race to the Top] was put forth, the State Department of Education went to the colleges to ensure that any student who passes these standards will be able to go to any college without the need of remedial training.”

Standards DON’T “ensure” student success. Somehow, these standards became magical standards. And all of Idaho’s major colleges and universities stood with arms locked in testimony to the Core.

Standards are “just” guides. But these standards —The Common Core Standards — are much, much more. They are the Trojan Horse of systemic transformation.

But Idaho’s department of education went even further in claiming…

“There is also tremendous cost-savings associated with these standards; Idaho will be able to get the test it has always wanted but never been able to pay for.”

Who will pay? The same magician sprinkling fairy dust, or, will we all be paying the pied piper?

Lawmakers across the country are being asked to judge whether this is the change that is best for children, families, and communities. How will they make the call when the horse is so attractive?

Expose what is in the belly of the beast. The foundational principles, or the assumptions that are made by those in power, are what is important to understand.

Look inside!

Look inside!

  • The State will decide what education outcomes are important based on economic data.
  • Local control is a barrier that can be gotten around by training school board members properly (decided by the Broad Foundation?).
  • Lay-citizen participation in governance of schools should be weakened “in favor of control by politicians, especially governors, elected positions in general government.” (Marc Tucker, Governing American Education, page 44)

Real school improvement involves “lay-citizens.” But that is not how it is seen from above.

I know many people believe that private industry can do a better job than public institutions. But please think about what happens when private associations and organizations are using the law to their benefit – monetarily or for political power – what will be the true cost to taxpayers?

In Idaho, as it would seem to be the case across the country, the seemingly innocent policy of strategic planning and training of school boards is being put into law. It is putting the governing of schools at the local level in jeopardy.

Strategic planning is not necessarily a school improvement process; it all depends on who does the “training” and what “curriculum” they are using. What will those in control be “leveraging” our board members to do?

Close the gate (so to speak). Keep the Trojan Horse out!

Decide how schools will be governed. It matters!

STANDARDIZED & PRIVATIZED

Are Americans sure they want a standardized and privatized system of “public” schools? Does the public understand what is happening?

Dismantling through standardization and privatization. That is what is being done using

Hard to See. That's why they call it Hidden Privatization.

Hard to See. That’s why they call it Hidden Privatization.

the crowbar of outcome-based “reforms.”

Long ago political leaders of both parties began allowing and fostering policies that the arrogant and greedy have used to their advantage and to our detriment. We are allowing a widely recognized destructive and over-reaching federal law —No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—to go unchecked and unchanged. (As of December 2015 the name was changed to the Every Student Succeeds Act – ESSA- but it is still an outcome-based (test-based) federal law.

NCLB celebrated its 12th birthday. It is officially six years overdue for revision—according to its own statute. Why? Is it because Congress can’t get it right, or, is the law doing exactly what it was meant to do?

What we know it did:
1.    Narrowed the curriculum,
2.    Produced cheating scandals,
3.    Gave use data without real results,
4.    Diminished local control and divided communities.

What we know it did NOT do:
1.    Increase accountability for results,
2.    Narrow the achievement gap.

It appears that NCLB also opened the policy door for full standardization and privatization with policies promoted as putting “students first” and the latest new tool for undermining the system — Common Core.

The Idaho task force recommendations* rely heavily on Common Core, the Luna Laws, and outcome-based theory (upon which NCLB was based). R&D – research and development (not Republicans and Democrats) – recommends differently.

*Note: Idaho has its Governor’s “Task Force for Improving Education” putting forth 20 recommendations that the public knows little of in the way of details – but the “preview” is well written. Poised to repeat the mistakes of the past!

*****Double Note for the Nation*****Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Who controls “leadership” and school board “training”? It is in our soon to pass laws – better check yours.

This was originally written for and published in the Idaho Statesman January 30, 2014.

I’m sharing it here because I believe – we must share what we know to be the truth. Also consider, To Privatize or Not to Privatize

And for those brave enough to want to consider the global scale of this, check out Hidden Privatisation. Here’s a one page brief.

Thank you for caring….Now let’s stop this destruction!

Public Education: Is It Broken?

Depends on your perspective. If you are a parent or concerned citizen finding your efforts to improve your schools blocked, it is a broken system that allows that to happen. It’s a case of no one being responsible for inaction where and when action is needed.

What's broken?

What’s broken?

When “the system” becomes a barrier to improvement—through unacceptable policies and practices — the system is broken.

That doesn’t mean that all pieces are broken (not all schools, all teachers, all places), but it does mean the system failed to serve, protect, and educate ALL children as well as we can. So this is a place where my perspective differs from Diane Ravitch’s; she continues to say it “is not broken.” Where we do agree is here: “What began as a movement for testing and accountability has turned into a privatization movement.”

The result is unacceptable policies leading to unethical testing, scoring, and reporting practices furthering the already existing inequality of opportunity, segregation, and privatization. I hope people everywhere can agree on this; this is a cycle that is dismantling the system, piece-by-piece, policy-by-policy. Those openly aiming to privatize the public education system are boasting over the strides they have made in transforming the system.

One way the Friedman Foundation measures success is…

“the increase in the percentage of public dollars going to fund private school choice compared to the overall funds going to all K-12 education.”

This is the data they track! Comparing to overall funding!!!! Success is when the public system is fully privatized? Is that what the public has agreed to?

My theory, speaking as a parent with children in the system during the first big take-down (the No Child Left Behind policy), is that privatization never would have gotten this far if policymakers AND the public had been listening to the multitude of people trying to stop the political machine driving the movement and driving our children over the cliff in the process. But we can’t go back and change what happened; we can, however, change policies.

What we can do is move forward determined not to repeat the mistake of ignoring the crucial voices of people wanting to do the right thing for the right reason. We have to sort out those who are offering real, good, practical solutions to existing significant problems—true reformers —and those wishing to transform the system to fit their ideology or to profit the education-industrial complex.

Reformer, or Transformer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call them what they are - TRANSFORMERS.

Call them what they are – TRANSFORMERS.

 

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

Understand what reform is and is not.

Efficiency in Education: What Does That Mean?

How many times have you heard a politician publicly push the concept of efficiency in education reform?

But thanks to the ever-growing strength of education business lobbyists and the laws they have promoted, the result has been that our public schools have progressed towards privatization in leaps-and-bounds for the last three decades. Where has that “progress” towards efficiency in education really gotten us?

Grinding forward or to a halt?

Grinding forward or to a halt?

Many have been sold on the idea that you can’t change the system; the entrenchment of the system itself is proof of that, right?

Many believe they can’t improve their own schools and, unfortunately, in some places this is true. But that is exactly where we need our representatives to put forth policy that promotes real school improvement practices. We need laws that protect and serve the learning needs of children. We need a system responsive to their needs. That is where efficiency in education begins.

Why do we keep doing the same things over and over —higher standards, “better” tests, and new accountability systems— and expect different results?

Maybe it is just easier to have someone else take care of our kids. Kids can be tested, sorted, categorized, graded, funneled into programs deemed appropriate, and the outcomes can be efficiently made to fit the predicted needs of corporations. Is that what we call an efficient system? For a free society based on justice and opportunity, is that the type of standardized education system the people are asking for? It is what we are getting.

Efficiency in education means putting our dollars and human resources where they can do the most good for the students. What we are doing instead is working to standardize minds.

The system — since Brown versus Board of Education — stands to promote quality education and provide a way to deliver on the promise of equal opportunity for children. Efficient means “working well.”

Policy Ping-Pong

Wrongly, many people believe that excessive testing, narrowed curriculum, and wayward accountability schemes are the fault of federal policy. Most agree that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law is the main culprit. I most certainly am not defending NCLB, oh no, far from it. But the truth is that state-after-state was sold “outcome based education reform” which morphed into test-based accountability. What No Child left Behind did was to federalize the education trend that most states had already begun implementing on their own. So, why is this important to know?

If you play “The Change Game,” the first thing you need to know are the key players and the best places to play. When you know who and where to target with persuasion and propaganda, change comes at a relatively cheap price. And even though we should have a better view at the local and state level, the game hasn’t drawn much of a crowd.

So the wayward reforms began in the states, went to the federal level with NCLB, and now the ball is back on the states side of the table with NCLB waivers. Next stop? NCLB re-authorization? (Update as of 12/10/15: Yes, the law was changed to being called the Every Student Succeeds Act ESSA)

Both state and federal lawmakers are for sale. With NCLB reauthorization done, the ball is in the state capitals.

Both state and federal policy writers are for sale. With NCLB reauthorization done, the ball is in state capitals.

And will the law once again follow the state’s trends – charter schools, fewer teachers, more technology, larger class sizes, and less real support for the public system (which means more privatization)? (Update as of 12/10/15: Answer, yes.)

The public is being played like a ping-pong ball. Now is not the time to sit on the sidelines and watch the ball (or the hammer) drop.

The Naked Truth

I don’t get it! “It” being the fact that the very people who claim to want to save the public education system — from privatization, corporatization, dismantling, and turning it into a confusing, inefficient smorgasbord of charters — don’t want to hear the naked truth. With all this going on around them, they still argue over whether or not the system is broken. Really?

Greed-driven privatizers saw a growing public dissatisfaction with the lack of consistent and reliable quality education. The profiteers saw a weakness; they saw opportunity because of dysfunction and division. The division is greater than ever.

Educators and others who believe that the whole problem has been “created” are ignoring the voices of parents who have had some very bad experiences with the system. When we brush these parents off as complainers or excuse their comments as just a perception problem, we are telling them that their experiences have no value in the discussion. If you later want them to support public schools, how do you think they are going to feel about that?

Do you see what is broken here? Do you see the division?

A PUBLIC system, locally controlled or dictated to from above, is a broken system when it excludes the voice of the public in its decision-making. Any well-run public institution that exists to serve the public’s needs must hear the public’s voice.

We can stop all this wasteful warring by simply agreeing that the country must get back on track to continuously improving all schools. This is where we were in the 30’s, we advanced on the idea in the 70’s, and we lost it after that.

Face the naked truth – we have NEVER had quality education available to all children, all the timebut we can.