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 that decreases?

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.

At The Core

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

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

Common Core National Standards?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An Instrument of Reform: Communications

People can be an amazing source of information and inspiration. And there is something to be said for the old saying, “two heads are better than one.” But it only rings true when the two heads are able to communicate. After all, communicating is referred to as the science of transmitting information.

Communications is a much more complicated process than most of us tend to realize and I’m afraid we are so busy that miscommunications are occurring more than we recognize. It took observing children and seeing their perplexed looks over something misunderstood to draw my attention to the topic. And the difficulty of communicating became crystal clear when I took to writing and began questioning how my words would be interpreted.

So when we begin to look at school improvements, or education reform, we need desperately to learn to communicate better with each other. We not only need to share our knowledge and perspectives with others but we have to use each others’ input to solve problems — that’s a lot of communicating! It’s a big quagmire where many an education reform has gotten sucked in and died.

Until education reformists learn and practice the art of effective communications, we will continue to stumble where reform is needed most. Schools with large concentrations of poverty don’t tend to have many people considered “influential.” As individuals, they aren’t heard. So more often than not, group action is required.

We all have to be able to communicate – with each other and the influential – to be effective.

Real Education Reform

To understand real education reform, we have to understand the real problem.

Those that think education reform will come about through standards, testing, labeling, and degrading schools obviously don’t understand what “reform” is and is not.

Reform requires a problem be identified and the faulty practice creating the problem be replaced with a better one. When we tack on “education” in front of the word reform, it implies we are talking about a reform of the education system.

Systemically, did every school set low standards and miserably under-educate children? No, we have some very highly performing public schools; they are in the majority. Does any school under-test their students? Not that I’m aware of. Is the whole system to the point where there is no hope for it and it should be dismantled and privatized? Absolutely not! That is what reform is not. That is a simple transfer of control from public to private hands. It’s a costly shell game.

Real education reform requires that the public come to an understanding of what proven effective education reform really is and develop the drive and unyielding determination to establish all the elements of success in every school.

We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.” Ronald Edmonds

Edmonds (1935-1983) was the lead researcher for what became known as Effective Schools Research.