"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, January 14, 2011

Response to the State of the State of Education in Indiana

Last Tuesday, January 11, 2011, Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana, gave his State of the State address to the dominantly Republican Indiana state legislature. You can read the entire address here.

Much of the Governor’s speech dealt with Education. He made some points that I was expecting...he mentioned charter schools, collective bargaining, and evaluating teachers using test scores -- among other things.

Let's look at his points one at a time.

ONE: TAXES
Governor Daniels said:
One, I just mentioned; no tax increases. Can I get an “amen” to that?
I think it’s important that people understand that you have to pay for services. The tendency in the United States is towards a knee-jerk reaction against taxes. I know taxes are no fun, but they pay for what we need. You want good roads, good schools, national guard, fire and police protection, and clean parks? You want the health department to make sure restaurants and grocery stores are clean? You want our soldiers to be well equipped when we send them off to war? Then you have to pay for them. If we don’t, we’ll end up like the guy who watched his house burn because he hadn’t “hired” the fire department for $75.

If you don't want services from the government you can get away without paying taxes. Think about that.

TWO: MONEY FOR SCHOOLS
Governor Daniels said:
We put an end to practices like raiding teacher pension funds, and shifting state deficits to our schools and universities by making them wait until the state had the cash to pay them. That’s a form of waiting we should never impose again.
I just retired. I’m glad he said he was going to leave the pension fund alone. But, where’s the money going to come from for schools and universities, though? And let's not forget libraries...See #1.

THREE: WE LOVE OUR SCHOOLS, OUR TEACHERS, BUT OUR STUDENTS ARE NOT AS GOOD AS STUDENTS IN OTHER COUNTRIES.
Governor Daniels said:
So let’s start by affirming once again that our call for major change in our system of education, like that of President Obama, his education secretary and so many others, is rooted in a love for our schools, those who run them and those who teach in them. But it is rooted most deeply in a love for the children whose very lives and futures depend on the quality of the learning they either do or do not acquire while in our schools. Nothing matters more than that. Nothing compares to that.

Some seek change in education on economic grounds, and they are right. To win and hold a family-supporting job, our kids will need to know much more than their parents did. I have seen the future competition, every time I go abroad in search of new jobs for our state, in the young people of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China. Let me tell you—those kids are good. They ought to be. They are in school, not 180 days a year like here, but 210, 220, 230 days a year. By the end of high school, they have benefited from two or three years more education than Hoosier students. Along the way, they have taken harder classes. It won’t be easy to win jobs away from them.
Well, I agree that we should focus on what’s best for students. I spent 35 years in public education. I lived through the rich times and the poor times. I had classes as large as 38 and as small as 15. I was a classroom teacher and a specialist working with 1 to 5 students at a time. Unlike the President, Governor, and Secretary of Education I know what it's like to work in a public school. They don't have to talk to me about wanting to do what's best for children. They don't have to remind me that the adults who work in our public schools are dedicated and hard working.

Now, about the foreign students - the kids in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China (and let's not forget Finland) are good at taking tests. They score among the highest in the world. If you're looking for high test scores then those countries do well. I don't disagree with that. Actually, so are we in the US. When you look at the test scores of our students in schools with low poverty rates you’ll see that they are the best in the world.

Diane Ravitch wrote:
We have many outstanding schools and students, but our overall performance is dragged down by the persistence of poverty. Poverty depresses school achievement because it hurts children, families, and communities.
Ravitch continues…
At a time of fiscal stringency, it seems crazy to talk about helping lift children and families out of poverty. Critics say, "We can't afford to do anything anymore," "Sorry, the money is all gone," "No one should pay any new taxes," "This is not a time for social innovation; it is a time for educational innovation." But in light of the overwhelming evidence of the dire consequences of persistent poverty, it seems even crazier to ignore it and to assume that we can reach the top of the international achievement tables by closing schools, firing teachers, and hastening privatization. These strategies will shatter already fragile communities. They will not give us schools that foster the creativity, originality, self-discipline, and initiative that we claim to value. They are strategies that avoid the hard, incredibly hard, task of economic improvement. Today's school reformers scoff at the idea of attacking poverty; it is so much easier to fire teachers. So long as we continue to avert our gaze from the festering problems bred by deep poverty and racial isolation, it seems unlikely that any school reform agenda can produce the transformation that our society seeks.
Researchers at the National Association for Secondary School Principals have a very informative article in which they have disaggregated the PISA scores by income. Definitely worth reading.
President Bill Clinton is famous for his campaign slogan, "It's the economy stupid!" When it comes to student achievement and school improvement, it's poverty not stupid! Researchers report that perhaps the only true linear relationship in the social sciences is the relationship between poverty and student performance. While there is no relationship between poverty and ability, the relationship between poverty and achievement is almost foolproof. To deny that poverty is a factor to be overcome as opposed to an excuse is to deny the reality that all educators, human services workers, law enforcement officers, medical professionals and religious clergy know and have known for years.

PISA reports average scores. The problem is that the U.S. is not average. While the U.S. is the top country in global competitiveness, we also have the highest percentage of students living in poverty and, regretfully, poverty impacts test scores.
It would be nice if the policy makers were brave enough to admit that the largest obstacle facing achievement in the country (as based on standardized test scores) was something that was out of the realm of the public schools to fix.

President Obama (or Bush, or Clinton) and Governor Daniels, let's have no child without adequate health care...and no child going hungry...and no child living through violence...and no child homeless...then we'll be able to have No Child Left Behind.

Oh...and one more thing that goes in this section:
"If people want higher test scores, they'll get higher test scores. I just hope they don't complain when that's all they get." -- Richard Mandl
Next time I’ll continue with responses to other assertions Governor Daniels made during his speech.

His belief about the importance of Teacher Quality.
The assertion that teaching experience is not worth paying for.
His desire to weaken the rights of teachers to full collective bargaining.
His implication that charter schools are “the answer.”

Read more in Response to the State of the State of Education in Indiana Part 2

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