"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

Saturday, March 19, 2011

National Insanity

I had my own little tantrum yesterday...last night, actually...and posted an emotional, whiny, "Won't someone please think of the children..." rant on these pages...

Luckily, there are cooler heads than mine in the national debate over education.

Valerie Strauss for example...

In her Answer Sheet blog entry of March 15, Obama and Boehner: Education nonsense, she discusses (quite calmly) the differences between the President's words and actions.
Speaking directly to teachers, for example, he said that while the country needs better assessments to figure out how students are progressing, “I’m not talking about more tests. I’m not talking about teaching to the test.”

Really? Then why have his policies pushed states and school districts to evaluate and pay teachers according to students’ standardized test scores, which is resulting in the development of new and more tests to assess kids in subjects not covered now by such exams? And when teachers’ livelihoods depend on test scores going up, does he really think teachers are not going to “teach to the test?” It has already become commonplace in public schools, one of the unfortunate consequences of No Child Left Behind.
Since President Obama doesn't have anyone with teaching experience advising him, he must not realize that his policies are having the opposite effect on public education that he verbalizes. Race to the Top has so many problems that I often don't know where to begin when talking about it -- the fact that it relies more than NCLB on testing, coerces states into grading teachers using student test scores, manipulates states to increase charter school funding even as they reduce money for public schools...

Ms. Strauss then takes on House Speaker Boehner...who hypocritically wants to cut funding "across the board" except for the areas of discretionary spending that he likes.
According to a story by my Post colleagues Ben Pershing and Paul Kane, Boehner credits Catholic schools with helping him become the most powerful member of Congress, and wants to give low-income D.C. kids a chance to escape what he calls “one of the worst school districts in the country.”

He has called the nation’s $14.1 trillion debt “a mortal threat to our country” and has said that all discretionary programs -- except for the few that he especially likes -- are at risk of being cut.
Like his colleagues in Governor's offices across the nation (Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Idaho, Florida, Oklahoma...) Boehner is all for slashing school budgets...as well as for increasing funding for charters and vouchers.
Obama himself didn’t exactly address in his speech the slashing and burning going on in public school districts today -- not the plan just announced in Detroit to close half of all public schools and create high schools with classes of 60 kids, and not the stripping of most collective bargaining rights for teachers in Wisconsin and other states, and not a plan in Idaho to lay off hundreds of teachers and have students take a few courses on line...

Instead, he said, somewhat inexplicably, that while he is determined to cut the deficit, “I refuse to do it by telling students here who are so full of promise that we’re not willing to invest in your future.”
She ends by reminding us...and hopefully President Obama, that students are not as stupid as he apparently thinks.
Obama doesn’t have to tell kids that if he doesn’t want to; they can see what’s going on in their schools. They know when their teachers pay out of their own salaries for paper and pencils. They know when their class sizes soar. They know what’s going on, even if Obama doesn’t want to mention it.
Another voice has called the current public education crushing fad, "a moment of national insanity."

In one of her recent entries, Diane Ravitch referred to three events that took place during the last week of February:
  • In Detroit, the school system will reduce its deficit by closing half the city's public schools and creating classes of as many as 60 students. These are among the poorest and lowest-performing students in the nation. Parents and teachers should be rioting in the streets of Detroit, along with everyone who cares about these children and our future. This is an outrage.
  • The school board of Providence, R.I., voted to fire all of its teachers to address its deficit. Most will be rehired, but now the board has maximum flexibility to choose which ones. At the same time, Providence's leaders are humiliating every teacher, breaking the bonds of trust that are essential for the culture of a good school. Will anyone hold these reckless, heedless, unprofessional "leaders" in Rhode Island to account?
  • And, in Idaho, the state superintendent of education has proposed a plan that would lay off 770 teachers over five years, banking on students taking more online courses. Do they know there is no evidence for the efficacy of virtual learning? I don't think they care. For them, this is just a cost-cutting measure. And it's other people's children who will get this bargain-basement training, not their own.
She reminds us what's really going on...
What do we hear from the corporate reformers? Merit pay. Really? Bonuses for some, layoffs for others? Fire teachers with low value-added scores? Ah, more teaching to the test, more narrowing the curriculum.

Nothing to improve education. Just "innovation" (i.e., no evidence) and "disruption" (I.e., firing the whole staff, closing the school).

Our schools remain subject to a failed federal accountability system. We are packing children into crowded classrooms, ignoring the growing levels of child poverty (the U.S. now leads all advanced nations in infant mortality), and putting fear into the hearts of our nation's teachers. Who will want to teach? How does any of this improve schools or benefit children? Do you understand it? I don't.
It's the "Shock Doctrine" at work.

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