"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

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Two Powerful Voices for Children

Diane Ravitch and Linda Darling-Hammond continue to fight for rationality in education policy. In two powerful, separately written pieces, they pull together to focus on the mistakes being made in the national quest to "reform" education.

In Darling-Hammond: U.S. vs highest-achieving nations in education Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford University, and director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, reports on
The first ever International Summit on Teaching, convened last week in New York City...
She writes about how corporate "reformers" in the US like to refer to the success of other countries on international achievement tests and about how those same "reformers" seem to be doing whatever they can to learn nothing from the way the successful countries are making progress.
...it was, perhaps, the first time that the growing de-professionalization of teaching in America was recognized as out of step with the strategies pursued by the world’s educational leaders...

...with states’ willingness to lower standards rather than raise salaries for the teachers of the poor, a growing number of recruits enter with little prior training, trying to learn on-the-job with the uneven mentoring provided by cash-strapped districts. It is no wonder that a third of U.S. beginners leave within the first five years, and those with the least training leave at more than twice the rate of those who are well-prepared...

...Meanwhile, some policymakers argue that we should eliminate requirements for teacher training, stop paying teachers for gaining more education, let anyone enter teaching, and fire those later who fail to raise student test scores. And efforts like those in Wisconsin to eliminate collective bargaining create the prospect that salaries and working conditions will sink even lower, making teaching an unattractive career for anyone with other professional options.

The contrasts to the American attitude toward teachers and teaching could not have been more stark. Officials from countries like Finland and Singapore described how they have built a high-performing teaching profession by enabling all of their teachers to enter high-quality preparation programs, generally at the masters’ degree level, where they receive a salary while they prepare. There they learn research-based teaching strategies and train with experts in model schools attached to their universities. They enter a well-paid profession – in Singapore earning as much as beginning doctors -- where they are supported by mentor teachers and have 15 or more hours a week to work and learn together – engaging in shared planning, action research, lesson study, and observations in each other’s classrooms. And they work in schools that are equitably funded and well-resourced with the latest technology and materials.
Meanwhile, at Education Week's Bridging Differences Blog, Diane Ravitch, a historian of education, an educational policy analyst, and former United States Assistant Secretary of Education who is now a research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, writes about trying to decide if we're living in an age of national insanity, national stupidity or national meanness and hypocrisy.
...it seems insane to think that we can improve our nation's schools by attacking teachers and the education profession and by turning public funds over to the private sector. After I reflected a bit more, I began to wonder if we actually live in an age of national stupidity, because our policymakers are pursuing policies that have no evidence to support them; this is what they think of as "innovation." When a policy fails again and again (like merit pay) and you push it through anyway, that's not "innovation," it's willful ignorance and stupidity...

...I have concluded that we also live in an age of hypocrisy. We see governors and legislatures claiming the mantle of "reform" as they slash school funding, increase class size, attack teachers' benefits, and hack away at the programs and services available to children.
She goes on to talk about specific plans around the country. Plans which would
  • in Detroit: close half the public schools and increase class sizes to 60.
  • in Florida: eliminate teacher tenure and base 50 percent of teachers' evaluations on standardized test scores. The legislation also calls for merit pay for test-score gains and requires districts to develop tests in every subject that is taught, including art, band, choir, physical education, and on and on. Critics warned that the legislation was a multi-billion-dollar unfunded mandate, because the legislature is not providing funding for merit pay or for test development
  • in South Carolina: cut $12 million from funding for physical education and guidance counselors...yet manage to find $25 million to fund new charter schools
  • in Wisconsin: curtail collective-bargaining rights for public-sector unions...permit the governor to sell public utilities without competitive bidding...lift the income cap on vouchers, so that everyone can attend non-public schools at public expense...increase the number of charter schools...and cut the budget for public education by $900 million.
She ends...
An age of insanity? No, these are rational people. An age of stupidity? No, these are people who could probably do quite well on an IQ test. An age of hypocrisy? Yes. An age of meanness? Yes.
Also See:

Diane Ravitch's address to the American Association of School Administrators. It's in three parts. All three links are below:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

5 myths about teachers that are distracting policymakers

“The courage of a common school teacher”: THIS is what a leader sounds like
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