"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

Monday, December 5, 2011

Excuses, excuses!

Our schools have been labeled as failing by people who have never stepped foot in them. The favorite weapon of these 'reformers' is test scores.
Michelle Newsum, Teacher at Coos Bay (Oregon) School District, continued,
* American kids in schools with less than 10% poverty far outscore all
other nations
* Kids in schools with up to 50% of students living in poverty score
well in comparison to the international average
* Only American students in schools with more than 75% poverty score
below the international average

This trend holds true for virtually all major standardized tests. On the TIMSS, PISA, SAT and NAEP low poverty schools do well and high poverty schools do not.
Stephen Krashen has made this point repeatedly, but as teachers know, it takes as many as twenty repetitions for students to learn something and some may need more. It takes even more repetitions to overcome misinformation such as these comments from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan from 2009 in Atlanta...
...[Education Secretary] Duncan noted while striding through Atlanta’s Grady High School...“You can have all the money in the world, but it won’t make a difference if teachers don’t believe their students can learn.”

...[Duncan] has no patience for teachers and schools that tick off all the reasons that their poor or minority students can’t achieve.

He doesn’t accept the excuses that their parents don’t care, their homes lack books and no one takes them to museums or plays.
Secretary Duncan, in misinforming the American people, doesn't seem to know the difference between understanding that all children can, indeed learn at their own rate, and the fact that the condition of poverty interrupts the education process.

In The Year They Began Calling Poverty and Homelessness an 'Excuse' Mike Klonsky wrote
Duncan has chosen to ignore poverty's downward effect on test scores and focus entirely on what he calls "bad teachers" and "failing schools." Recently confronted by educators teaching in some of the nation's highest-poverty areas about the need to do something about the living conditions of their students, Duncan cynically responded, "poverty is not destiny."
Yes, Secretary Duncan is correct, poverty is not destiny, but as Gerald Bracey said,
[Poverty is] like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty.
Duncan's assertion that poverty is not destiny, while true, minimizes the role the government has played in increasing poverty over the last 10 years, and the lack of progress in reducing it. He has essentially said that "bad teachers" and "bad schools" are at fault for not reducing poverty in the United States.

The last two years, especially, have see a surge in family poverty.
The poverty rate increased from 13.2% to 14.3% between 2008 and 2009, representing an additional 3.7 million people living in poverty for a total of 43.6 million in poverty in 2009. The poverty rate for children was 20.7% in 2009, representing 15.5 million kids living in poverty. In 2009, over one-third (35.5%) of all people living in poverty were children.
Unlike Secretary Duncan, most people understand that poverty has a deleterious effect on people, especially children.
In 2009, over one-third of black children (35.7%) and nearly one-third Hispanic children (33.1%) were living in poverty. Families (with children) headed by single mothers hit 38.5% in 2009. Of the 6.6 million families living in poverty, 3.8 million of them were headed by a single mom.
Schools can't provide everything needed to heal children from the effects of poverty. Families are the most important part of a child's life. If the family is not functioning properly due to a lack of food, heat, medical and dental care, or emotional support then schools will have difficulty doing their job...especially as money for education decreases and class sizes increase.

In Waiting for a School Miracle, Diane Ravitch wrote
Families are children's most important educators. Our society must invest in parental education, prenatal care and preschool. Of course, schools must improve; every one should have a stable, experienced staff, adequate resources and a balanced curriculum including the arts, foreign languages, history and science.

If every child arrived in school well-nourished, healthy and ready to learn, from a family with a stable home and a steady income, many of our educational problems would be solved.
The so-called "reformers" are trying to tell us that if we improved the education of children then poverty would disappear. However, it's the opposite which is, in fact, true. The education of the majority of poor children in the United States will improve once their poverty is reduced.

Blaming schools and teachers is the excuse used to cover up the failure of our society to deal with the growing poverty rate in our nation. When the billionaires (Gates, Broad, Walton), their foundations, their mouthpieces (Duncan, Obama, Klein, Bloomberg, et al), along with their state government lackeys (Walker, Scott, Kasich, Snyder, Daniels et al) direct the course of public education in the nation then something's wrong. None of them have ever taught in a public school...indeed, many of them, like Secretary Duncan, never even attended a public school. Their lack of experience in and knowledge of teaching and schools should disqualify them from affecting the direction of education in the United States.

What have any of these people done to reduce our nation's poverty? Susan Ohanian put it best:
When Congress passes No Child Left Unfed, No Child Without Health Care and No Child Left Homeless, then we can talk seriously about No Child Left Behind.

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