"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, September 1, 2012

Reformers' Excuses

In a little less than two weeks this blog will be 6 years old...

I've always kept a quote on the top or top side of my blog. The first quote I put up was from Gerald Bracey. In Parents, Poverty and Achieving in School he wrote,
When people have said "poverty is no excuse," my response has been, "Yes, you're right. Poverty is not an excuse. It's a condition. It's like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty."
People are still spewing the poverty is no excuse mantra, but have added a new phrase, made popular by our US Secretary of Education. "Poverty is not destiny."

Agreed. Poverty is not destiny, but in the America of 2012 it's harder to move up the economic ladder than it's ever been. Saying poverty is not destiny is fine...but using it as an excuse to ignore the high levels of poverty in the country and to ignore poverty as a factor in school achievement is wrong.

Instead of providing more experienced teachers and more resources to schools serving children of poverty, reformers choose to close schools, replace staffs and principals, and open corporate charter* schools -- which have no better success in teaching children than regular public schools.

Why? Ms. Katie believes, and I tend to agree with her, that Reformers Just Don't Know....
People like me, on the other hand, say that schools absolutely should be improved, but that that improvement rests largely on providing more resources and opportunity, not on firing the "bad" teachers and hiring only the "effective" teachers.
The current debate about teacher quality is a distraction from the real issue of poverty and equity of resources. Yes, I know there are bad teachers. Obviously there are also bad administrators who haven't done their jobs and fired the bad teachers. Diane Ravitch, quoting one of her readers, wrote,
Only poor administrators can’t fire poor teachers. There has never been a union contract anywhere, ever that didn’t allow for a competent principal to remove an incompetent tenured teacher. And it’s even easier to just non-renew a loser before they become tenured.
Unlike the "reformers" though, I don't believe that the number of bad teachers is as large as they imply and is solely responsible for low achievement...any more than the number of bad police officers is the reason for crime in America...or the number of bad firefighters is the reason for house fires.

Some, like Governor Christie in New Jersey blame the unions, not the teachers. According to him, the "union thugs" are ruining American education. How then do children attending schools with low levels of poverty taught by union thugs achieve so high?

What is important is the correlation between low achievement and poverty. "Reformers," as a rule, just don't get it. Ms. Katie continues (WARNING: graphic descriptions of real life follow)...
I am beginning to realize that many ed reformers may have never seen the worst effects of poverty on kids....Most ed reformers have never seen what I see everyday.

As anyone who has ever read my blog knows, I work as a teacher on an inpatient psychiatric unit for children and adolescents in Chicago. I work with kids who are so sick, that they had to be hospitalized in order to keep them and those around them safe. On our unit, children and adolescents may not even have pencils unsupervised or paper clips for fear of harm.

And through my job I have seen, real and personal, the effects that poverty can have on our young people. I have seen children, with a history of abuse, placed in the foster care system, who are so sad that they bang their heads against walls, scratch their faces, and scream "I want to die." I have seen children who get so angry-who have so little frustration tolerance due to living in unpredictable situations where they had to be in a constant "fight or flight" state to keep themselves safe on the streets-who will beat another child just for looking at them the wrong way. I have seen countless children who were exposed to substances in utero and now their brains do not work the same as their typically developing peers. These children get angry, throw chairs, scream in frustration when their needs are not met, and lash out to hurt anyone around them. I have seen these same children struggle to learn even basic letters and counting, thanks to the cognitive impairments they have. I have seen children who were homeless for most of their life, whose brains were forever damaged by the stress of their early childhood experience, who now require one to one assistance just to be able to function with a group of children. I have seen young girls, so severely depressed about growing up in our lawless inner-cities with parents overcome with drug addiction and gang affiliations, grab a bottle of cleaning fluid and try to kill themselves. I have seen child after child exposed to greater trauma on the streets of Chicago, than our soldiers in Kabul face! I have spoken with countless children who feel hopeless, who feel abandoned, whose lives are forever altered due to the rampant poverty we let them be exposed to.
Do Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Chris Christie and their "reformer" friends really have any idea what it's like living in poverty...living in deep poverty? Yet they, and people like them, claim to know what's best for children and ignore the voices of teachers who actually work in public schools. "Poverty is just an excuse." "Poverty is not destiny."
But I ask you, why do we as a society LET these beautiful children become so damaged in the first place? It is as if we are sitting back and letting a child be beaten again and again by an abusive parent, and then looking the other way. The education reformers out there are saying "sorry you got beat, here are some chants and gimmicks that will help you catch up academically". We tell the kids to "work hard, be nice" as if that were enough. And if some kids can't just "get over" the massive abuse done to them, then they clearly are at fault and don't deserve quality education...
The so-called failure of American education is, in truth, the failure of America. What other nation would accept a poverty rate of almost a quarter of its children? The answer given by politicians, pundits and policy makers is to cut funding for social safety nets (I tried to find a link for you to read about budget cuts, but there are just too many of them. If you really want to read more, check out the Children's Coalition of Indiana or google budget cuts in your state). Instead of investing in our future by providing support for students who live in poverty states are closing their schools and shuffling students around while giving away the public schools to corporate charters. Children who need health care are ignored. Poverty isn't destiny, but some of the physical damage done by the conditions of poverty certainly are. How much longer do we let the status quo of these so-called "reformers" continue?
Ed reformers, go and get educated. You clearly do not know the realities of what growing up in poverty can do to a child. It is a reality that every public school teacher of low-income students knows and experiences daily. It is why we fight, tooth and nail, your disgusting insistence that "poverty is not destiny". That excuse has been used for far too long to allow us to ignore the growing mental health crisis affecting all aspects of children's lives including school. If you did know the realities, and still continued to chant "poverty is not destiny", then you are complicit in nothing short of child abuse.
*References to charters generally imply corporate, for-profit charter schools. Quotes from other writers reflect their opinions only. See It's Important to Look in a Mirror Now and Then

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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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