"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, February 23, 2013

2013 Medley #4

The Profession of Education,
Charters, Indiana, Testing.


THE PROFESSION OF EDUCATION

This past week saw the release of the 2013 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher. I wrote about the results as did others across the educational and political spectrum. First, the actual report...

The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher
Principals’ satisfaction with their jobs in the public schools has decreased nine percentage points since it was last measured in 2008. In that same period, teacher satisfaction has dropped precipitously by 23 percentage points, including a five-point decrease in the last year, to the lowest level it has been in the survey in 25 years. A majority of teachers report that they feel under great stress at least several days a week, a significant increase from 1985 when this was last measured.

Principals and teachers with low job satisfaction report higher levels of stress than do other educators and are more likely to work in high-needs schools. Less satisfied principals are more likely to find it challenging to maintain an academically rigorous environment and an adequate supply of effective teachers in their schools, while less satisfied teachers are more likely to be working in schools where budgets and time for professional development and collaboration have decreased in the last 12 months.
John Kuhn, in his piece, used a phrase which I love. He said...
...the Church of Reform chooses to place teacher-bashing into their book of orthodox behaviors...
His article however, is much more valuable as a call to arms for teachers.

Circling the Wagons
We are often accused of defending the status quo, but really what we defend is our dignity and worth, not just as teachers but as people. As contributing members of the American experiment. We defend our integrity. The insults that pour from the ivory tower edu-minds as freely as the pollution their patrons dump in our rivers isn’t inconsequential to us. It comes across as a personal attack. And it makes us lean even more on one another. No one understands us, but us.

When they flippantly decry the quality of instruction–and decline at every opportunity to critique the quality of school funding equity or the legislative provision (or lack thereof) of social supports for learning–when they pooh-pooh the quality of the American teacher as the isolated source of all our problems, they are advertising to the general public that my people are bad people. The worst people. We are a threat to the future safety of our nation, per Condi and Joel. Teachers are bad Americans. Teachers are takers.

We may reply, “Hey, the business-first public policies adopted by our leaders are not irrelevant here. They are counterproductive to the academic well-being of our most vulnerable learners. For every step we lead a learner from poverty, our social policies drag him or her two steps back.”

But when we try and make that point, we are shushed and labeled as excuse-makers. The dialogue between the most hostile of public school demolitionists and the most defensive of educators is similar to a dialogue between an abuser and his victim: “You’re such a whiner,” as we point to the yellowing bruise from the last black eye we received.

Those who would fix us should walk a mile in our loafers and see how it feels to “take” what we take on a daily basis.
Walt Gardner expresses the frustration of many education professionals...and includes the reminder that teachers don't work in a vacuum. The low morale of teachers affects students.

Teacher Morale Plummets
What's given short shrift is the effect that low teacher morale has on students. Let's not forget that no one goes into teaching for fame, fortune or power. Those who choose teaching as a career - not as a resume builder - genuinely want to help young people be all they can possibly be. They don't always succeed, but they spend enormous energy and time trying. As a result, the last thing they deserve is unrelenting bashing. And that's precisely what they're getting. I liken the matter to kicking a person when the person is down. Burnout is slow to develop, but when it does it undermines the ability of even the most dedicated teacher to teach students.

Reformers are quick to respond that teachers have plenty of time to recover. They trot out the usual factors: long summer vacations, short teaching days etc. Of course, few, if any, reformers have ever taught in a public school, or if they did, it was decades ago when conditions were entirely different. I guarantee that they wouldn't last a week in front of a class of students now. I say that because teaching was once fun. That's no longer the case. When teachers' jobs largely depend on posting ever increasing standardized test scores, the atmosphere in the classroom is unavoidably altered for the worse. Survival becomes the No. 1 concern.

CHARTERS*

I add a disclaimer at the bottom of a blog entry whenever I include something about charters. Not all charters are bad. The original idea behind charters, as described in Diane Ravitch's book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System is a vision of a school where
...groups of teachers should be able to run their own schools within regular schools and to pursue innovative ways of educating disaffected students.
There are places where charter schools are a positive force in the education of children, but the corporate takeover of public schools using public funds where profit is the bottom line, is not what charters were supposed to be.

The profit motive, so lauded by privatizers, has a tendency to put students a distant fourth, behind the stockholders, public relations, and the cutting of corners to increase profit.

In order to meet their goals of high test scores many charters will skim students. Valerie Strauss writes,

How charter schools choose desirable students
Charter schools educate about 5 percent of K-12 students in the country, but the sector is growing and gets a great deal of financial and public attention from school reformers. The charter school-dominant Recovery School District of New Orleans is repeatedly praised as being a model for how charter schools can transform a city’s public education system — though those who do the praising ignore the fact that the charters in that district are performing at a very low level.
Strauss reported on the following article from Reuters.

Special Report: Class Struggle - How charter schools get students they want
Among the barriers that Reuters documented:
  • Applications that are made available just a few hours a year.
  • Lengthy application forms, often printed only in English, that require student and parent essays, report cards, test scores, disciplinary records, teacher recommendations and medical records.
  • Demands that students present Social Security cards and birth certificates for their applications to be considered, even though such documents cannot be required under federal law.
  • Mandatory family interviews.
  • Assessment exams.
  • Academic prerequisites.
  • Requirements that applicants document any disabilities or special needs. The U.S. Department of Education considers this practice illegal on the college level but has not addressed the issue for K-12 schools.

INDIANA

Last November Glenda Ritz defeated "reformer's" poster-boy Tony Bennett in the race for the Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Unfortunately, the 1.3 million voters who supported Ritz didn't make a similar change in the state legislature. Republican legislators, who overwhelmingly supported Bennett in his quest to privatize Indiana's schools, were elected in even greater numbers and now own a Super Majority in both houses of the state General Assembly. The House Education Committee, led by district 91 (southwest of Indianapolis) representative Robert Behning, has been especially zealous in its quest to remove the "public" from "public schools."

Indiana officials to Ritz voters: Drop dead
// House Bill 1003 would expand Indiana’s private-school voucher program
// House Bill 1358 is a “parent trigger” bill
// Several bills are being considered that would reduce Ritz’s authority as state superintendent or transfer functions and programs involving education from the Department of Education, which Ritz heads, to state agencies controlled by the governor.
The Corporate Takeover of Indianapolis Public Schools
The Mayor’s office is slowly taking powers away from other branches of government. For example, they now have oversight of four former IPS schools taken over under Tony Bennett’s watch.

There is legislation pending that would allow those schools to become “independent” schools at the end of the takeover period...

There is also legislation which would remove the involvement/oversight of the city county council in approving new Charter schools.

Another bill takes a funding source from public schools (proceeds from auctioned properties due to non-payment of taxes) and gives it to Mayor-sponsored charter schools.

Other legislation forces the sale or lease of closed public schools to Charter schools and other private entities.

All of this collusion is no accident...
Sour Grapes -- Again!
Another measure approved on party lines casts a blow on the state teacher unions, already battered by anti-collective bargaining laws approved two years ago. The latest measure prohibits school districts from allowing voluntary payroll deductions for union dues...No local school district officials spoke in support of the dues amendment. They currently deduct annuity payments, United Way contributions, pension payments and more from teacher paychecks. The bill would not affect those deductions.

The only purpose for this amendment is to damage the teachers unions. The only reason for adding it is spite.
Dan Carpenter: Actions by his allies make Tony Bennett's election loss a mulligan
The aptly named "parent trigger" bill is of a piece with a spate of "reform" legislation -- expansion of vouchers for private schools, dropping licensing requirements for local school superintendents, diminishing the role of the state superintendent on state panels -- aimed at two basic prizes: consolidation of GOP control over the multibillion-dollar public education system, and diversion of those dollars to private entities unencumbered by professional credentialing and collective bargaining.
Reform-weary teachers say state leaders missing the mark
• The testing process now outweighs the overall benefit of the student
• Problems in many students' home lives continue to go unaddressed, making it harder and harder for youth to concentrate in school, no matter what reform strategy is employed.
• The heavy-handed, at times arrogant and tunnel-vision approach some politicians have displayed toward education has greatly damaged the morale of teachers, some of whom said they feel like giving up and applying for jobs as greeters at department stores.

TESTING

The bias described in this article could be also be called an economic bias. Tests are designed for the dominant culture. Some test makers work hard to remove bias, but no matter how hard they try, some inequity seeps in. I don't try to argue that all tests are useless or that all tests are bad, but they definitely shouldn't be used for high stakes decisions.

Minority Testing Bias Persists
Education equity should be the norm, but from the makeup of standardized tests to the circumstances surrounding the lives of the students taking them, this equity remains elusive. Fiction-wise, it didn't exist on "Good Times" in 1974 or when Diff'rent Strokes presented the same theme four years later, and it isn't a reality for some minority students today. If schools are to test -- and reasoning for that alone is debatable -- then districts cannot expect fair evaluation when circumstances are different for each child. For many children, the burden of life alone is often so great that their primary goal is not a quality education, but day-to-day survival. And culturally, when academic outcomes are averaged across race and class, the achievement gap grows even greater.

CORPORATE "REFORM"

Corporate "reformers" like Bill Gates, whose only qualification as an education expert is his money, constantly harp on the "failure" of America's public schools and its teachers (read: the inability of schools to solve the problem of a nearly 25% child poverty rate), support the overuse and misuse of tests to evaluate schools, school systems and teachers, and are in favor of "teacher-proof" curricula which anyone can deliver. In Indiana, for example, one no longer needs to have a degree in education to teach...one no longer needs to be a teacher first before becoming a principal or superintendent. The profession of education, according to the "reformers," doesn't need to be a profession at all.

On the other hand, the wealthy supporters of school "reform" like Bill Gates (and Mitt Romney and Barack Obama) make sure that their own children attend schools with highly qualified professionals. They send their children to schools which focus on learning, not testing. The dumbing down of the American Public School System by the insane obsession with test preparation and testing is supported by our elected officials in our states and in Washington D.C. Where did people like Gates, Rhee, Obama, Romney, Duncan and their colleagues in the corporate "reform" movement go to school? Where did they send their children? Do Gates' children go to public schools? Did Obama attend a struggling public school with no school library in Chicago? Did Romney send his children to public schools? Did Arne Duncan ever set foot in a public school as a student or teacher? The answer to all those questions is, of course, no. Yet they feel qualified to dictate to the rest of us what schools should be like for our children...

...and we let them.

A Kindergarten Teacher Stands Up to Bill Gates
Expert educators, including teachers, as well as students and families, understand that these undemocratic, and unproven practices are extremely harmful to the students that you say you want to help. Sadly, this seems to have little or no influence on you to stop and consider that perhaps it is time that you respect the educators and listen to the experts.

Perhaps your wealth and influence could be put to better use and have greater results in real solutions to our public schools, if your programs were designed to function like the schools you send your children to, in collaboration with teachers, parents and students. This could help you understand that public schools are not factories, where children are viewed as commodities; that our children are not to be used as guinea pigs to satisfy the greed in the lottery style profit making schools. We know that certainly these are not the kind of schools where you would ever consider sending your own children.

So here is a challenge for you, if indeed you are sincere that the reforms you are proposing for our children are the answer. Why not try these reforms with the schools that educate the children of the rich and politically influential? Why not take the children in the schools where you, the President and the rich send their children; trade places with the children in the schools of the poor, where your education experiments are being implemented.
*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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