"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

Friday, August 9, 2013

We're Doing It Wrong

We need to take the education of poor children as seriously as we take the education of the rich, and we need to create systems that guarantee all of the elements of educational investment routinely to all children.
That's how Linda Darling-Hammond, former Education advisor to candidate Barack Obama, begins her plea for rationality and reason in public education in the United States.

In Diversity, Equity, and Education in a Globalized World, published in the summer edition of the Kappa Delta Pi Record*, Darling-Hammond describes how "reformers" in America are taking us backwards...doing exactly the opposite of what high achieving nations have done to improve their education systems. We...
  • allow huge numbers of our children -- nearly 25% -- to live in poverty without adequate housing and medical care.
  • allow the impact of economic stratification to manifest itself in education where more money, sometimes twice the amount, is spent on the education of the wealthy than on the poor.
  • allow racial and economic segregation in education.
  • spend more money on incarceration than on education. With 5% of the world's population we have 25% of the world's prison inmates at a cost of $50 billion a year.
States that would not spend $10,000 a year to ensure adequate education for young children of color in under-resourced schools later spend more than $50,000 a year to keep them in jail.
  • invest in standards, testing and sanctions for "failing" schools instead of in a "highly trained, well-supported teaching force for all communities..."




WHAT HIGH ACHIEVERS DO

Using the examples of Finland, South Korea and Singapore, Darling-Hammond analyzes the reasons for their success...
  • adequate and equitable funding for all children and schools
  • competitive salaries and productive working conditions in all communities
  • curriculum focusing on "higher-order thinking skills, inquiry, and problem solving"
  • professional educators with time to collaborate on curriculum, assessment and lessons
  • elimination of examination systems for tracking students
  • a high investment in strong teacher education programs, recruiting top students, and subsidizing their extensive training
  • support for educators through mentors, collaboration time, study, research
All three nations enable and expect teachers to engage in research on practice, and all three fund ongoing professional development opportunities in collaboration with universities and other schools.
  • systematic implementation of these national behaviors rather than "a blizzard of unconnected 'reforms' and then changing course every few years..."
Unlike high achieving nations we don't provide adequate or equitable funding for all of our children. Instead we use the test and punish approach for "failing schools" which translates into students in high poverty schools getting fewer resources -- from libraries, to experienced teachers -- than their wealthier peers, and subsequently "punishing" those same students and their schools for not achieving.

Our schools, especially those with high levels of student poverty, are forced to adopt a "teach to the test" attitude, rather than a focus on learning skills such as problem solving and inquiry skills. Drill and kill -- aka test prep -- is the norm, not the exception in most schools, except for those reserved for the ultra-wealthy...schools like the Lab School in Chicago, or Sidwell Friends School in Washington D.C. These schools don't subject their students to mind-numbing drill or massive testing programs which measure their economic background rather than their achievement.

Our public school teachers are over-worked allowing little time for collaboration. Massive amounts of paperwork -- "data gathering" -- takes up time which would be better used for meaningful preparation of lessons, analysis of curriculum, and professional collaboration with colleagues.

Instead of improving our teacher training many states have lowered the requirements needed to teach in the public schools. Untrained college graduates and subject area specialists with no education backgrounds are being allowed to teach in some states. Administrators with little or no professional education background are being allowed to run schools as if they were qualified. Indeed, the nation's highest education professional, the current Secretary of Education, has never taught school, never had any training in education. Would this happen in any other profession?



WHAT WE NEED TO DO

Darling-Hammond lists what we must do. As a nation we need to
  • invest in adequate health care, housing and food security for all children
  • provide high quality preschool
  • support "equitably funded schools that routinely provide the central resources for learning—quality educators and learning materials..."
  • invest in well-prepared and supported professionals in every community
  • focus on learning goals, not tests
  • organize "for in-depth student and teacher learning and for integrated student supports"

Billionaire "reformers" interested in increasing their wealth and power or driven by anti-public education ideology, along with their less-wealthy lackeys hoping to cash in, prattle on about providing a "world-class" education for the new century. Yet they and their minions in legislatures and executive offices do everything in their power to lower the quality of our schools...lessen the requirements needed for entry into the profession of education...and punish the neediest and most expensive to educate students and their teachers for society's failure to provide adequate resources.

The focus on privatization only exacerbates the problem of providing equity in public education. Tax money which should be used for the benefit of all in an open, well-supported and well-resourced public education system is being drained away into corporate bank accounts.

Schools, communities, teachers, parents, policy makers...need to work together to support and grow America's public education system, not privatize it and shut it down. We must end the inequity in funding and resources and allow all students to have the opportunity to reach their full potential...so our nation can reach its full potential.

For Further Reading

The Schools Chicago's Students:Research-based Proposals To Strengthen Elementary And Secondary Education In The Chicago Public Schools, by Chicago Teachers Union
Standardized Testing: Separating Wheat Children from Chaff Children by Alfie Kohn
The Flat World and Education: How America's Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future by Linda Darling-Hammond
Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? by Pasi Sahlberg

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*Linda Darling-Hammond (2013) Diversity, Equity, and Education in a Globalized World, Kappa Delta Pi Record, 49:3, 113-115, DOI: 10.1080/00228958.2013.819186

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.
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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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