"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, July 17, 2015

Public Education -- Disenfranchised

Which would you choose...the destruction of public education by the federal government, or by the states?

Steve Singer, blogger at gadflyonthewallblog, is justifiably upset that the Democrats in the Senate supported the Murphy Amendment to ESEA, which would have continued the test and punish policies of the Bush/Obama education programs, while most Republicans were against it.

Singer despairs that the world has turned upside down because the Democrats are pushing the federal government sponsored, "test scores mean everything," position, while the Republicans are for getting the feds out of public education.

Peter Greene offered a comment where he agreed...explaining that since No Child Left Behind, test and punish policies have been bipartisan.
This has been increasingly obvious for a while. And it’s worth remembering that No Child Left Behind isn’t really a Bush program, but was hailed as bi-partisan triumph at the time, championed by the old liberal lions like Ted Kennedy. It is in the dark part of Democrat DNA to believe that nothing can be done without making everyone accountable to the federal government.
I suppose the Democrats voted the way they did because they want to believe that tests are the only thing which ensures that there is federal oversight over the civil rights issue of poor children of color who are consistently underserved by urban school districts. They, too, don't want to admit that poverty is the largest issue and that they have been unable to solve the "poverty" issue any better than the Republicans. When nearly 25% of our children live in poverty, and when poverty is the number one out-of-school factor leading to low achievement as determined by test scores, it's easier to blame the schools for the low achievement than to accept responsibility for the rampant poverty in our culture. Even for Democrats.

Standardized tests merely show that students of color and students who live in high poverty areas achieve at lower rates than students in middle class and wealthy areas -- based on those tests. Democrats want the federal government to demand that the schools "do something about it" so that the test scores go up. In his article, The Democrats May Have Just Aligned Themselves With Test and Punish – We Are Doomed, Singer says,
The Democrats seem to be committed to the notion that the only way to tell if a school is doing a good job is by reference to its test scores. High test scores – good school. Bad test scores – bad school.

This is baloney! Test scores show parental income, not academic achievement. Virtually every school with low test scores serves a majority of poor children. Virtually every school with high test scores serves rich kids.
Might it be a question of ignorance? Do Democrats (and Republicans) not understand that poverty is the main out-of-school factor in school achievement? Do they understand it, but simply refuse to believe it? Do they understand it, believe it, but just can't (or won't) do anything about it?

It's probably a combination of all of the above. The fight over the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, however, seems to me to be a fight between the Republicans, who want to end federal involvement in public education, and the Democrats, who don't trust the states to support programs to help children in poverty.

The bad news is that neither the states nor the federal government have fulfilled the promise of Brown vs. Board of Education or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). Neither the states nor the federal government have been able to solve the problem of poverty. Neither the state nor the federal departments of education have been able to find a way to overcome the effects of poverty and increase real achievement.

What Democrats (and the Republicans before them) in the federal Department of Education have done to public education is the same as what Republicans in the Indiana statehouse (and dozens of other states run by Republicans), and Democrats in cities have done to public education...and it's nothing good.

Arne Duncan is no better than Margaret Spellings. Race to the Top is no better than No Child Left Behind. The Privatization of Chicago Public Schools under Democrat Rahm Emanuel is no better than the privatization of New York City Public Schools under Michael Bloomberg. Andrew Cuomo is no better for the public schools and public school teachers and students of New York, than is Rick Scott for Florida or Mike Pence for Indiana.

There are dozens of examples which an unbiased observer would have picked up on over the last 35 years to indicate that there's very little difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to public education.

Peter Greene is correct. The privatization of public schools is a bipartisan issue. The main difference is that Democrats want the federal government to destroy public education...while Republicans want it left up to the states. The result will be the same...privatization will put money into the pockets of  political donors...which will feed more money in campaign treasuries. Meanwhile, public schools will continue to be blamed and punished for a situation which is out of their control.

This is why I am hesitant to trust Democrats in Indiana. I know that Republicans are the ones currently trying to destroy public schools in Indiana, but are Democrats voting the way I want them to vote on public school issues because they truly believe in them, or are they just reacting and voting against anything that the Republicans are for? Similarly, are the Republicans in the US Senate really on "our" side on this, or are they and the Democrats voting on opposite sides just because...?

Singer continues...
Up until now I’ve always been with the Democrats because they had better – though still bad – education policies than the Republicans. I’m not sure I can say that anymore. In fact, it may be just the opposite.

Which party is most committed to ending Common Core? The Republicans!

Which party has championed reducing federal power over our schools and giving us a fighting chance at real education reforms? Republicans!

Which party more often champion’s parental rights over the state? Republicans!

Sure, most of them still love vouchers and charter schools. But increasingly so do the Democrats.

This vote has me rethinking everything.

Our country’s education voters may have just been abandoned by their longest ally.

Where do we go from here?
Public education is, as another commenter on Singer's post put it, disenfranchised. Supporters of public education have no party to go for support in the political process.

The Federal Department of Education was established because states weren't doing the job of providing a free, appropriate, public education for everyone. Federal overreach by the last two administrations has spurred Congress to react and throw public education policy back to the states...where it failed in the first place. Why would we expect the states to do anything different than they did before? Do any public school advocates in Indiana believe that the current state government would end privatization and suddenly support public education? How about North Carolina? New York? Michigan? Ohio? Florida? Nevada? Arizona? Wisconsin?

I would echo Singer's question...

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The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.
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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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