Monday, September 1, 2014

Why public schools and tenure are suddenly top priority

            Our public education system is not the source of our state of inequity and outcome-decay, it is a co-victim along with the learners hoping to be more than fuel for the current global economy furnace ( or the gravel under its feet). Still: public school reform has been made a top priority. Why have education reform, failing schools and bad teachers taken the lead position on the "things to do" list? Two possible reasons:

1) There is a lack of will to address the actual problem: economic policy that empowers the greedy and dismisses or covers for failures that result-impacting the economy for everyone else while still enriching the greedy.

2) True education, empowerment, critical thinking, and collaboration in the masses are a threat to the few in power (the greedy mentioned in 1),  so education reform in its current form seeks to control the masses through a standardized education that will merely equip them to serve-not to lead.

            Despite the rhetoric heard from leaders in policy and reform, there is no reason to believe that they really want a nation of empowered, well educated graduates-even though their language is centered around "college and career readiness" and "competition". The implication of the former is that college is appropriate for all, careers are there for the taking (or will be when the "jobs of tomorrow" arrive), or both. Responsibility for any student's failure to achieve either or both lies entirely with public schools and teachers. But little attention is given to either the massive college debt that already exists among the un-and underemployed, or the debt awaiting all of those future college ready students who take on the challenge within a job market that holds little promise.  

            The latter, "competition",  is concerning because it reveals adherence to the cutthroat, me-first philosophy that leads to greed, inequity, market crashes, dishonesty and distrust. I'm not sure many in the forefront of education reform ( being politicians, semi-celebrities, coached carefully by PR experts) would claim that economic competition and individual glory are the primary goals of an education, or that we want to compare ourselves and compete globally with countries like India and China (even though those are often given as examples of who our competitors in the global market are). No one who is calling for America to be economically competitive with these other nations also opens a discussion regarding what our core values as a nation are. They certainly don't discuss whether we really want held up as models either a country where 1 in 6 city dwellers live in conditions unfit for humans or another where child labor is exploited and factory workers sometimes live in filthy dorms working seven day weeks and twelve hour days.

            Is reaching for these conditions the education reform plan for making American children (other than the more privileged) more competitive? I can't believe it, but I'm waiting for it to be proven wrong, namely with healthier models and clearly articulated and shared goals/values- "Common Core Values" (as opposed to standards). But in a world where advancements in technology mean fewer jobs for the majority, and more wealth and power for the minority. conflict is inevitable as inequity increases. Below is a list of five sources, lettered A through D. Each of the technology-related quotes below them can be matched to one of the sources. 

Can you match source to quote correctly?

A) From the "Manifesto" of Ted Kazinski (The "Unibomber")  (1995)
B)  From  a song by Jimiroquai  (1996)
C)  From Bill Gates (2014)
D)  From the July New Tech Schools Annual Conference Keynote Address by Paul Curtis (2014)


1.  ____  Well, technology in general will make capital more attractive than labor over time. Software substitution, you know, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses… It’s progressing. And that’s going to force us to rethink how these tax structures work in order to maximize employment, you know, given that, you know, capitalism in general, over time, will create more inequality and technology, over time, will reduce demand for jobs particularly at the lower end of the skill set. And so, you know, we have to adjust, and these things are coming fast. Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower, and I don’t think people have that in their mental model.

2. ____ The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering even in "advanced" countries.

3. ____  It takes fewer and fewer people to produce the things that we used to produce. And so the question for us is: where will the people go?...So if computers can access this kind of [massive amounts of] data, and compete against humans in something that we would have expected to be a uniquely human trait...again, what is it that human brings to the table...what's our "value add" to this economy, to society...?

4. ____ Futures made of virtual insanity - now
Always seem to, be govern'd by this love we have
For useless, twisting, our new technology
Oh, now there is no sound - for we all live underground

Tomorrow is day 1...and I'm starting to go stream of consciousness here. Let me just say that clearly, the education reform we are entrenched in is closely linked to the future (present?) conditions described above: class division driven by the market, technology, and who controls them. "Common" standards were not called "exceptional" standards for a reason. "Morality", "equity" and "honesty" aren't words heard when reformers disparage public schools. What would the global economy do with so many exceptional people raised with those values? Reformers will not target the true dangers, because they are the dangers that keep them in power, and everyone else under control. Public schools hold the potential to create change and reform from the base of society upward (not force it from above). Educators are the ones capable of challenging students to think exceptionally (not commonly).
This is why public education and tenure are being targeted.

(Answers to matching: 1:C ; 2:A ; 3:D; 4:B)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The things they say, the things they don't

 "StudentsFirst has taken the feedback from our membership and dozens of education policy experts and crafted a policy roadmap for lawmakers to consider as the new legislative year begins."
 (Read: "The inner circle of StudentsFirst and some high-powered and wealthy insiders who shall go unnamed have pre-written some strategy, policy, and talking points for those who appear to be "elected" into decision-making positions.")

"Great teachers make a difference for children of all backgrounds. All children deserve great teachers."
(Read: "By saying something simplistic and universally agreeable, we can then hopefully fool you into accepting some of our more ridiculous's the Trojan horse logic offensive!)

These quotes come from a website describing the studentsfirst policy agenda, and they echo the type of quotes commonly heard from ed-reform leaders. The problem with this "our schools  are failing and bad teachers need to be hunted like vampires" focus is not that schools shouldn't be re-tooled to an extent. If freed from state no-bid contract strangle-holds of canned curriculum and standardized cradle-to-grave test-shackles, real dedicated educators could do great things. The problem is who's defining the problem, what their agenda is, and what the likely consequences are. In addition, the refusal of this crop of non-educator education reformers (who are so far removed from the actual profession) to admit that the very real classrooms and the very real students involved are all very different from their rhetorical fantasy land...well, you have to wonder why they've been allowed a platform at all. The fantasy they are selling is one where great teachers and "choice" heal all failing schools and lift all students to achievement-nirvana.

But these reformers avoid inconvenient truths like the plague.

There are elementary school students who don't know for sure whether they will see their fathers or not that day-or that week. Visiting hours at the jail can be unpredictable, and mothers may or may not enforce the orders of protection that are supposed to keep some fathers away. Sometimes Dad might send a child off to live with the very Mom he openly disrespects because he wants some responsibility-free time to move his new girlfriend in (only to move her out and bring the child back a couple weeks later).

Sometimes it isn't even mothers or fathers that are the issue. Many times, grandparents and/or aunts and uncles are the primary caregivers in situations where the actual parents have either given up their rights or had them taken away by family courts. It's hard to imagine what goes through the mind of a young child who entered this life with the natural inclination to view their mother and father as the most important connections they could have: the source of love and information; the model of how to feel about themselves and relate to others; how to relate to and find their way in the world... It's even harder to imagine what goes through that same mind when those things we take for granted are absent or warped.

While it's hard to imagine some of this stuff, those in a growing number of public schools and classrooms don't have to imagine it. It's their reality, or the reality for others in that school or in their classrooms. Peers see it, teachers see it, principals see it, other members of those communities see it.

But "reformers" don't see it. They seem to be able to buy time, buy the conversation, even buy teachers unions to an extent. Maybe even buy policy and court rulings. No, they don't see it, but do they know it? I think so, but it doesn't seem to matter.

It isn't likely that their own children will ever sit in classrooms being more and more filled with classmates that bring those burdens into school from outside the school. It isn't likely that they will see neighbors, parents, children who want for what are considered the basics: running water, electricity, heat, decent meals. Their time outside of the school day and school year is likely spent in a way that seamlessly ushers their own young along the expected paths towards achievement: connecting more exclusive schooling experiences with lifelong social connections and later college and professional connections.

So when they promote "choice": is it really "choice" to separate the students and families with the resources from the students without-or is that "segregation"?

When they attack "tenure", are they really looking to weaken the defenses before the attack?

"Intentional" is the kindest way to describe it. "Calculated" is more truthful. The language of the public school/tenure attack includes insinuations of pedophiles and "bad" teachers lurking in classrooms protected by insurmountable union nepotism and red tape. "The most important IN SCHOOL factor..." is repeated often, with such stress placed on "in school" that this truth becomes clear:

The greatest, most pressing opponent is the greed and inequity that fund policies and fuel exploitation and PR smear campaigns OUTSIDE of the school. And guess which side the "reformers" are on? 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Two barriers to true education reform

There are many more, and these could be "unpacked" to delve more deeply-which I may do. 

1) The purpose of education seems most recently to be a concept imposed upon us, not conceived/created/decided by us.

Education is not a machine, it's an endeavor. The end result is intended to be a capable American citizen. Yes- enabled with the skills needed to pursue a career path they choose, but more importantly: an understanding of their civic responsibilities and how to contribute to society or "the greater good". An even more important (and related) outcome should be the ability to discern shit from shinola and join with others endowed with the expected products of a sound basic education to drive our democracy and resist the tyranny of the privileged. This is not some Socialist concept, it is in line with the thinking of one of the most respected Founding Father-thinkers! What could be more FOX-Newsy or in line with GOP/capitalist thinking?

In 1786, Thomas Jefferson wrote to George Wythe:

"I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance."

Education of late has started to become money-making for entrepreneurs and policymakers unwilling to meet their own obligation to the greater good-opting instead to  protect and promote the system of inequities that serves them best.

2) Kids have, I mean really changed

It isn't just that "kids have changed". Yes, they most certainly have, but this is almost so accepted that it hasn't even entered into the school reform debate when reformers themselves begin talking about the apparent education pandemics: failing schools, under-achieving students, and overpaid/overprotected teachers. 

They aren't about their schools, students and teachers, of course. The fact that their own kids have a consistent track record of success easing into a continuation of the socio-economic stability and security they enjoyed all through childhood is all the proof they need that the schools for the struggling many must be "failure factories" that are too costly, represent another investment opportunity, and need to be reformed.

The cold, hard truth is that many of those at the front of the reform movement have no connection to the real-life struggles of a growing number of people, or their children. Nor do they have a willingness to acknowledge the consequences of social policy failures taken on by educators in a building full of children who come with much more pressing concerns and needs.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Resisting the move to de-value educators

What will happen if teaching continues to be treated as a workforce instead a profession?

This came to mind when thinking about whether or not teaching is "a calling", something a little more than just a chosen profession; or if it is a mechanized skill that can be scripted, planned, then executed by anyone capable of doing as they are told.

Certainly, money can be made by devaluing educators or educators in the making-first by weakening and cheapening the process and then by owning and selling the methods and measures in the execution of education for the masses.

But to what end?

Would the wealthy stand for simple politicians and policy makers telling them "This is what your children will learn, and how they will learn it."?

Not likely. In fact, we are seeing the movement towards a more segregated system, where a shrinking number of those with resources will have or be provided options for real learning that will promote access to economic and social mobility, while a growing number are subjected to federally mandated sustenance curriculum and educators confined to prescribed curriculum.

Education is meant to promote knowledge, freedom and a citizenry capable of not simply finding employment but resisting tyranny through participation in their government. Educators need to be capable of maintaining the processes that serve those purposes for all learners-not just a pre-chosen few.

Do you know the classic?

An excerpt from a book that was a marker of the beginning of realistic fiction as a genre.

When I had considered this a little, it followed necessarily that I was certainly in the wrong in it; that these people were not murderers in the sense that I had before condemned them in my thoughts; any more than those Christians were murderers who often put to death the prisoners taken in battle; or, more frequently, upon many occasions put whole troops of men to the sword, without giving quarter, though they threw down their arms and submitted.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Bring back the joy

Re: the concept of joyless schools for the already joy-deprived (read “common core”, “rigor”, “grit”, “standardization”, “raising the bar”…you know, the things those with death grips on obscene wealth do when they refuse to acknowledge the power of equity in building a nation strong in moral fiber and character-not just equipped with data warehouses, drones, and nuclear powered aircraft carriers)...
This is the one thing that has me questioning the value of “hanging in there” as a teacher.
Joy is already so lacking in the lives of a growing number of children coming into public school classrooms-and it is more and more evident in the youngest kids. Once upon a time you had to wait for the jaded adolescent to maybe give up and grow distrustful of adults and distance themselves from peers. But the failure of trickle down economics policy to work, and the refusal of those in power (on BOTH sides of “the aisle”) to admit this failure and their own reasons for sticking with it, has led to a deteriorating morale and deteriorating economic and emotional security that DOES trickle down…right into and onto the hearts and heads of our youngest students
The privileged and pompous who would offer themselves as fit to reform the rest of us need to have their power and privilege taken away.
When true equity in opportunity becomes the goal; when we stop revering “investors and job creators” that have done little more the raze the public commons; when bankers, lobbyists and politicians are as accountable as the rest of us; when the middle class families that made this country great are employed and empowered to be at home to model, guide, love and tuck their children in at night…
Well then, our nation will truly thrive and joy will return to our schools-not just those cushy charters and private schools-but ones like the one I teach at and my girls attend as well!
I hope they live to see it.

Monday, April 28, 2014

My Letter to NYT regarding space for "Success Academy"

     The April 26th New York Times included this article by Daniel Slotnik.

     Below, is the letter I sent this morning

      I am pleased that space is being found for the students in any one of Eva Moskowitz's academies. All students deserve equal access to a good public education. But I'm not sure that this is a "feel good" story, or that the treatment of public school choice has gotten the thorough examination needed. 
     The Times, in 2011, featured an article about Katherin Sprowal, a mother who was initially thrilled that her son had won a "lottery" to attend one of Moskowitz's academies. Very quickly it became clear to Ms.Sprowal that this high performing academy was either unable to or unwilling to educate her son, who presented the everyday kind of challenges real public schools and the educators in them handle daily. Ms. Sprowal's son went from poster boy for advertising purposes to being counseled out by academy officials and referred to a public school that was willing to meet his needs. Is preventing access of challenging students to the success miracle still the practice at Success Academy schools, and if so-can we truly say that this promotes school "choice"? Should this be called "high performing"?