Which States Value Public Education? A New Report from NPE Says “Pretty Much None of Them”

The Network for Public Education, an Organization with values and beliefs that align with us here at The Progressive Educator, released a report yesterday that evaluated our 50 states and D.C. according to the value each state places on public education.  In writing the executive summary, Diane Ravitch describes the purpose of the report:

Our report, Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card, evaluates how well each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia support their public schools, based on objective and measurable factors aligned with our values. We promote specific policies that will help make our public schools vibrant and strong—a well-trained, professional teaching force, adequate and equitable funding wisely spent, and policies that give all students a better opportunity for success.

The report then goes on to evaluate each state based on the following criteria:

  1. No High Stakes Testing
  2. Professionalization of Teaching
  3. Resistance to Privatization
  4. School Finance
  5. Use of Taxpayer Resources

Readers of this blog won’t be surprised to find that applying these five criteria to the current status quo of “test-punish-close-privatize-and-profit” results in 8 states with failing grades and no state with a grade higher than a “C”.

We find this report to be interesting because it is an example of how a common education reform strategy can be turned on its head.  In order to perpetuate the myth of public school failure, many organizations that promote education reform produce report cards for states based on criteria with narrow visions of accountability or appropriate disciplinary content.  Not surprisingly, many or most state fail these evaluations.  This makes headlines and results in a renewed rush to find solutions (many of which cost prodigious amounts of money) for the “problems” our schools face.

With the NPE report, you see a different take.  If states were to align their values towards public education with the NPE criteria, they would not only see far less demand for external solutions (i.e. testing regimens, expensive gifts to Teach for America, tax payer supported private charter schools), but more importantly, they would actually align themselves with decades of research that shows the “test-punish-close-privatize-and-profit” status quo simply doesn’t work.

We encourage you to check out the entire report here.

Education Voters Must Consider Number 27 at the Primaries

 

It’s fairly simple: 15 plus 12, 10 plus 17, 9 times 3. The number 27 is divisible by 3 and 9, and 27 less than 54.

It’s inexcusably horrific: the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world has the 27th ranked childhood poverty rate.

27th is the way we are treating our most vulnerable, helpless, and defenseless population–our children.

We gave a lecture at Keene State College in New Hampshire on Friday detailing and dispelling myths surrounding education and the media’s constant Dystopian narrative about how bad our schools are, how lame teachers are, and how gooey and wonderful charter schools and vouchers would taste on the American palette of free enterprise and choice.

Rubio, Cruz, and Trump want to close the Department of Education and end Common Core. Sanders and Clinton and Rubio want to expand access to college. All five support school choice in some form or another. Only the democrats list education as issues on their campaign site. Not surprisingly, education is mostly missing from the debates during this primary season but the American people deserve to know how our country can fix education.

We ask that education voters forget about all of the issues candidates are or are not discussing designed to help improve education, myth or reality. All of the educational reform or innovation in the world will not overcome the damning effects of childhood poverty, will not change the 27.

What will or won’t allegedly fix education is irrelevant because none of it will change our rankings on achievement tests (that are nearly perfectly correlated with family income, by the way) or help the children of our country that desperately need us to act boldly on their behalf. What will address poverty is the only question we educators should ask during this election.

Forget charters, Teach for America, universal pre-K, Finland, and Common Core. Forget ESSA, ACT, accountability, and private schools. Not a single thing matters if we don’t address number 27 first. All of this is moot if we address the real issue.

We believe that anyone telling you otherwise is either ignorant, misled, or purposefully obfuscating the reality of education for their own personal, political, and/or financial gain. There’s plenty of static out there about what will help our “failing” education system. It isn’t failing, our economics are.

No change in the education equation matters other than addressing the egregious wealth inequality our country faces. Educational achievement and family income levels line up like Kindergartners heading for the bathroom.

27th in childhood poverty.

We agree that Hillary Clinton might be a terrific president and she’s the choice of many due to her longstanding education work, her experience as a politician, and the support she enjoys of both major teachers unions. We are honored to call her former home of Fayetteville, Arkansas our home. Hillary’s great.

Think 27.

Attachment-1There’s only one candidate that education voters–those Americans concerned about children or our future–should support in the upcoming primaries tonight, tomorrow, and in the coming months: Bernie Sanders. Bernie’s been advocating for wealth equality since before it was cool and until our country faces the hard truth of 27, the crippling effects on our children of what it means to grow up without enough food or safety or supervision or any of the unquantifiable effects of poverty, an issue we believe only he is uniquely qualified to address, lets place a moratorium on ideas how to fix or “reform” an education system that, by the way, when one controls for family wealth, is the best in the world.

In our view, nothing else matters to education, to our country’s future, or to this time in world history more than the number 27. Think of that number and think Bernie Sanders.

Assigning Letter Grades to Schools? The Danger of a Single Performance Indicator

We recently published a commentary in Teachers College Record that revisits aGrades topic we took up in 2014 – the decision by the Arkansas legislature to require the “grading” of schools.   You can read the first portion of the commentary below and finish it up on the Teachers College Record website.  Free access is available for a limited time.

Assigning Letter Grades to Schools?  The Danger of a Single Performance Indicator

Sixteen states require their Departments of Education to assign a single performance indicator such as a “letter grade” to schools within those states. We take a look at the relationship between school grades and poverty in one of these states. Our analysis indicates that there is a moderate negative correlation between poverty and school performance indicators. We discuss the implications for communities and structural poverty and make a plea to reconsider the manner in which single performance indicators are determined. 

In 2013, the Arkansas legislature passed two pieces of legislation requiring the state Department of Education to assign a single indicator of performance to schools in the form of an A through F letter grade. This decision was met with consternation by those who argued that the system represented an unfair oversimplification of the process of schooling. Christian Z. Goering, Associate Professor of English Education at the University of Arkansas wrote,

“Grading schools based on achievement (or growth) will actually be grading them on their socioeconomic status…I challenge all members of the Arkansas legislature to plop down in their cars and drive around to all of the different towns and neighborhoods in their districts, paying close attention to the size of the houses. All they have to do is count the number of garage doors they see on the houses in a particular district and then return to their offices to rank schools accordingly.

  • 0 garage doors/carport – D or F school
  • 1 garage door – D school
  • 2 garage doors – D, C, or B school
  • 3 or more garage doors B or A school.” (Goering, 2015, n.p.)

We don’t have the time or the gas money to take up this challenge, but we were curious to see if there was indeed a relationship between poverty and the letter grades assigned to Arkansas schools. Researchers have found a nearly perfect correlation between parental income and scores on the SAT (0.98) & ACT (0.99) standardized tests (Orlich & Giffords, 2005). Correlations with ethnicity (0.96) were also nearly perfect. These findings do not imply causation, though other researchers have been able to predict district-level state test scores in Language Arts and Mathematics for 60 percent of school districts in New Jersey based only on percentage of single parent households, percentage of residents with at least a Bachelor’s degree, and percentage of economically disadvantaged children (Turnamian & Tienken, 2012). We reasoned that finding a relationship between Arkansas school grades and poverty was a likely proposition.

Read the remainder of the commentary HERE.

The Progressive Educator Goes On the Road to NH

We are very excited to be traveling to New Hampshire this Friday to give a presentation entitled Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: How Americans Have Been Tricked into Perpetuating the Myth of Public School Failure
UntitledUntitledSo, you know, if you’re in the neighborhood and all, come on by.

 

Welcome to The Progressive Educator

EduSanity is no more.

Well, there’s more. But it’s different.

When Chris and I launched EduSanity in 2012 we were pretty angry about the course that public education was taking in the United States. In the three years since our launch we have written lots of posts that take on the forces of privatization that seek to profit off the education of our children.

We won’t be quitting that fight.

But things have changed somewhat. Where we once wanted to simply restore sanity to the discourse of public education in the United States, we now have broader goals. Rather than seeing our blog and related endeavors as a reaction to bad ideas, policies and sometimes people, we want to take our work in a more positive direction.

That doesn’t mean we won’t still fire up the righteous indignation when it is warranted.

As avowed progressive educators, we decided that renaming this site “The Progressive Educator” would be a proper reflection of what we want to do.

It’s important to start off on that path by clarifying what “progressive” means in this context. While we tend to think of “progressive” in political terms – thereby associating the word with others like “liberal” or “democrat” – that’s not how we are using it here.

Instead, we like to think of progressive education in the same fashion as the father of progressive education, John John-Dewey-Laboratory-School-1859-1952Dewey, did over a hundred years ago. I won’t bog down this post with citations or quotes, but rather with a simple distillation of the theory in terms the average reader can appreciate.

Dewey knew that in order for education to maximize its value to the human experience, it needed to be in a state of constant change – or more specifically – progress. Progressive educators are those who recognize that education is experience, that our educational experiences must change as our life experiences change, and that educational experiences are only truly educative if they lead to further life and educational experiences.

That’s a very generalized take on a very complex and granular philosophy.  But blogs aren’t necessarily meant to be complex and granular.  It’s enough to know that progressive educators connect meaningful educational experience to students’ lives in a manner that will prepare and encourage them to seek out more experiences. That’s who we are and that’s what we are in the classroom.

This site is named “The Progressive Educator” because we envision it as a space for those who share our philosophical approach to educating students across disciplines and ages. In the future you will see posts related to this purpose as well as posts that look like classic EduSanity diatribes. Its not like we’re changing who we are.

To be clear, we don’t believe that the discourse on public education has had its sanity restored thereby freeing us to move on. But one can only feed off righteous indignation for so long before it becomes debilitating to the energy and soul of the educator. That’s one reason we want to use this space in a more positive way – to write about what we believe in rather than primarily dissecting the potentially harmful beliefs of others.

Our social media accounts are also changing to keep up. If you already follow us on Facebook or Twitter you will see “The Progressive Educator” show up on your Facebook timeline and @T_P_Educator in your Twitter feed. If you don’t follow us you can click on the icons in the left sidebar!

Thanks for the support,

Jason and Chris

Guest Post – PARCC Reports

When I received the following email yesterday morning, I temporarily had my waning faith in email restored. Justin Escher Alpert wasn’t a name I recognized and immediately I wondered, given the title of PARCC Reports, who had sold my email address. As I started reading the message, an excellent piece of satire about the educational failure known as the PARCC exam unfolded in front of me. I still don’t know Justin Escher Alpert but he authorized the reprint of this, and I find myself wanting to read more. Enjoy, Chris

 

Dear Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers:

Congratulations on the PARCC test reports finally coming out.  It will be great for the kids to come back from the holidays to work on where they fell short last spring.  Thanks for bringing it back up.  Without your efforts, it would be very hard to compare our children to those in Washington D.C. or New Orleans… that is… unless we had the means to actually visit and take in the Culture.

One point for your consideration, please:  That the reports were going to be IN COLOR was a major selling point of the PARCC Exam.  Take a look at the attached sample report.  The colors are dull and faded.  It is almost like we cheaped out on ink.  As long as we are reducing our children to two-dimensional depictions, couldn’t we use more vivid colors, if only to evoke the rich full spectrum of possibility that Life has to offer?

PARCC Mock-Up

Thank you for your continued interest in the few PARCC states remaining.  Perhaps we might compare our lowest-performing schools and work together to fix the underlying socio-economic problems exposed by standardized testing.  The remnants of the PARCC structure would be a wonderful scaffolding to reverse the flow of information and effect innovation at the grass roots level.  Besides, just by sampling the lowest-performing schools, we could extrapolate the issues nation-wide and empower further responsible and accountable local Control.  You know, upon reflection, maybe we could cut back on the amount of testing and just do a statistical sampling.  Nobody ever needed a road map where one inch equals one inch.  You’d spend all of your time cartographing, lost in the details, and sort of miss out on the real-world beauty and adventure of the travel and interactions with People.  Just saying.

That’s all.  Well that, and your science is fundamentally flawed.  If you would like, I could put together a team to show you how to use data more effectively.  There is seemingly a conflict-of-interest bias that affects your results.  Maybe in the beginning of April you could submit your findings for peer review.  A continuing conversation.

Anyway, happy holidays to you and your whole PARCC team.  There is no reason why with critical thinking and rigor, we can’t raise the nature and quality of your work up to our standards of excellence in the New Year.

Very truly yours,

Justin Escher Alpert

Livingston, New Jersey

Money Talks

This is a re-blog of Ann Cronin’s over at Real Learning CT. We do hope you’ll give it a read as we think it’s an important one. Ann’s a smart and savvy colleague working in the best interest of students in our country. Feel free to direct any correspondence to her. 

At first, I felt empathy for Bill and Melinda Gates as they spoke about the Common Core in an interview with Gwen Ifill on the PBS NewsHour. I always feel for people who are talking publicly about something about which they know very little. I then reminded myself that these two people who know so little are actually in charge, almost single-handedly, of American education. That is profoundly wrong. Children and adolescents are entitled to the best education their society can provide. And in a democracy, it is unconscionable for the wealthy few to decide what that education will be.

Please watch this 9:54 minute interview with Bill and Melinda Gates:

If you cannot see the video, please click this link

1. Bill Gates says the Common Core sets high standards, but the Common Core Standards are not high. The Common Core Standards are judged to be harmful and developmentally inappropriate by the most respected early childhood professionals in the country. The math Common Core Standards prepare students for math at the community college level and do not equip students with the high school math to set them on the path for STEM careers. The Common Core English Standards require a pedagogy, popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s but now discredited. The National Council of Teachers of English did not endorse the Common Core. The Common Core is the antithesis of what we know, from John Dewey and many others who have studied the learning process, about how human beings learn because those standards do not teach students to create meaning and construct knowledge.

2. Bill Gates said that the Common Core Standards “have gotten the K-12 progression down”, but the Common Core Standards have not done that. The standards are not based on the cognitive, social, and psychological development of children and adolescents and do not address how children and adolescents learn. Both are required for a K-12 progression.

3. Bill Gates said the Common Core Standards will help students who move from one state to another state, but those standards do not help those students.Standards are not curriculum. Just because using adverbial clauses is part of a Grade 9-10 standard does not mean that it will be taught on the same day or even the same year in Florida and in Massachusetts. There are 188 skills for 9th and 10th graders and no schedule for when they are taught within those two years. To have uniformity of instruction, there would have to be a national curriculum with daily, scripted lessons used in every state at the same time. And that is against the law.

4. Melinda Gates said the Common Core Standards eliminate the need for remediation at the community college level, but the Common Core Standards do not eliminate the need for remediation.  Standards alone never create achievement even when achievement is based on the low bar of standardized tests. According to the Brookings Institute,” the CCSS (Common Core) will have little or no effect on student achievement”. The Brookings Institute report provides data that demonstrates that students in states that adopted the Common Core Standards did not do any better than students in states that did not adopt the Common Core, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the largest and most respected national assessment of what U.S. students know and can do.

5. Melinda Gates said that the Common Core Standards were approved by the governors and state commissioners of eduction, but no governor or state commissioner approved the Common Core Standards. Governors and commissioners voted to adopt a set of standards a year before the Common Core committee convened to write the standards. They had no idea what those standards would be so it is not true to say that governors and commissioners decided that the Common Core Standards were better, higher, or lovelier than the standards the states already had.

6. Melinda Gates said the governors and commissioners of education voted for the Common Core Standards because they knew it was the right thing to do, but doing the right thing was not their goal. They voted for undetermined standards in order to avoid financial sanctions from the federal government for not having 100% proficiency (an impossible goal) as specified by No Child Left Behind.

7. Melinda Gates said teachers believe in the Common Core, but teachers increasingly oppose the Common Core. In fact, the more teachers work with the Common Core, the less they like it, the less they think it’s the right thing.

8. Melinda Gates said teaching the Common Core makes teachers “step up their game”, but teaching the Common Core requires very little of teachers. Teaching the Common Core drains the life out of teachers. Teachers do not need to think critically, plan thoughtfully, and design assessments to evaluate their the students’ growth and achievement. Teaching the Common Core also does not give teachers those rewarding moments in which the they see their students in love with learning and motivated to stretch themselves as far as they can because the learning environment is so inviting.

9. Bill and Melinda Gates equate assessments of learning with standardized tests. The two are not the same. Not even close. Every educator knows the difference between real achievement and standardized test scores. Bill and Melinda Gates must know that too because they send their children to a private school which neither teaches the Common Core nor assesses students with standardized tests.

10. Bill and Melinda Gates said the best part of their work in education was seeing great teachers at work, but they didn’t ask one teacher to be part of creating standards for K-12 education. How great do they really think teachers are? I would bet, in their work of fighting ebola and finding cures for AIDS, they asked medical people to play key roles. Teachers, K-12 curriculum directors, college professors, and researchers who are knowledgeable about how children and adolescents learn could have created excellent standards for education, but Bill and Melinda Gates didn’t ask them.

Bottom line: Money talks. Even when it doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

“Profiting from Those Least Able to Resist”: On the “Promise” of Charter Schools

Day five of CIED 694V: Progressive Education Policy welcomed a guest lecturer from Louisiana State University to talk about charter schools, especially the charterization of the city of New Orleans and surrounding areas. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell is associate professor of Literacy and Urban Education at LSU and coordinates the elementary grades teacher education programs. Beyond living through Hurricane Katrina in the area and bearing witness to what happened in New Orleans–the city is now 100% populated by charter schools–she recently co-edited a special issue of the journal Equity & Excellence in Education on “The Promises of Charter Schools.” The issue was built around a single question: “How is the promise of charter schooling, as a vehicle for social justice in public education, playing out? (Dowell & Bickmore)”

I’ve questioned the motives of charter schools for a host of reasons, including the concept that they are leading to increased segregation of our public school system and the notion that students should not, in any situation, be turned into a profit scheme. To me, charters are a smoke and mirrors attack on public education marauding around as “choices” for parents who might be disenfranchised with their local public school. When I invited Dr. Dowell to speak to our Progressive Education Policy course, I thought I might finally get some nuance to my stance.

Dr. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell provided a guest lecture at the University of Arkansas
Dr. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell provided a guest lecture at the University of Arkansas

In preparation for class and at the invitation of our guest, we read the introduction to the themed issue as well as a piece by Nancy Picard, a Louisiana attorney who penned Louisiana’s Great Education Giveaway, a lengthy blog post that captures the genesis and repercussions of the New Orleans takeover. Ms. Picard doesn’t hedge language in her opening paragraph:

Instead, [charters] create a separate and wholly unequal educational system masquerading as choice, which serves to destabilize and discredit public schools in the name of improvement and to make state funds accessible to a wide range of individuals and corporations with little or no oversight.

As Picard point by point explained what happened in New Orleans, the way the laws were changed without anyone in the city following the hurricane, the way African American teachers were fired when their school system was dissolved, the way the Recovery School District (RSD) has now spread across the state, I grew ill. Those interested in privatizing education didn’t miss a beat in attempting to take advantage of the crisis Hurricane Katrina left in its’ wake. If everyone in education were to read Ms. Picard’s post, the world might, in fact, be a better place.

She closed with damning words for her state:

Tossing around public school funds like so many Mardi Gras beads is irresponsible, short-sighted, and an evasion of our responsibility to educate all citizens.

That last phrase really stuck with me. Isn’t this what it’s all about, the evasion of responsibility to all citizens? Do we–Americans–really want equality in our schools or our country and if we do, why do our actions not support such when our actions are to sidestep and shirk our responsibility of educating all citizens in favor of engineering and then spending a windfall of cash on unproven charter schools?

Dowell was able to put names and faces to what exactly has happened in the area. As someone who has worked in teacher preparation and as a school superintendent and teacher, some of her research has taken her to these New Orleans charter schools. She related that some schools are “Mom and Pop” charters that operate loosely (she offered the example of a New Orleans East charter which ran out of money to bus kids in March of last year before closing) and others are good schools that reflect the part of the city from which they originated (she mentioned Homer Plessy and Morris Jeff as two examples of great schools). It sounded like the quality of the schools was–at least to some extent–dependent on the socioeconomics of the students from which each schools drew.

What’s happened in New Orleans represents one of the elements to education deform–destabilization, an element that Professor Dowell spoke of during her visit to class. The RSD took out all of the teachers with experience teaching in the area–not to mention deep roots in the community–in favor of quick fixes like Teach for America and other temp workers. Charter schools sweep into an area like New Orleans and provide temporary homes for students (and the all important $$$ that accompany them) and many charters–if the national trend holds–will go out of business, leaving students and parents in the lurch, leaving a path of destabilization one might liken to the destructive path of a hurricane.

Class also spent some time discussing issues related to the special themed issue of Equity & Excellence in Education that Dowell and her colleague Dana Bickmore, co-edited. The pair asked important and enduring questions, ones I think the country writ large needs to consider before opening one more charter school.

“But we wonder, how have charter schools empowered students, teachers, and families/parents, particularly in schools that are comprised of children of color and children from low socioeconomic backgrounds?”

Champions of charter schools are quick to point out that some students are achieving in those schools whereas their achievement was less certain in their former public schools. This achievement issue is a tricky one to navigate because how well students do is important to everyone. But because charters are presently conceived as being in competition with public schools and adhere to a different set of rules than public schools, the achievement issue is murky at best. Of course the biggest factor in this conversation is, again, the amount of income present in the home (you might be detecting a pattern here). As Kevin Welner eloquently points out in “The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment,” when education as competition is a game to be played and there’s hardly a limit to ways of gaming the system.

Part and parcel to that game, of course, is the high stakes standardized testing regime, about which Dowell and Bickmore offered this astute analysis:

We contend that one score as an evaluation tool denies social justice. Other outcomes might be appropriate for children who will live their entire lives in the twenty-first century. These outputs might include democratic citizenship and social responsibility, as well as critical self-reflection around unequal socially constructed relationships and enhanced capabilities of students, teachers, and local communities to address marginalization through race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability.

Let me be clear, Professor Dowell doesn’t see charters schools through a single lens. She wants the best possible learning situations for all students and that is something laudable and about which most of us can agree. When charters become, as I’ll argue they have in New Orleans, a source of profit for outside interests, a problem exists that needs to be addressed.

While touted as promising change for the betterment of children and public education in the U.S., charter schools as an educational reform strategy appear to be more aligned with profiting from those least able to resist. We posit that the shift in what constituted a charter school, coupled with the increase in standardized testing and the commodification and privatization of education, limit the promise of charter schools as social justice-inspired entities.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan might have uttered his most offensive words ever in 2010, calling Hurricane Katrina “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.”

If one’s goals are to risk the education of young people (despite overwhelming reasons to question charters), to change laws to make it easier to privatize a public education system, and to destabilize a region in the wake of a crisis, Arne and many others are “profiting from those least able to resist” (Dowell & Bickmore, 2015).

Who will stand up for them?

I Got To Meet the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans: Here’s the Question I Didn’t Ask Him

Sorry for the clickbait in the title, but this is indeed the question I didn’t get a chance to ask David Johns, who is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

Mr. Johns (Twitter @MrDavidJohns) was at the University of Arkansas to discuss “Paying it Forward in the Black Community”, which was sponsored by the Black Men’s Solutions Summit, a group that partners with businesses such as Walmart and Tyson Foods to provide free, educational, professional, and social development events for African-American men.

Mr. Johns and his message

The presentation coincided with the regularly scheduled time for our class on Progressive Education Policy and I was admittedly skeptical when my colleague Chris Goering suggested that we attend this session with our class rather than hold our regularly scheduled discussion. I wasn’t skeptical because of the topic, educational equity is #1 on my list of concerns about public education. I was skeptical because Mr. Johns works for President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, two of the people who I believe are largely responsible for the plundering of public education by corporations and other private interests. Unfortunately, my disapproval for the federal government’s education policy is so powerful that I am immediately suspicious of anybody who works for it. That’s not fair, but that’s where I am.

However, Mr. Johns changed my opinion of President Obama’s education policy somewhat. He had a powerful message on the importance of love when educating African American students. I believe that love is important when educating all students, and I’m sure that Mr. Johns does as well, though his audience was predominately African American and he heads up an initiative for African American students, so that’s where he went with the message. He reinforced his message by providing examples of black children with amazing academic accomplishments – further dispelling the notion that the success of African American students should be determined by a test score. He spoke of the importance of making sure that “black babies” are enrolled in high quality pre-school programs, which is one of the president’s primary policy goals. He gave the audience some concrete suggestions and places to find resources in order to make sure that African American children have access to similar opportunities as their future white classmates.

As I listened I went from dubious skepticism, to nodding my head along with his presentation, to a feeling of optimism. It seemed that for the first time, I was hearing something from the federal government (of which Mr. Johns is an agent) that really spoke of educational equity. Secretary Duncan has called standardized testing a civil right, though as I’ve said before, the appearance of equity doesn’t make education equitable.

And this is where my question started to form. The one I didn’t get to ask.

I blame myself for not asking the question. Mr. Johns was more than gracious with his time, and there were many members of the audience who had some great questions that he answered very convincingly. I blame myself because it simply took too long for me to formulate the question in my head, and by the time I had it right, time was up. Fortunately, in this space I can pose the question and then expand on why I feel compelled to ask it. So here it is:

“Why do I have to be on a university campus among a predominantly African American audience in order to hear this message?”

To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of Mr. Johns, but rather a criticism of the way in which the federal government has handled education policies surrounding issues of equity.

Nationally, the federal government praises and promotes the proliferation of charter schools – despite the academic research that says they are no better on average than their public counterparts and in the face of research that shows they are disproportionally segregated. African American students are more likely to attend the “No Excuses” charter schools that are far more about controlling black babies than loving them. Secretary Duncan has used his influence to disproportionately emphasize the importance of standardized tests – leading many low income schools to make drastic cuts to anything other than time spent on math and reading. Perhaps you’ve seen this Washington Post story about a student in Newark, NJ who is destined to spend the vast majority of his time preparing for standardized tests rather than receiving a well-rounded education. Ironically, I received an email during the presentation about the hunger strike in Chicago to oppose the closing of yet another neighborhood school. Chicago currently serves as a model for eschewing love in favor of closing neighborhood schools and opening charters staffed with temporary teachers (i.e. Teach for America). Where’s the love?

That brings me back to Mr. Johns. His message was music to my ears but it isn’t a major talking point in the mainstream message coming from our federal government. Aside from the major policy push towards universal preschool, the message that Mr. Johns brought to this audience is lost in the misguided rhetoric of Duncan. The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans is a commendable effort, but in the bigger picture, it reminds me of Black History Month – a special (and segregated) place in education where we pay attention to what we should be concerned with 365 days a year in the mainstream of public education policy.  Perhaps I didn’t look hard enough to find this White House initiative or find Mr. Johns before this event, but my point is that I shouldn’t have to.  Nobody should.

I have no idea what conversations about education on the highest levels of our federal government look like, but I hope that Mr. Johns and others like him are heard in those conversations. I sincerely hope they have a central and increasing role in deciding future policy.  That would give me some hope for the future of all students in this country, especially those who need far more love and far less technocratic nonsense.

Progressive Education Policy – Day Two: Know Yourself, Know Your History

Who decided it was a good idea to write a weekly blog post on a class? As I second guess that decision from a time commitment perspective, I’m pressing forward for several good reasons. By opening the doors to our classrooms in this fashion, we’re modeling positive behavior that we see in our local schools and in schools around the country, but we also admit that doing so is a risk. It’s much easier to shut one’s door and do what she or he thinks is best for the students, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. By sharing glimpses of class and materials and readings from a potentially enigmatic–privatizing education, for example, is en vogue across party lines–course like this, we are opening ourselves to criticism and the potential for outright attacks. That said, the door to Peabody Hall 307 is virtually and physically open for others to join because part of the point of this class is to communicate with those outside of the academy. It’s much easier to not practice what we preach.

Let’s start with a quick recap of last week’s class and a reminder of what was read and prepared for Day Two. Last week we kicked off the semester and partied like it was 1897 with John Dewey’s “A Pedagogic Creed.” Students concurred that the text is just as relevant today and it provided the impetus for all of us in class–instructors included–to begin to stake our claim in our own individual educational beliefs. Students and those following along at home were encouraged to take up the questions, “what’s your line in the sand and/or what do you most firmly believe about education?”

Peabody Hall

On Wednesday, September 2nd, we worked to take additional steps in addressing these “line in the sand” and “firm beliefs”  questions by presenting drafts of our educational oaths. We split the class into three groups for writing response. The format for the response groups was something I learned in the 2007 and 2008 Invitational Summer Institutes of the Northwest Arkansas Writing Project. While I’d participated in and directed students through a variety of peer revision and editing formats, as a teacher I’d never settled on one that truly worked. Rather than participants reading the papers of one another, these “NWAWP Response Groups” rely on oral readings of an author’s paper and then a conversation that following focusing on what the listeners liked, questioned, and suggested about the piece. It might be a form of educational alchemy because I’ve found it to work so well with so many different populations.

In listening to and reading my educational oath to others, I was both buoyed and challenged to further develop what I was writing. I’ve decided to tackle a teacher educator’s oath for a host of reasons, none perhaps as glaring as the fact the media and various pundits believe teacher educators to exist somewhere under the layer of pond scum that covers the local lakes each fall. Decisions are taken out of our hands, opportunities to influence our future teachers are taken out of our hands, and generally speaking our profession is being privatized right along side that of  the K-12 Public Schools. This is nonsense for lots of reasons, but I digress.

For those of you following along at home, you may want to attempt to replicate the experience of the response groups by both reading your oaths aloud and reading them aloud to someone unfamiliar and asking for structured feedback. They are due next Wednesday, September 9th at 6 PM.

In addition to developing and refining our educational oaths for Day Two, we also read two pieces for class–Chapter One of The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myth, and Lies and Stan Karp’s “Challenging Corporate Ed Reform: And 10 Hopeful Signs of Resistance,” that appeared in Rethinking Schools (a publication I can’t recommend strongly enough).

Dr. Endacott led our discussion of the two readings that students completed in advance of class. He started us out talking about the efficiency epidemics in education starting on page 14, a point Tienken & Ulrich make as part of a general unpacking of the attempted and failed education reforms of the past century. Perhaps an early theme of their book is the cliche notion that those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it, an issue that came up in Day One’s reading and discussion of Dewey as well.

To this issue of forgetting our history, it seems to me that at least some of this disappearing act of our educational and social foundations are not a coincidence. They represent efforts to deprofessionalize education and to ultimately make it into a for-profit business. An article that influenced my early thinking on this issue was written by Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon from the University of Tennessee, an article in The Journal of Thought in which she challenges the leaders in her college on the fact that she was then the lone remaining faculty teaching social foundations of education.

A nation that does not have citizens who are knowledgeable about their past, understand their cultural roots, are able to analyze their social institutions, and able to make an argument for what should be on the grounds of justice, care, beauty, truth, and goodness is a nation that cannot hope to be a democracy someday. (p. 6)

And while the article wasn’t part of our discussion, it provide a representation of the general experience we shared as readers of Tienken & Olrich’s Chapter One–this was a good reminder of what has been tried, what worked, what didn’t, and how important it is to know and keep current our knowledge of educational history.

One aspect of the efficiency notions of education in the early Twentieth Century are again ideas that seem to be very popular once again, especially in this quotation from the chapter that suggested that overwhelming research evidence “…did not defer the efficiency gurus and the wannabe business-captain superintendents from climbing aboard the efficiency train.” (Tienken & Olrich, 2013, p. 15)

The second reading, the article from Rethinking Schools, was equally as generative in terms of discussion. While Tienken & Olrich do a nice job of naming the challenges and outlining the historical perspective, Stan Karp’s piece outlined the current challenges but ends with then (2012) hopeful signs of resistance.

Some of the ideas that seemed hopeful in 2012 have evolved greatly in the last three years, especially the example of United Opt Out and the fact that 20% of students in New York state refused to take the PARCC exam last year. Others ideas have faded but new ones have surfaced too. Students in class brought to the fore a reference to the situation in Little Rock and a recent article published in Alternet (detailed below) detailing how parents organized to attempt to stop privatization efforts in the city following the state taking over the school district last year.

We finished class by outlining the projects and aim for class and handing out the syllabus. Students have a good amount of say in which topics we’re covering and when. They ranked potential topics for a course such as this and we’ve landed on eight topics  they want to cover in class as a class this semester. Drumroll:

High Stakes Accountability
Standardized Testing/Achievement Gap
School Choice (Charters, Vouchers)
High School & College Graduation Rates
Education & Inequity
Teacher Accountability, Merit Pay, VAM
Federal Education Policy (NCLB, CCSS, RTTT)
Alternative Teacher Preparation

In what we think is an important movefrom the 2013 iteration, we’re shifting writing and discussion leader responsibilities towards an outward audience. In other words, we had terrific discussions in class two years ago and the students took on projects of a public advocacy nature, but the work they completed were more academic in nature. Students will write blog posts instead of discussion papers, for example.

For next week:

1. Complete your Educational Oath.

2. Read and prepare Chapters 2, 3, and 4 from Tienken & Olrich.

3. Select two or three topics from the list about which you’d want to write and lead discussions.

Further reading:

Holloway, K. (2015). How the Billionaire Kingpins of School Privatization Got Stopped in Their Own Backyard. Alternet Retrieved from http://www.alternet.org/education/how-billionaire-kingpins-school-privatization-got-stopped-their-own-back-yard

Thayer-Bacon, B. (2013). Dear Dean Rider and Department Heads McCallum and Bell. Journal of Thought, 6-16.

Tienken, C. Standardized Testing is Not Teaching. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/dPs46yOcwP0