“The collective good” explained

School Choice further Segregates Society (May 24), inspired comments regarding what I described as “the collective good”. My words may have given the wrong impression. Some responders, printed and online, seemed to imagine a socialist utopia mindset- where excellence is sacrificed in return for evenly divided mediocrity. That is not at all what I mean. The equity in opportunities to compete fairly from the beginning and then demonstrate excellence is what I value- as well as some honesty in the narratives of “choice” and “reform”. To that end, the current state of the economy, school funding, and opportunities available to all public school students should be included in discussions that instead center on how schools struggle to overcome these restraints. This is aside from the elephant in the room: the decay of character and morality fueled by free market absolution of policies that are no good for anyone-children most of all.

If it is profitable, we are made to believe it is acceptable these days-even when the profit is limited and it feels wrong. The good of the market and the never-ending quest for consumers and profit has led to a gauntlet of energy drinks, candy and smut right at the checkout line, 24 hours of trash on TV, and shelves full of video games instead of books in the bedrooms of our school students. This is not supportive of positive academic outcomes for children-but it definitely generates profits. This, as a result, has led to a grand and well-funded misdirection: framing public workers and “failing schools” as the prime suspects while the real culprits get away.

In his 2013 article New data shows school “reformers” are full of it, David Sirota describes it this way:

…the “reform” argument gives them a way to both talk about fixing education and to bash organized labor, all without having to mention an economic status quo that monied interests benefit from and thus do not want changed.

So my “collective good” has less to do with taking opportunity and “choice” from anyone, and is more about working collectively so all can have it instead. This will require hard work and cooperation, and resisting efforts to divide and place a for-sale value on our students.

A better way

There is a better way: collective action at the voting booth that

1) removes big money and market motive from public obligations and

2) demands policy that will reduce disparity and build a more supportive economic/social/moral fabric that sends more once-struggling students to school ready to learn.

Or we could just look down shamefully because we’re afraid of that battle, shuffle our feet a little and think of more ways to blame teachers for the state of our nation and what’s being done to it’s people by supposed “leaders” and by political and economic theater.

Yeah…tests are easier to make and data is easier to respect than people are. Plus, campaign donors profit, make more donations, and a governor gets a maybe shot at higher office!

Win-win, I guess. Except for kids. They still lose, but hey-they cost too much anyways and do you know how many of them there are? Gawd!

Definition of harmful: free-market education

To any willing advocates for truly public education,
 

Our public schools are vital in the development of capable learners and citizens, and they can offer opportunities for the disadvantaged to rise above challenging circumstances. But they have wrongly become the scapegoat for conditions beyond their control rather than an object of respect and the primary focus for support. While public education certainly is an expensive endeavor, it is first and foremost an obligation. As a society, we are obligated to utilize public education for the good of the entire public-not to simply prepare it for the ravages of the market. Imposing a market or “choice” model will only further segregate and separate citizens the way the market does. This is evident both in news about how celebrated and successful charter schools achieve their often manufactured results, and the increasing disparity in wealth and opportunity between the economic classes in our nation.The collective good, therefor, means resisting a free market mindset when it comes to public education.

I have first-hand experience learning from those who know (those working at NYSED and others familiar with regulations) that as many times as regulations say things are available to all students, and as often as we may know in our hearts what is truly the right thing to do: the state of school funding in New York is a powerful determining factor in what opportunities will actually be available to students in our schools. “Our schools” here is a reference to schools that are truly public, and are mandated to accept and serve all students in their area regardless of economic status, family resources, or special needs. It has become fashionable and politically convenient for some charter schools to call themselves “public charters” while having mechanisms in place to shape their enrollment in ways that artificially improve their results on measures of achievement. Instead of quietly being pleased with their “success”, though, leaders of this type of school will sometimes cast critical light on the truly public schools doing the work they refuse to do. Sometimes they even enlist PR firms, lobbyists and politicians at all levels to promote charter schools without promoting the discussion regarding the money behind them, and who they will and won’t serve.

 

The inequity in the funds and opportunities available within public schools and in households across the state already undermines our obligation to educate equitably- more so than unions and bad teachers; more so than bureaucracy within the public education system; far more than the lack of tests or test-related consequences. That inequity and poverty outside of the school have an impact within the school is a reality confronted by dedicated educators every day, and one that is avoided by our leaders and policy makers. It would be reassuring to see legislative movement and voice directed at the real classroom heroes and successes that already exist, instead of either hearing about “waiting for superman” (when there are so many super men and women already here) or seeing test-tweaking legislation that doesn’t target the real issues.

We are the public. Public schools belong to all of us, and it is important to discuss them that way. Education is what builds an informed and capable citizenry-one that drives and demands strong, honest leadership and works together for change when leadership strays from the collective values and goals. Whether it is at the voting booth or in mass demonstrations of displeasure-such as the recent “opt out” movement, an educated and informed citizenry informs and shapes the best results. When the populace is educated and informed, and understands its civic duty to move collectively for change, the benefit is widespread. The economy, cohesiveness within the society, and character of the nation all benefit. Our public schools are ours. They exist for the good of all.

Public education is ours. All of ours.

Leslie Yolen, Marybeth Casey,

Barbara Lifton, Cathy Nolan,

John Flanagan, Andrew Cuomo

Re: Education regulations, policy, and lobbying for students, parents, and kitchen tables


Dear advocates for public education,

Our public schools[i] are vital in the development of capable learners and citizens, and they can offer opportunities for the disadvantaged to rise above challenging circumstances. But they often become the primary scapegoat for conditions beyond their control rather than an object of respect and the primary focus for support[ii]. While public education certainly is an expensive endeavor, and we are reminded repeatedly of its price tag here in New York, it is first and foremost an obligation. As a society, we are obligated to educate and guide young learners for the collective good, and should resist applying the free market mindset popular in current education reform practice. Imposing a market or “choice” model upon public education will only further segregate and separate the classes the same way the market does. This is evident in both news about how some celebrated and successful[iii] charter schools achieve their results, and in the increasing disparity in wealth and opportunity for the uppermost and lowermost economic classes in our nation.

Having had first-hand experience learning from those who know (those working at NYSED and familiar with regulations) I can say that as many times as education regulations say certain opportunities are to be available to all students: the state of school funding in New York is a powerful determining factor in what opportunities will actually be available to students. The inequity in the funds and opportunities available within public schools and in households across the state already undermines our obligation to educate equitably- more so than unions and bad teachers; more so than bureaucracy within the public education system; far more than the lack of tests or test-related consequences. That inequity and poverty outside of the school have an impact within the school is a reality confronted by dedicated educators every day, and one that is avoided by our leaders and policy makers.

Public schools are ours. We are the public, public schools belong to all of us, and it is important to discuss them that way. Education is what builds an informed and capable citizenry-one that drives and demands strong, honest leadership and works together for change when leadership strays from the collective values and goals. Whether it is at the voting booth or in mass demonstrations of displeasure-such as the recent “opt out” movement, an educated and informed citizenry informs and shapes the best results. When the populace is educated and informed, and understands its civic duty to move collectively for change, the benefit is widespread. The economy, cohesiveness within the society, and character of the nation all benefit. Our public schools are ours. They exist for the good of all.


Endnotes:

[i] “Our public schools” here is a reference to schools that are truly public, and are mandated to accept and serve all students in their area regardless of economic status, family resources, or special needs. It has become fashionable and politically convenient for some charter schools to call themselves “public charters” while having mechanisms in place to shape their enrollment in ways that artificially improve their results on measures of achievement. Instead of quietly being pleased with their manufactured success, leaders of this type of education movement will cast critical light on the truly public schools doing the work they refuse to do. Sometimes they even enlist PR firms, lobbyists and politicians at all levels to promote charter schools without promoting the discussion regarding the money behind them, and who they will and won’t serve.

[ii] “Support” here means a variety of things from funding, to policy, to the way those in leadership roles discuss public education. How we support our public schools will determine the degree to which our society benefits. Here, I’ll save on words and get to the point: tests are not the answer, but one of the least significant tools if more equitable outcomes are desired. Tests are not curriculum, they are not true objectives, and they certainly shouldn’t be considered “support”-though they seem to be the go-to for those driving policy and attempting to control the debate and appear supportive. While the testing process and data can inform and guide instruction when put in the hands of educators, it can also be the crutch or the shield people use when they are unable to contend with real life facts that come with real live people; a cheap and insufficient answer to a complicated problem. The time being spent tweaking and safeguarding testing policy and the testing process could be better spent empowering the professionals to handle testing and how tests can be used (since assessment in education is part of a process best understood and implemented by professionals in that field) and turning policy-making on to the funding and opportunity equity issue (since the economy and policy is best understood by those in that field).

[iii] “Successful” is very subjective when it comes to charters. That they are available to only some is fine, that they refuse entry or “counsel out” others is less fine, but that school leaders in these social filter schools would dare presume to compare their results to the community melting pots that real public schools are is simply unacceptable. That politicians would willingly join this theater without openly discussing the play is tragic. That’s not leadership. Just come out and say “These teachers we have been attacking with tests and evaluation are the heroes. They do the job no one else is willing to do. The best we can come up with is a path for the easier, better supported, more efficient to teach and graduate type students. We are still at a loss on the most challenging students in the most struggling neighborhoods and schools…so more tests and evaluations for now.”

From 2011, on Joel Klein

Looking back at some past stuff again. It is incredible-the people who are held in ed-policy esteem without having ever put the time in to deserve that esteem.

Mr. Kleine, the teacher is on the front line, there’s no denying it. But why the absolute denial of any other factor in the “battle” to educate children? More to the point, why the unconditional support of reformers comfortable in criticizing with such a narrow scope? It would be one thing if the out front reformers were experienced teachers saying “here are the things teaching real kids in real classrooms has shown me…” but this is not the case. It would be another if these reformers said “our teachers sacrifice a lot to meet ever increasing demands and do what they can for students- even our most challenging. Now is the time to join them in reforming education.” This is not the approach taken. Reformers, many with no significant experience in a classroom,are allowed credibility they haven’t earned. Their arguments have assumed weight they don’t deserve. Teachers not only work together to meet ever changing and often unfunded mandates from above, they give their hearts,souls and spend some of their own wages to make the most needy feel cared for,safe,valued and capable. While outside of school the “free market” rages on, victimizing most families and imposing great negative influence,teachers still push students to prepare them for the future. The reformers do not mention the societal differences between America and the countries we supposedly compare poorly to. They don’t mention the well paid,qualified and unionized teaching forces that prepare kids to become adults in more equitable societies. It is easier to point at schools and teachers than have their backs, pitch in and join in turning eager young kids into capable citizens. Teachers have always stepped forward, voulunteering to climb that hill and take the offensive. We should look at who has stepped back,looked away and weaseled out of their responsibilities.