Is There a Better Way? Yes There Is!

… Yes, there Is! is another blast from the past. (Dec. 2012)

I am sitting at home in one of the regions made post-Christmas famous by the storm that just whacked the area with anywhere from six to thirteen inches of snow-maybe more, I haven’t had the chance to get my morning news/weather fix. Normally I would have gotten a decent helping of three-stooges style news with Fox and Friends, watching them stumble around the truth and poke real journalism in the eyes-one of the “anchors” (appropriately named, because FOX is the “cement shoes” of our nation’s collective soul) practically “nyuk-nyuk”ing. I’ll let you guess which of those schmoes is the curly-joe character.

     I am relegated to the spare room with my laptop, because two of my daughters and one of their cousins camped out in our living room for a girly slumber party. My littlest got up early and is forcing me to live, at this very moment, through one of the High School Musical DVDs-complete with her analysis of the acting and dancing, demanding my participation in the conversation. She’s six years old! That Troy Bolton has got magic that transcends age and grade level it seems. Or maybe my little girl just likes cute boys. Man, I’m in all kinds of trouble, and incredibly blessed at the same time. I have three beautiful daughters, and they are incredibly smart, creative, savvy, family oriented. When they are together, great things happen. The link I just placed is to the YouTube channel (or whatever) the girls have made for their videos and their “production company”, TwistedDollStudios. If you visit, hit the “Browse Videos” button. They really are quite warped and fun.

Chloe, my oldest daughter, used to strip her Barbie dolls naked and tie them up in various ways to mesh laundry baskets, bedposts, floor lamps…whatever. She was like three years old! The first video they made on my old cheap basic cell phone had several Barbies and a Ken involved in a love triangle of some kind-nothing nasty, just soap opera teen drama, it was hilarious! A sorceress Barbie transforms Ken into a plastic dog (it was a bathtub toy) and there was a song/video performance (C’mon Barbie, let’s go party-the “dog’s” line, with a close-up camera shot…)-all performed on my little cell phone. I wish I had saved that one, but the YouTube stuff shows some growth in concept, and the cooperative efforts of these kids, even the gross boy cousins, is inspiring.

I don’t worry about the ability of my kids and their cousins to have a great future, if they seek it. I see what they do when they’re together. Through their play and their talk, I see how they think and feed off each other-building products from grains of thought-sand. Smiling, laughing, cooking, camping…They live to get together and do things together, and even though some of what they do is maybe a little twisted, maybe slightly inappropriate, these kids are amazing, loving, brilliant and capable of almost everything.

So how does this happen? I can tell you FOR SURE that no %$#&!!@ standardized test is making these things happen. The teachers these kids have had did much to foster the skills (and the ability to use them), but the opportunities to CREATE are the most important. Generally the foundation for that ability is constructed and refined at home, but it is directed and applied in more practical ways in school. Wasting the time of children and dedicated lifelong educators on test-shackled goals and standards is doing a disservice to learners and teachers. There is a better way to reform education than by isolating the individuals involved in the process with endless, cumbersome testing in a data-fixation and stratification process.

The kids are finally waking up in the living room, Gabriella and Zac (I think) are almost done singing, pancakes and snow play are on the agenda I believe, and at least one more video on YouTube this vacation-especially once the boys from Virginia arrive.

There is definitely a better way to assess our children. Investing our time, money and energy into saddling our families, children, teachers and our schools with standardized baggage: not the way. We need to stand in opposition to this foolishness.

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Wow, a blast from the past.

From my old blog that I need to do some curating from. Clearly I haven’t broken the quotations around “reform” habit. Oh well…I’ll keep trying.

Note:   When I write about reform, I usually put quotes around it (“reform”). This is because I believe the word is supposed to mean actively make improvements, or change something for the better. I do not believe that much of what is being called education reform really does that for public education. Using the quotes, though, puts me in the position of deciding whether to keep using quotes later on in the same piece when the word shows up. Do I NOT use quotes with later uses of the word and make the reader think I believe reform holds true to the meaning, or keep using quotes and have the reader think “Okay, okay-I GET IT. So… no quotes at all. Just know that I do not trust much of what is described as education reform.

-D.McConnell

The United States, is seeing an ever-increasing economic class division between those with the most wealth and power, and those with the least- in effect pushing out the middle class that historically has been a cornerstone of the economy. Policies (foreign. domestic, economic…) have served to allocate wealth and political power so that “the masses” continually find themselves victims of the desires of “the few”. As an effort, I believe to maintain and increase their power and position, the few have initiated a reform movement targeting public education. The motivation to target education as a means to their end is likely two-fold: economic and strategic. On the economic front there is a significant amount of money to capitalize on in both the public funding and private institutions that collaborate to provide schooling to the children of the country. That aspect of the motivation behind reform is quite easy to understand. If there is money to be had, someone will come along looking to have it-even the head of sensationalist infotainment style media sources. On the heels of the financial crisis, the current slow recovery means that corporations accustomed to hand-over-fist money-making need new sources of profit. The public funds going to public schools look good indeed to private corporations. In order to get their hands on that money they have to justify (politically) taking it away. This is why you see well funded reformers like Michele Rhee, travelling around the country-showing up on news programs and at speaking events to continually suggest that America’s public schools (and their students) are performing poorly. According to Diane Ravitch This assertion does not stand up well to the data . Low test scores, in addition, are more closely tied to poverty than poor teacher quality. The motivation to avoiding examination of this correlation, choosing instead to misuse testing data and scapegoat schools, allows bad economic and social policy to continue-essentially passing the responsibility for poverty off onto public schools.

The strategic basis of education reform is a more complicated issue, may be a speculative consideration, but must be considered because it implies more danger in terms of the future-for the majority of citizens and the state of our democracy. The growing trend of taking control of public schools in order to privatize and create price-layered options-selling it back to the people on a “you get what you can afford” basis is great for what may come to be the “business” of education, but will lead to a disparity in knowledge and service. Should this be the direction education in the United States takes, the easiest to teach (usually from the wealthier families) will receive even greater access to the benefits of education. Those families and students will grow into the positions of security, income and influence handed down to them. The most challenging students, requiring more time, effort and resources are likely to face an education that does not meet their needs or help them to maximize their true potential. Most often, the neediest students come from homes with fewer economic resources. While education is a key component to reducing poverty, poverty impacts the ability to succeed in school to begin with. These students will likely also inherit their position in society from their parents. It is very true that poverty is not destiny, but it is a significant hurdle that prevents more and more students from realizing their potential. For school reformers, weakening the public institutions of education would lessen the ability of public unions to influence policy collectively, and the straining of students into a caste-like system would help solidify the position of the groups already enjoying high caste placement.

This is how the current education reform movement, together with political policies of the recent decades, is serving to divide access to freedom, knowledge, and the political process. In education policy specifically, children are being subjected to a mechanized and controlled process of standardization that conflicts with their normal developmental process. We are essentially being moved towards a modern version of the “Dark Age”. Neil Postman, in his book The Disappearance of Childhood says of this time in history:

Our textbooks cover the transformation well enough except for four points
that are often overlooked and that are particularly relevant to the story of
childhood. The first is that literacy disappears. The second is that education
disappears. The third is that shame disappears. And the fourth, as a
consequence of the other three, is that childhood disappears.

This was Postman about 20 years ago, writing about a time in ancient history (following the fall of the Roman empire), but the parallels to modern times are uncanny.

“Soft Skills” Part I : Teachers Go Far Above and Beyond Gates

To reformers, the well-being of children is just not the point.

But it never really was. Early on, the financial crisis was used as an opportunity for a political maneuver, an education-reform launch; an opportunity to pull a bait-and-switch, except this one was a Gates and switch. In 2009Bill Gates, billionaire and default oracle on anything he throws his money at, spoke to the National Conference of State Legislatures and first described the crisis and sets up the problem:

“These are not ordinary times. We’re in a severe economic downturn—and you, as state legislators, may have a more complete picture of the impact of this recession than anyone else in the country. You are forced to balance your budgets, even as the recession increases your expenditures and cuts your revenues.”

On some level, he clearly got what was going on financially-for policymakers anyway. But he avoided the institutionalized avarice of the financial sector and the policies serving to protect it, regardless of the damage to working-class families being done, and instead he skips to describing that damage:

“Your constituents are losing their jobs, their savings, and their homes—and everywhere you go, people are asking you to make it better. This is a painful time.”

Now about here is where a person with a soul and a backbone would say something like:

“This nation is infected with some very powerful, influential and wealthy maggots eager to feed on what little is left of the very people, your constituents, who made this nation great. This has to stop and the way we stop it is with some social, economic and political reforms that will truly make America great again. Whoa- can someone write that down? I may want to put that on a bright red hat or something!”

But Gates didn’t say any of that. Well, maybe he had something to do with the hat, but he definitely didn’t point the finger or give the finger in the direction it was needed. Instead, this is where the switch followed the bait. Like the manufactured “crisis” in education that the Chicken Littles of the post Sputnik year lamented, and the diversion that the alarmist Reagan-era Nation at Risk was going for, Gates decided to make public education the enemy:

“We’ve been in an economic crisis for a year or so. But we’ve been in an education crisis for decades. As a country, our performance at every level—primary and secondary school achievement, high school graduation, college entry, college completion—is dropping against the rest of the world.”

In less than five years after saying this he would be predicting that many jobs would be lost to technology and automation. Today you can see that happening as cashiers disappear only to be replaced by computers that help you do your checking and bagging yourself; touchscreens take your order and your credit card payment at fast food restaurants, so no teenagers saving up for their first cars needed; ATM’s to take and deliver your money from and to your bank-so no teller needed! Rest afraid that it will continue to happen,  and that as time goes by this dehumanization of the labor force and increasing intrusion of technology into our daily existence will have impacts on our students.

But Gates avoided, in his mission to educate the nation, the consistently high correlation between economic stability within communities and families (likely to be eroded with an eroding jobs market) associated with student level of  academic achievement and life outcomes. At the same time, he jumped fully on board with pushing more “products” into schools and a data-driven high expectations, test-and-punish, “common core” mentality that insists all students should perform the way the top 1/3 or so have historically performed. Why would Gates choose to implicate and scapegoat public education, or suggest that more private market philosophy imposed on the public commons was the way to go?

While I can read minds (I do it in classrooms every day- every good teacher does), you don’t really need to in this case. Gates is an open book. Let’s boomerang back to that NCSL speech he gave about how to do a proper rich white-guy gentrification of public education, eviscerate the teaching profession and bend and shape poor children of color to his specifications:

When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better. Imagine having the people who create electrifying video games applying their intelligence to online tools that pull kids in and make algebra fun.

Ohhhhh…so there’s a market! There’s products to be developed and sold and money to be made for some people to come up with things to make other people’s kids do. If you didn’t get the tingles of excitement just reading that, imagine how it has felt being a victim of what that money has bought for the years between then and now. Or a parent watching what was being done to your child and his/her school in the name of “reform”

“But misuse of assessments by politicians isn’t about my kids, really. It’s about the ever-increasing number of those left behind in the economic competition model of public education. More and more kids are coming to school tired, hungry, emotionally and economically insecure, with school and academics low on their list of priorities. Children can’t eat tests and tests can’t hug children.” (Me, April 2015)

Or better yet, imagine if you were a corporation just waiting to crank out some of those “products that can help every kid learn”.

All the PR and promotion you can stand, with little reflection

Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-Gates. I am just anti wealth-backed elitist narrow-minded BS “philanthropy”. Oh-and the ability of a lot of money to pay politicians to force poor people into indentured servitude and  intelligent people to chase that gravy train and continually defend negative PR campaigns and undeservedly hyped reputations and resumes. I almost forgot that last part. Thank God for notes-huh?

“She gleefully assumes the mantle of arch-reformer from a long line of disruptors like Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Arne Duncan, John King, Wendy Kopp, John Deasy, the first generation of charter school founders…” 

That quote was from an article written by Peter Cunningham. In it he describes how Eva Moskowitz descended from the clouds carried on the backs of a dozen winged (say that “wing-ed” like its two syllables) cherubs playing golden harps. Spoiler alert: a heavenly golden aura magically frames her benevolent and at the same time grimly determined and unafraid visage, she sheds a tear of mercy, and then makes a self-sacrificial vow to open the doors of a new school of miracles to all who would come.

Okay, so I’m kidding.

It is a good read, though, primarily as a specimen of the craft of shameless promotion, and for the inclusion of the names in that “long line of destructors”. They are tremendous. Everybody knows it. They do school better than anyone, believe me. Believe me. I’m being wise, so let me dial it back and say A) disruptors not “destructors” (Freudian slip) and B) Peter is one of the more reasonable people in the “reform camp” I’ve communicated with. I just don’t care for the deflections of Moskowitz herself or the lack of honesty in the promotion of her school or others that operate like it.

You see, data, tests, formulas and educator evaluations based on all that are sucking the life, purpose and honesty out education and the debates regarding reform and what “choice” should really mean. Schools that engineer a student body through filtering enrollment and unreasonably strict disciplinary practices in order to manufacture stats should be a “choice” available, but can’t be represented with chin-held-high as “better than” truly public, open-doors schools because of their manufactured better stats. If you really want to, and you manage to get your child into a school like that, then kudos to you. But this is the type of education system, one that ignores what the neediest really need and who can best to define and provide it, that is supported by those disconnected and elite destructors…I mean distractors…no-wait disruptors.

Be patient, I’ll get it eventually

But I don’t want to stretch this out too long. I am going to save some for my next installment where I get to the “soft skills” that employers demand, teachers provide, and reformers so desperately want you to ignore.

 

 

 

 

Evaluations That Make Sense

Did I actually get an email from NYSUT asking for money for the “No NY Convention Fund”, or is it scam email? I know shady people are out there pulling email scam stuff like that. Anyways, I know my union leadership would be motivated to advocate for more respect of my colleagues and inclusion of them in the process of education and constructing/collaborating on a new and more sensible evaluation. That’s why when I saw the “give us more money” I thought it was for a campaign to raise awareness of efforts like Assembly Bill A04016, submitted in January. I hadn’t gotten any emails about it, but it looks promising.

Here is the justification text:

“This bill repeals the current teacher and principal evaluation system.The current method needs to be overhauled as it ties much of a teacher and principal’s evaluation to an admittedly flawed curriculum and high stakes testing regime. This bill empowers the Board of Regents to create a new method for evaluating our state’s teachers and principals and makes sure that they will do so in a manner that takes into account all tried-and-true methods of evaluating an individual’s success. Continue to link our children’s educational future to a flawed system is wrong.”

Go to the NY Assembly page and check it out. Here’s the first ten lines. I’ll donate to get this passed and I believe that many, many teachers that would get behind this.

1 Section 1. Section 3012-d of the education law is REPEALED and a new
2 section 3012-d is added to read as follows:
3 § 3012-d. Teacher and principal evaluation system. 1. The board of
4 regents shall establish a new annual teacher and principal evaluation
5 system.
6 2. The new evaluation system shall be established with requisite input
7 from education experts, school administrators, parents, and teachers.
8 3. The new evaluation system shall be presented to the commissioner,
9 legislature, and governor as a report by no later than January thirty-
10 first, two thousand nineteen.

I’ll be raising awareness to oppose the convention, and I’m assuming dues are already partially spent in that direction. What about this legislation that could make a huge difference and inspire collaboration among all stakeholders?

The “School Choice” Conundrum

“It is best not to straddle ideals,” said FDR in his 1940 letter to the Democratic Convention. The letter was penned hastily as Roosevelt listened to convention proceedings from the Oval Office, understanding that his former vice president, John Garner, along with  a less liberal faction of the party looked to block: 1) his nomination for an unprecedented third term, 2) his pick for a new vice president (the more liberal Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace) and 3) his New Deal for pulling a nation out of The Great Depression. Knowing that the nation was desperate for a government to believe in, FDR was adamant: if you undermine my agenda and my VP nominee- I will not run again.  The letter never needed to be read at the convention because Eleanor, his amazing wife (which wives most often are) saved the day (as wives quite often do) with a direct, on point and hastily constructed message of her own, compelling the party to unite for their cause. You probably know that Roosevelt was nominated (along with his new Vice President), and was in fact nominated for and elected to a fourth term in 1944- the first and last time it ever happened in the United States.

One of my favorite comedians and thinkers on the current political climate is Jimmy Dore. Other than some occasional filthy language my kids might be exposed to, what he has to say bears great value. And in terms of the filthy language: I have trained my kids on how to hear it as well as how, when and why to use it. It doesn’t thrill my wife much, but it does lead to some great George Carlin-esque conversations with my oldest about the versatility of words like motherfucker, and with my daughters in general about “can use”, “try not to use” and “never use” words. Anyways, Jimmy Dore has said this about FDR:

“He brought us Social Security, The New Deal, put money in the pockets of workers, saved capitalism… ‘pie in the sky’. And they elected him president ’til he died. That’s what happens when you legislate with the people in mind, instead of the donor class in mind.” (Jimmy Dore on FDR, “Best of the Left”, 3/31/2017)

The “straddle” FDR feared was between what the party should stand for as a champion of the people and liberal and progressive values, stretched between what it can end up standing for when it sacrifices its values for the priorities of the donor class, some perceived practicality, and/or political gain, or just the weight of moral truths it is simply unwilling to confront. In his letter, FDR wrote:

The party has failed consistently when through political trading and chicanery it has fallen into the control of those interests, personal and financial, which think in terms of dollars instead of in terms of human values.

“School choice” is faced with a similar straddle-dilemma. While the reform roosters crow and the “choice” hens cackle about the evils of unions, teachers, the middle class, the NAACP… anyone they can possibly think of to frame as enemies of the poor and explain why their movement falters-they fail to look down to where their feet are. For all of the bold talk about parent choice and parent rights that education reformers like to engage in, when it comes time for them to really plant their feet and stand for these families in ways that will make deep, systemic change possible and put truly better outcomes within  reach-where are they? They are straddled. One foot on their soaring narratives and the other on the limiting truths.

To explain:

You straddle when you first use “poverty is not an excuse” to shame schools and career educators while at the same time citing the lack of resources and the conditions our poorest are forced to live in as the impetus to “choicing” out to a “better” school to avoid some of the consequences of poverty. One is rhetorical, the other reflects some understanding of truth.

You straddle when you relentlessly beat the gong of high-stakes test accountability and also point the “prison pipeline” finger at schools and teachers, while at the same time defending or avoiding the practice of “choice” schools that manufacture enrollment and test/graduation results and sometimes push students out onto that so-called pipeline. In regards to this particular straddle: the former is specious scapegoating, the latter is convenient avoidance.

You straddle if you insistently defend the right of parents to have choice, and turn around and defend the right of “choice” schools to un-choose parents and children that don’t suit their agenda. I have actually had someone who adamantly claims an intent to protect the rights of parents and protect children respond to me, when I shared an account of a Florida parent being disrespected (and the needs of her child neglected) as the school tried to pressure her out with:

“Did you contact the school or take the parent’s word on faith?”

I had never before seen the priorities of a parent questioned by this person. Other than when parents decide not to surrender their children to the standardized testing and data collection industry, that is.

In the end, there really is no other choice, if the greatest good, true choice, accountability and best outcomes are the goals, than to provide resources and opportunities based on need. Abandoning the need-concept to serve the inequitable status quo (reliance on market principles and the “choice” attached) promotes artificial choice and personal profit. But the market and it’s protectors are entrenched in so-called education reform, and they continually attempt to subvert the greatest good of public education and replace it with individual allotments of “opportunity”.

Because of this, we can no longer completely separate politics from education. Our communities our children and our schools are owed so much more than the non-interventionist, sterile, four-walls and purely academic instruction of days long gone by. That approach simply prepared our youth to fill some awaiting slot in society and eliminated many from slots they might have claimed had a different educational approach been used. We need to think beyond the high-stakes testing blame and shame game that allows our leaders and their reform partners to avoid the true endeavor of public education.

Real reform needs to open the minds and eyes of our communities, empower them to be involved in education and in policy, and we owe it to learners to not be compliant with the status quo that has shown no loyalty to our communities. We owe the public more if we are going to do public education right.

And it isn’t even really about what anyone is owed- it’s what we need. Education is not just a preparation to serve the world that is, it’s casting critical light on the world that was, has been, and considering the world that might be- the world that we want it to be.

Protect the Children

Protect the children from your incremental surrender and ignorance.

Invite them and their families into the schools you love and your children so enjoy as opposed to attacking their schools that are being left undermined and abandoned. Fight to have their neighborhoods safe, their families sheltered, their bellies full and their water clean. Use nonprofit millions- not to fund your agenda but to fund reading programs and become actively involved in a good food, great books and warm beds initiative that will help send more children ready to learn into the schools you are so eager to hold accountable (while you are so unwilling to share your own).

Do more than posture, preen and judge-otherwise you are worse than useless-you are an actual danger and the children need to be protected from you.

C’mon…how much “chance” do I give?

There’s a difference between respecting the president and “giving him a chance”, and respecting the office of the presidency. The office is vital, serving as Executive Branch of the three branches of our government. Respecting the person holding that office is a different matter. You aren’t obligated to respect someone who hasn’t earned it and you aren’t demeaning the office by questioning or criticizing  the person seeking or holding it-if the criticism is deserved. It’s patriotic to be aware and involved enough to point out how we might be doing better.

That said, I’m glad that Hillary Clinton didn’t skate into office on entitlement, recognition, and media bias. But it’s fair to say she has earned more respect than Donald Trump-a man who has likened his military academy attendance to military service, while at the same time demeaning the actual service and POW experience of John McCain; described his use of bankruptcy to avoid tax obligations as “genius”… Watching him desperately shove his way to the front of NATO Summit leaders to lift his chin high and pose for cameras was all you needed to see of a man desperate to be a leader, not just play one on TV.

An admitted serial groper and dirty old man willing to walk in on teenage pageant contestants getting dressed, along with numerous body-shaming and lecherous appearance comments he has readily made about women (including his own daughter) indicate a tendency to objectify women. My daughters deserve a better president.