It’s true, I support education reform

Public Education Needs to be Reformed

It’s true, I am in favor of school reform. We need school reform because times have changed and are changing-and it isn’t all good. Changing so much, in fact, that public education needs now to be thought of as more than a mere step-up to opportunities in life but also as the bulwark against the offensive forces depriving us of opportunities to truly thrive. A recent New York Times article describes the economic decay eating our nation from the middle out:

Younger households have borne the brunt of the slowdown. Those headed by people aged 30 through 44 are more likely to be lower income — and less likely to be middle income — than in 2000

These are our parents, our families, our neighborhoods. The jobs, the income, the opportunities waiting for high school graduates, college graduates, and young people looking to start families and lives and join these communities…those things that once strengthened and stabilized our nation and its economy…they just aren’t there the way they once were. The problem is that the public sector, used, abused and abandoned by the buyer-owners of policy, have been scapegoated for the conditions created by financial and political shenanigans of those buyer-owners. The scapegoats aren’t so much “public” as in parents and families (needed as a force to win over and then turn upon their own neighbors, schools, those just under-and-over class compared to them…). The culprit pointed to was the public sector worker with any amount of job security, social and financial stability, or likelihood for advancement.

Those apparently became only for the wealthiest and/or those connected to policy. People who began to revolve in and out of corporate advisement, political appointment, and “non-profit” advocacy regardless of their experience, performance or content/clarity of their message.

So education reform was launched and flown by these forces-less experienced in education or interested in educating citizens; more interested in training future citizens for survival in and compliance with the currently destructive system.

A truer reform effort, different than the current one grounded in a campaign of misdirection and misinformation, will be one that doesn’t just toss about words like “school choice” or “teacher quality” when it plays well in snips and snaps. It will be about more than a collection of arrogant and privileged non-educators playing education expert-partnering with policymakers to avoid the real issues and replace those issues with tests and data. True reform will come after a deepening of the debate regarding what those terms (and others used in current reform’s dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge[i]  style talking points) mean for who-and what efforts need to be made to move us forward on a better path.

Regarding a better path:

First off, let’s be honest: if you fail to get adequately educated your outcomes are less likely to be desirable. Surprised? I hope not, but current education reform narratives are built on this understood truth as if it’s some new epiphany limited to those who are behind the school reform campaign. Their evidence that schools are failing include a long semi-legitimate list (remember, I believe reform needs to happen but we need to replace theater with thought): that so many more young people are struggling in school; that so many are failing in school; that so many leave high school and attempt college unprepared; that so many drop out or are expelled; that test scores aren’t what they should be…it goes on and on.

The reform campaign, while likely to produce improved outcomes (“survival”?) for some, was initiated under an umbrella of blame that is not convincing. Sure we can all be better, should want to be better, but the propaganda can get a little outrageous-and it must be kinda fun too. I’m sorry, but there’s a twisted part of me that wants to travel back in time and be a fly on the wall for the conversations that rocketed Rhee from lousy teacher for a few years to nationally renowned teacher humiliat-er  and education expert. For those who can reach back to the classics and make this connection, I am going to give reform-think a shot:

The only reasons Charlie Bucket made it to the final round was that he was a disconnected white child of privilege, and because Willy Wonka ran a shoddy, narrow vision failure factory (and was himself an overprotected failure…probably a pervert too), and all his products were wrapped in shiny packages but contained little real quality. Actually, Charlie didn’t really earn that factory…he was just given it because Willie didn’t want to hold him to a higher standard!

What many reform advocates avoid is a discussion about the undeniably correlated factors that 1) impact a learner’s ability to take advantage of opportunities and in concentration can place hurdles in the path of a school’s academic mission-turning it towards a more social one; and 2) encourage market forces to undermine the goal of having a truly educated citizenry, turning the goal of public education towards feeding the free-market furnace. It didn’t take long for reform narratives to shift to “the most important in school factor…”

But of course. That’s like an arsonist avoiding responsibility by saying the most important in home factor in preventing fires is a fire extinguisher. The market seeks to undermine, blame and maximize economic and social control.

Under Obama, the privatizers—led by Bill Gates and the Walton family—have opened a huge area of government to an industry led more by entrepreneurs than teaching professionals

While this did come from Alternet, I wouldn’t categorize it as just typical Alternet alarmist-speak. The folks involved in test-based accountability and common standards are pretty much on the record salivating over the opportunities available in the edu-product market-especially those available once citizens are compelled to comply with common standards, becoming a large population of standardized consumers.

What do you suppose education reformers and our leaders intend for the world our children are growing up in to? Is it a “civil right”-is it right at all, for us to demand, test and punish a growing number to ensure that a few more will merely survive?

Can we do better with a refocused brand of reform for all of us?

[i] Patches O’Houlihan, dodgeball legend

Let’s keep “choice” honest

Instead of repeating the words choice and accountability as if they are stand alone solutions and suggesting that the most important results are linked to fudge-able stats (test scores, graduation rates…) we should be demanding real educational accountability- for honesty; for integrity; for the good of all children, not just the ones with parents equipped to participate in the “choice” market.

And while those streaking across our public commons with their shiny, well-funded behinds hanging out, waving a banner saying “Me saying ‘accountability’ proves how much I care about the poors” can appear honest-we never really get into HOW the exemplar supposed stellar performing charter schools achieve their results.

This should also be part of the conversation.

Now I am fully in favor of parental right to choose. My wife and I  spent a lot of our time chasing down choices that according to regulations should have been available, and then got told it depends on whether a school can afford to or wants to provide them. When alternative choices or settings exist, parents should be free to choose them but better questions would be:

  1. Why are our traditional schools not empowered to bring Al Shanker’s original vision for locally controlled, professionally driven charters to life within the public school system?
  2. Why all the praise for the opaque, privately controlled, selective charters who are held up for comparisons to disrespected and underfunded traditional schools?

A prime example is Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz who has been clear and proud about how she keeps some students out, gets rid of others, refused to sign standard preK contracts for funding then claims that holding her to them hurts children.

“If they backfilled older grades, [Moskowitz] said, the incoming students’ lower relative academic preparation would adversely affect the schools’ other students.”

Traditional, truly public schools are not free to operate this way and their doors are open to any student coming to them regardless of their readiness to learn. They don’t filter their enrollments to artificially stroke and protect their testing and graduation stats (ala’ Moskowitz). They plow ahead, underfunded and over-mandated, trying to meet the needs of a mixed group of students that include top students and peers needing maximum support. It’s not just disingenuous to disparage obligation and prop up artifice-it’s shameful.

And yet every time a pro-choicer wants to prove the value of “choice”, Moskowitz’s “high performing” Success Academy is held up like a beacon with little examination of how she and the school is allowed to operate in order to make protecting those results first (putting students second). Not only is she more than willing to defend how the school filters in and pushes out students, she is shameless in her self-promotion, willing to  empty her schools of staff and students to lobby in the streets for her private, selective enterprise during school time! 

AND she had the nerve to call it a civics field trip or something. But who wrote that lesson plan?

“An option was not presented. The schools assigned everyone with a job, so you were either going to be an instructional coach or a bus captain,” one teacher explained. “They weren’t really asking us if that’s what we wanted to do. They were telling us that that’s what we were going to do instead of teaching for the day.”

Can you imagine the Education Post articles that would have been written if local schools had done this in order to push for and end to the ongoing failure of the Governor to meet public school funding obligations?

I do believe high quality choice means honest choice through valid comparison of earned (not manufactured) results that include test scores but go beyond.

Maybe the NAACP has some ideas on how to make this happen. Some way where we can have honest choices and valid comparisons instead of transparent campaigns to undermine schools that belong to the public.

Be cautious, not bold, for our children

November 16th, 2016

Dear President Elect Trump,

First, let me say congratulations. I am not surprised by the outcome the way many are-especially those whiners in the so-called mainstream media. Clearly they are out of touch with Main Street America, but that was pretty obvious the moment they started getting their knickers in a twist over the immense popularity of Bernie Sanders and going out of their way to put a forensics team onto anything you’ve ever said or done-all while ignoring the entrenched establishment connecting lobbyists, policymakers and media outlets. Don’t get me wrong, I think you come off like a jackass when you promise to cover the legal fees of a violent Trump fan willing to assault a protester. The Tic-Tac and “move on her like a bitch” stuff deserves to be hammered hard (don’t get excited, that’s not sexual euphemism) because it’s crass, misogynist, and adolescent in all the worst ways-especially coming from a guy old enough to be my dad and more so considering my perspective: an actual adult man with three beautiful daughters. Don’t get excited-it’ll never happen. In the end, the campaign behind us was a perfect storm: a combination of the ineptitude of the DNC and your ability to play the crowd and the media. You are a true showman, bold-and-beyond, so again-congratulations.

Next, I want to address the issue of education. There is a lot of curiosity regarding how things will go moving forward. I think you should focus less on abolishing the common core standards, and more on:

  1. Reducing federal pressures on and intrusions into the minutiae of how schools prepare their students for the world that is.
  2. Moving away from the exclusionary test-driven rigged system that sheltered, elite and arrogant Democrats say readies students for “college and career”-with zero honesty about what that really does in terms of protecting them in their establishment bubble over addressing student needs.
  3. Ensuring more equity in opportunity for students between less affluent and more affluent districts. The opportunities to be exposed to a wider variety of enriching experiences from an early age is what prepares young learners and then motivates them to excel as they grow and seek out more opportunities on their own.

Your comments on bringing control back to the local level are encouraging-breaking free of the Chicago edu-mob and promoting some honest educators with understanding of what children need and how they learn would be a great step forward. But don’t get too loosey-goosey with it (again, don’t get excited, go for the tic-tacs and start grabbing at anything down-low and within reach, I just mean don’t go too “slash-and-burn”). Some fed oversight into overall common expectations isn’t bad, but those expectations should be based on developmentally appropriate standards and respecting the fact that while teachers should be evaluated-children also need to come to school prepared to learn and freed of much of the physical, psychological and emotional baggage more of them are bringing to school these days. Standardized tests won’t hug or feed these kids, or read to them or help with homework, but stable homes and present parents will. This country is failing these folks at the community and family level by not having jobs and incomes that keep communities and families stable. Stability in these areas is a more powerful booster than any temporary teacher whose claim to fame is firing a real educator on T.V... oops. Please don’t take that wrong, firing people on T.V. might work as a vicarious thrill-I’m just saying I hope that the Michelle Rhee thing is just a rumor when it comes to how we raise and educate children. It’s one thing to inspire tall buildings labeled with giant gold letters-another to rise inexplicably from not good at a job to judging how others do it-could be part of that self-important, image-over-substance “education reform” establishment, I guess.

Let me wrap this up by telling you I did not vote for you, but I felt no remorse at Clinton’s loss (I didn’t vote for her either). The nation has suffered under pretend progressives and while the party I almost never vote with has won-I am keeping an open mind and a hopeful heart. I hope you will do the same.

Sincerely,

Dan McConnell

P.S. I hope you got the letter my daughter wrote you last year and took some of it’s advice to heart. Be a little more cautious and a little less “bold” when it comes to how you model true leadership. I have my own children as well as those I teach to think about.

Pinto Owners are People

They’re kinda ugly-the Pintos, that is. And it’s been a long while since one has rolled off the factory floor-thirty years or more? So you have to imagine if one is still being driven it has left much rubber, many years, and many miles behind. It’s the type of car Jay Leno probably does not have in his warehouse-of-cars collection-nestled between one of the McLarens and a Jaguar (I now know its pronounced Jeg’-yoo-ahh…but maybe that’s only on the other side of the pond).

But should we pass judgment on a car that might be good enough to get someone to work and back, to get their kids to school and yet is not good enough to make it into the Leno collection? When you see a Pinto parked in a neighborhood in decline, or in front of a home that looks as if it’s in disrepair; or if you see a family piling into or out of one (rust around the wheel wells and a bungee cord holding down the hatch-back trunk, maybe even a piece of cardboard duck-taped over the space where a window used to be), cigarette dangling from the mouth of the man climbing into the driver’s seat with a fistful of scratch-off lottery tickets in one hand; four kids, all looking a little unwashed, squeezing and climbing into a backseat that has room for only three…No-you shouldn’t pass judgement.

While knee-jerk judgments might be made about people who spend money on smokes and scratch-offs while their kids skip breakfast entirely, eat bagel bites and boxed mac and cheese for dinner, and hope the “free and reduced” will fill the hunger and nutrition gaps…it is the impact (not the details) of living in poverty that needs to be considered-not how you feel about the people living in poverty and the choices they make. We can’t pass judgment on the decisions people make because they have to, or feel like they have to.

We should, though, counsel those who ignore forces feeding into poverty, and those who dismiss the impacts of poverty-especially if they do it to suit an agenda. I will call them the swollen ticks on the ass of society, for want of a better term. Take, for example, Walmart. Lauded for the willingness to employ, for its profits, and for the founding family’s willingness to support the undermining of public education, the corporation is often overlooked in terms of its genius business model. They have found a way to have taxpayers subsidize their fabulous profits as well as their mission to create more poor people and keep them poor. Their wages are so low that workers often need food stamps to survive. That absolves Walmart of the guilt that would gnaw at your average non-nightstalker because: “Hey…the taxpayers will help feed their babies!” The good news is that you can get real cheap stuff at Walmart-which makes keeping people poor less of a burden on your soul, I guess.

Do nightstalkers have souls? I guess that’s writing for another day.

Where it becomes suspicious, even dangerous, is when the approach to things like education reform is formed and framed carefully by those who live comfortably distanced from poverty. This means they are unfamiliar to any practical degree with the jobs and situations they comment on, and are also protected from the agenda they promote. So while some applaud, for example, Campbell Brown’s efforts to highlight an imagined army of pervert teachers using tenure to protect their sicko inclinations as well as their professional ineptitude, I view it with a mixture of caution, regret, and a pinch of sympathy. This approach is the mac and cheese of the privileged; their cheap-n-easy go-to. That’s all they have because they can’t/won’t and don’t want to do the real work; because they don’t really know what it’s like to have your choices limited to “this” car and “that” food; because they make their money within the very system benefiting from poverty to begin with! If education reformers were to participate in a more truthful and comprehensive examination of what is behind the “reform” movement, and why reform is really needed; if they committed themselves to finding a cure: they’d be undermining their purpose (which is avoiding those cure-conversations and focusing instead on an efficient and marketable prescription-thereby protecting the system that is and pays them to protect it).

But in time, strategies that lean in to profit and away from people are exposed. Consider this description of how Ford negatively impacted their own reputation with their private take on customers:

Much of the negative sentiment toward Ford was in response to their use of an economic risk-benefit decision making analysis which found that the cost of a recall would outweigh the value of the lives it would save.

So for the same reason you cannot pass judgement on the Pinto family, you can’t justify judgement on the nightstalkers. It’s economic risk-benefit. It’s what they know. They move from one unsuspecting endeavor to the next, and as one host is bled out or fails, they are promoted to/shifted to/ pop up in another opportune location with a formula, a sure-fire plan, a consulting position and some talking points to buttress their value… It’s like soulless immortality in a way-and the ultimate in job security. But sooner or later, people who know better find out.

 

And Pinto owners are people.