Archives for category: republicans

Recently on Faux News we learned that public education was all a liberal indoctrination scheme, even Algebra! This is simply the most recent assault on public education as progressive brainwashing The heart of the hard right counterattack has been the effort to destroy public education in favor of a “free market’/private model. One of the prongs in this offensive has been the whole high stakes testing scheme and the powerful corporate sector that has both serviced it and spent millions of dollars advocating for it. That’s the topic of this posting.

I have gently chided by some that the last posting was a bit daunting in length. I would reply that the topic required it, but I get the point.

Here is the short story:

In 1995 Sandy Kress convinced Texas Legislators that the lagging achievements of  minority students could be improved by a new “accountability regime using standardized testing.

When George went national , Kress got to push his plan as a panacea for  pubic education on all the states. No Child Left Behind was born. From its inception it probably should have been called No Child Left Untested.

This grand experiment finally died in 2007, with only Sandy Kress left to mourn its demise . But he had little to gripe about, this law had made him a very rich man. . He became the chief lobbyist for Pearson Publishing which provided everything NCLB – from texts to tests to teacher and student prep materials over the life of the legislation.(By 2012 Pearson’s annual North American gross income was $4,179,240,000,up form a mere $600 million or so in the early days.)

By 2007 the damage had been done:

Texas Backs Away From No Child Left Behind Law, Its Own Bush-Endorsed Creation

“NCLB’s reauthorization in a timely manner has created an obsolete system that does not adequately reflect the accomplishments of the state’s schools,” the state’s education chief Michael Williams wrote in an open letter Thursday. By the law’s definition, in Texas 47.8 percent of schools — and 27.6 percent of its school districts — made “adequate yearly progress” this year.

The road to this disaster is the story of how blind faith that “market forces” and privatization are the cure for everything.

 

Education Inc. – How private companies are profiting from Texas public schools.

How private companies are profiting from Texas public schools.

But when the company—like many for-profits—wants to get its way in education policy, Pearson isn’t shy about deploying high-powered lobbyists. Pearson pays six lobbyists to advocate for the company’s legislative agenda at the Texas Capitol—often successfully. This legislative session [2006] , lawmakers cut an unprecedented $5 billion from public education, including funding for a variety of programs to help struggling students improve their performance on state tests. Despite the cuts, Pearson’s funding streams remain largely intact. Bills that would have reduced the state’s reliance on tests didn’t pass. The Texas Senate refused to pass any bills that would have diminished the role of testing, a stance some Capitol sources attribute to Pearson’s lobbying, while others give the credit to pressure from reform advocates.

Who’s responsible may not matter. The interests of corporate lobbyists and reform advocates are often the same.  It’s difficult to separate the businessmen from the believers.

In a narrow sense, Pearson’s lobbying efforts simply reflect a company protecting its profits. But in a wider view, Pearson is part of a larger education-reform effort that seeks to improve public education through free-market principles. Often that means non-traditional educational approaches like charter schools and online learning. The movement includes a lot of earnest folks, eager to improve public schools and do what’s best for kids. But their efforts have earned a fortune for companies like Pearson. It’s become difficult to determine where the educating ends and the profit-making begins.

To summarize, – we were the first to get onboard the testing for accountability bandwagon, we never got off. The results have been dismal, and we are poised to continue down this road. NCLB is dead, but Pearson has the contract for the new sure-fire testing regime that has replaced it.

As I reported in my last posting after all these years of “reform”, here is where we are:

.Texas on the Brink

Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) Scores   –   45th of 50.

Percent of Population 25 and Older with
a High School Diploma –  50th of 50.

High School Graduation Rate-  43rd of 50.

Percent of Adults with at Least a  Bachelor’s Degree – 31st of 50..

Diane Ravitch, , former Bush Secretary of Education,  summaries the fundamental willful mistake in the entire testing as end of itself :

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch

In education, this belief in market forces lets us ordinary mortals off the hook, especially those who have not figured out how to improve low-performing schools or to break through the lassitude of unmotivated teens. Instead of dealing with rancorous problems like how to teach reading or how to improve testing, one can redesign the management and structure of the school system and concentrate on incentives and sanctions.

Next time, I will talk about the rise and convergence of the starry eyed “Young Turks”  of KIPP and YES and the privatization crowd. Think teacher bashing, apples to oranges comparison and the death of public education. .

Advertisements

I have been inactive over the past 6 months and therein lies a story. Don’t worry, it is relevant to our title.

After about 20 years of teaching only Advanced and Accelerated students, I was asked to teach 3 regular senior World History classes. I had not taught this level and in such numbers for at least 20 years.

I teach at a college prep school, so what was there to worry about? I mean these were simply less talented or less motivated versions of the students I had been teaching for a very long time. I was a veteran of almost 40 years of experience and I had won a lifetime teaching award from my school. I was good at what I did and this would be a piece of cake.

Wrong, it isn’t easy . The key reason why is in those throw away phrases “less talented or less motivated”. I should also add less mature. It is not unusual for young people to be mature as persons, as students, what is missed in that observation is what that means for the average teacher in the average classroom, especially a “public school” classroom.

What I found was that at least 40% of my “college bound” regular seniors could not or would not read their textbooks and a hardcore minority would not bring them to class either. I don’t know how you teach a survey of World History without having your students read a lot of history outside of class. Less you think we are talking 100’s of pages a week, we are not we are talking about 20 to 30 pages a week.

What I found was that these students had a hard time following the logic of a historical narrative/event. I have always maintained that history is simply a course in or collective psychology, repeated lessons on how basic human nature mixed with unique circumstances leads us to act in certain ways, to choose from a limited palate of options. But when asked why barbarian warriors could grow less battle ready after living among the comforts of civilization, most of my students could not see that the very human desire for comfort and leisure and luxury could cause even the most blood thirsty of warriors to grow soft and slow and unready to ride a 100 miles a day to do battle in some distant corner of their conquered lands.

The reasons for this go back to their life experiences and maturity and their motivation or lack thereof. Our technological environment and the culture it has spawned reinforces this superficiality of understanding, this emotional/psychological deafness. To these issues adds shorter attention spans, the expectation that the teacher should spoon feed them everything they need to know and the unwillingness to simply take notes and make a minimal effort to follow along and we have the makings of endless headaches for a teacher.

I am a teacher, and I take it personally when students do poorly. I question what I am doing or not doing to cause this . Even knowing all I have written, I still look in the mirror each morning and ask “what am I doing wrong, what more can I do?” I am now spending between 2 and 4 extra hours a day working on this course. I simply have not had the time or energy to blog very much over the last 6 months. It is not just the extra time required. I find myself emotionally and physically spent at the end of each day. There is no more toothpaste I can squeeze , the tube is often empty.

In this I am like most teachers. We care. We have chosen a profession that is long on hours and short on material rewards, so if we didn’t care we would have to be insane to do it, even more to do it for decades.

All I have said about the challenges of teaching average high schoolers is only compounded when we discuss public school classrooms. They are filled with students who share all the limitations and challenges I have mentioned . But instead of 22 students, fill those classrooms with 30 or more and make the number of classes not 3 but 5 or 6. Additionally, give that teacher not one preparation or course to teach but 2 or 3. Add in the issues created by poverty, single parenthood, cultural marginalization and disparagement. Add learning impaired students in the mix. Did I mention administrators who make “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job”  look like the executive of the year? The challenges are enormous. Now you can begin to see the task public school teachers must take on every day of their professional lives.

I have a friend who  is one of these quiet heroes, so I get to hear about it everyday as we ride home together.

In Texas, and much of the rest of the country we must add a whole other level of challenges – political extremists who hate all public institutions and harbor a special hatred for public education. What that is all about is the subject of my next blog entry.