If I were in charge…

People sometimes ask me what I think needs to be done with the schools. This is really a two part question for me. One part is the policy side—what should or should or should not be required. The other part of the question is what are my ideas of what a good school and good teaching look like, which does not imply I believe in mandating those ideas even if I could. For this blog I will look at the former, and discuss the latter in my following blog.

miketest4What I would change is the mandating of curriculum (so called Standards). The mandating of standards for education in a democracy can only be justified in the case of an overwhelming consensus on such standards. There is no evidence for such a consensus, and lots of evidence that these is considerable controversy over both what such a curriculum should look like and whether there should be one at all. While I have my views on what I think all children should learn, I do not see it as my, or anyone else’s place to impose those beliefs on others, much less an entire nation.

Along with that is we need to get rid of high stakes mandated standardized testing. Standardized tests have so many problems, not the least of which is that they impose a standardized curriculum. If a certain test is required , and there are high stakes for how one does on that test, then teachers must teach to it, and students must gear themselves to it as well. That means standardized curriculum. Standardized tests are also, by definition, culturally biased—they have to be normed, which means an automatic bias to the dominant group. That is just a fact of psychometrics. And, as the test makers have admitted, their reliability for individuals is not all that great, and yet they are used to judge individual students. I also do not accept their validity for much more than a test taking skills, schools skills, and one’s zip code.

What I do support is a strong public school system. One thing such a system needs is at the very least equalized funding, and really more funding is need for those who live in poverty and have other strikes against them in life to at least begin to equalize some of the built in advantages those that are well to do and of the dominant culture can give easily to their kids without schools.

I also would not allow schools supported with public funds to select students. The only selection that can be justified is to balance in terms of demographics to more equally represent the community. Such balances do matter. It does matter that we are raised and schooled with those that represent the larger society. Schools of choice are great if the choice is the choice of the students and the parents and not of the schools. One way charter schools often get around this is counseling students out with such phrases as “Your child would/does not fit here.” I would ask of anyone stating that, “Do you have a better school for my child than this one?” If they cannot honestly find a better fit for that child, one that all parties agree to, then they have no place making such statements.

I would give local schools and localities autonomy over what and how to teach. But they would have to publicly justify their decisions, allow for public input and make their results public. What kind of results would vary, but again, they need to justify why they think the results they have used demonstrate a well educated democratic citizen. There would need to be some sort of democratic governance, but that can look different in different places.

These are the main things I see that are justifiable at the national or state level. Others you can think of?

The second part of the question is what do I think good teaching and schooling look like, which I will explore in my next blog.

School Deform

Regarding the current moves of so called school “reform” at the national level. The aspect of this is toward a nationally standardized curriculum (i.e. Common Core). And it is standardization, not standards that are being mandated—make no mistake about it. Standards refer to the quality of something. There is little about quality in the national curriculum—rather what is mandated is the content. The only mandate about quality is about competition—that students have to score above certain cut off scores (and teachers being paid according to those scores). But scores do not equal quality—they equal quantity. These scores tell us virtually nothing about the qualities of the work that students (or teachers) can perform, certainly not about work that matters beyond testing.

FireTeachersCartoon

What mandated curriculum means is that what we want from public schools is a standardized citizenry. It really is that simple. We cannot teach innovation, creativity, and certainly not democratic citizenship in a school system where one answers to test scores on a curriculum to which those carrying out and engaging in that curriculum have virtually no say.

Those that are enacting this know that those with resources have a way out—schools for the rich still allow for creativity and self governance. That is what the privatization movement, along with the charter school movement is about (at least in part). This, as we know of everything else that is privatized, leads to a system in which the quality is based on one’s ability to pay for it. Those with the most resources can and do pay for schools that still allow for creativity, choice and abundant resources.

So really, the question is simple—if we want a system that teaches one group of children (and their teachers) to be obedient and standardized, and another group educated to be creative and powerful, then we should continue these current reforms. If we want democracy, then we need to democratize schools, and give them the resources and freedom that the rich seem to feel their own children deserve. It really is that simple. Have we or have we not given up on the idea of democracy?

What is Wrong with Vouchers?

The rhetoric behind vouchers is that if everyone had vouchers parents could select the best school for their child instead of being forced to go to “government” schools*.

Where does such logic fall apart? There are two main logistical reasons it is really a false promise. One is economic and the other is question of who gets to choose.

The private schools that the elite send their children to cost tens of thousands of dollars a year to attend. I looked up a few progressive private schools and tuition ranged from $20,000 to well over $30,000, more than many private colleges. And the actual amount they spend per pupil is well over the tuition since they raise lots of extra money from alumni. (They also tend to pay their non-unionized teachers significantly less than public schools.)

Since at best the voucher proposals I have seen only pay a small fraction of that, these vouchers will leave the recipients with few real choices without putting out a lot more money. I do not think the public is going to go for vouchers of $20,000+ and have never even heard such figures discussed. If they did, the public education bugets would soar. (And those already in private schools would and should claim they should get the subsidies too). What it would do in effect, at the rates being proposed, is subsidize the middle class and rich to abandon public schools and send their children to private school, and while leaving such choices out of reach financially for the poor.

The other issue is who chooses. Most private schools have selective admission, and limited space. Since unlike public schools they get to choose their students, even if the voucher fully paid for them (which of course it will not), they would still most likely cream the easiest students to teach, leaving the more difficult to teach children in the public schools.

These two factors in combination would end up subsidizing private schools and middle and upper class families at the expense of public schools and the poor that are left in them. This would further segregate our schooling system into the haves and the have-nots.

Since I have never heard voucher proponents either suggest that vouchers should be at the levels necessary to have them cover the full cost of most private schools, nor to force private schools to take those children, I find their arguments disingenuous.

Charter schools, in theory at least, get around both of the above limitations. There is no tuition; schools receive the same funding as the other public schools, and (at least in California) schools cannot select the students. (In reality, though, they often find ways of using other means to “encourage” and “discourage” certain types of students.) So, is this not a solution?

Why I still do not favor even this is that it fundamentally changes the purpose of public schools. Traditionally we have considered the education of the next generation to be a concern of society as a whole. In fact, virtually every society has considered this to be true throughout history. For this reason, locally elected school boards have governed our public schools.

Charter schools and voucher systems make schooling a private consumer choice. In the charter and voucher systems consumers choose among the choices offered them, but have no guaranteed right to have a say about the schooling other than making that choice. Those who do not have children in the schools have no say at all. Private schools are run privately, and do not have to answer to the public. Charter schools usually have to answer for test scores and financial responsibility, but even there it is to the state and not in any direct way to the local public. While charter schools have governing boards, they select their own members of those boards. This gives control of the content of schooling to those who run the schools, often for-profit concerns, but even if not, private concerns of some sort. While our government is not perfect, should I really trust those who have private agendas and do not have to answer to the public to decide the how and what of our next generation’s schooling? Public school boards are elected, and have open meetings; private schools do not have to. Even if the charters do have open meetings, they are often run by national organizations and so are inaccessible and would probably just say, “Don’t send you child here if you don’t like it our agenda.”

Vouchers and charters are about redefining the public as consumers rather than citizens, which is part of a larger corporate agenda to destroy public institutions and the limit the power of the public.

For the above (and other) reasons, I see truly public schools as the only answer for those committed to a democratic society.

*Read between the lines the implication that anything the government does must be poor quality. Yet since parents in the suburbs and rich areas are perfectly happy with their public schools, why is it only the public schools that the poor kids go to that seem to be failing? “Government” schools for the rich and middle class are fine it seems—as long as they don’t have to share them with the poor.

Dissecting Common Core Assessment Myths and Realities

[From Fairtest.org]

DESPITE HYPE, PLANS CALL FOR MORE HIGH-STAKES TESTS, COST AND STRESS; MORATORIUM ON NEW EXAMS NEEDED

A new fact sheet shows that the Common Core Assessments, which are being rolled out for widespread implementation in the 2014-2015 school year, are not significantly different from the standardized exams currently administered in many states. At the same time, plans call for more high-stakes tests with even greater costs.

“Despite proponents’ claims that the Common Core would lead to a new breed of assessments that focus on higher-order, critical thinking skills, the planned tests are predominantly the same-old multiple-choice questions,” explained Dr. Monty Neill, Executive Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest).

Dr. Neill continued, “Rather than ending ‘No Child Left Behind’ testing overkill, the Common Core will flood classrooms with even more standardized exams. Their scores will continue to be misused to make high-stakes educational decisions, including high school graduation. They will also end up costing taxpayers millions more for new tests and the computer systems required to deliver them.”

The FairTest fact sheet also challenges the notion that harder tests are automatically better. It states, “If a child struggles to clear the high bar at five feet, she will not become a ‘world class’ jumper because someone raised the bar to six feet and yelled ‘jump higher,’ or if her ‘poor’ performance is used to punish her coach.” Scores recently plummeted in New York State and Kentucky where Common Core tests were initially administered.

Based on its analysis, FairTest is calling for an indefinite moratorium on the Common Core tests. “As the prestigious Gordon Commission of educational experts recently concluded, these exams are not the better assessments our schools need,” Dr. Neill concluded. “Instead, a system of classroom- based performance assessments, evaluations of student work portfolios, and school quality reviews will help improve learning and teaching.”

Bilingual Education: The Research

For those who have any doubts on the efficacy of bilingual education, below is a summary of the evidence from over more than 20 years.  I will follow up with my summary of why it works in a future blog.

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National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth (U.S.), August, D., & Shanahan, T. (2006). Executive summary: Developing literacy in second-language learners: Report of the national literacy panel on language minority children and youth. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. [meta-analysis]

“The research indicates that instructional programs work when they provide opportunities for students to develop proficiency in their first language. Studies that compare bilingual instruction with English-only instruction demonstrate that language-minority students instructed in their native language as well as in English perform better, on average, on measures of English reading proficiency than language-minority students instructed only in English. This is the case at both the elementary and secondary levels” (p.11).

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Rolstad, K., Mahoney, K., & Glass, G. V. (2005). The big picture: A meta-analysis of program effectiveness research on English language learners. Educational Policy, 19(4), 572-594. [meta analysis]

“Empirical evidence considered here indicates that bilingual education is more beneficial for ELL [English language learner] students than all-English approaches such as ESL [English as a second language] and SI [Structured immersion]. Moreover, students in long-term DBE [Developmental bilingual education] programs performed better than students in short-term TBE [transitional bilingual education] programs.”  (p.19)

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Kellie R., Mahoney K. & Glass, G. (2005)  Weighing the evidence: A metat-analysis of bilingual education in Arizona. Bilingual Research Journal. 29(1)

Abstract: This article reviews the current policy context in the state of Arizona for program options for English language learners and produces a meta-analysis of studies on the effectiveness of bilingual education that have been conducted in the state in or after 1985. The study presents an analysis of a sample of evaluation studies (N = 4), which demonstrates a positive effect for bilingual education on all measures, both in English and the native language of English language learners, when compared to English-only instructional alternatives. We conclude that current state policy is at odds with the best synthesis of the empirical evidence, and we recommend that current policy mandating English-only and forbidding bilingual education be abandoned in favor of program choices made at the level of the local community.

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Hofstetter, C. H. (2004). Effects of a transitional bilingual education program: Findings, issues, and next steps. Bilingual Research Journal, 28(3), 355-377. [primary research]

“After 4 years in their respective programs, students in ALA [Academic Language Acquisition, a form of transitional bilingual education] and SEI [Structured English Immersion] classes displayed only nominal differences, at best, in their performance on various achievement indicators. ALA and SEI students… were comparable on English-language SAT–9 tests in reading, mathematics, and language arts, as well as the reading and listening and speaking portions of the CELDT, an English-proficiency test. The only significant difference among groups occurred in writing, where students in… ALA … scored lower than their peers.” (p.16)

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Howard, E. R., Sugarman, J., & Christian, D. (2003). Trends in two-way immersion education: A review of the literature (Report No. 63): Center for Applied Linguistics. [research summary]

“On aggregate, the research summarized in this section indicates that both native Spanish speakers and native English speakers in TWI [two-way immersion] programs perform as well or better than their peers educated in other types of programs, both on English standardized achievement tests and Spanish standardized achievement tests.” (p.30)

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Thomas, W., & Collier, V. (2002). Executive summary: A national study of school effectiveness for language minority students’ long-term academic achievement. Washington, DC: Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence. [primary research]

“Enrichment 90-10 and 50-50 one-way and two-way developmental bilingual education (DBE) programs (or dual language, bilingual immersion) are the only programs we have found to date that assist students to fully reach the 50th percentile in both L1 and L2 in all subjects and to maintain that level of high achievement, or reach even higher levels through the end of schooling. The fewest dropouts come from these programs.” (p.7)

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Snow, C., Burns, S., & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children [electronic version] . Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Retrieved  March 24, 2007 from http://bob.nap.edu/html/prdyc/index.html [Research summary]

“The accumulated wisdom of research in the field of bilingualism and literacy tends to converge on the conclusion that initial literacy instruction in a second language … carries with it a higher risk of reading problems and of lower ultimate literacy attainment than initial literacy instruction in a first language.”

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Greene, J. (1997). A meta-analysis of the Rossell and Baker review of bilingual education research. Bilingual Research Journal, 21(2-3), 103-122.

“Despite the relatively small number of studies, the strength and consistency of these results, especially from the highest quality randomized experiments, increases confidence in the conclusion that bilingual programs are effective at increasing standardized test scores measured in English.”

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Thomas, W., & Collier, V. (1997). School effectiveness for language minority students. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. [primary research]

The first predictor of long-term school success is cognitively complex on-grade-level academic instruction through students’ first language for as long as possible (at least through Grade 5 or 6) and cognitively complex on-grade-level academic instruction through the second language (English) for part of the school day, in each succeeding grade throughout students’ schooling…. The second predictor of long-term school success is the use of current approaches to teaching the academic curriculum through two languages.” (p.16)

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Ramirez, J. D. (1992). Executive summary: Longitudinal study of structured English immersion strategy, early-exit and late-exit transitional bilingual education programs for language-minority children. Bilingual Research Journal, 16, 1-62. [primary research]

“Providing substantial instruction in the child’s primary language does not impede the learning of English language or reading skills.” (p.44)

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Willig, A. C. (1985) A Meta-Analysis of Selected Studies on the Effectiveness of Bilingual Education. Review of Educational Research

“Meta analysis results were compared with a traditional review of bilingual education program effectiveness. When controlled for methodological inadequacies, participation in bilingual education programs consistently produced differences favoring bilingual education.”

The Undermining of Democracy

I just got one of those “Surveys” from the Democratic National Party, asking my opinion about the Republican Party and Obama’s record. It also asked me to prioritize my top issues. The issue it did not include is the undermining of and attack on democracy itself in our country.

These attacks come in many forms. While the Republican party and corporate America has led these attacks, the Democrats and Obama have been complicit in most of them as well.

The influence of money on elections and the ludicrous protection of Corporations as “people” are a couple of the most blatant. The attack on public institutions in general is another.

con_democracy

There are the attacks on the public aspects of public schooling—topics I have written much about— such as NCLB and Common Core undermining the democratic running of our schools. The charter school movement (charter schools select their own boards of governance) and vouchers, and the privatization of public schooling in a myriad of other ways is another way public schools are being undermined as public democratic institutions.

The U.S. Postal  Service is another public institution being undermined. The supposed fact of the post office losing money is a complete hoax. If the post office was allowed to use the accounting methods of its competitors it would be in the black, but they are required by Congress to use accounting methods that make it appear to be losing money. The purpose—to reduce the services of the post office, slowly eroding it—as well as to undermine the union—an issue I will discuss more in a bit.

Part of the attack on the public sector is that corporations and the Republicans truly want to replace democracy with a complete “free” market economy (free meaning those with the most money and power are free to do what they want, with no one to rein them in). To do this they are undermining the main organized force against them—unions. And the only really large unionized force left is in the public sector. By undermining this force in both public opinion and in law, they leave themselves with almost no large force to oppose them. Teachers are demonized. Public employees are blamed for being greedy and ruining the economy—such a blatant falsehood, yet when repeated often enough it gets believed. As anyone who remembers our latest, and virtually all, of our economic collapses, they came directly from corporate greed and the lack of corporate and banking oversight.

One way the unions are undermined is through privatization. By privatizing public schooling or many of their services\, the teachers union is demolished. (Very few charter school teachers are in unions—and even less in private schools.) Destroying the Post Office as another major source of unionized employees goes along with this.

Where they cannot destroy public employee unions outright, they take away their bargaining power, as was done in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Then there are the attacks on voter rights, making it more difficult for students and minorities and the poor to vote. The claim is a voter fraud that there is no evidence exists. We have one of the lowest voter turnouts of any democratic nation, and the strategy is to make it even harder to vote? (Where voter fraud is most likely is in vote by mail—which the voting suppression laws do not affect—and is a population that in general is more conservative).

This is not even to mention the attacks on our civil liberties—spying by the government, changing rules on search and seizure, and on advising us of our rights being just a few of them.

The struggle for democracy is ongoing and we can never rest on the victories of past generations. We either exercise what power we do have, or lose it.

Whatever it is you do, and wherever you are, you need to join organizations that are countering these trends and to let your representatives know how you feel!

Poverty and Education

Progressive educator Deborah Meier and Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation have been debating on EdWeeks’s Bridging Differences blog.

In his most recent post Michael claims that poverty is not the issue (even though, as another commentator to his post mentioned, the issue was not originally framed as poverty, but inequality, even in his own words).

From Petrilli’s Bridging Differences blog:

  • “Most were born to single mothers, and their fathers have been absent from the start, or by the time they turn two or three;
  • Most of their mothers were teenagers or in their early 20s when they gave birth;
  • Most of their mothers have very little education—a high school diploma or less–and thus few marketable skills;
  • Many of their mothers suffer from mental illness or addiction or both;

“If we give these families more money…will it erase the huge gaps….between these kids and their age-mates born into two-parent families? With highly-educated mothers and fathers? To believe so, you’d have to put as much faith in cash transfers and social services as some reformers put in schools. You’d have to believe in miracles.”

income gapIn response, I would say that tackling poverty and creating full employment and tackling society’s inequalities would actually help solve those too. Fathers are absent because they cannot support their families. Young motherhood is often a symptom of hopelessness, as is drug addiction. Michael shows data that America’s poverty is not really that much worse than other countries (though still worse even by his figures), so the problem cannot really be poverty (since he also accepts the data purporting that they do better academically). What he leaves out is that even if its true, those other countries do a better job of providing the supports for the poor that he derides as useless–housing, medical care, food, pre- and post- natal care—than the U.S. It may be those supports that keep fathers at home, create less single motherhood, and provide the supports needed for those who are single mothers.

While most critics of our current economic system and I think giving the poor more money and supports is a good idea, we do not see it as the solution either, but rather a band-aid, and when you are bleeding a band-aid is good to have! What is needed is a society that can provide meaningful employment for its citizens, that can provide decent housing, food, medical care, etc. It needs a society organized for a more equitable distribution of the resources.

A better education for the poor helps the individual student succeed, but it does not create more jobs nor reduce the overall rate of poverty nor solve the issues of inequality in a developed country such as ours. It does not change the number of winners and losers, though it just might even the odds a bit as to who gets to be winners and losers.

As John Dewey noted almost a century ago, a certain type of better education, i.e. one that help students participate and understand democracy and develop certain habits of mind, can be one of the aspects to creating that society, but it alone cannot do the job. And most of the reforms that Petrilli supports—more testing and top-down “accountability” based on that testing—actually create a less, not more democratic culture in schools, especially schools for the poor.