Sunday, November 23, 2014

Jeb Bush's Misguided View of Education Reform

Jeb Bush's opening address to National Summit on Education Reform | Tampa Bay Times

Education reform is about renewing this country. It is about protecting and promoting the right to rise. We all know the challenge we face: Schools run by entrenched monopolies, more intent on serving the adults who work there than the kids who learn there. 
What he doesn't mention is that he's for schools run by entrenched corporations, more intent on enriching the CEO's who run them than the kids who learn there.

#FutureReady Requires a "National Highway Program" to Ensure Internet Connectivity for Every School

Implied within the Future Ready District Pledge that has now been signed by over 1,200 superintendents across the country is the necessity of ensuring every school and every student has access to high-speed Internet connectivity. Without it, much of the seven commitments contained in the pledge have little chance of being successful.

I was somewhat taken back by President Obama's claim during our session with him that less than two out of every five schools have access to high-speed broadband Internet.
Right now, fewer than 40 percent of public schools have high-speed Internet in their classrooms — less than half. That’s not good, since we invented the Internet.  That’s not good. It means that in most American schools, teachers cannot use the cutting-edge software and programs that are available today. They literally don’t have the bandwidth.
I’ve said before, in a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee the least we can do is expect that our schools are properly wired.  
Looking back at his ConnectED plan released two years ago, the goal is for 99% of schools to be connected within five years. Given that we're less than three years from his self-imposed deadline, I'd say we have a lot of work to do as a nation to achieve that goal.

During the President's remarks, he noted that several other countries are substantially outpacing us in providing high-speed connectivity even at speeds many times higher than we experience in the U.S.  Susan Crawford, law professor and telecommunications policy expert, makes the claim that, "(I)n cities like Seoul and Stockholm, high-speed, high-capacity networks are taken for granted. 'It really is astonishing what's going on in America,' she says. 'We're falling way behind in the pack of developed nations when it comes to high-speed Internet access, capacity and prices.'"


The blog site Speed Matters argues that by falling behind in high-speed connectivity, we're doing damage to our economy at a level that may be difficult to overcome if as a nation we don't take positive action soon. Specifically regarding education, the site claims:
High speed Internet enhances every level of education from kindergarten through high school to college to graduate school. Advances in information and communications technology means that education is no longer confined to the classroom. New broadband-enabled educational tools allow for remote collaboration among fellow students on projects, videoconferences with teachers and real-time video exploration of faraway areas. The educational advantage possible with high speed Internet has become indispensable to students preparing to enter the 21st Century workforce. Those students with limited or no access in their formative elementary school years are falling behind. Computer skills must go beyond technical competency, to include higher-level skills such as critical thinking and problem solving as well as the creative use of technology. The earlier every student in America is connected to high speed Internet, the brighter our country’s future will be.
So it seems clear to me after spending time with the President, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and high-level administration folks this past week, a national effort on par with Dwight D. Eisenhower's federal highway act is likely the only way we're going to catch up, ensuring every school and community is connect to the high-speed Internet highway. In a special message to Congress on February 22, 1955, President Eisenhower noted that:
Our unity as a nation is sustained by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people and goods. The ceaseless flow of information throughout the Republic is matched by individual and commercial movement over a vast system of interconnected highways criss-crossing the Country and joining at our national borders with friendly neighbors to the north and south. 
Together, the uniting forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear--United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.
One can easily see the parallels to our current world whereby the Internet has become a critical -- some may even say most important -- part of our economic and communication infrastructure, similar not only to our highway transportation network but also our telecommunications network that spans the country. Neither of these two networks were left to the whims of states, local communities or private enterprise.

Eisenhower noted four key reasons why Congress needed to get onboard with his highway plan. He knew that failure to move ahead with his initiative would mean another half century before the highway network reached any level of reasonable efficiency or connectivity.  I've boiled those four down to illustrate two reasons for today's need to push for universal high-speed Internet access on a national scale. If we don't we'll continue to experience:
  • Growing economic loss due to a fractured system and inequitable access by communities, schools and students.
  • Inability to keep pace with future technological growth and change, with their ultimate impact on communications, demand for access, and college/career readiness.
In the June 2006 issue of American History, Logan Thomas Snyder noted that:
(T)he interstate system, more than any other project in the past 50 years, has encouraged an unprecedented democratization of mobility. It has opened up access to an array of goods and services previously unavailable to many and created massive opportunities for five decades and three generations of Americans. It has made the country more accessible to itself while also making it safer and more secure, outcomes that in almost any other undertaking would prove mutually exclusive. ‘More than any single action by the government since the end of the war, this one would change the face of America,’ Eisenhower wrote in 1963. ‘Its impact on the American economy — the jobs it would produce in manufacturing and construction, the rural areas it would open up — was beyond calculation.’ The clarity of his vision and the resiliency of his words are inarguable. The Eisenhower Interstate System has grown to be valuable beyond its original intent and is a lasting tribute to American ingenuity, ability and strength of purpose. 
I believe it's time for a national effort replicating Eisenhower's vision by ensuring that by the end of President Obama's five-year ConnectEd plan, all schools and every community are fully connected to high-speed Internet with sufficient bandwidth to support access to a variety of technology tools by every student and their families. Only then will America move forward with Future Ready schools for every child.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ed Week: Study Gauges 'Risk Load' for High-Poverty Schools



Poverty is not just a lack of money. It’s a shorthand for a host of other problems—scanty dinners and crumbling housing projects, chronic illnesses, and depressed or angry parents—that can interfere with a child’s ability to learn. 
If you think about the community context, you would be able to better understand when students come into the school building, what they are carrying with them,” said Kim Nauer, the education research director of the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, and an author of the study. 
“From a child-development perspective, it’s not status that disadvantages you or advantages you. It’s your experiences … abuse or homelessness. … Some very concrete sets of experiences are more powerful predictors than free and reduced lunch,” Mr. Fantuzzo said. “We have to build capacities that make visible important, mutable variables that we can do something about.” 
“Everyone talks about the achievement gap and says, ‘Well, it’s up to the teachers to make these kids smarter.’ But if you look at the risk-load gap, it explains the achievement gap,” said Ms. Nauer of the Center for New York City Affairs. “So then, what do you do? You create a series of things within the classroom environment that are known to be protective or helpful to students who have these risks.”

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Did the Michigan Appeals Court just neuter achievement standards?

I'm certainly no legal expert so I cannot offer a valid analysis of the Michigan Court of Appeals decision regarding this case, but I do take issue with the follow excerpt provided by Kate Wells at Michigan Radio:
So the state has a more supervisory, indirect role in a student’s education, and they’re fine so long as they’re providing schools with the necessary tools – which they are, the state argues, because other schools are doing just fine in the same system.
The "doing just fine in the same system" is the root of the problem in Michigan as well as other states. This assumption concedes that if all schools are basically operating off the same or similar school funding under the same or similar achievement expectations, then all is well with the world. Right?

Wrong. The court obviously failed to include in its analysis and ruling the fact that many children come to school at various age levels seriously behind and basically handicapped in the classroom. Should not this be the third ingredient to determining just how much the state and each school district must support those kids, financially as well as with other resources? I agree that the district and the state should not be sued based on existing law and many courts are loathe to force legislation where there is none, but this ruling basically says that no matter what the condition or levels of prior learning achieved, there is no compelling responsibility on the part of the school or the state to ensure each child attains an adequate level of learning to reach the same expected outcomes.

Therefore, in my humble and non-legal opinion, this court has just concluded that the state's curriculum standards, high-stakes testing achievement standards, and four-year graduation requirements are null and void since no arm of the state is compelled to ensure all students achieve them.

Probably not a valid argument but certainly a basis for interesting debate.

Michigan court rules against ACLU in "right to read" case | Michigan Radio

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Is it Time for Lame Duck Sessions to Be a Thing of the Past?

Hang on to your hats...and most anything else in life you cherish as the Michigan legislature once again holds another big lame-duck-session party following the election on November 4. For those unenlightened citizens out there, a lame-duck session is when legislators thrown out of office by either term limits or voters wreak as much havoc as possible on us regular citizens by passing "big government" bills that tend to take more control of our lives. And the irony is that this will be done for the second session in a row by a Republican-led gang who ran on a smaller government, less regulation, lower taxes platform in 2010 with a little “jobsjobsjobs” thrown in for good measure.  Lame duck makes them look just the opposite.

It matters not who we elect on Tuesday to the House, Senate or Governor's chair since the lame-duck festivities will occur during the dead space period before the new folks we vote in take office after January 1. In 2012, in a very short period of time, the legislature passed 282 bills mostly without committee hearings, public input and proper vetting to analyze unintended consequences and problems down the road. They also did it without regards to the needs and desires of the Michigan people who elected them. Then, likes rats from a sinking ship, they scampered out of town leaving a pile of paper for the Governor to review and sign (or veto as in the case of a small handful of bills).

Using lame duck to push through pet projects or policies is no way to bring Michigan back from the abyss of the Great Recession and post-industrial era. We need thoughtful statesmanship, not one-upmanship from elected officials succumbing to pressure from in-state groups such as the Mackinac Center and out-of-state groups like ALEC and billionaire pseudo-reformers. Bills pushed through, supported and passed by a substantial number of outgoing legislators who no longer are accountable to Michigan's citizens is just plain wrong.

We'll be watching this coming lame duck session closely and if it's anything like the debacle of 2012, it may just be time for a voter initiative to outlaw lame duck legislative sessions for anything but a declared state of emergency between the election and January 1 start of the new session.

Additional reading:

Highlight of bills passed by Michigan's lame duck legislature

Michigan Lawmakers Are Trying To Sneak Through Extreme Abortion Restrictions In Lame Duck Session

It’s a Mad, Mad Michigan