Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Battle for Education Reform is Heating Up: But what is the purpose of education?

Betsy DeVos and the battle for education reform, Round 1 - Washington Times

"Obvious Michigan and political party biases aside, Mr. Engler’s points of view should nonetheless be given great weight. He is, after all, president of a D.C.-based association Business Roundtable, which represents leading U.S. corporations — businesses that know what type of workforce they need to survive in a free market." ~ former Michigan Governor John Engler
Nobody would suspect the Washington Times would advocate for kids before business, but this statement by itself should send shivers through every American who cares enough about the real and historic purposes of public education: EQUITY. If you count the fact that Engler intentionally lit the fuse that has principally led to the destruction of a number of neighborhood schools in Michigan's urban areas, displacing thousands of kids and subjecting them to any one of several fly-by-night, corporate run charters, his and the efforts of many policy- versus practice-based education reformers are bent on destroying the primary purpose for which even the founding fathers saw in universal public education.

Perhaps it was best said by our second president, John Adams when he wrote:
"...wherever a general knowledge and sensibility have prevailed among the people arbitrary government and every kind of oppression have lessened and disappeared in proportion..." [emphasis added]
Adams went on to describe the public responsibility for ensuring the education of everyone at public expense:
"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people, and must be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a distance of one mile square without a school in it. Not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." [emphasis added]
Nothing in Adams' admonition for ensuring an education of the whole people inferred it was intended to be training for private or business purposes. Instead, universal public education was to be a civic responsibility available to all (within one mile square) so as to ensure we could defend ourselves against the tyranny of power, the very same tyranny we now see bent on the destruction of our public school system.

The late David Tyack, professor emeritus and educational historian at Stanford, once wrote:

"By many accounts public schools are in trouble today. Grim stories appear daily in the media about violence, high dropout rates, and low test scores. Beyond such immediate concerns lies an uneasiness about purpose, a sense that we have lost our way. As the larger purposes that once gave resonance to public education have been muted, constituencies that at one time supported public education have become splintered and confused about what to do." [emphasis added]
The larger purposes are to prepare all children to contribute to society by not only having the ability to be productive but in a larger sense, to be able to question and challenge those forces that are hell-bent on suppressing thought and keeping the lower classes in check. Education is not simply to prepare a working class to feed corporate appetites -- both as workers and consumers. The latter is how billionaire reformers such as Betsy DeVos, supported by their legions of political and media supporters, see it. Unfortunately, some of this has leaked into the upper classes which more than ever are forcing their children to be competitive at school so they can win what those parents see as the greatest prizes -- money, power, fame. Today's reformers want children to be good at doing school and to demonstrate compliance with the ability to consume vast quantities of content knowledge, even though most of what they'll learn will long be forgotten in a short period of time; but they'll have the credentials that say they once knew all of this stuff and are entitled to the bounty that comes with it. But that's a whole other argument given the rates of un- or under-employment of college graduates with huge student loan burdens.

In contrast to Adams and some of the most enlightened education theorists of the 19th and 20th centuries, Ellwood Cubberly felt that schools should be about efficient sorting of children into basic social roles. His views in many ways are closely related to today's reformers who advocate for no-nonsense charters and regimented learning environments:
We should give up the exceedingly democratic idea that all are equal and that our society is devoid of classes. The employee tends to remain an employee; the wage earner tends to remain a wage earner ... one bright child may easily be more to the National Life than thousands of low mentality.
In other words, it's perfectly okay to have selective charter and private schools operating at public expense, available only to those students whose parents have the means and capability of placing their child in a limited number of classrooms.  After all, our traditional neighborhood schools that are left can simply serve the remaining masses who, in the world of Cubberly and other modern advocates of reform, don't stand a chance anyway.


Sources: Besides the Washington Times, all are cited in Shyman, Eric. Vicious Circles in Education Reform: Assimilation, Americanization, and Fulfilling the Middle Class Ethic. Rowman & Littlefield. 2016

Adams, p. 9

Tyack, p. ix

Cubberly, p. 17

Monday, January 9, 2017

3 TED or TEDx talks that could radically change K-12 education (but only if we want them to)

No need for an introduction or explanation of each. If we truly want to bring our K-12 education system into the 21st century (finally), we can start here.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

We often have no idea what kids are going through!

Just this week I found this in three of our little ones: 
I learned of the pain of a child who's father "had to run far away and never come back because the guys that killed his friend are gonna kill my daddy if they ever see him and now I have to get a new daddy and I don't want one." 
I learned from another that something is happening at home that he knows is wrong, "but if I tell you I will get in trouble because my mom said I can't say." 
I learned from a tiny one that "when I get so mad I can't hear my teacher and she thinks I'm not listening but I am, I just can't hear her, and then I get in more trouble." 
We see these peanuts everyday and we don't even know what they carry to school with them.  Thank you for being aware, for looking for more than the obvious, for journeying with them and teaching with tenderness.
These tell the story all by themselves. I have nothing more to add except to wonder how our newest Secretary of Education-nominee will have any empathy for these youngsters and their challenged teachers?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The attack on Pearl Harbor thrust West Michigan's own 126th Infantry into war

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, West Michigan's own 126th Infantry had been on active duty for more than a year, training in Louisiana as part of the great call-up of the National Guard for training purposes.

Only now, the training was over.

The 126th on parade while training in Louisiana
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, plunging the 126th Infantry into war for the fifth time in its short history. The regiment was ordered to establish security around vital installations in the Louisiana and Texas areas to guard against any sabotage attempts. It was the First Regiment in the Red Arrow Division to be placed on war duty. This second tour of duty as “homeland defense” continued on until the regiment left in February.

In late December, the Thirty-second Division was notified that it was being designated as part of Force Magnet and would be heading to Northern Ireland. The division was given priority for replacements and distribution of equipment. It was estimated the division would sail for its destination sometime around July 1942. Two months later, the Thirty-second Division was reorganized into a more modern triangular division centered on three infantry regiments (Michigan’s 125th Infantry was detached from the division and assigned to a coastal guard mission). Other changes included the reorganization of the existing artillery regiments into battalions.

Monument to the 126th Infantry located at Camp Grayling, Michigan
The Thirty-second Red Arrow Division was among the first units ordered overseas after Pearl Harbor along with the Thirty-fourth and Thirty-seventh. On February 1, 1942, under command of Colonel Lawrence A. Quinn, the Grand Rapids Guard moved to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and underwent replacement of personnel to bring the regiment to full strength. Initially thinking it was staging for service in the European Theater, the Guard was surprised to hear on March 25 that plans had changed and the division was being sent to Australia to face the Japanese. In April the regiment boarded troop trains and headed to San Francisco, California, where it was billeted in the San Francisco Cow Palace. There the regiment picked up a number of replacements that had just completed basic training.

On the eve of departure from San Francisco for Australia, Colonel Quinn addressed the regiment:
Officers and men of the 126th Infantry, we are about to depart on a most important mission.  One not only of national and international, but also of world importance.  Our path will not be smooth.  On the contrary it will be beset with many obstacles; we shall suffer many hardships; we shall face many grave dangers.  Many of us will pay the supreme sacrifice.  Such is the duty of a soldier; such is the responsibility and privilege of every citizen.  It is fitting and proper on such an occasion to ask Divine strength and guidance.  We will now be led in prayer by our Regimental Chaplain. 
This formation may prove to be a very important incident in the history of this grand, old outfit.  We may never again have an opportunity to parade as a Regiment. For the past year and a half we have been working hard—training in marksmanship, musketry, maneuvers, marches; learning to shoot straight, march far and well, and to maneuver fast and cleverly; learning to care for our health, our arms and our equipment under all conditions.  It has not been easy.  There have been difficulties.  But difficulties make opportunities.  We have made mistakes.  But we have tried not to make the same ones a second time. 
At this moment we parade here—not a perfect organization; not a perfect war machine; not a perfect team—but rather a diamond in the rough.  We have much to do in the way of training to attain the goal we have set for ourselves—a rugged, powerful, hard-hitting, fast maneuvering infantry team.  At every opportunity we shall carry on with our training. 
But what we lack in perfection we more than make up for in esprit de corps, determination, team play, loyalty, devotion to duty and country, and plain unadulterated intestinal fortitude. 
In a few hours we shall be on our way.  Our destination is a secret; and, except for curiosity, is unimportant.  What is important, however, is the fact that we are on our way to meet the enemy.  War is a grim business.  It is a killer business.  To some peoples in some parts of the world it is an old business.  But to us it is new.  In battle you go forth to kill or be killed—there is no half way point. We must school ourselves to accept this.  As we approach closer and closer to the sound of the guns we must develop that killer instinct, which is so necessary to success on the field of battle. 
Should you experience difficulty developing this desire to kill—you have but to recall what we are fighting for:  Our homes, our loved ones, our freedom, the right to live as we please.  Our country was founded on such principles; our forefathers fought, bled and died to retain them, as did this Regiment in 1861, 1898 and 1918.  In the future, if necessary, our children will fight for them. Today, now, it is our privilege and duty to do so. 
Our Nation and our loved ones are depending on us; they have placed their faith, their hope; their trust in us.  Let us resolve here today that we shall not fail them. 
On April 18, 1942, the 126th boarded the S.S. Lurline, a luxury liner that had been converted to transport duty, and four days later sailed for the South Pacific. There, it would be the spearhead of General Douglas MacArthur's road back to the Philippines.

Brief summary of the 126th Infantry's service during World War II. 
By the end of the war in 1945, of all the divisions under General Douglas MacArthur’s command, the Thirty-second “Red Arrow” spent more combat time, earned the most Distinguished Unit Citations (14), won the most Medals of Honor (11, three of which were members of the 126th Infantry), and paid the highest price in killed and wounded (7,268).  Throughout it all, the Grand Rapids Guard's 126th Infantry was there every step of the way.

Pfc. Dirk Vlug of the 126th Infantry returns to Grand Rapids as a hero 
after receiving his Medal of Honor from President Truman

Note: Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the governor mobilized a company of Michigan State Troops at the Grand Rapids Armory to guard the Kent County Airport, where it remained until June 1942. The Troops were volunteers organized to stand in for the 126th Infantry and other units from around the state that had left for the war. Many of them were veterans of World War I.

Source: Britten, David G., Lieutenant Colonel. Courage Without Fear: The Story of the Grand Rapids Guard. Xlibris, 2004

Infrastructure or Education? The looming battles in Michigan for adequate and equitable funding

In response to crumbling roads and the Flint water crisis, Governor Rick Snyder created the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission to conduct an inventory of needs and project future costs. The commission delivered its report on November 30 and the governor released it to the public yesterday. You can read the Executive Summary for yourself as well as the full report, if so inclined. Most of us have simply skipped to the part where they estimate what it will cost the taxpayers over the next 30 to 50 years.

The report concluded that $59 billion over the next twenty-years was needed and should be seen as an "investment:"
Investing in our infrastructure—our roads and bridges; water, sewer, and storm water systems; and energy and communications networks—is essential for ensuring 1) public health and safety, 2) quality of life, and 3) sustainable economic growth for all Michigan residents.  (p. 117)
Of course inflation and additional deterioration of our infrastructure is likely to send that cost even higher.

What's interesting is that the same "investment" rationale is easily applied to the need for better public education in Michigan. And it just so happens, the legislature released a report this past June (three months late) titled Michigan Education Finance Study (June 2016), to determine if schools are funded at a level of EQUITY that ensures each and every student has a chance to be successful when measured by state-imposed standards and tests.

In short, the study concluded a resounding NO and recommended the following:

  1. An increase in the minimum foundation allowance (the per-pupil funding provided to most school districts) of approximately $1,100 per student to meet adequacy standards.
  2. An additional 30% increase in funding for each at-risk student.
  3. An additional 40% increase in funding for English language learner (ELL) students.
  4. A method of better tracking of special education expenditures from all sources to determine equity costs for this category.
To estimate the investment necessary to provide at least an equitable education system that can better meet the 21st century needs of our students (and our state), consider the following student counts for last school year:

Total number of enrolled K-12 students = 1,540,005
Approximate increase of $1,100 per student = $1.4 billion

Total number of at-risk K-12 students = 713,295
Approximate increase of 30% (after the additional $1,100) = $1.8 billion

Total number of ELL K-12 students = 90,121
Approximate increase of 40% (after the additional $1,100) = $306 million

Please note that these are simply low-end estimations only. However, it's plain to see that Michigan should be investing in public education at a much higher level than it does now. Approximately $3.5 billion more per year in fact! Ironically, that is nearly the same as the recommendation by the infrastructure commission.

Combined, this investment shortfall is roughly $7 billion per year. Sounds incredible and perhaps impossible but according to state agencies that deal in these kind of numbers, Michigan is currently undertaxed to the tune of $10 billion according to the Section 26 state revenue limits.

My fear, however, is the rush to improve infrastructure while continuing to ignore the educational needs of our children.