Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Education reform appears caught in a time warp (Part 2)

Why has private sector business abdicated it's responsibility to train its own entry-level workers with the skills and knowledge they require to help the business be profitable and successful? When did public education become an agency for training workers?

During the 1901 N.E.A. convention in Detroit, Michigan's Superintendent of Public Instruction provided a clue when he claimed:

"The character of our education must change with the oncoming of the years of this highly practical age. We have educated the mind to think and trained the vocal organs to express the thought, and we have forgotten or overlooked the fact that in about four times out of five the practical man expresses his thought by the hand rather than by mere words." Callahan (1962), p. 9

So what we are experiencing today -- 111 years later -- is the exact same thing only business and industry have changed leaving schools still perfectly structured to train students to "express his thought by the hand rather than by mere words."

The private sector began the slow but steady abandonment of the centuries-old tradition of training workers for business and industry. They expected the public schools to drop its focus on literacy, humanities, and recitation to become the new provider of training for employment in America's rapidly expanding industrial complex. Practical skills rather than thinking and speaking skills. The mainstream journals, industry leaders, politicians, and even the general public attacked public schools as wasteful and failing. But William H. Maxwell, superintendent of the New York City schools struck back, attacking the

"...'arrogant unreasonableness' of certain educational theorists who periodically made sweeping indictments of the schools and then offered their pet solutions."

Doesn't that sound familiar to all of us right now?

Maxwell went on claiming that "nothing had been as arrogant as the..."

"...agitation with which the educational world is now seething for the introduction of industrial or trade teaching in the public schools. That agitation, as every one knows, originated with the manufacturers. They had practically abandoned the apprenticeship system of training workmen. No longer training their own mechanics, they have found it difficult to obtain a sufficient supply of skillful artisans, unless they import them from Europe at great expense. Out of this dilemma the exit was obvious -- persuade the State to assume the burden. It was only a new application of Colone Sellers' definition of patriotism -- The old flag and -- an appropriation! -- let the State do the work that is so oppressive to us. And, as a first step to secure their ends, they and their agents in unmeasured terms denounced the public schools as behind the age, as inefficient, as lacking in public spirit. And why? Because the public schools are not training artisans -- are not doing the work that had been done by employers of labor for thousands of years. The arrogance of the manufacturers was two-fold -- first, in condemning the schools for not doing what thinking men had never before considered it the duty of the schools to do and what the traditions of thousands of years laid it upon the manufacturers to do; and, second, in demanding that the State, after taxing consumers for fifty years, through a protective tariff, in order to fill the pockets of manufacturers, should then proceed to pay the bills for training their workmen. To condemn a great industry -- schoolteaching -- for not doing what hitherto it had never been expected to do, and to clamor not only for protection from competition but for relief at the hands of the state from the duty and expense of training artisans -- could arrogance farther go?" p. 14

But Superintendent Callahan was a lone wolf among the sheep as most school superintendents capitulated -- along with the teachers -- and forced public schools to become job-training centers for growing American industry. And there we still stand today, once again attacked because private-sector business no longer needs hoards of manufacturing and unskilled laborers. A new economy calls for new skills and knowledge but still today, business abdicates its responsibility to train new workers, preferring instead to point fingers at the public education system THEY CREATED and calling it a failure. And why not? It gets them off the hook at taxpayer's expense.

What is that old saying? "Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it?"

Excerpted from Callahan, Raymond E. (1962). Education and the Cult of Efficiency. The University of Chicago Press. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Education reform appears caught in a time warp

"...a school board member from Allegheny, Pennsylvania told the N.E.A. that the two words which were 'electrifying the industrial world -- scientific management' contained a 'message' for every teacher, and near the end of his speech he indicated that if teachers did not voluntarily take steps to increase their efficiency the business world would force them to do so. As a result great energy was expended on using the available tests and on developing new tests or scales or rating sheets or anything else that would seem to provide tangible evidence of efficiency. As one superintendent...put it, 'the results of a few well-planned tests would carry more weight with the business man and the parent than all the psychology in the world.'
"In the process of actually attempting to measure efficiency within the schools, educators engaged in a wide variety of activities, but most of the attention was devoted to developing and utilizing 'objective' achievement tests in the language arts and arithmetic and in developing scales for rating the efficiency of teachers."

While one might think this comes from a recent article espousing reforms in public education, incredibly the year was 1911.

Callahan, Raymond E. (1962). Education and the Cult of Efficiency. The University of Chicago Press. (Summary available at

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Now that it's more fair, is everyone ignoring Michigan's new TTB ranking?

Last Thursday, the State of Michigan released its newly revamped Top-to-Bottom list of all public (and charter) schools in Michigan. This is the third year the rankings haver been published with tweakings of the criteria each year. This year, more than the previous two, the list represents a more fair assessment of schools regardless of where they appear on the rankings. Julie Mack explains it this way:

Both the "focus" and "reward" school designations are new this year, reflecting a major overhaul of the annual state report, one that seeks a more "transparent" analysis of academic achievement and school quality than has been allowed in recent years under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

A major criticism of that law has been that it judged all schools by the same standards, although decades of research indicates that individual student performance is much, much more correlated to sociodemographics versus school quality.

What is interesting is the difference between how this year's version of the rankings is being hailed versus the first couple of years. With the earlier rankings, the local media in the Grand Rapids area couldn't seem to stop hammering on the schools ranked at or near the bottom. I know, because our district's high school was one of the 5% lowest achieving schools in the first year. However, since that list was published, the school has soared to the 63rd percentile this year surpassing all other high schools in the immediate surrounding districts (Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Wyoming, and Grandville). While Monica Scott has mentioned this a couple of times in online blog postings, nothing has appeared in the print version of The Grand Rapids Press or on local radio or television pointing out our high school's accomplishment. Here's a comparative listing of the rankings between our high school (Lee High School) and those other area schools.

My theory is that because a few formerly high ranking schools in Kent County (and around the state) lost ground and even are now identified as FOCUS schools requiring state interventions until they close the achievement gaps, egos have been bruised and the media, which often caters to the more affluent customer base, is lying low. 

This same "head-in-the-sand" reaction is one of the primary reasons inequity in school funding for low-economic versus affluent school districts also continues to flourish. After all, the state's TTB ranking comes on the heals of the Mackinac Center's ranking of Michigan's high schools taking socio-economics into account. Our high school again soared to the top ranking first in Kent County among traditional high schools and third in the entire State of Michigan. Folks in the affluent districts had to be vomiting over that one.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Response to the Michigan Education Finance Act of 2013 Project

Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder recently requested that the Oxford Foundation head up a project to completely overhaul the state's educational funding system. In reviewing the project elements provided in a memo during a public meeting on the project, little was mentioned regarding the blatant inequity of Michigan's K-12 funding which recently took a hit in a national report card on school funding.

Because Godfrey-Lee Public Schools is a district whose students suffer because of inequitable funding, I sent a letter to Mr. Richard D. McLellen, Project Director, outlining our concerns and providing a comprehensive bibliography of studies that support our district's position. The letter is excerpted here along with the complete bibliography:

In announcing your project and highlighting Governor Snyder's K-12 initiatives, equitable funding to support students based on need did not appear to be a priority or even a consideration in designing a new Finance Act of 2013. This was my primary motive for addressing my concerns and providing the enclosed references for your team. A new funding system will be morally bankrupt if it does not provide for the added supports and resources necessary for children living in poverty, homeless, struggling with the English language, dealing with the fallout of transiency, or experiencing disabilities, to succeed on par with their more affluent peers. I've taken the liberty of enclosing a bibliography containing a number of studies, including my own, right up to the most recent conducted by the Mackinac Center in hopes that the project team will take these into account during your work.

Both I and other members of our staff and community would be more than willing to provide additional information and testimony to support the good work of your team. Like you, we see the benefit of a new school finance system that is "based primarily on the interests of the student" (Oxford Foundation memo dated July 9, 2012). 

VanBeek, Brown, and Mills (2012) The Michigan Public High School Context and Performance Report Card. The Mackinac Center. "...provide a better "apples-to-apples" comparison of public high schools by adjusting their students' average standardized test scores to account for disparities in the socioeconomic status of their student populations."
Baker, Sciarra, and Farrie (2012) Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card. Second Edition. Rutgers University and Education Law Center. "The report is based on the assumption that 'fair' school funding is defined as 'a state finance system that ensures equal educational opportunity by providing a sufficient level of funding distributed to districts within the state to account for additional needs generated by student poverty.'"
Baker, Burce D. (2012) America's Most Screwed City Schools: Where are the least fairly funded city districts? School Finance 101. "Put very simply, districts with higher student needs than surrounding districts in the same labor market don't just require the same total revenue per pupil to get the job done....The districts in these tables not only don't have the "same" total state and local revenue per pupil than surrounding districts. They have less and in some cases they have a lot less! In many cases their child poverty rate is more than twice that of the surrounding districts that continue to have more resources."
Education Trust-Midwest (2012) MME Test Results Show Achievement Gaps Growing Among Michigan High School Students. Briefing report. "Results from the Michigan Merit Exam -- the test taken this spring by Michigan 11th graders -- show that African-American and low-income students are falling even further behind the state's white students.  While white achievement has risen slightly over five years, scores for black, Latino and poor high school students remain grim."
Britten, David G. (2012). A Tale of Two Counties and the Inequity of K-12 Funding in Michigan "Michigan is near the bottom when it comes to equitable funding that ensures all students have quality schools, supports, and resources necessary to achieve the high standards set by NCLB and confirmed by Governor Rick Snyder's reform agenda.  In fact, Michigan ranks 42nd in the nation in wealth-neutrality when it comes to school funding, which no doubt contributes significantly to a low 32nd rank in effectively addressing the poverty gap on the reading and math NAEP assessments. This was confirmed in Education Week's Quality Counts 2012 and was the topic of my recent post, Setting High Standards for All But Ignoring the K-12 Opportunity Gap."
Ibid. (2012). We know what needs to be done, so why isn't it getting done? "...charts compare Bloomfield Hills School District, arguably the wealthiest in Michigan, with Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, one of a handful of the poorest school districts with high poverty and low English language proficiency. One compares high school reading test scores while the other compares revenue. You draw your own conclusions."
Mulligan, Hastedt, and McCarroll (2012) First-Time Kindergartners in 2010-11: First Findings From the Kindergarten Rounds of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010-11 (ECLS-K:2011) National Center for Education Statistics. "In the fall of kindergarten, reading and math assessment scores were lowest for first-time kindergartners in households with incomes below the federal poverty level and highest for those in households with incomes at or above 200 percent of the federal poverty level. First-time kindergartners with a primary home language of English scored higher in reading and math than those coming from homes with a primary home language other than English."
Mazur, Rebecca J. (2011) Expanding Education Gap Linked to Income Inequality. The Harvard Crimson. Nov Issue. "...over the past 30 years, increased disparity in family income levels has resulted in unequal educational attainment for students."
Campbell, Haveman, Sandefur, and Wolfe (2005) Economic inequality and educational attainment across a generation. Focus Vol. 23, No. 3 "It is now clear that the century-long improvement in educational attainment in the United States slowed or declined over the same period during which economic inequality increased."
Baker, Bruce (2012) Revisiting the Age-Old Question: Does Money Matter in Education? The Albert Shanker Institute. "On average, aggregate measures of per pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher  student outcomes. Schooling  resources which cost money, including class size reduction or higher  teacher salaries, are positively associated with student outcomes. Sustained  improvements to the level and distribution of funding across local public school districts can lead to improvements in the level and  distribution of student outcomes."
Duncan and Murname (2011) Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children's Life Chances. Russell Sage and Spencer Foundations. " ambitious interdisciplinary project examining the  corrosive effects of economic inequality, disadvantaged neighborhoods, insecure labor  markets, and worsening school conditions on K-12 education."
Epstein, Diane (2011) Measuring Inequity in School Funding. Center for American Progress. "Low-income children tend to be concentrated in low-income school districts, and these children often attend schools that receive far fewer resources per pupil despite their greater need. Inequity among districts means that children in lower-funded districts do not  have access to the same resources—modern buildings, technology, highly effective teachers, supplemental supports, etc.—than do their peers in districts with  higher levels of funding. Furthermore, low-income children and English language  learners need extra resources to overcome disadvantages due to socioeconomic status or lack of English language proficiency. In many cases, not only are these children not receiving equal resources but they are also not receiving the extra  supports they need in order to succeed."
Biddle and Berliner (2002) Unequal School Funding in the United States. ASCD Educational Leadership. Vol 59 No 8. "Reluctance to provide equal funds for U.S. public schools has also been fueled by claims from prominent researchers, reviewers, and others asserting that the level of funding for schools does not affect student achievement. Not surprisingly, such claims often come from sources that are traditionally hostile to public education."
Berliner, David C. (2009) Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. "Because America's schools are so highly segregated  by income, race, and  ethnicity, problems related to poverty occur simultaneously, with greater frequency, and act cumulatively in schools serving  disadvantaged communities.  These schools therefore face significantly greater challenges than schools serving wealthier children, and their limited resources are often overwhelmed. Efforts to  improve educational outcomes in these schools, attempting to drive change  through test-based accountability, are thus unlikely to succeed unless accompanied by policies to address the OSFs that negatively affect large numbers of our nations' students. Poverty limits student potential; inputs to schools affect outputs from them."
Britten, David G. (2012) K-12 Funding Perpetuates the Inequity of Opportunity  "...Michigan's school funding system perpetuates inequity of opportunity and promotes a continuing cycle of poverty. The people who determine the course of school funding are our elected representatives and they bear the brunt of the blame for perpetuating a cycle of impoverished school districts and inequity of opportunity for students. Unfortunately, many of our legislators that block any efforts to reform K-12 funding to make it more equitable come from areas that include affluent communities and districts that are financially well off in comparison. Right now, they control the agenda..."