Friday, February 27, 2015

The irony of anti-public school sentiment and arguments for maintaining strong support for public schooling

AASA President David Pennington addresses the continuing attacks on public education:

“It is ironic that as we gather today to celebrate our 150 anniversary that we find our public schools increasingly under attack. There have always been critics of public schools, however with the release of A Nation at Risk, the rhetoric of the critics of our public schools began to change. Fueled by the failed federal policy of NCLB and funded by Education Foundations and Think Tanks, we find our schools today being attacked by those who want to divert public dollars to private or parochial schools, or to the balance sheet of their for-profit educational corporation. They hide behind the term 'choice', and they use a snap shot of results from international assessment and state assessments to make their case that our school are failing when noting could be further from the truth.”

“The free and general education of all children at public expense is the natural right of all children in a Republic. It is simple and it is timeless, it was and it is the right thing to do.

“Why do we spend public money to educate children with disabilities? Because the free and general education of all children at public expense is the natural right of all children in a Republic. Why do we educate children who do not speak English, or whose parents are here illegally? Because the free and general education of all children at public expense is the natural right of all children in a Republic.

“Why do we educate children whose parents don’t come to parent teacher conferences, who don’t read to them, who don’t get them to school on time, and who can’t or won’t provide the safe and secure environment they need to learn? Because the free and general education of all children at public expense is the natural right of all children in a Republic.”


What we ignore in the so-called "school failure debate"

It's actually not been much of a "debate" since the monied interests that control the momentum towards more corporate-run and private schools, along with the billions being poured down the drain in the name of testing, control most of the mainstream media's misinformation campaign.

What should be at the center of education reform is outlined clearly by Joan McRobbie.

This isn't a school problem. It's a societal problem imposed on schools, in effect increasing the likelihood of failure--or at best sporadic success--for most high poverty schools. 
It's popular to compare U.S. student achievement to that of Finland, a country with one of the highest performing school systems in the world. Tamped down in these discussions is comparison of child poverty rates: Finland's is below 5% while the U.S. rate is 22%--by far the worst level of child poverty among peer countries world-wide. 
When we choose to ignore the fact that poverty, especially concentrated poverty, drags down our schools, we've gone down the rabbit hole. In that realm we can simply bash educators when schools don't improve. Presto! We've outsourced our responsibility as a society, making it teachers' job to surmount the disadvantages we allow to blight the lives of so many American kids.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A tale of two West Michigans?

West Michigan likes to tout itself as leading the state's recovery behind a variety of select economic data. Here's a few examples of that horn-blowing:
West Michigan confidence is now back to levels seen during the 1990s. The regional economy is expected to continue to grow in 2015, but the rate of this increase is also expected to slow down.
West Michigan’s appetite for industrial real estate is starting to generate new construction after most of the existing usable space has been filled...
West Michigan’s economy is the fifth fastest-growing economy in the U.S....
Since this is my hometown area, I see this as great news and hope that it continues.

But apparently, according to the latest Kids Count in Michigan Data Book for Kent County, a substantial part of the community hasn't gotten the memo and may not be feeling the recovery at all.

Click to enlarge or go to the link, above

You have to ask yourself, how can this area be considered a leader in a rebounding economy if it...
  • has a child poverty rate that has gotten worse at a rate faster than the state average, growing by 40% and only ranking 30th best out of 82 counties?
  • continues to have a high infant mortality rate ranking close to the middle of 49 counties where data was available?
  • is seeing substantial growth in child abuse exceeding the state rate for investigated families and confirmed victims? Child abuse is often an outgrowth of the stress of joblessness and trying to make ends meet in the home.
Could a possible explanation be divined from the growing economic and housing segregation, especially in the urban areas of Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Kentwood?
A new study of home mortgage activity concludes that West Michigan is the nation’s most “racially uneven” housing market when it comes to helping African Americans and Hispanics recover from the housing bust.
There's more to the story, I'm sure, but I'll leave you to decide, or at least those of you who have taken your heads out of the sand long enough to read this post along with the embedded links.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Random thoughts on the uselessness of grading schools through polls

Over the past decade, grading public school performance has been all the rage with the debate primarily focused on how to communicate the results of such to parents and the general public.

Grading of schools isn't new by any means. For more than forty-five years, Phi Delta Kappa and Gallup have been polling the general public and asking them to grade their local schools as well as public schools in general.

Last week, Michigan Radio and Public Sector Consultants joined forces in conducting yet another poll asking six hundred likely voters what letter grade they give to their local schools as well as the Michigan schools in general. As is typically done in most polls, the grade was based on the same grading system most adults experienced while they were in school: A, B, C, D or F.

This same system is being advocated by pseudo-education reformers in our state House and Senate supported by anti-public school organizations and policy think tanks. Their argument is based on a belief that it provides a simpler evaluation system that will be understood by parents and other adults instead of more complex methods (i.e., color-coding, etc). In other words, they have little faith in the ability of the average parent to understand how their school is fairing unless the state uses a grading system that takes them back to their childhood.

The problem with any argument in favor of a traditional grading system for schools, whether by parents in polls or the state using tests that may or may not accurately measure the full extent of learning, is that we know for a fact as its used within schools to evaluate student performance, grading is very subjective and could represent various levels of actual achievement despite being assigned the same grade.

Take the polling of Michigan's likely voters as mentioned above. How valid is my assignment of a grade of B for my local schools in comparison to your assignment of an A for yours? There are no common standards for what constitutes and A or a B, or C-D-F for that matter. It's based solely on our perceptions as filtered by our distant and recent past experiences. It has no basis in reality except that which exists in our own minds. Any experience I've had, any organization I belong to, any political theory I lean towards, or any recent radio talk show host I listened to can and does alter my filters and change my perceptions. In fact, the time of day you ask me, the events that are occurring around me at that time, or my general emotional state will effect what grade I ultimately assign. But in the end, it really doesn't matter what grade it is because you and I are likely never going to actually agree on a specific grade if we have no common understanding of what we are measuring the school against.

And what about the respondent to the survey who never, ever experience earning an A or a B in their life? Or the individual who never received a D or an F? Neither really knows from personal experience what level of performance produces such a grade so how will they accurately grade schools across the state? They don't know what those grades look like.

In the end, it's my belief that polls like these are useless other than to understand the public perception at the moment. They have no value in actually assessing the performance of the school and for the most part are used primarily to attract readers and support the business model of the publication. They make for some useful water cooler conversation but most likely just support the many myths and misconceptions advocated by either side of the debate.

We'd all be better off without them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Trying to Close the Learning Gaps Through Wishful Thinking

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Time to Move Beyond Test-Focused Policies | National Education Policy Center

"Holding teachers accountable but excusing the policymakers who fail to provide necessary supports is as harmful and illogical as holding students accountable but excusing poor teaching. Today’s demoralized teaching force has been given too much responsibility for outcomes and too little control over those outcomes...but equally strong demands must be made on the leaders and policymakers in district offices, state and federal legislatures, and state and federal departments of education."

Stop Testing Simply for Testing's Sake

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Time to Move Beyond Test-Focused Policies | National Education Policy Center

"We stress here that tests are useful when applied to their intended purposes and when there is legitimate evidence to support those purposes. Although measuring outcomes does not directly enrich learning, our schools do need disaggregated and useful information about how schools are serving students. This is an important part of a healthy evaluative feedback loop. The problem is not in the measurements; it is in the fetishizing of those measurements. It is in the belief that measurements will magically drive improvements in teaching and learning. It is in the use of test scores to issue facile admonishments: try harder! teach smarter! retain the child in third grade! reconstitute the school staff! It is in the singular focus on achievement outcomes to the exclusion of focusing on children’s opportunities to learn or on the system’s needs."

Monday, February 16, 2015

Washington on Education

On this commemoration of the birth of President George Washington, the following quotes from various sources provide a peek at his beliefs about education.

“A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?” 

“There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.” 

“The best means of forming a manly, virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail.”

“Of the importance of education our Assemblies, happily, seem fully impressed; they establishing new, and giving further endowments to the old Seminaries of learning, and I persuade myself will leave nothing unessayed to cultivate literature and useful knowledge, for the purpose of qualifying the rising generation for patrons of good government, virtue and happiness.” - Letter to George Chapman, December 15, 1784

“Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.” 
― George Washington's Farewell Address


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Who scores lowest to highest on the PISA? You guessed it.

Every now and then, some pseudo-reformer hauls out the latest PISA (international testing) results to place blame on public education and teachers.

Stephen Murgatroyd's blog post, citing the excellent work of David Berliner, again puts a mirror up to society to point the blame in the right direction.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so this photo from Stephen's post tells it all.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

All Kids Are Not the Same

All Kids Are Not the Same: What Common Core Standards Fail to Do | Alternet
There's nothing wrong with standards, or goals, per se. It makes sense to establish a certain level of mastery for children to achieve, and to determine what students should be able to do and know over the course of a particular period of time - a school year, for example. But the standards should be realistic. It should be possible for the majority of students to achieve them, each at her or his own pace. That means the standards must also be developmentally appropriate and based on the principles of child development - designed with actual children in mind.
This is not a problem so much with setting learning standards such as the Common Core (or any core for that matter), but rather a problem with clinging to our century-old model of K-12 education that no longer serves the expected outcomes for our students (all students college and career ready, regardless of where they are when they start or how they're wired for learning). We keep trying new ideas but instead of fixing the problem at its core (pun intended), we merely layer a new innovation on top of an outdated structure. Sort of like new wine in an old wine skin. It won't work. 

If you want the Common Core or any learning standards to succeed for EACH and EVERY child, you have to start over by re-imagining and re-designing a system of schooling around their needs and dreams, and not for the convenience or satisfaction of nostalgic memories in the adults. Stop clinging to a dead horse.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Charters flood top and bottom of Academic State Champs rankings (Bridge)

"If a student does go back to the traditional public school district, the schools are required to take them in. Adding to the traditional public school’s burden is the fact that these students self-selected as not wanting to be a part of a rigorous academic environment. 
"Where charter schools do not have to accept new students mid-way through the year if they have met their target population, traditional public schools do have that obligation. Additionally, Miron said the district often receives very little funding for those pupils if they join after the first count day in October. 
"Miron said that once a charter school earns a reputation as a high-performing or low-performing school, the designation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. He studied two charter schools less than half a mile away from each other in Delaware that had similar student bodies socioeconomically, but saw very different outcomes. 
“'We used student-specific data to find out who was entering and exiting both schools,' he said.  'At the high-performing school, the kids who came in were the ones who already had higher performing scores, and the ones who left early were the ones who didn’t keep up. At the other school it was the opposite. Students came in with scores that were already lower and those that tested above average were the ones leaving.'