Monday, January 23, 2017

Recalling wisdom from an earlier time

I consider myself fortunate to have had a very interesting math professor while working on my undergraduate degree at Grand Valley State University (Colleges back then) in the '70s. My wife, although not a math major, also had him for a math survey course.

Professor Preston C. Hammer, who pretty much ran the computer lab at Los Alamos after World War II during the development of the hydrogen bomb, published a number of books and papers on a variety of math and computer topics. He was very interested in a relatively new discipline called mathematical systems theory and in the introduction to his 1969 textbook on that topic, he wrote:
These times are among the most challenging and the most depressing in the history of man. On the one hand, we begin to glimpse the possibilities of really improving the human condition through strategic use of information being accumulated and through the ability to adapt materials and energy to a variety of needs. On the other hand, never before has there been available so much destructive power -- and the power to destroy has not been matched by an equally noticeable increase in wisdom.
Professor Hammer could see the future based on what he knew about man, and while he believed that the development of computers and atomic energy had great potential for good, man might likely subvert both for his own desires. He once told Penny's math survey class that (paraphrased) computers will likely create whole new ways to commit crime. Fortunately, atomic energy hasn't -- yet.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Michigan children may lose more schools

The Michigan Association of School Administrators issued the following statement in response to the list of 38 schools being considered for closure that was distributed today by the School Reform Office.

From Chris Wigent, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators:

“It is good news that 79 schools showed marked improvement and came off the priority list, showing that the hard work going on in districts at the local level is paying off for our students and our schools. As for the 38 schools named by the SRO as being considered for closure, we will offer assistance to the leaders in those districts in any way that we can, and MASA will strongly advocate that all schools remain under local control.”

“I will add that MASA stands firm that the School Reform Office does not have the authority to close any schools, and we will continue to monitor the SRO’s actions as critical decisions are being made on behalf of the children in our school districts.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Why I cannot support the Education Secretary nominee

As a public school district superintendent, I cannot in good conscious support the nomination of Mrs. Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. After hearing her responses to the Senate HELP Committee this week combined with my reading of dozens of articles and blog posts that were both supportive and against her confirmation, here is a summary list of the primary reasons I cannot support her nomination:
  • She has no professional experience working directly in or with public schools unlike the two recent and most other Education Secretaries, yet she would be responsible for ensuring high standards and oversight of federal dollars designed to the learning of poor, indigent and disabled students.
  • She as well as a majority of the committee members gave no indication they have read and comprehend the mountains of research on the effects of poverty, limited English proficiency, and disability on learning, as well as the negative impacts of choice, charters and vouchers.
  • She comes across as unwilling or incapable of spearheading any effort to lift low-performing public schools through adequate and equitable funding, along with the lessening of federal and state mandates that hamper innovation and creativity in schools.
  • She supports market-based reform and competition which after several decades has had very little success.
  • She would not commit to restricting guns from school campuses.
  • She was unable to adequately explain the difference between achievement growth and proficiency, two of the biggest areas in reform debate over the past decade or more.
  • She appeared to not understand that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is federal law.
  • She came across as noncommittal on a number of issues critical to education reform and improvement of public education.
  • She refused several times when asked to commit to holding charter and voucher schools to the same standards as traditional public schools.
  • She is willing to spend public tax dollars on for-profit, corporate charters and private schools but appeared uninterested in applying the same logic to providing for tuition-free college for all.
  • When asked, she avoided elaborating on what she would do as Secretary to address Title IX and campus sexual assault.
  • She has not yet been cleared of any conflicts of interest from the ethics commission nor has she fully disclosed her finances to the public.
  • The Senate HELP chair appeared to do everything he could to shield Mrs. DeVos from further public questioning, artificially limiting each member of the committee to only one round of five-minute questioning, despite many attempts by minority members to have a second round or another hearing to ensure the public had a full opportunity to vet her nomination.
It appears likely that Mrs. DeVos will be voted out of the Committee and will receive Senate confirmation, but with the slimmest of margins. If so, I can only hope that she will have and take many opportunities to visit successful and struggling traditional public schools, opening her eyes to the many possibilities for strengthening our public education system instead of enriching corporations that are taking advantage of the political environment.

Local News interview 1.18.17:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Privatization or Public Investment in Education?

Privatization or Public Investment in Education? | Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education
"The data suggest that the education sector is better served by a public investment approach that supports each and every child than by a market-based, competition approach that creates winners...and losers. While competition might work in sports leagues, countries SHOULD NOT [emphasis added] create education systems in which children lose in the classroom." 
"...mechanisms such as vouchers, charters, and markets allow for private firms to compete in the education market, under the argument that increased competition will provide consumers (students and families) with a greater choice, thus increasing quality. However, in practice, public education contains different constraints than business markets, most notably the obligation of providing EVERY CHILD [emphasis added] with a high-quality education. Therefore,..., privatizing education has accompanied lower and/or more disparate student performance, likely because markets operate with different principles than the requirements of public sectors."

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?