It’s fairly simple: 15 plus 12, 10 plus 17, 9 times 3. The number 27 is divisible by 3 and 9, and 27 less than 54.
It’s inexcusably horrific: the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world has the 27th ranked childhood poverty rate.
27th is the way we are treating our most vulnerable, helpless, and defenseless population–our children.
We gave a lecture at Keene State College in New Hampshire on Friday detailing and dispelling myths surrounding education and the media’s constant Dystopian narrative about how bad our schools are, how lame teachers are, and how gooey and wonderful charter schools and vouchers would taste on the American palette of free enterprise and choice.
Rubio, Cruz, and Trump want to close the Department of Education and end Common Core. Sanders and Clinton and Rubio want to expand access to college. All five support school choice in some form or another. Only the democrats list education as issues on their campaign site. Not surprisingly, education is mostly missing from the debates during this primary season but the American people deserve to know how our country can fix education.
We ask that education voters forget about all of the issues candidates are or are not discussing designed to help improve education, myth or reality. All of the educational reform or innovation in the world will not overcome the damning effects of childhood poverty, will not change the 27.
What will or won’t allegedly fix education is irrelevant because none of it will change our rankings on achievement tests (that are nearly perfectly correlated with family income, by the way) or help the children of our country that desperately need us to act boldly on their behalf. What will address poverty is the only question we educators should ask during this election.
Forget charters, Teach for America, universal pre-K, Finland, and Common Core. Forget ESSA, ACT, accountability, and private schools. Not a single thing matters if we don’t address number 27 first. All of this is moot if we address the real issue.
We believe that anyone telling you otherwise is either ignorant, misled, or purposefully obfuscating the reality of education for their own personal, political, and/or financial gain. There’s plenty of static out there about what will help our “failing” education system. It isn’t failing, our economics are.
No change in the education equation matters other than addressing the egregious wealth inequality our country faces. Educational achievement and family income levels line up like Kindergartners heading for the bathroom.
27th in childhood poverty.
We agree that Hillary Clinton might be a terrific president and she’s the choice of many due to her longstanding education work, her experience as a politician, and the support she enjoys of both major teachers unions. We are honored to call her former home of Fayetteville, Arkansas our home. Hillary’s great.
There’s only one candidate that education voters–those Americans concerned about children or our future–should support in the upcoming primaries tonight, tomorrow, and in the coming months: Bernie Sanders. Bernie’s been advocating for wealth equality since before it was cool and until our country faces the hard truth of 27, the crippling effects on our children of what it means to grow up without enough food or safety or supervision or any of the unquantifiable effects of poverty, an issue we believe only he is uniquely qualified to address, lets place a moratorium on ideas how to fix or “reform” an education system that, by the way, when one controls for family wealth, is the best in the world.
In our view, nothing else matters to education, to our country’s future, or to this time in world history more than the number 27. Think of that number and think Bernie Sanders.
Day five of CIED 694V: Progressive Education Policy welcomed a guest lecturer from Louisiana State University to talk about charter schools, especially the charterization of the city of New Orleans and surrounding areas. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell is associate professor of Literacy and Urban Education at LSU and coordinates the elementary grades teacher education programs. Beyond living through Hurricane Katrina in the area and bearing witness to what happened in New Orleans–the city is now 100% populated by charter schools–she recently co-edited a special issue of the journal Equity & Excellence in Education on “The Promises of Charter Schools.” The issue was built around a single question: “How is the promise of charter schooling, as a vehicle for social justice in public education, playing out? (Dowell & Bickmore)”
I’ve questioned the motives of charter schools for a host of reasons, including the concept that they are leading to increased segregation of our public school system and the notion that students should not, in any situation, be turned into a profit scheme. To me, charters are a smoke and mirrors attack on public education marauding around as “choices” for parents who might be disenfranchised with their local public school. When I invited Dr. Dowell to speak to our Progressive Education Policy course, I thought I might finally get some nuance to my stance.
In preparation for class and at the invitation of our guest, we read the introduction to the themed issue as well as a piece by Nancy Picard, a Louisiana attorney who penned Louisiana’s Great Education Giveaway, a lengthy blog post that captures the genesis and repercussions of the New Orleans takeover. Ms. Picard doesn’t hedge language in her opening paragraph:
Instead, [charters] create a separate and wholly unequal educational system masquerading as choice, which serves to destabilize and discredit public schools in the name of improvement and to make state funds accessible to a wide range of individuals and corporations with little or no oversight.
As Picard point by point explained what happened in New Orleans, the way the laws were changed without anyone in the city following the hurricane, the way African American teachers were fired when their school system was dissolved, the way the Recovery School District (RSD) has now spread across the state, I grew ill. Those interested in privatizing education didn’t miss a beat in attempting to take advantage of the crisis Hurricane Katrina left in its’ wake. If everyone in education were to read Ms. Picard’s post, the world might, in fact, be a better place.
She closed with damning words for her state:
Tossing around public school funds like so many Mardi Gras beads is irresponsible, short-sighted, and an evasion of our responsibility to educate all citizens.
That last phrase really stuck with me. Isn’t this what it’s all about, the evasion of responsibility to all citizens? Do we–Americans–really want equality in our schools or our country and if we do, why do our actions not support such when our actions are to sidestep and shirk our responsibility of educating all citizens in favor of engineering and then spending a windfall of cash on unproven charter schools?
Dowell was able to put names and faces to what exactly has happened in the area. As someone who has worked in teacher preparation and as a school superintendent and teacher, some of her research has taken her to these New Orleans charter schools. She related that some schools are “Mom and Pop” charters that operate loosely (she offered the example of a New Orleans East charter which ran out of money to bus kids in March of last year before closing) and others are good schools that reflect the part of the city from which they originated (she mentioned Homer Plessy and Morris Jeff as two examples of great schools). It sounded like the quality of the schools was–at least to some extent–dependent on the socioeconomics of the students from which each schools drew.
What’s happened in New Orleans represents one of the elements to education deform–destabilization, an element that Professor Dowell spoke of during her visit to class. The RSD took out all of the teachers with experience teaching in the area–not to mention deep roots in the community–in favor of quick fixes like Teach for America and other temp workers. Charter schools sweep into an area like New Orleans and provide temporary homes for students (and the all important $$$ that accompany them) and many charters–if the national trend holds–will go out of business, leaving students and parents in the lurch, leaving a path of destabilization one might liken to the destructive path of a hurricane.
Class also spent some time discussing issues related to the special themed issue of Equity & Excellence in Education that Dowell and her colleague Dana Bickmore, co-edited. The pair asked important and enduring questions, ones I think the country writ large needs to consider before opening one more charter school.
“But we wonder, how have charter schools empowered students, teachers, and families/parents, particularly in schools that are comprised of children of color and children from low socioeconomic backgrounds?”
Champions of charter schools are quick to point out that some students are achieving in those schools whereas their achievement was less certain in their former public schools. This achievement issue is a tricky one to navigate because how well students do is important to everyone. But because charters are presently conceived as being in competition with public schools and adhere to a different set of rules than public schools, the achievement issue is murky at best. Of course the biggest factor in this conversation is, again, the amount of income present in the home (you might be detecting a pattern here). As Kevin Welner eloquently points out in “The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment,” when education as competition is a game to be played and there’s hardly a limit to ways of gaming the system.
Part and parcel to that game, of course, is the high stakes standardized testing regime, about which Dowell and Bickmore offered this astute analysis:
We contend that one score as an evaluation tool denies social justice. Other outcomes might be appropriate for children who will live their entire lives in the twenty-first century. These outputs might include democratic citizenship and social responsibility, as well as critical self-reflection around unequal socially constructed relationships and enhanced capabilities of students, teachers, and local communities to address marginalization through race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability.
Let me be clear, Professor Dowell doesn’t see charters schools through a single lens. She wants the best possible learning situations for all students and that is something laudable and about which most of us can agree. When charters become, as I’ll argue they have in New Orleans, a source of profit for outside interests, a problem exists that needs to be addressed.
While touted as promising change for the betterment of children and public education in the U.S., charter schools as an educational reform strategy appear to be more aligned with profiting from those least able to resist. We posit that the shift in what constituted a charter school, coupled with the increase in standardized testing and the commodification and privatization of education, limit the promise of charter schools as social justice-inspired entities.
If one’s goals are to risk the education of young people (despite overwhelming reasons to question charters), to change laws to make it easier to privatize a public education system, and to destabilize a region in the wake of a crisis, Arne and many others are “profiting from those least able to resist” (Dowell & Bickmore, 2015).
Mr. Johns (Twitter @MrDavidJohns) was at the University of Arkansas to discuss “Paying it Forward in the Black Community”, which was sponsored by the Black Men’s Solutions Summit, a group that partners with businesses such as Walmart and Tyson Foods to provide free, educational, professional, and social development events for African-American men.
The presentation coincided with the regularly scheduled time for our class on Progressive Education Policy and I was admittedly skeptical when my colleague Chris Goering suggested that we attend this session with our class rather than hold our regularly scheduled discussion. I wasn’t skeptical because of the topic, educational equity is #1 on my list of concerns about public education. I was skeptical because Mr. Johns works for President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, two of the people who I believe are largely responsible for the plundering of public education by corporations and other private interests. Unfortunately, my disapproval for the federal government’s education policy is so powerful that I am immediately suspicious of anybody who works for it. That’s not fair, but that’s where I am.
However, Mr. Johns changed my opinion of President Obama’s education policy somewhat. He had a powerful message on the importance of love when educating African American students. I believe that love is important when educating all students, and I’m sure that Mr. Johns does as well, though his audience was predominately African American and he heads up an initiative for African American students, so that’s where he went with the message. He reinforced his message by providing examples of black children with amazing academic accomplishments – further dispelling the notion that the success of African American students should be determined by a test score. He spoke of the importance of making sure that “black babies” are enrolled in high quality pre-school programs, which is one of the president’s primary policy goals. He gave the audience some concrete suggestions and places to find resources in order to make sure that African American children have access to similar opportunities as their future white classmates.
As I listened I went from dubious skepticism, to nodding my head along with his presentation, to a feeling of optimism. It seemed that for the first time, I was hearing something from the federal government (of which Mr. Johns is an agent) that really spoke of educational equity. Secretary Duncan has called standardized testing a civil right, though as I’ve said before, the appearance of equity doesn’t make education equitable.
And this is where my question started to form. The one I didn’t get to ask.
I blame myself for not asking the question. Mr. Johns was more than gracious with his time, and there were many members of the audience who had some great questions that he answered very convincingly. I blame myself because it simply took too long for me to formulate the question in my head, and by the time I had it right, time was up. Fortunately, in this space I can pose the question and then expand on why I feel compelled to ask it. So here it is:
“Why do I have to be on a university campus among a predominantly African American audience in order to hear this message?”
To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of Mr. Johns, but rather a criticism of the way in which the federal government has handled education policies surrounding issues of equity.
Nationally, the federal government praises and promotes the proliferation of charter schools – despite the academic research that says they are no better on average than their public counterparts and in the face of research that shows they are disproportionally segregated. African American students are more likely to attend the “No Excuses” charter schools that are far more about controlling black babies than loving them. Secretary Duncan has used his influence to disproportionately emphasize the importance of standardized tests – leading many low income schools to make drastic cuts to anything other than time spent on math and reading. Perhaps you’ve seen this Washington Post story about a student in Newark, NJ who is destined to spend the vast majority of his time preparing for standardized tests rather than receiving a well-rounded education. Ironically, I received an email during the presentation about the hunger strike in Chicago to oppose the closing of yet another neighborhood school. Chicago currently serves as a model for eschewing love in favor of closing neighborhood schools and opening charters staffed with temporary teachers (i.e. Teach for America). Where’s the love?
That brings me back to Mr. Johns. His message was music to my ears but it isn’t a major talking point in the mainstream message coming from our federal government. Aside from the major policy push towards universal preschool, the message that Mr. Johns brought to this audience is lost in the misguided rhetoric of Duncan. The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans is a commendable effort, but in the bigger picture, it reminds me of Black History Month – a special (and segregated) place in education where we pay attention to what we should be concerned with 365 days a year in the mainstream of public education policy. Perhaps I didn’t look hard enough to find this White House initiative or find Mr. Johns before this event, but my point is that I shouldn’t have to. Nobody should.
I have no idea what conversations about education on the highest levels of our federal government look like, but I hope that Mr. Johns and others like him are heard in those conversations. I sincerely hope they have a central and increasing role in deciding future policy. That would give me some hope for the future of all students in this country, especially those who need far more love and far less technocratic nonsense.
Who decided it was a good idea to write a weekly blog post on a class? As I second guess that decision from a time commitment perspective, I’m pressing forward for several good reasons. By opening the doors to our classrooms in this fashion, we’re modeling positive behavior that we see in our local schools and in schools around the country, but we also admit that doing so is a risk. It’s much easier to shut one’s door and do what she or he thinks is best for the students, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. By sharing glimpses of class and materials and readings from a potentially enigmatic–privatizing education, for example, is en vogue across party lines–course like this, we are opening ourselves to criticism and the potential for outright attacks. That said, the door to Peabody Hall 307 is virtually and physically open for others to join because part of the point of this class is to communicate with those outside of the academy. It’s much easier to not practice what we preach.
Let’s start with a quick recap of last week’s class and a reminder of what was read and prepared for Day Two. Last week we kicked off the semester and partied like it was 1897 with John Dewey’s “A Pedagogic Creed.” Students concurred that the text is just as relevant today and it provided the impetus for all of us in class–instructors included–to begin to stake our claim in our own individual educational beliefs. Students and those following along at home were encouraged to take up the questions, “what’s your line in the sand and/or what do you most firmly believe about education?”
On Wednesday, September 2nd, we worked to take additional steps in addressing these “line in the sand” and “firm beliefs” questions by presenting drafts of our educational oaths. We split the class into three groups for writing response. The format for the response groups was something I learned in the 2007 and 2008 Invitational Summer Institutes of the Northwest Arkansas Writing Project. While I’d participated in and directed students through a variety of peer revision and editing formats, as a teacher I’d never settled on one that truly worked. Rather than participants reading the papers of one another, these “NWAWP Response Groups” rely on oral readings of an author’s paper and then a conversation that following focusing on what the listeners liked, questioned, and suggested about the piece. It might be a form of educational alchemy because I’ve found it to work so well with so many different populations.
In listening to and reading my educational oath to others, I was both buoyed and challenged to further develop what I was writing. I’ve decided to tackle a teacher educator’s oath for a host of reasons, none perhaps as glaring as the fact the media and various pundits believe teacher educators to exist somewhere under the layer of pond scum that covers the local lakes each fall. Decisions are taken out of our hands, opportunities to influence our future teachers are taken out of our hands, and generally speaking our profession is being privatized right along side that of the K-12 Public Schools. This is nonsense for lots of reasons, but I digress.
For those of you following along at home, you may want to attempt to replicate the experience of the response groups by both reading your oaths aloud and reading them aloud to someone unfamiliar and asking for structured feedback. They are due next Wednesday, September 9th at 6 PM.
In addition to developing and refining our educational oaths for Day Two, we also read two pieces for class–Chapter One of The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myth, and Liesand Stan Karp’s “Challenging Corporate Ed Reform: And 10 Hopeful Signs of Resistance,” that appeared in Rethinking Schools (a publication I can’t recommend strongly enough).
Dr. Endacott led our discussion of the two readings that students completed in advance of class. He started us out talking about the efficiency epidemics in education starting on page 14, a point Tienken & Ulrich make as part of a general unpacking of the attempted and failed education reforms of the past century. Perhaps an early theme of their book is the cliche notion that those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it, an issue that came up in Day One’s reading and discussion of Dewey as well.
To this issue of forgetting our history, it seems to me that at least some of this disappearing act of our educational and social foundations are not a coincidence. They represent efforts to deprofessionalize education and to ultimately make it into a for-profit business. An article that influenced my early thinking on this issue was written by Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon from the University of Tennessee, an article in The Journal of Thought in which she challenges the leaders in her college on the fact that she was then the lone remaining faculty teaching social foundations of education.
A nation that does not have citizens who are knowledgeable about their past, understand their cultural roots, are able to analyze their social institutions, and able to make an argument for what should be on the grounds of justice, care, beauty, truth, and goodness is a nation that cannot hope to be a democracy someday. (p. 6)
And while the article wasn’t part of our discussion, it provide a representation of the general experience we shared as readers of Tienken & Olrich’s Chapter One–this was a good reminder of what has been tried, what worked, what didn’t, and how important it is to know and keep current our knowledge of educational history.
One aspect of the efficiency notions of education in the early Twentieth Century are again ideas that seem to be very popular once again, especially in this quotation from the chapter that suggested that overwhelming research evidence “…did not defer the efficiency gurus and the wannabe business-captain superintendents from climbing aboard the efficiency train.” (Tienken & Olrich, 2013, p. 15)
The second reading, the article from Rethinking Schools, was equally as generative in terms of discussion. While Tienken & Olrich do a nice job of naming the challenges and outlining the historical perspective, Stan Karp’s piece outlined the current challenges but ends with then (2012) hopeful signs of resistance.
Some of the ideas that seemed hopeful in 2012 have evolved greatly in the last three years, especially the example of United Opt Out and the fact that 20% of students in New York state refused to take the PARCC exam last year. Others ideas have faded but new ones have surfaced too. Students in class brought to the fore a reference to the situation in Little Rock and a recent article published in Alternet (detailed below) detailing how parents organized to attempt to stop privatization efforts in the city following the state taking over the school district last year.
We finished class by outlining the projects and aim for class and handing out the syllabus. Students have a good amount of say in which topics we’re covering and when. They ranked potential topics for a course such as this and we’ve landed on eight topics they want to cover in class as a class this semester. Drumroll:
High Stakes Accountability
Standardized Testing/Achievement Gap
School Choice (Charters, Vouchers)
High School & College Graduation Rates
Education & Inequity
Teacher Accountability, Merit Pay, VAM
Federal Education Policy (NCLB, CCSS, RTTT)
Alternative Teacher Preparation
In what we think is an important movefrom the 2013 iteration, we’re shifting writing and discussion leader responsibilities towards an outward audience. In other words, we had terrific discussions in class two years ago and the students took on projects of a public advocacy nature, but the work they completed were more academic in nature. Students will write blog posts instead of discussion papers, for example.
For next week:
1. Complete your Educational Oath.
2. Read and prepare Chapters 2, 3, and 4 from Tienken & Olrich.
3. Select two or three topics from the list about which you’d want to write and lead discussions.
Holloway, K. (2015). How the Billionaire Kingpins of School Privatization Got Stopped in Their Own Backyard. Alternet Retrieved from http://www.alternet.org/education/how-billionaire-kingpins-school-privatization-got-stopped-their-own-back-yard
Thayer-Bacon, B. (2013). Dear Dean Rider and Department Heads McCallum and Bell. Journal of Thought, 6-16.
Tienken, C. Standardized Testing is Not Teaching. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/dPs46yOcwP0
Eight students joined us for the first night of CIED 694V: Progressive Education Policy. One of us–Chris tonight–is going to try to capture a sense of the class for anyone interested and reading along out there in EduSanity-land. The blog isn’t necessarily the class and vice versa but does provide another opportunity to collaborate on ideas related to education. If you are interested in reading the things we read and participating in any way you can imagine, contact one of us and let us know and we’ll make that happen for you.
The class, like so many great ideas, was born on a bar napkin in the spring of 2013 when Jason and I discussed the idea of constructing a class to help teachers recognize their own voices and power through the readings and discussion possible in such an environment. While having these sorts of conversations in academic setting is important, we decided from day one that in order for anything to help the current educational situation–one many of us can agree is untenable–we wanted the students to move their ideas, readings, and inquiry outside of the academic arena and to engage the community as part of the class. To this effort, a teacher formed a book club with other teachers in her school to discuss a book detailing the privatization of education. Another teacher, this one also a full-time graduate student–put together a public screening of Listen: The Film that featured student filmmaker, Ankur Singh. The name of the first iteration of the course was Reclaiming the Conversation on Education.
The 2015 class starts at 6 on Wednesday nights and this week’s class began in a typical fashion–we spent the first 15 minutes of class getting a sense of who was in the class and why they specifically elected to enroll. The students in the course represent a broad range of experiences and backgrounds, an attribute we think will be important to how the class develops over the course of the semester. Ranging from a retired history teacher to a student finishing his teaching license and from special education to ESL, the conversations promise to be lively.
Starting out our past iteration of the class focusing on all of the various education reforms currently facing teachers and proponents of public education, we decided to instead spend the first night of class taking stock of what we individually believe about education. A go to text to inspire such a conversation is John Dewey’s “A Pedagogic Creed” from 1897 and that became our official first reading for the course. I’ve cherry picked a couple of quotations from Dewey that captured at least some of the essence of our reading and discussion.
I believe that these interests are neither to be humored nor repressed. To repress interest is to substitute the adult for the child, and so to weaken intellectual curiosity and alertness, to suppress initiative, and to deaden interest. To humor the interests is to substitute the transient for the permanent. The interest is always the sign of some power below; the important thing is to discover this power. To humor the interest is to fail to penetrate below the surface and its sure result is to substitute caprice and whim for genuine interest (www.dewey. pragmatism.org/creed.htm)
Some larger thematic ideas and questions that came out of the reading: Dewey is timeless and connects to what good teaching is now and will always be but we wondered how many people know Dewey today? What purpose would it serve to erode the foundations of education in the learning and teaching of how to teach? Where do we see John Dewey in schools today? Do alternatively trained teachers read and study Dewey? Progressive educators are not necessarily progressives, politically speaking and finally, education must start with the child and children have power.
Save as the efforts of the educator connect with some activity which the child is carrying on his own initiative independent of the educator, education becomes reduced to a pressure from without. It may, indeed, give certain external results but cannot truly be called educative. (www.dewey. pragmatism.org/creed.htm)
I believe that all reforms which rest simply upon the enactment of law, or the threatening of certain penalties, or upon changes in mechanical or outward arrangements, are transitory and futile.
People used to say, “I’m a progressive educator or that I use progressive methods,” but Dewey said that there’s no such thing as being “progressive,” but rather a progressive educator is one who must be willing to change and through those changes, always make society better and more democratic.
Following our Deweyian beginnings, the next part of class was spent moving towards each person in class–professors included–staking a claim about what they believe in education, or to take another view, what they would not do. To this end, we read the Hippocratic Oath from the medical field which was followed by a spirited discussion. Next up was Gus Morales’ video about his Educratic Oath and his perception that the entire education profession needs to draw a line in the sand about what we will and won’t due. I highly recommended watching the video if you haven’t seen it. Gus’ words and passion engendered a conversation around the idea of “Why don’t we have an oath or ceremony when teachers begin in the profession?”
Writing down these ideas that were swirling in our heads was the next goal. We made a list of the things we believed or the things we would not do and then spent time working on a draft of these ideas. I said my list would probably get me in trouble and it might. For next week’s class, each student will return with a rough draft of their oath, creed, or general thinking.
To close the blog post, what’s your line in the sand OR what do you most firmly believe about education?
Course readings for next class:
Karp, S. (2012, spring). Challenging corporate ed reform: And 10 hopeful signs of resistance. Rethinking Schools, p. 34-39.
Tienken, C. H. & Olrich, D. C. (2013). The school reform landscape: Fraud, myth, and lies. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. (Introduction and Chapter One)