"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Three Hundred and One Down. Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?

We've just passed the 300th mark for postings! I thought it might be a good time to chronicle what we've blogged about over these few months and how the website came into existence.

Missouri Education Watchdog has officially been on the web since June 2010 when a few people became worried about what they were seeing and reading in the public education arena. Our first red flags were the proposals of Race to the Top in terms of federal mandates to Missouri and local districts. We didn't find anyone in the state writing or talking about Race to the Top. We were concerned about this "contest for educational funding" by Arne Duncan, so we started researching and writing about the Department of Education's plan for public education.

As it played out, we did not receive Race to the Top funding but in essence, we received many of the mandates when our State Board of Education signed onto the Common Core standards in June 2010. We were hopeful the current Republican legislature would address the sovereignty issue and unfunded mandates the standards place on the state and districts. Unfortunately, not one piece of legislation currently addresses these issues. Our legislators have bills addressing open enrollment, vouchers, charter schools, the trigger option, and teacher tenure. Charters, open enrollment, the trigger option and vouchers are considered "school choice" for parents and many conservatives on the state and national levels support this type of legislation.

We have stated many times in this venue we support school choice for parents. However, we have also raised questions about the current legislation about these "choices". With the signing of common core standards, charters can no longer set their own standards. Vouchers to private schools will probably have federal mandates tied to them (it IS government money so those ties are expected), so it is reasonable to believe private and parochial schools will have to adopt common core standards as well. Is this a choice if the new school is under the same mandates as the old school?

The trigger option seems to give power to the parents to close a failing school. But what constitutes a failing school? Is it always the principal and bad teachers? Is it a cultural issue? Do parents support the school and do parents demand excellence and discipline from their children? Will it make a difference to close a school and revamp it by becoming a charter school? Do you think the problems for schools are just because of the teachers and administration? If so, then a trigger option and charters will fit the bill. If however, you believe the problems are more multi-layered, that if the culture does not demand discipline, respect and love for learning, then these "choices" will make little difference for failing students. The government cannot mandate that students learn or parents care to instill values in their students.

Open Enrollment will allow students to attend schools that are not failing. This will necessitate the transportation of students from failing districts (usually from the urban setting) into a suburban setting. As one school superintendent stated about this legislation:

"I'd rather see us try and fix the problem in the student's home district."

Moving away from the pending bills, now let's focus on Common Core Standards. Why is it so important to align schools with common core standards? It has less to do with the standards themselves and more to do with what the standards provide. The standards provide the vehicle through which the Longitudinal Data System can be implemented. What is a longitudinal data system? It is a way to share data about students from state to state AND various federal agencies. We've written about the data sets prepared for your students asking for information such as eye and hair color, family income, voting status and non-school activities. What does this have to do with education?

Well, if you look at the purpose of education to provide the nation's workforce, this type of information is quite important. The equation is upside down. It used to be that when a student graduated from school the STUDENT would look for a job. The documentation we've researched makes it clear the WORKFORCE will now look for the student. And how will industries find the student? Easy. Pull up data from the information stored on your human capital in the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. Your human capital is viewed in terms of his/her ability to provide a service to the state.

When did this "computerization" of education begin in earnest? Here's an excerpt from the April 5, 2000 Congressional Record speaking to President Clinton's "National Call to Action":

President Clinton has issued a "National Call to Action" to challenge corporations and non-profit organizations to take concrete steps to meet two critical goals: Provide 21st Century Learning Tools for every child in every school. For children to succeed, they need to master basic skills at an early age. The ability to use technology to learn and succeed in the workplace of the 21st century has become a "new basic" - creating a national imperative to ensure that every child is technologically literate. To reach this goal, America needs a comprehensive approach to connect every classroom, provide all students with access to multi-media computers, train teachers to use and integrate technology into the curriculum, and to provide high quality, online content and educational software. (page 4566)

Here we are 11 years later. Many of these plans are being put in place, not by privately funded organizations, but with stimulus funds and state money. Perhaps some of these goals are not objectionable. Being "connected" through technology is valuable in today's world. However, WHAT student data is connected TO and WHY is troublesome. When did it become permissible to ask personal and intrusive information on students under the guise of education so this information could be fed in a repository that would then feed it to different Federal agencies?

So this is where we find ourselves after our first 300 postings. It's not where we thought we would be in the quest for educational information. We were hoping for educational reform that would reclaim state sovereignty and reduce federal control and spending. Instead, this is where we find ourselves in Missouri and from emails received from around the country, others find themselves as well:
  • We are still puzzled why the issue of appointed members of a state board can sign away our state sovereignty doesn't alarm our legislators and spur them to some preemptive action so our science and social studies standards also are not signed away when they are ready for adoption from CCSSO.
  • We are puzzled why legislators aren't screaming when the talk of a "national curriculum" becomes a possible reality.
  • We are puzzled why many states feel the need to focus in on school choice instead of reclaiming local control of schools.
  • We are puzzled why there has been no legislation introduced to stop the incredible loss of privacy for students and their families when these data sets are ready to use in the educational setting.
  • We are puzzled why when constituents are clamoring for a diminished role for the DOE, there is no response from legislators.
We invite you to learn with us as we discover more of the agendas for public education.
  • We will continue to question elected officials on their stance for sovereignty and federal mandates and spending.
  • We will continue to report on school district decisions.
  • We will continue to research national issues as these will impact local districts in terms of standards, assessments, curriculum and costs to taxpayers.
  • We will continue to examine the motives of multi-million dollar campaigns for specific educational agendas. There is a tremendous amount of money to made in education, don't doubt it for a minute. Whenever any organization states "it's for the children", listen with a critical ear. It doesn't matter if this line comes from the left or the right. Money is being made by servicing children by the NEA, the charter schools, virtual schools, software companies, computer companies, public employees, think tanks, lobbyists...and the list goes on and on.
The questions are: Do any of these entities have your child's best interest at heart? Is your child's best interest being superseded by becoming "human capital" for the purpose of supplying nation's workforce?

1 comment:

  1. "like" especially about the longitudinal data (creeps me out) and the relation to the workforce, a Prussian/ social efficiency styled notion (also creepy).


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