"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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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tough Choices or Wrong Choices

"The education system is merely a support for the political system we choose." - Vicky Davis

In 2007 the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) produced a report entitled Tough Choices or Tough Times. In it, they outlined a view for the American education system as the supplier of workers for the 21st century in a global economy.  From her blog Channeling Reality, Davis summarizes the the findings of the report below:

Problems in the Current System

  • Teachers are recruited from the lower strata of the intellectual talent pool
  • Waste in the system, allowing students to fail in lower grades and paying for remediation in later years when costs are higher
  • System is inherently inefficient.  “Standards have helped but only moderately relative to cost” over 30 years
  • Growing inequality in family income as a contributing factor in growing disparities in student achievement
  • Failure to motivate students to achieve
  • Teacher compensation rewards longevity rather than performance
  • Testing system measures rote learning and does not measure creativity, innovative thinking, and analytical abilities
  • People who have the responsibility for education do not have the power.  Power is in the hands of those who do not have the responsibility.
  • Students must be prepared to continue learning for their lifetimes because of the tumultuous nature of the global economy. 
  • Education system must be changed to allow adults to continue education and training throughout their lifetimes for the same reason stated above. 
Proposed Changes
  • Reduce secondary education to age 16 (10th grade) at which time, a board examination is given and a decision is made regarding the path of the student - college prep, or vocation.  Board examination is on a syllabus provided by the Board.   Implicit in the description is that students could choose to end their educational stint at this point theoretically without penalty later in life.   Guarantees for higher education for good performance in lower grades.
  • The reduction of school years will save $60 billion annually to be divided as follows:
    • Recruiting teachers from the top strata of the intellectual talent pool and paying them according to private sector standards
    • Establishing “full-service” preschools for 3 and 4 year olds for early childhood education and social-health services.   
    • Increasing resources for “disadvantaged students” to allow them to succeed to international standards
  • Change teacher compensation from a backloaded system of pension and health benefits to cash up front with a benefit structure the same as the private sector (i.e. 401k’s).  Proposed teacher pay would increase to a median $95,000 for a beginning teacher in a system the same as the current system - moving up to $110,000 for a teacher willing to work the same schedule and hours as a private sector professional.  
  • Privatization of the schools (Management Contract Schools) while continuing public funding.  State maintenance of a licensed teacher registry from which the Contract schools could hire teachers.  The teachers would be state employees and would be paid by the state - but would be managed by the school management contractors.  
  • Current requirements for teachers would be scrapped.  States would create a new agency (Teacher Development Agency) to develop teachers - charged with recruiting, training and certifying teachers.  They would also be responsible for maintaining a registry of certified, licensed teachers. 
  • Develop standards, assessments and curriculum that reflect today’s needs and tomorrow’s requirements.  Set standards with corresponding assessments and then develop curriculum to meet those standards.
  • Eliminate local school board ownership of schools.  Unstated - but de facto sell the schools to the Contract Management groups.  Local school boards would become data collectors for the state (essentially IT operations) and the case managers for social services (i.e. medical, mental, etc) to students and parents of students - BUT… schools would be free to contract for services elsewhere if they so choose.
  • Create “high performance” schools.  “High Performance” is a code phrase that has a very specific meaning that is too long to describe here.  Essentially, it is schools that are oriented towards a system of supply chain management to produce workers as opposed to an education system for citizens with work being a secondary or peripheral goal.   
  • Schools would be funded according to a per-pupil, weighted formula with the discretion for how the funds are expended being given to the Contract managers as long as the Contractors meet the standards for performance. 
  • Schools would be required to be affiliated with a “helping organization” - profit or non-profit.  Presumably this means Foundations like the Bill Gates Foundation or the Carnegie Foundation - which have become front organizations to promote and integrate the UNESCO social agenda into the school curriculum.   
  • Universal preschool with social services for 3 and 4 year-olds. 
  • State level-funding on a per pupil basis to eliminate the quality differences between wealthy districts and poor districts.  And of course…. Mo Money… $19 billion additional as an estimate. 
  • All-inclusive social services including funds to screen and diagnose students for their medical, dental, optical, audiological, mental health services.  Tutors, counselors and mentors will be provided.  Schools will be open from early morning till late at night to serve the needs of students outside of classroom requirements.   They state that this proposal applies to “disadvantaged” students but it would have to be available in all schools because by definition, the schools are public and they take all comers. 
  • Create personal education accounts for each child when born with a $500 government credit with additional amounts added over time.  Additional amounts could be added over time by basically anybody - government, individuals through salary deductions, parents, the state, etc.
  • Create regional competitiveness authorities.  The regional authority would be responsible to coordinate and plan the educational programs for children to correspond with the economic development of the communities within the region.  Noteworthy clarification on these authorities:  
“We settled on the word “authorities” to describe these new bodies because we wanted to convey the idea that they need to be more than debating societies.  They need to be able to raise and spend money needed to develop their regions over time.  If these new bodies are as successful as we think they will be, the federal government should consider lifting many of the restrictions on the separate programs they will administer and permitting them to combine the funds from these programs in ways that are more likely to lead to both strong economic growth and strong job growth, especially for the most vulnerable people in the country."

The underlying message in this report is a threat - either change the education system or your economy will be destroyed by global competition.   The logical fallacy is that there is nothing in the plan that changes the fact that an engineer in India makes $7,500 per year and an American engineer makes $45,000 per year.  Equilibrium in wages will never be reached because of the population differences.  What they are attempting to do is to manage our decline in wage and living standards by holding out the hope that somehow the education system will fix a structurally flawed economic system.  

The idea behind the “regional competitiveness authority” is to establish planners for the economy of the region coupled with the planning of the workforce training to correspond to the planned economic activity.  Central planning of the economy and workforce is the hallmark of the communist system.   There is no way to weasel around the fact that this proposal for ‘education reform’ is a major step towards the ‘transformation’ of the United States to a communist system.   Our capitalist economic system has morphed into a communist political system and the education reforms are designed to support that political system. 

The amount of money they are promising for teacher salaries is absurd.  It’s bribery to get the buy-in from teachers for the plan.  It’s simply not going to happen.  The funding for the schools will be on a per-pupil formula with the Contract Managers being able to spend the money in whatever way they choose.  It’s a sure bet that they will choose not to spend the money on teachers but rather, the money will be spent on software and technology to replace teachers.  Furthermore, in a system of global competition and ‘free trade’, teachers can be imported who will work for much less money than is currently being paid today - let alone the outrageous salaries stated in the report.  It is fundamentally dishonest to imply that somehow teachers will be exempt from low wage, imported competition for jobs.   The teachers who are selected to be the Contract Managers of the schools will be highly paid for sure, but they will simply be ‘fronts’ for the real management of the schools which will be the “helping organizations”.

The report mentions “high performance schools” but does not elaborate on what that means.  Obviously the hope is that decision makers will assume the plain meaning of the phrase but that would be a wrong assumption.  The term “high performance schools” comes from a Labor Department document titled, “Learning a Living”.   When that term is used, they are talking about vocational training in schools beginning with pre-K through the end - whether that’s grade 10 or 12.  The entire curriculum is skills based, work-focused.  Assignments emphasize work-oriented lessons.  In other words, it is a skills training system for workers as opposed to an academically oriented educational system to develop well-rounded citizens with a 21st century knowledge base. 

The emphasis in the report aims high - college for all, extra resources for the “disadvantaged”, more math, science, literature, the arts and technology, but that picture is completely at odds with the realities of a global economy dominated by multinational corporations.  The reality is that there will be few opportunities for good jobs in the global economic system and it will be a buyer’s market with corporations shopping for the highest quality, least cost employees from the global pool of available and desperate workers.  
This report says that the goal is to produce workers who are creative and innovative but those qualities can’t be taught in a school.  That’s a fundamental mistake that all communist countries have made.  Those qualities emerge in individuals when the economic system provides the opportunities for individuals to make his or her ideas and dreams a reality.  In a global economy dominated by multinationals with central planners for the regional economies and “high performance” (vocational schools), the weight of the infrastructure is too great and the risks to future earnings will inhibit innovation and creativity.  In a planned economic system, kowtowing to the regional authorities is the way to get ahead - not initiative.

Although unstated, this plan attempts to nationalize the curriculum through the imposition of standards and assessments.  By definition the goal of standards is to produce cookie cutter results.  When a corporation produces a product like cookies, standards are very important to produce uniform results.  Since it is not possible to produce uniform results with people, the system of “assessments” is being implemented to compensate for over and under achievement and abilities to give the appearance of a uniform product (person).  Assessments are not objective measurements of accomplishment.  They are subjective measurements that include the degree of acceptance of social conditioning, personal characteristics and work habits, and attitude.  A smart kid who sees through this system for what it is and rebels could potentially have his life ruined forever by the power of the “assessment” to override academic achievement and inherent abilities.   In the world of uniformity that this system is designed to create, a rebel is an unwelcome intrusion - not a gem in the rough. 

Clearly, the education system must change.  Our economy will no longer support the expensive,  labor-intensive, bureaucratic system we have today that doesn’t produce the desired result of educated people.   But the tough choice that America must make is not the education system but the political system we want to leave as our legacy for future generations.  The decisions made on the education system will simply solidify the decision on the political system.  

We have come a long way towards this vision with almost no input from the public who is supplying the "capital" for this economic system. Isn't it time we had the discussion about which political system we want our education system to support?

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