"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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Saturday, July 7, 2012

"A More Misleading Article on Education Would be Hard to Write". Money Quote on Ed Reformer Article.

Still waiting for a breeze of common sense in education reform.

It was 108 degrees in St. Louis on Friday.  Our heat wave has been unbearable as it has in many parts of the country.  Intense heat creates short fuses in those who read articles containing education reform talking points rolled out by Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee and Bill Gates.  These talking points are long on spin and short on common sense and fact.

I came across an article about how both candidates should agree on educational reform plans.  It is an example of the spin vs fact model.  If heatstroke wasn't giving me a headache, the article written by Richard Whitmire entitled To the Presidential Contenders: Why Not Agree on Education? certainly would.  The original link I was going to use was from Education Views but trying to access it now gives a 404 error code.  It must have given the editors there a headache as well.  I was able to track in down through the Huffington Post:

When Romney was governor of Massachusetts, that state distinguished itself by dramatically raising standards and making sure more students moved to a richer curriculum. Romney didn’t launch those reforms, but he made sure they enjoyed a steady tailwind. Credit due to Romney.

Obama tacked right with Race to the Top, which offered financial carrots to states that designed real teacher evaluations and opened their doors for innovative charter schools. Defying the wishes of the unions is not easy for a Democratic president. Credit due to Obama.

There is a huge difference about these educational reforms not noted in the article: 

  • Massachusetts state standards were set by Massachusetts.  
  • Race to the Top mandates are federally driven in which teacher evaluations are tied to test scores based on private consortia standards, not state created. 
As to Whitmire praising Obama for standing up to the teachers' unions?

Susan Ohanian writes about how "defying the teachers unions" isn't so difficult for a Democratic president since AFT will be investing $10 Million into the educational reform movement controlled by the educational corporatists.  Apparently the teachers' unions are hitching their stars to the administration's plan.  Obama has union support (since he is a Democrat) and the unions will profit from the corporate takeover of education, just like Rhee and Gates.  That's considered some feat by Obama?

Gee, what does Obama need to do to have the unions not support him? These reforms which have been declared onerous in terms of teacher evaluations don't cause union leadership to blink much.  Read about the NEA's  summer convention in Washington DC and its support of this administration (Republican teachers uneasy at Obama-themed union convention):

NEA leaders have been urging members to hold house parties to educate their friends about why Obama, who addressed the convention Thursday by telephone to thank teachers for their support, deserves a second term. So it wasn't really a surprise that the union showed its support for Obama so overtly at the convention. After all, 72 percent of delegates at last year's NEA convention voted to endorse Obama for re-election -- the earliest the group has ever endorsed in a presidential election cycle. 

Obama supports Race to the Top.  (I hope he is remembered for RTTT as George Bush is for NCLB...not fondly).  Unlike Romney's educational support of state standards, RTTT was devised by the National Governor's Association and the Common Core State Standards Initiative to centralize education and develop a national curriculum.  Think of it as No Child Left Behind on steroids.  It's the expansion of federal control into state and local control of schools.

Several of the Huffington Post readers had the same reaction to Whitmire's article:

A more misleading article on education would be hard to write.
There's some good stuff there. Obviously, higher standards are a good thing. So is less remediation in college.

But then there are some prescriptions for making things worse. You praise RTTT? It's made teacher evaluations less accurate and introduced other impediments to education into schools. Charter schools? They're less effective than traditional public schools. We should be getting rid of the ones we've got, not creating more. Raise teacher quality? Probably not necessary, but we certainly wouldn't manage that with TFA "teachers"; when you allow someone who's only really qualified to be a sub or a classroom aide to pose as a teacher, that represents a LOWERING of standards.

Obama and Romney do seem to agree greatly on public education. Both of them seem eager to degrade or destroy it. And most of your recommendations would be an effective way to go about doing that. 


The main problem in educational policy today is that we're pursuing failed ideas from the past, on steroids:

1) Make kids memorize more faster, call it "rigor," and claim that prepares kids for the 21st century. 2) Use carrots and sticks to push students and teachers, despite ample evidence that this is a second rate approach.

3) Make high-stakes tests the centerpiece of it all, despite its longtime failures.
4) Keep claiming that market-based policies will create widespread excellence in something as complex as education, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Heavens, McDonald's can't even reliably deliver hot and crispy french fries!

Whitmire lauds TFA and charter schools, despite no evidence that either improves learning in real apples-to-apples comparisons. Scale up either approach and quality likely goes down noticeably while further de-stabilizing public education. I posted a longer piece today at EdWeek Online, on why dramatically scaling up charters will hurt more than it helps. The public sector simply does some things better than the private sector does, including educating the masses.

So, what we really need is vigorous disagreement about the continuation of failed policies such as NCLB and RttT.

P.S. When you control for poverty, American kids in 0-10% poverty schools would have been #1 in the world on the 2009 PISA reading test, outperforming all other nations. American schools are actually performing very well, considering the much harsher conditions they face. Thus, there is no reason for radical policy changes. 

(You can read more about Whitmire here and his approval of reformers like Rhee and charter schools).

The jig is up.  Taxpayers are tired of education reform talking points (from both presidential candidates) making little sense, creating more debt for more mandates (RTTT/Common Core) which are worse than the original mandates (NCLB), and requiring the tracking of student/family personal data that has NOTHING to do with education.  I hope this heatwave breaks soon and we can breathe in the air of common sense.  These reforms and less than factual ed reform articles are oppressive just like our current temperatures.

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