The Destructive Power of a False Analogy

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The other day I read an article based upon a false analogy and realized anew the power that such an analogy could wield over the minds and emotions of readers who did not realize it was false. The writer, a leader in corporate “reform,” expressed with what seemed to me a phony and condescending sadness his dismay that parents would refuse the tests for their children. He likened this supposedly misguided protectiveness to refusal to take one’s child for an annual exam by a physician. Of course, the child might not enjoy the exam, but surely even minimally enlightened parents can appreciate the value of this checkup for the child’s physical well-being. No, taking standardized tests is not fun and there is some anxiety involved, but the children survive and are, he implied condescendingly, helped by these annual evaluations in the progress of their education.

It plays on parental fears

The analogy is insidious because it is false and shaming. It plays on parental fears of overprotecting their children and so doing them harm in the long run. It implies poor parenting. It is a lie. How is it a lie? The two evaluations, the medical checkup and the standardized test, are not analogous. It’s a false comparison.

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Losing Good Teachers? Hooray!

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I am grateful to Yale professor James C. Scott for his book, Seeing Like a State, for opening my eyes to the ways and means of powerful top-down plans for restructuring human life. His book carries the subtitle, How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Scott describes the “high modernist” beliefs, assumptions, and calculations behind the grand failures to get forests to grow as mandated, collective farming to succeed following imposed patterns, and planned cities to work out according to designs devised from a distance. His insights into the failure of grand schemes make, for me, the current corporate reforms being imposed upon American public education even more frightening than I first realized.

Imposed reform works and fails by trying to regiment human beings and nature, both of which resist mightily. The idea is to simplify complex and variable processes by denying validity to factors the administrators cannot control. Laws of nature are ignored, and complexities of human development denied relevance. Trees must line up and grow as the experts command. Crops must obey and follow the plan. Peasants must uproot and conform to the demands of collectivization or be destroyed. And now children must fit the over-simplified and conveniently measurable goals of corporate education reform.

One of the steps crucial to such repeated failures at organizing and perfecting life is making everything and everyone “legible.” The deciders and controllers must be able to “read” all that is happening with simple charts, now made much more powerful and convenient with computers. Sameness is mandatory. One cannot compare apples and oranges; so all of the students must be apples with no significant variety.

Also crucial to such misguided reform schemes is the destruction of “local knowledge” and the “deskilling” of workers. For the production lines to work properly and be thoroughly legible to the managers, each worker must perform the assigned task exactly as mandated and must know only what needs to be known, no more, no less. In other words, each human must function as a cog in the grand machine. Skilled craftsmen must be weeded out. They are not needed, and they are not welcome. They only cause trouble by questioning faulty procedures and silly simplifications. Farmers who knew the particularities of land, soil, seasonal changes, pest threats, and corrective measures learned through years or even centuries of experimentation and adaptation were silenced or killed, which brings us to the current corporate reform attitude toward teachers and the colleges that prepare them for teaching.

Children will develop as the reformers say they must: that is mandatory.

The teaching profession must be killed off so the corporate reform scheme can be pushed forward without strong opposition. Good teachers are the enemy, because the reformers don’t want teachers; they want trainers, meaning low-wage, no benefits classroom managers who may know little more than the students themselves and so will follow the lesson plans exactly and without question or who, at least, will know nothing of child development and learning theory and so will raise no objections to the inhumanity of the system. With computerized lessons, one low-wage trainer can manage the “learning” of far more students than a real teacher could teach effectively. So it is that the reformers express publicly their contempt for education departments in universities and for teachers’ colleges. Child development is not their concern. Children will develop as the reformers say they must: that is mandatory. Of course, such reforms will fail, if we assume the goal is to teach children.

Enter money, front and center. I doubt that the money saved by destroying the teaching profession will, in the main, go back to taxpayers. It will go to the investors in “the education sector.” It will go to the test makers and test-related curriculum peddlers. It will go to those who invest in charter schools and for-profit universities. It will go to the software and hardware developers who will deliver the standardized lessons and standardized tests coordinated to give the illusion of successful learning. And then it will go to the re-election campaigns of politicians who enable corporate reform for the investors in the education sector.

The tragedy of such grand schemes is that their failure does not come until they have already done terrible damage that may well be irreversible. Once American public education has been looted and destroyed, how will it be restored from the ashes of corporate reform?

Another betrayal of our nation and our children achieved.

Now I see why the new non-educator managers of education do not lament the loss of good and very good teachers: they want them gone. Good, dedicated teachers who know how to respond to the learning needs of children as individuals are an impediment to corporate reform with its standardization. The current reformers cannot take Stalin’s way with the peasants who resisted collectivization or of Tanzania’s “villagization” of farmers who knew too much about farming, but there is no need, anyway. The teachers can just be pushed out or into retirement. Hooray! Another impediment to standardization and profit-making gone! Another betrayal of our nation and our children achieved.

[Note:  in response to a helpful critique from a good teacher, I have revised a sentence in the final paragraph.  Originally, I had written of teachers who “actually care about children,” but the teacher reminded me that a lot of people care about children; the good teacher knows how to adjust and respond to the learning needs of the various children.]

What’s in It for Me?

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“Why should we have to pay school taxes when we’re a retired couple with no children or grandchildren in school?”

“Why should I have to pay for health insurance that covers prenatal care and delivery of a baby when I’m a single man?”

“Why should I have to buy health insurance when I’m young and healthy?”

“Why should we have to get our children vaccinated?  Are we not their parents, and should the decision not be ours alone?”

“We’re retired.  Why should we care if Social Security benefits are cut for the younger generations as long as we seniors get to keep all the benefits we have?”

The answer to all of these questions and more like them is that we are a people and that all people are interrelated more deeply and closely than we have ever been willing to acknowledge.  No family, community, or society is merely a collection of autonomous individuals, each free to go his or her own way without regard for the others.  That kind of autonomy is not freedom but alienation; it is a denial of our humanity.

Such questions as I posed in quotation marks above are deeply troubling because they express a profound self-centeredness lacking, not only a basic human sense of community and shared responsibility, but also the most rudimentary appreciation of how mutual benefit and security work among us.  Such selfish thinking reveals a failure to comprehend even so simple and impersonal a matter as insurance.  How can we talk productively about our need for greater generational responsibility and for stewardship in management of the earth that is our shared home when so many of us sound as though they have no concern for anyone beyond their tiny circles of “me and mine”?  Some of us don’t seem to understand even that public health matters are, indeed, public and so we cannot stop the spread of communicable diseases if only some have their children vaccinated against them (unless they have some plan for magically keeping the disease in the family).

Insurance cannot operate if only those with claims to submit pay into it.  Many pay the insurance premiums so that those who come to need to submit claims can receive its benefits.  We all pay into car insurance because any of us could need it at any time; we hope we don’t need it, but we could.  Hopefully more is paid into the insurance program than must be paid out; otherwise it will fail.  We pay to lower our risk of heavy liability and to pay the expenses if our vehicle gets, say, rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light.  It matters not only that I have car insurance but that the other person has it, also.

Public education is somewhat different.  We all pay, not only because we may have children or grandchildren who will benefit from public education, but because the society as a whole needs it, especially if we are to continue as a democracy.  Even from a selfish point of view, paying for public education is a good deal.  My children did not design the roadways and bridges over which I travel; neither did they develop medical science and dentistry for me.  We all benefit from each other’s education, innovations, and services, and we all benefit to the extent we have an educated population.  Public education is one of our best investments in the future.  I have near-zero musical ability, but I benefit from the music of others who have been enabled to develop their abilities.  We benefit collectively also from the economy developed by an educated populace, although these days an increasing amount of the public benefit is going to relatively few people who redistribute the nation’s wealth and the world’s to themselves.

These days, we’re moving more and more into a “me and mine” attitude toward education and even toward the public funding of it.  Can I get my child into a good charter school (at public expense)?  Great, then why should I worry about all those other children?  Janice Resseger has an analysis of the problem here, showing that charter schools, though publicly funded, do not fulfill the responsibilities of public schools or provide adequate public benefit for the future.

Human life is relational, and it is communal, both shared and interactive.  We are in this thing together, this thing called life.  From a biblical and theological point of view, the denial of relationship is the essence of sin.  “Am I my brother’s guardian (keeper)?” asks Cain the archetypal murderer of his brother in the Genesis story.

There is such a thing as smart selfishness, more often called enlightened self-interest; it is smart selfishness because it recognizes the benefits of mutuality, even though it is not the highest motive for caring about the well-being and thriving of other people and of the public in general.  It’s not selflessness or even compassion but smart self-interest.  Today, however, we are retreating into stupid selfishness, the kind that seeks short-term personal gain without heed to the consequences for all of us not far down the road.

How are we to turn the tide of stupid selfishness and begin to recover our much-needed sense of mutuality and of generational responsibility?  In a wealthy nation with a 22% rate of child poverty, we have a huge problem.  Our infrastructure crumbles as we pollute our water and contaminate our own food, all for the bucks – the quick bucks and the big bucks or else the few bucks saved at the big-box store as we close our minds to what it does to people, small businesses, and society.  The doctrine of “just me and mine” is not only wrong but very foolish, shortsighted, and childish.

What will it take to make us realize that all the children are our daughters and sons and all the elderly are our mothers and fathers?  We really are in this life together.

Individual Achievement and the Common Good

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In educational policy and practice, as in a democratic society as a whole, balance is needed between these two goals and their corresponding measures of satisfaction: (1) the liberty and success of the individual and (2) the thriving of the whole (the community, state, and nation) including all its people.  I have added the phrase, “including all its people,” because the misuse of numbers can make “the whole” into something that does not truly include all its people.  Here’s a simplistic example.  Suppose I made a million dollars last year (dreamer!) and you made $20,000, and this year I make two million dollars and you, having lost your job, make nothing.  “We” (the group consisting of the two of us) are doing much better this year, even though financially you are doing terribly.  Our average income has soared.  Doesn’t knowing “we” are prospering make you feel better as the mortgage company forecloses on your house?

So, in a democracy, the whole must include all the people, not an average or sum in which the impoverishment and misery of many people is hidden behind the extreme prosperity of some.  Indicators of national economic success become lies if fewer and fewer people are being paid a living wage.  Remember that term, “living wage”?  These days we are reduced to arguing over the “minimum wage” as the ridiculously rich seek ever cheaper labor to exploit.  We are now told that 23% of children in the United States live in poverty, almost one in four.  We cannot rightly regard ourselves as a rich nation when so many of our children are poor, hidden statistically behind the vast wealth of a small minority of financially elite people.

In my previous post, “Public Education Is Not a Race,” I referred to Stefanie Fuhr’s article in Sojourners magazine, “Public Education for the Common Good,” and recommended it.  Fuhr drew from a contrast between (1) a democracy of desire and (2) a democracy of worth.  She cited as her source for this contrast Philip Phenix’s, Education and the Common Good: A Moral Philosophy of the Curriculum.

What is all this talk about “the common good”?  Don’t we send our children to school so that they, our children – “my child!” – can gain what they need for security and prosperity in life?  I want my child to “get ahead”!  Ahead of your child?  Well, nothing personal, but I have to look out for my own.  You look out for your own.  May the odds be always in our children’s favor (reference to the Hunger Games as a parable for our times).  And if the odds are not currently in my child’s favor, then I want options, I want choices, I want a charter school or a home schooling plan or whatever it takes to put the odds in my child’s favor.

As a parent, should I not look out for the well-being, security, and success of my own child?  Yes, I should, and sometimes that parental responsibility requires my making a choice for my child I may wish were not necessary.  In principle, I want the public school to thrive for the benefit of all the children, but if the public school is a disaster area for its children, then I may have to make a choice I don’t like for the sake of my own child.  This parental desperation is what the privatizers, stealers, and destroyers of public education are exploiting for profit.  On the parents’ part, it’s not always greed and selfishness but fear and love.  I’d like to rescue the whole system but cannot, and it’s now or never for rescuing my child.

Democracy should allow room for the individual to achieve satisfaction, to thrive in life.  I avoided the word “prosper,” even though it can be a synonym for thrive, because we equate prosperity with wealth (of money) which is really only one, very limited, kind of prosperity.  Room for the individual to thrive implies freedom for variation.  That is, the individual must be allowed, encouraged, and enabled to be an individual and to develop as an individual in his or her own particular ways.

But the individual is not an island.  Democracy is “we the people,” not just “I the individual.”  Balance is needed to keep “we the people” from becoming a faceless mass in which individual liberty is lost.  Balance is needed also to keep the individual from becoming autonomous, utterly self-centered, and heedless of the well-being of others and of the common good.  There is no “we” without “I.”  Neither is there any “I” without “we,” but we Americans seem to have trouble understanding and accepting that second truth, so thoroughly have we imagined life to be a competition in which some win while many lose.

To cover up the blatant selfishness of this competition model of life, we speak with some reverence of “equal opportunity,” which is fictitious in practice and irresponsible in theory.  That’s the Hunger Games.   There is no equal opportunity in the United States, and as long as life is seen and lived as a competition, there never will be.  There will, of course, continue to be people who don’t care to win by beating others, who just want to “live and let live,” who might be quite happy if all could thrive and achieve both security and satisfaction in life, but they are the losers in the competition whose peaceful hope is rendered fictitious by the machinations of the rich elite hellbent on taking as much of everything as they possibly can.  The spokesperson for the real players in the competition is J. K. Rowling’s Professor Quirrell in book one of her Harry Potter series: “A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil.  Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was.  There is no good or evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.” (Philosopher’s Stone, 211)

Furh quotes Phenix as saying that the second type of democracy, the democracy of worth, “centers around devotion or loyalty to the good, the right, the true, the excellent.  Devotion is different from desire.  It is primarily other-regarding rather than self-interested.  It invites sacrifice and loyalty instead of conferring gratification.”  This is high-minded stuff, high enough that it may seem beyond reach realistically in any human society, especially one in which individual liberty to strive for personal success is so highly valued as in ours.  But public education is founded upon the balance between individual satisfaction and the common good of the whole people, the society.  We don’t have public education just for the huge collection of individuals (our children) and the satisfaction of those adults who happen to have children in school; we have public education for the benefit of the whole – “we the people,” the nation as well as for the smaller units of the whole, the state and the community.  Democracy depends upon the education of as many as possible of its people.  Public education is a cooperative undertaking, not a competition.  It’s done for the whole people as well as for the individual children, which is the reason we all pay for it and should all continue to pay for it.  Fuhr writes, “‘Race to the Top’ forces states to implement policies in which students, parents, and teachers compete with each other for school funding that focuses on collecting data instead of nurturing a learning environment that supports the common good.”

In my next post, I’ll consider what I regard as Stefanie Fuhr’s most vulnerable point which is also, I believe, her strongest point.  She concludes, “Our public school system is in need of a revolution that is guided by love.  Our children and future generations deserve our devotion to the notion that public education is a common good for all.”  Love?  Wow!  I can hear the laughter from the vultures circling over public education as the hyenas tear it apart.  Next time I’ll explain why I think she’s right, much more right than the hyenas or the vultures can comprehend.

Public Education Is Not a Race

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The whole idea of “Race to the Top” assumes that the education of our nation’s children is a competition and, indeed, a cluster of competitions: child against child, teacher against teacher, school against school, state against state, and our nation against the other nations of the world.  The name of No Child Left Behind implies, falsely in its practice, that all will share in success; Race to the Top suggests a few winners and many losers.  That’s one factor in the harm being done: education as a competition.

What is the prize?  What is to be gained by getting to the top, above the rest?  The reward-and-punishment (carrot and stick) nature of this competition, with its rhetoric about preparing our children for competition in the global economy, indicates that the prize is material success for the individual, to be enjoyed in the most materially successful of nations.  It is a free market dream that is supposed to inspire our children and their teachers to beat the rest in this race, to out-compete the opposition, to rise above the masses of our world.

The pleasures and joys of learning are, it seems, for wimps.  In this race, satisfaction is to come only from winning, and survival depends upon not losing.  No wonder, then, school districts cheat on the tests.  Why would they not cheat when only winning matters?  It’s like the Hunger Games, and so it’s foolish for competitors not to try to put the odds in their favor.

Consider the proclaimed assumptions of this race to the top: (1) all children come to school equally capable of learning, (2) the only differences that can determine outcomes lie in the quality of the teacher and that of the school, because (3) no outside factors or individual differences among the children can be admitted to influence student learning and testing outcomes.  But, brace yourself for this contradiction, curriculum should be standardized and all teachers should teach the same way at the same rate, so all are on the same page each day and are following the same methods and practices.  Huh?  If there is to be no difference in teaching, how can teachers make the difference?  If curriculum and teaching methods are standardized, how can the difference be in the schools?  And if all children are equally capable of learning and must be assumed to learn in the same way, how can they score so differently in the same classroom with the same teacher?

Of course, outside factors can influence greatly children’s ability to learn, and individual children differ significantly from each other.  Does any parent with two or more children find them to be identical?  No, not even if they are identical twins.  They vary in countless ways, including how they understand and respond to questions (including test questions), where their interests lie, how their abilities develop, and how they learn (and at what pace).

It seems apparent to me that some, indeed many, are meant to lose.  If education is, after all, a race, then most will lose.  If the assumption is that all will improve by virtue of competing (which is false in practice), toward what end, what outcome?

I think too many of us fail to grasp and appreciate the distinction between democracy and individual autonomy.  Democracy is a cooperative venture designed to take government out of the hands of the elite by putting it into the hands of all the people through their representatives.  It is cooperative, not competitive, which is the reason elites are always tempted to hate it.  For them, democracy should be that of the board room: not one vote per person but one vote per share of stock owned.  That’s proportional voting which is not democratic at all.  It empowers the already powerful, the elite, and marginalizes the rest of us.

If democracy is by nature cooperative, why should the education of our children be competitive?  I’m not suggesting the competitive ever will be or should be taken out of education (or a democratic society) completely.  Our children need to discover what they are “good at,” although – be careful! – they could be good at much more than most realize or are allowed to realize.  And isn’t that the issue?  The “race” theory of education convinces children they are losers, and many of those children will believe that lie and will be stifled by it.

Who, then, suffers?  Just the child who gives up, drops out, or hangs back?  Just that child’s family?  No, we all suffer.  Democracy says we all matter and are together in this matter of being a community, a nation, and, indeed, a world.  We should be educating our children for fulfilling, productive, and cooperative life in a democracy, not training them to be wage slaves (or managers) in a Walmartized world.

The other day, I read an article in Sojourners magazine that described two very different understandings of democracy.  The article, written by Stefanie Fuhr, employs the distinctions she draws from Philip Phenix between (1) a democracy of desire and (2) a democracy of worth.  The article, “Public Education for the Common Good,” is here and is well worth reading. I’ll look further into Furh’s article in my next post. For now, I’ll say that in a democracy, public education is for the common (shared) good as well as the good of each individual child, not for the hyper-success of the best test takers and those who excel at keeping the odds in their own favor.

Education Reform Is Necessary, but It’s Been Hijacked

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In the blog, “Bridging Differences,” educator Deborah Meier’s new conversation partner, Pedro Noguera, recognizes two crucial necessities for the future of our country: (1) moving toward equity in public education and (2) changing the Obama administration’s mind about means and goals for reform.   Noguera writes:

I’m still not sure about what it will take to get the Obama Administration to adopt a different approach to education reform, but I think this is what we have got work at doing for the next few months as they begin plotting their direction for the next four years.

One thing I know for sure is that we have got to make a commitment to equity in education a central component of whatever we they do.

His entire piece is here.  Thanks to Janice Resseger, Minister for Public Education and Witness of the United Church of Christ, for bringing it to my attention.

The big problem was presented well by Jonathan Kozol in his book, The Shame of the Nation: the Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.  The title alone speaks to the first of the necessities named above.  The playing field is not level or even close to level.  The biggest determining factor in “success” on standardized tests is the parents’ income, which means the very word “standardized” covers up for a falsehood.  A second, obviously related, factor is the parents’ own level of formal education.  That these two factors are so dominant in predicting testing success means all our expensive and time-consuming testing serves to perpetuate the advantage of the already advantaged while appearing to justify the failure of the already disadvantaged.  So, as the American public, we are paying huge sums of money to keep things the way they have been while enriching private corporations, but, wait, that’s not quite true.  All the time wasted, not only on the wretchedly excessive testing, but also on teaching to that testing, is lowering the level of all public education.  So, only the truly privileged, whose parents can afford to send them to top private schools, are getting the real advantage.  The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

Anxious parents, do you really want your children trained to score well on tests but not to think for themselves, solve problems in life that come without multiple choices from which to select the one “right” answer, and be prepared to go on learning as long as they live?  What good is so-called education if it’s value ends when the last standardized test is done?  “Pencils down!  Your schooling is completed, and now you’re on your own and unprepared.  Good luck.”

Like the “drug problem,” I suspect, the breaking up and selling off of American public education will not attract media attention and arouse public outcry until it hits the more affluent suburbs and hits them hard.  So far, the mainstream media have been acting as cheerleaders for the corporate takeover of our schools and raiding of public education funds, mindlessly parroting attacks on teachers and their unions.  As it was with the “drug problem,” so with the corporate raiding of our public education systems, by then it will be too late to stop the devastation.  The goal of educating (not just training) all American children may be lost beyond recall.

Now is the time.  President Obama must be forced to come to his senses about education reform and to match his administration’s policies and actions to his better public statements about the educational needs of children.  Public education is crucial to American democracy.  Equality in public education will require a great reform effort involving far more than just our schools, but what is currently being called “reform” is moving us quite rapidly toward the death of public education and robbery of the American people.  More and more vultures are gathering.

Makers and Takers

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Who built the Great Pyramid of Giza, oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World?  There seems to be general agreement that it was constructed as the tomb for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops in Greek).  So, his is the name attached to it, and we might surmise it was built at his command.  I doubt, however, that he helped to move any of the stones from the quarry to the sight or put his shoulder to the task of setting even a single stone in place or, for that matter, the task of designing and engineering the project.  Probably the actual labor of constructing (making) this wonder was performed by slaves driven by taskmasters who may themselves have been slaves or just a half-step higher on the even more formidable pyramid of the Egyptian social hierarchy.

Presidential candidate Willard Mitt Romney has declared forty-seven percent of the people of the United States to be “takers” because they pay no federal income tax and, he says, take no personal responsibility for their own lives.  And why do they pay no federal income tax, even though most of them do pay state taxes, sales taxes, etc., and either pay or have paid throughout their lives payroll or self-employment taxes for Social Security and Medicare?  They don’t pay federal income tax because they don’t make enough money.  Most either work or else are retired or perhaps disabled from having worked all their lives, but Mr. Romney says they are takers.

He himself, on the other hand, has made piles of money (he won’t say how much or what federal income taxes he has paid) through asset management specializing in private equity.  His firm, Bain Capital, sometimes helped companies restructure and survive (partly by firing people), and sometimes loaded them with debt and walked away with hefty sums of money as they went bankrupt.  He calls himself and his kind of people “makers.”  The former employees laid off as part of Bain’s restructuring plans and those left jobless when some of those companies being helped went bankrupt became, through Bain’s helpful actions, takers.  They became takers of unemployment compensation and maybe of food stamps or even for a while, like Romney’s father at one point in his life, public assistance (welfare).

We are living through what I call the Walmartization of the American workforce, although Amazon might be almost as good a figure to represent what is being done to smaller businesses and to people.  Vast numbers of Americans are being kept financially marginal and dependent upon businesses that treat them as wage slaves without job stability, benefits, or collective voice.  Is this deliberately created dependency not a larger problem for the American people than dependency upon government safety-net programs which are, after all, our democratic way of sharing responsibility for each other in a free society?  The Mitt Romneys of our business world say people should be independent but do everything in their power to keep them dependent and subservient.

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The Game

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This quotation comes from the Atlantic City Press report on the governor’s proposals for change in New Jersey’s educational funding:

Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, in an Education Funding Report that accompanied the state aid figures, questioned whether the state investment in its poorest students has paid off, noting the achievement gap that still remains between test scores of low-income and minority students and their more-advantaged peers.

Here’s the political game. Pretend the schools can close the gap created by poverty simply by raising test scores. Give the schools some extra money to raise those scores, pretending all the while that such superficial “success” would actually accomplish something worthwhile. When it doesn’t work (it can’t), blame the schools and say that money won’t cure the problem, thereby implying that the problem lies in the schools and in the poor themselves (your political base already believes both, anyway). Then give the money back to the affluent to strengthen your favor with the base.

Here’s the article.

Are We Running the Wrong Way?

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Former opponents Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier now write a blog together, both opposing No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the whole mess of business-driven educational “reforms” currently being inflicted upon our children and their teachers. In her latest post, Meier asks Ravitch questions about some “fact-lets” about education, and those contrasting educational reform in highly successful Finland with those in floundering America struck me as worth sharing.

Meier writes:

That Finland has consciously engaged in systematic reform now for less than 10 years, with amazing results. That suggests you can make rapid “revolutionary” change given … what? A smaller geographic and more homogeneous population? For another—as you noted the other day—if a nation has a 2 percent child-poverty rate compared with the more than 20 percent we face. And I think that latter figure, Diane, is low.

The changes the Finns made, however, are exactly the opposite as those we are engaged in. Bizarrely so. Still I doubt if the presentation by Pasi Sahlberg of Finland’s Ministry of Education at the Education Week conference this week converted many of the audience. Why not? What do you think?

The Finns start formal schooling later (at age 7) while we keep starting younger. They have no standardized tests; we keep adding more. They rely on teachers and local schools to design curriculum and assessment. They depend on getting teachers out of education schools and manage to recruit highly qualified teachers that way. They are 100 percent unionized. They have both a shorter instructional day and fewer school days a year. For students, that is. Teachers have lots of time, therefore, when they are “at work” for planning learning, preparing, reviewing, and meeting together and with families.

The blog, Bridging Differences, is here.

On the Other Hand

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As the pressure to “reform” public education has mounted, I have written and spoken against adopting a business model or factory model in which our children are the products to which value must be added, value measurable by numbers meant to translate eventually to dollars. I am saddened by the recent death of Dr. Donald Graves, an outstanding educator whose book, Testing Is Not Teaching, I continue to find inspiring and encouraging, like a voice crying out in the wilderness of dehumanization, the current desert of the human spirit. I find the billionaires-generated push toward privatization nauseating as I brace for the waves of hatred and ignorant blame coming at teachers after the release of the propaganda film, “Waiting for Superman.”

Even so, I am haunted by Jonathan Kozol’s books, Amazing Grace and The Shame of the Nation (the latter subtitled, The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America).

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