Saturday, July 22, 2017

Public Schools In Cooperation With Community Leaders And Parents Are The Answer, NOT Charter Schools by Shannon Ergun

I have opposed charter schools for many years now. It started with it just feeling wrong to create a separate system touting to incubate innovation to better meet the needs of students when that was possible in the public school system. Tacoma has done a great job of finding ways to innovate. They still need to develop better systems to make the innovations broadly and easily accessible to all our students. However, I feel like we have people in leadership (through the union, the board, and administration) working to address this problem.

As I have read more and more on charter schools and their impact on local communities and on students, I have come to realize that my initial feeling is proving true over and over again. While initially the NAACP supported the idea of charter schools as incubators of innovation, they have since come out strongly against charter schools. You can read their resolution for a moratorium on charter schools and the reasons for it here:

The National Education Association came out against charter schools years ago as educators watched the impact they had on public schools. At the national representative assembly this month, the 9,000 delegates approved a policy statement regarding charter schools outlining under what circumstances they should be supported and when they should not be. Because states define charter schools in different ways, it was important to create a national policy that outlined what constitutes a charter school that when funded through taxpayer funds is then overseen by elected public leaders. To read more on this statement, check here:

Finally, UCLA has done extensive research on the charter school movement over the last 14 years and has found that they increase segregation and do not provide improved educational outcomes for students. You can find a summary of their report here:

What I see currently happening across the nation is that schools for generations have been starved of funding while being asked to do more and more. Educators and public schools are then blamed for failing based on a system of tests originally designed to prove that black and brown people are intellectually inferior (side note, do some research on the history of standardized testing and we can talk further on this issue). I will not even begin to argue about the fact that schools need to do better to serve our racially and culturally diverse students. We truly have a system that favors upper/middle income white students. We have millions of pages of research and data to prove it. Yet, we continue to argue for billions of dollars in standardized tests, scripted curricula, and online programs that have been shown again and again not to meet the needs of the vast majority of our children. What we truly need is to work on the social issues (homelessness, hunger, mental illness, addiction, joblessness, etc.) through our national, state, and local governments.

Then we need to fund our schools so that all our children have what the wealthy buy for their kids through private schools - smaller classes, plenty of arts and extracurricular opportunities, hands-on and experiential learning through field trips and outreach programs, and opportunities for students to explore their interests in various subject areas so that they can make an informed decision about post-secondary pathways. Any student who wants to attend college should. All students should be guided to make post-secondary choices based on their passions and talents and interests and goals NOT on their family income, race, gender, or standardized tests determined aptitude. All students should be encouraged to take advanced courses especially in their particular area(s) of interest.

While we focus on guiding students to the post-secondary success that meets their interests and needs, we need to stop focusing so heavily on numerical data and begin a shift to exploring in what ways our schools are meeting the needs of diverse cultures and races to expand those practices more broadly across schools. We must also examine how we are obstructing student success and shift those practices to culturally responsive ones. Our educators need professional development through their university education programs and continuing through their career on culturally responsive methodology. We need support in implementing restorative justice practices. Districts in cooperation with teachers' unions must develop cadres for educators of color to serve as leaders in creating diversity teams and early career educator mentorship opportunities. We need to repair our public schools from within.

I truly feel that those who promote local charter schools, not the corporate for-profit ones but those developed by local leaders and parents frustrated by the system that ignores their needs, are trying to find a solution to a huge problem. My hope is that we can develop ways for their concerns, feedback, and ideas to be used in the public schools to improve outcomes for more than just the few who could be served in a separate system. When asked once by a colleague if I didn't just want to create a school where "these kids" could do well, I responded, "Yes, but rather than create a new and separate school, I want to work to repair and improve the ones we have so that all students benefit not just a select few."

I hope that after looking more deeply at this issue and reading some of the links above that you too will shift to wanting to find ways to incorporate the amazing ideas that our community members have into our current schools rather than continue to suggest that we need to have a separate system. We know from decades of evidence that separate is never equal.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Test-Based Accountability – Smokescreen for Cowardly Politicians and Unscrupulous Corporations by Steven Singer

Originally posted at:

There is no single education policy more harmful than test-based accountability.

The idea goes like this: We need to make sure public schools actually teach children, and the best way to do that is with high stakes standardized testing.

It starts from the assumption that the problems with our school system are all service-based. Individual schools or districts are not providing quality services. Teachers and administrators are either screwing up or don’t care enough to do the job.

What is in question is its importance.

However, any lack of intention or ability on the part of schools to actually teach is, in fact, pure conjecture. It is a presumption, an excuse by those responsible for allocating resources (i.e. lawmakers) from doing their jobs.

Any time you hear senators or representatives at the state or federal level talking about test-based accountability, they are ignoring their own duties to properly provide for our public school children and pushing everything onto the schools, themselves.

That is the foundation of the concept. It’s hard to imagine more unstable ground from which to base national education policy.

But it gets worse.

With our eyes closed and this assumption swallowed like a poison pill, we are asked to accept further toxic premises.

Next comes the concept of trustworthiness.

We are being asked to question the trustworthiness of teachers. Instead, we are pushed to trust corporations – corporations that manufacture standardized tests.

I have no idea why anyone would think that big business is inherently moral or ethical. The history of the world demonstrates this lie. Nor do I understand why anyone would start from the proposition that teachers are inherently untrustworthy. Like any other group of human beings, educators include individuals that are more or less honest, but the profession is not motivated by a creed that specifically prescribes lying if it maximizes profit.

Business is.

Test manufacturers are motivated by profit. They will do that which maximizes the corporate bottom line. And student failure does just that.

Most of these companies don’t just manufacturer tests. They also provide the books, workbooks, software and other materials schools use to get students ready to take the tests. They produce the remediation materials for students who fail the tests. And they provide and grade the tests in the first place.

When students fail their tests, it means more money for the corporation. More money to give and grade the retests. More money to provide additional remediation materials. And it justifies the need for tests to begin with.

Is it any wonder then that so many kids fail? That’s what’s profitable.

There was a time when classroom teachers were not so motivated.

They were not paid based on how many of their students passed the test. Their evaluations were not based on student test scores. Their effectiveness used to be judged based on what they actually did in the classroom. If they could demonstrate to their administrators that they were actually making good faith efforts to teach kids, they were considered effective. If not, they were ineffective. It was a system that was both empirical and fair – and one to which we should return.

In fact, it was so fair that it demonstrated the partisanship of the corporations. Laws were changed to bring teacher motivation more in line with those of big business. Their evaluations became based on student test scores. Their salaries were increasingly tied to student success on these tests. And when some teachers inevitably felt the pressure to cheat on the tests, they were scapegoated and fired. There is no mechanism available to even determine if testing corporations cheat less than penalties for it.

Yet this is a major premise behind test-based accountability – the untrustworthiness of teachers compared to the dependable, credibility of corporations.

Next, come the scores, themselves.

Time-after-time, standardized test scores show a striking correspondence: poor and minority students often do badly while middle class and wealthy white students do well.

Why is that?

Well, it could mean, as we’ve already mentioned, that poor and minority students aren’t receiving the proper resources. Or it could mean that teachers are neglecting these children.

There is a mountain of evidence – undisputed evidence – to support the former. There is nothing to support the later.

I’m not saying that there aren’t individual teachers out there who may be doing a bad job educating poor and minority children. There certainly are some. But there is no evidence of a systemic conspiracy by teachers to educate the rich white kids and ignore all others. However, there IS an unquestionable, proven system of disinvestment in these exact same kids by lawmakers.

If we used standardized tests to shine a light on the funding inequalities of the system, perhaps they would be doing some good. But this is not how we interpret the data.

Finally comes the evidence of history.

Standardized testing is not new. It is a practice with a past that is entirely uncomplimentary.

These kinds of assessments are poor indicators of understanding complex processes. Answering multiple choice questions is not the best way to determine comprehension.

Moreover, this process is tainted by the eugenicist movement from which it originates. Standardized testing is a product of the belief that some races are better than others. It is a product of white supremacy. It was designed by racist psychologists who used it to justify the social structure of past generations and roundly praised and emulated by literal Nazis.

It is therefore not surprising that test scores show privileged white kids as superior to underprivileged students of color. That is how the system was designed.

Why any educated person would unquestionably accept these scores as valid assessments of student learning is beyond me.

Yet these are the assumptions and premises upon which the house of test-based accountability is built.

It is a smokescreen to protect politicians from having to provide adequate, equitable, sustainable resources for all children. It likewise protects unscrupulous business people so they can continue to cash in on the school system without providing any real value for students.

We must no longer allow policymakers to hide behind this blatant and immoral lie.

Not only should voters refrain from re-electing any lawmakers whose constituents children are receiving inequitable school resources, they should not be eligible for re-election.

Not only should corporations not be trusted more than teachers, they should be barred from determining success or failure while also profiting off of that same failure.

Schools can and should be held accountable. But it cannot be done with standardized tests.

Moreover, we must stop ignoring the role of policymakers and business in this system. They must also be responsible. We are allowing them to get away with murder.

It’s time to wake up and make them answer for what they’ve done to our nation’s children.

7 Ways Public Education Is Like Church by Laura D. Brown

I was raised Roman Catholic. Yup. Baptized, communion, confirmation, marriage — I have received many sacraments. As an adult, however, I am a bad Catholic. I don’t attend mass, and my children are heathens. However, when asked about my religious affiliation, I will always proclaim that I am Catholic.

My relationship with the Roman Catholic Church is similar to many Americans relationship with public education. I know this post will offend some people, but that is not my intent. Please allow me to explain my analogy.

1. You must have faith.

Like Christianity, one must see the end goal in mind when thinking about the mission of public education. Christianity’s mission is to live a life based on Jesus’ teachings in order to find salvation. Public education’s mission is to provide education to every resident in the United States of America. That education is supposed to be appropriate, rigorous, and standardized. Americans must have faith in the mission of public education, or they will abandon their community schools and search for alternatives. Many Americans have lost their faith in their local public education system and have turned to charter and private schools (some corporate based) in order to provide the “best” education for their children. 

Urban public schools have not been adequately invested in and Americans have especially turned to alternatives to public education in city settings. This divestment has led to more issues in the existing urban public schools, leading to public monies being diverted from public education, and has continued to weaken communities. Losing faith in an institution like public schools furthers the false narrative that schools are failing. A recent article in The Atlantic, entitled “Why Americans Think So Poorly of the Country’s Schools,” by Jack Schneider, discusses the impact of the loss of faith in public schools. The article actually points out that Americans rate their own schools much higher than American public education in general. Schneider states that the implications of the gap in faith in public schools are crucial, writing:

But the perception gap is real. And it is deeply consequential — fostering interventionist policy, stigmatizing schools, and exacerbating segregation. In acting on perception, Americans have done great harm to their public schools. But efforts to more clearly represent reality might undo the damage; it might even make schools stronger.

We must have faith in our public schools to make our schools better.

2. You get out of it what you put into it.

My religious education teacher told us that you get out of mass what you put into it. He was right, of course. When congregants “phone in” their attendance by not listening to the sermon or daydreaming throughout the mass, they are simply getting through their Sunday obligation. Public schools are community centers, but they also need an army of volunteers. Strong PTAs make a school vibrant, generate fund-raisers, and enable school functions. Parental involvement is crucial, but the entire community must be quite nationalistic about their school, for school pride to be a reality. Sporting events are a good door opener, but other programs for adults and families are very effective in getting more out of our public schools.

I teach in a large, suburban school district. I live in a small, rural district. Both districts are intent on connecting to the community. However, in the rural district in which I reside, the school is the community. It is a major employer. It is connected to a community recreation center, with a pool. The school parking lot is seldom empty and you better arrive early to get a decent spot to park when concerts, plays, or other student activities are happening.

All communities members could do more to participate in our public schools. If we had more commitment to our public schools, they would truly be places of pride.

3. You notice the areas in need of improvement in the institution, but you accept that there is more good than bad.

My friend once said, in jest, that to her the Roman Catholic Church is similar to that crazy uncle we all have. He might be quirky, and we might keep our distance at times, but he is still family. The Roman Catholic Church has had plenty of issues and has had its share of complaints: sexual abuse scandals, absent female leadership, etc. The issues in the Catholic Church are real and important, but often they overshadow the charity and the good works that congregations do for so many.

The issues in public schools are great and many. There are significant issues to be addressed: school building maintenance, curriculum, testing, overcrowding, segregation, funding inequities, teacher training, teacher pay, teacher pensions, staff development, special needs appropriations, mental health issues, and the dire need for vocational opportunities.

The negatives are significant and need addressing. However, the positives are so overwhelming. Ask a person to describe their best teachers. You will notice how animated they become. Their face lights up and they often wax nostalgic. In every public school, there are countless teachers leading students on the path of learning. There are 3.1 million public school teachers practicing the craft of teaching.

There is more good than bad in public education.

4. You need to contribute money to help the institution run properly.

I remember being nervous during mass when the wooden baskets were passed around because we didn’t have one of those official envelopes like other people. My grandfather would simply reach into his wallet and throw a couple of dollars into the pile. I felt proud that my family contributed to the church’s good works.

Public education funding is bone dry in many places. There is such inequity in funding formulas, and not surprisingly, areas with bigger houses have bigger budgets.

In another recent article in The Atlantic, Jonathan Kay writes about how Canadian taxpayers recognize that in terms of government spending you get what you pay for, in an article entitled, “Why Canada Is Able to Do Things Better.” Kay writes that in Canada he pays about 10 percent more in taxes than he would in the United States, but he gets more than 10 percent of a return, writing:

What does that 10 percent premium buy for my family? Aside from universal health care, there’s world-class public schools, a social safety net that keeps income inequality at rates well below America’s, and an ambitious infrastructure program that will help Canada keep pace with its swelling ranks of educated, well-integrated immigrants.

We must look to other countries for models of getting more out of our tax dollars.

5. You might not want to go, but are glad you did when you leave.

Getting up early and wearing church clothes is not fun. I remember one Sunday when my grandfather was upset because the shirt I packed was wrinkled. I recall, however, how the priest talked about appearances that day and my grandfather and I laughed about the topic. After mass, he took me to Perkins for pancakes and all was right in the world. I have always felt better after mass. Maybe it was a feeling of an obligation fulfilled. Maybe it was true spirituality.

Public education begins early in the morning. It sometimes requires wearing nice clothes and it involves a great deal of listening (on the part of students, especially). It is not always easy for students to connect with the topics that their teachers preach on about, but when connections are made it is as glorious as a rainbow.

Many adults carry with them negative experiences about their time in public schools. These perceptions often cloud their ability to see public schools as positive institutions. However, like mentioned in number three above, taxpayers often become more positive about public schools when they are involved with the schools in constructive ways. Furthermore, students never say that they regret getting an education. In the words of one graduating senior that I had the pleasure to teach, he said: “You know, this place isn’t so bad.”

6. You meet flawed people, sinners, and saints.

My husband often comments that church is really necessary for many people, he says that some people need the church. I get his meaning — church can be a sanctuary for many. A congregation also includes people of varying socioeconomic levels and reasons for attending. There are people who need saving and there are others who help them get there.

Public schools are often sanctuaries for students. Students eat their meals at school. Students have a routine and expectations at school. Students bring their problems to school. 

Public schools embody the words of Emma Lazarus’ poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty: “”Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Public schools are open to any student. This open door policy can make public schools messy, amazing places. Public schools are diverse, creative, vibrant and dynamic. Public schools are microcosms of society.

7. You have a shared popular cultural experience with other people who have attended the same institution.

Roman Catholic Mass is the same everywhere. Many people find comfort in standardization. Schools are similar in their standardization — school buildings have classrooms, teachers, students, and administrators. Most schools have bells, schedules, and rules. Many also share a smell, part cleaning solution, vomit, glue, and tater tots.

Although schools are not “equal” in terms of rigor, standards, funding, teacher pay, amenities, everyone has a school story. Like being Roman Catholic, public school graduates have more in common than not. In a way, it is like public school gives us all a shared television show, with character archetypes we all know and love. This common appreciation for the challenges of public schools, for both students and educators alike, is where the conversation concerning the future of public education begins.

The following are some topics to begin the conversation:

*Is public education a right of all residents of the United States?

*What should be the mission of every public school in the United States?

*How should all of America’s public schools be equitably funded?

*How much do we, as citizens of the United States, value the salaries, benefits, union organization, and pensions of public school educators?

*Who should be recruited to teach in our public schools? *What incentives will we offer our young professionals to choose to teach?

*What curriculum needs to be taught in our public schools?

*What do we want our public school graduates to be able to do upon completion of their education?

*Do we value vocational training and apprenticeship?

Feel free to add your own questions and comments below. For me, these are reasons why I will be marching for public education in our nation’s capital on Saturday, July 22, 2017.

#whyweM4PE Join me! The March for Public Education on July 22, 2017 is critical. Please consider clicking the heart ❤️ icon above, following the March For Education Blog Publication, following on Twitter, liking the page on Facebook, participating in the march, and/or donating to the march. Here is a list of marches throughout the country:…/where-are-advocates-for-public-educati…. Click here for The March For Public Education Website.