A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Archive for August, 2013

A Not So Modest Proposal

I have written from time to time of my belief that the best way to improve our worst performing, inner city schools would be to integrate their student bodies economically. Mix rich kids, poor kids and middle class kids in one school and both social and economic outcome will improve for all. I’ve come to this view both from my reading of the research on the subject and from anecdotal comments from others that have coalesced into a view. As recently as last year, I had dinner with a young aeronautical engineer who born poor was the first in his family to attend college. When I asked him how it came to be that he found his way to college, he explained that but for the fact that he had an opportunity to attend a Seattle public school in a middleclass neighborhood, he never would have even thought of going to college. None of the kids in his immediate neighborhood aspired to go to college, and none went. But all of the kids in the school he attended talked about going to college, began to explore colleges in their early teens, took courses because they qualified one for various college programs – in short all of the influences of every school day pushed my young friend in the direction of college – the best kind of peer pressure.

It was within that frame of reference that I read Allison Benedikt’s article which argues that to send one’s children to private school is essentially an anti-social act. At first blush that seems to be a rather extreme statement, but as you read her piece what she is suggesting is an infinitely more plausible school reform proposal than those who believe we can test our children into college and high paying jobs. While I’m not convinced I totally agree with her, this is a very thoughtful, courageously written piece that deserves serious discussion and debate.

Happy Labor Day to all. Back on Tuesday.

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Blood Boiling?

When we measure the quality of a an education by student scores on standardized tests, when we believe that scores on these test realistically determine students’ readiness for college or employment, then we accept teaching as a low skilled job that is little more that moving students through and endless series of canned programs that drum testing skills into their heads. It doesn’t matter then how experienced teachers are, whether they remain in a school for a career, whether they take an interest in the community or whether the actually know anything. In fact, it costs less if they move on to other employment. So say the operators of some of the largest chains of charter schools in our country. The fact that the august New York Times reports this lunacy with feigned neutrality that lends credence to this facsimile of education should induce a cold sweat in anyone who is interested in the academic welfare of our nation’s youth. See if you can read this piece without your blood boiling.

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The President Answers the Wrong Question

President Obama has embarked on a scheme to make a college education more affordable, a scheme which in part will have the federal government developing some metric for judging the quality of institutions of higher education. The President is answering the wrong question. The question that should be asked is should not the richest nation on the face of the earth provide a free, public college education to all qualified students?

Once upon a time the City of New York did precisely that – providing a free, high quality education to qualified student at its colleges. Waves of students, many from impoverished immigrant families, got college degrees and went on to do great things, more than paying back the investment their city made in them. If it is true that a college education is a requirement to get a decent job and a middle class lifestyle, then how come we can’t provide four more years of schooling to our nation’s youth? Why should any student incur substantial indebtedness to have a fair chance at a good life?

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PDK/Gallup Poll – The Public Likes Its Schools

The annual Phi Delta Kappa poll on the public’s view of public education is in, and the results are somewhat astounding and encouraging. The public appears to have a much better grasp of education policy than many of our politicians, school system leaders and, sad to say, some union leaders. Most of the findings support the view that the public is not buying the reformist agenda. Most people think their schools, the ones they know most about, are pretty good.

Some findings to think about:

56% of those polled think the Common Core Standards will either have no effect on making the United States more globally competitive or will make it less.

Only 22% of the public believes that the recent focus on high stakes testing has improved their local schools. 77% believe that the tests have either made no difference or hurt their schools.

58% of Americans oppose linking student test performance to the evaluation of teachers.

Despite the trashing of the public schools by the reformers, an astounding 72% have “trust and confidence” in the men a women teaching in our schools.

There’s an interesting section of the poll on parents’ perceptions of school safety. 88% think their kids are safe in school.

Take a look at the results for yourself. Most people like our schools and want to preserve them. The reformers always want data. Here it is!

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While I was Away

While I was vacationing in California, which incidentally shamefully has more mentally ill homeless people on its streets than anywhere I’ve been, New York State released the scores on this year’s grades 3 through 8 tests, tests linked for the first time to the Common Core Standards.

Long before the grades on these exams were in, Commissioner of Education John King and others were predicting that there would be a 30 percent decline in student scores from last year’s examinations. So, it is not an exaggeration to say that our public schools were set up for failure. What King did not predict was outrage from educators and parents who are fed up with more and more of their public education dollars being put into test preparation and training rather that what has historically been understood to be education. Also not predicted by our commissioner was the growing sense in the minds of teachers and parents that the focus on test scores is having a profound effect on the confidence of our students and their perception of their schools. When kindergarten kids are coming home and telling their parents that they hate school, parental instinct to protect them was bound to be unleashed.

Sensing the moment to be opportune to drive the anti-high stakes testing agenda, distinguished education historian Diane Ravitch shocked many in the education community with a call for Commissioner King’s resignation. That the time would come when the complete incompetence of the King administration and our dilettante Chancellor Meryl Tisch would be politically unsustainable has been clear to me for some time, it being hard to find two less qualified people for these important positions. Tisch has been a special target of my contempt in that she is one of too many examples of the arrogant rich muscling their way into positions of power from which they tell the rest of us how we have to live, their money and the power it buys affirming the validity of their ideas.

While my spirits are buoyed by the growing movement to stop the testing mania and to politically punish those who have visited it upon our schools, I’ve unfortunately not been surprised to find that many decision makers in our schools are taking these test results seriously and are planning remedial services for the high number of students who failed the tests. They are buying into the notion that our children have been less well educated this past year than the year before when there is no evidence that this is so. In responding to lower test scores this way, they will succeed in making the school day a little drearier for the children in these remedial sessions. Worse, they will lend credence to the validity of the state’s testing regime, causing a new burst of energy to be put towards test preparation, further narrowing the kind of rich curriculum that makes for educated citizens.

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Set Up For Failure

I was going to write about the release of New York’s grade 3 through 8 test scores today. Before I could, however, I read Carol Burris’ piece in the Washington Post. She had already written what I was going to say, only better. Here it is

What I will say more pointedly than she is that unless we all grow the opt-out movement, this testing mania will grow worse instead of better. Teachers need to set the example by withholding their own kids from taking tests that are aimed at discrediting public schools and the children who attend them. Take a look at what parents on Long Island are doing.

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