Monday, January 27, 2014

Conspiracy Theories

I’m not usually one for conspiracy theories, but it’s hard for me to believe that there is not a widespread, systematic plan to decimate public schools. In the places where public schools are the most fragile and the most needed, they are being attacked on every side. For the past dozen years at least, the high-poverty cities have been pummeled by city, state and national politicians (even the President), budget cuts, pension raids, right-to-work laws, Teach for America (TFA), and manufactured “crises” in education.

In her latest book, Reign of Errors, Diane Ravitch blows open the myth of educational disasters manufactured by people wishing to privatize education. Reality is that we are graduating more students than ever, that the low-poverty schools are at the top of the international tests in ranking, and the “reforms” put into place to raise scores don’t work in the long run. Behind all this are the testing corporations, who have been there at every "reform," ready to make a new computer program or test, and even to have a large hand to write the Common Core Standards. Fueling the reforms and insuring their implementation are the graduates of the Broad Academy and TFA, who believe in the factory model of education and that any monkey can teach. Even our education unions seem to have rolled over, belly up, to accept the carrot of reform dangled in front of us. Even the unions have acquiesced to the Common Core Standards, Merit Pay, and standardized testing in order to participate in the Race to the Top. Behind it all, the politicians in charge sponsor bills to slash corporate taxes and education funding, and to write faulty laws like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RttT).

The people in the trenches, the teachers and support staff, along with the students, are the only ones who are actually being adversely affected by all these so-called reforms. They sit in over-crowded classes without sufficient supplies, books and desks. They endure 36 days of standardized testing (1.5 months of school), and school days lacking music, art, and theatre classes.

Both teachers and students struggle to implement and understand brand new standards which were implemented in a way that would make your head spin. What should have happened is this: 1) the standards should have been written by teachers from each grade level, instead there were only a few educators and many test makers writing them; 2) The standards should have been piloted one grade at a time and rewritten as necessary to avoid the current situation with the primary grades’ standards being highly developmentally inappropriate; 3) The head of any Department of Education should be an educator with at least 15 years experience, not a person from another profession. You can’t understand the ins and outs of teaching, and using standards to develop a curriculum unless you have actually walked in a teacher’s shoes for years; 4) the funding for education should have a fair and consistent formula to make sure every student gets and equitable education. Fair does not necessarily mean equal as high-poverty districts need much more help in order to address their students’ needs and begin to reach those standards; 5) the assessments for the standards should be as diverse as the learners in each class. Differentiation in teaching should be matched with differentiation in evaluating the learner; and 6) evaluation of teachers should not be based on standardized testing, as the tests do not address the differentiated needs of the students.

The advent of the manufactured crisis of education spawned too many laws aimed at the decimation of unions - teachers unions and others. People like to point out that tenure means a bad teacher can’t be fired, but that is far from the truth. All tenure does in that case is to insure that the teacher goes through due process. Believe it or not, there are many bad principals and administrators who are quick to fire anyone who disagrees with them. Due process makes sure that the teacher is truly ineffective and not just disagreeing with the principal. There are already items in the teachers’ contract to remove bad teachers, if a bad teacher doesn’t get fired, it is the principal’s fault for not providing evidence and going through all the paperwork involved. It is much easier to “persuade” the teacher to transfer to another school.

The establishment of charter schools plays a big part in the real public school crisis today. Originally, charter schools were supposed to take the kids that the public school was not teaching well, and find innovative ways to turn them around. Instead, what they have become are schools that are indeed, selective of their students, but schools that siphon off the best and the brightest students from the public schools, leaving the regular schools with the special ed students, the English language learners, and those with behavior problems. This is not the scenario that the original proponents of charter schools had envisioned, but it is a nightmare for public education.

We are facing an election year and I hope we will take advantage of that and elect legislators and governors who truly support education, rather than delight in its decimation. Let’s put the conspiracy theory to rest by electing those who are true supporters. Start by voting out Governor Tom Corbett in PA.

Still learning!

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