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Education Debate In Search of Reason - Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hear the Echoes No. 34


Education Debate

In Search of Reason



Listen to "reformer” rhetoric and public schools are a failed social system rooted in the dark ages and having almost no value to society.  Never mind that that vast majority of public schools graduate many of the most successful people in America.


Listening to the "anti-change education establishment”, "reformers” are simply rushing to steal tax dollars for Wall Street elite’s benefit.  Never mind that the Milken, Gates, DeVos, billionaires all put millions into "reform” while earning more education millions for their companies.


This entire era in the evolution of public education in the U.S. is a snake pit into which circumstance has flung a wily Mongoose. 


Meanwhile parents, students, teachers and others in the education community labor to get children the best education possible.  Put in the middle of a dodge ball game by the "reformer” propaganda machine where the teachers dodge not balls, but hand-grenades, there is an artificial pressure cooker that works against the probability of children being granted a world class education.


Hardly any rational being would contest the given fact that teaching is a most important factor in educating children.  An op-ed piece in the New York Times, this week, brought some most valuable insights about teaching in the "reform” era.


"When teachers get no respect and a barely livable wage, we have no right to expect more from them than to show up and muddle through….Teachers who are permitted some leeway to be creative in the classroom will invest themselves more in the teaching and do a better job for their students. But no one should be held accountable for some of the incorrigible delinquents they are required to teach. Such pupils need to be separated from the rest of the student body and given military discipline.” (NYTimes-Nov. 8,amboycharlie comment)


"Here's the deal. From my perspective, as a Teach For America corps member approaching the end of my first semester teaching, this job is harder than anything I have ever had to do. I'm at the point where I know what I need to do to be an incredible, transformational teacher, but all of the time and effort that it requires will have to be done outside of school.  ---there is literally no time within my "normal" workday, and it's frustrating to have to implement great new strategies and ideas piecemeal.  Slowly but surely, I'm getting there, but the thought of doing all of this with a family or any other kinds of responsibilities is unimaginable.   At the age of 22, I already feel like I can barely take care of myself with all of my teaching responsibilities.   I have no idea why we have all listened to "reformers" who have never been teachers, and there is no way I see myself doing this beyond a couple of years.”

"Is it worth it?  Yes.  I have never been challenged this much, and I have grown as a person so much already, but one of the main feelings I've developed is a real sense of outrage at just how little respect teachers get. It really bothers me that people like Brill, Gates, and Whitney Tilson are using their power to make huge changes to education while not knowing very much at all about it. You visited a few classrooms? Seriously, that's it? You went to a KIPP school and were impressed, and then put all of your financial and cultural influence behind changes that will affect what students and teachers do day-in, day-out.”

"This year, we have a new evaluations system for teachers in my district, and it is one of the stupidest, most convoluted things I have ever seen. Guess who funded its development? The Gates Foundation! I didn't realize Bill Gates had gone off and gotten a PhD in education. But that's OK, because teachers are just not as smart as Bill Gates and all his money, I guess.” (NY Times, Nov. 8, 2011 – Olivia, Chapel Hill comment)


"…who selects the performance metrics and how do we know that they are any good? If the teacher's ability to perform can be so constantly under challenge then who's rating the so-called experts who come up with latest paperwork?”

"The major performance metric is the student evaluation, and students are forced to ‘evaluate’ teachers at ever more younger ages when college students in many universities demonstrably don't understand the evaluation forms. " (NY Times, Nov. 8th – Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong)


 Gov. Bobby Jindal has embraced the "reform” agenda developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in its drive to convert public schooling into a free market enterprise.  His administration has designed the performance metrics in LEAP, iLEAP and the ever rising cut score bar that threatens to engulf ever more schools into a contrived failure.  He iced the cake with the ALEC letter grade system for schools and the Race to the Top (RTTT) premise that student achievement can measure teacher success.  Further, the governor fostered a pilot voucher program for at-risk children in New Orleans and continues to divert sorely needed millions from public schools to privately run schools that yield even worse results than the RSD direct run schools.


Reliance on an ever increasing parade of charter schools has proved little in the way of support for continued expansion.  Evan a cursory Google scan produces clear indicators:


"…We find that students make considerably smaller achievement gains in charter schools than they would have in public schools…”(Robert Bifulco, U. Connecticut, Helen Ladd, Duke U. Evidence from North Carolina).


"…Across locations, there is little evidence that charter schools are producing, on average, achievement impacts that differ substantially from those of traditional public schools…” (RAND How Charter Schools Affect Student Outcomes)


"A new report issued today by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that there is a wide variance in the quality of the nation’s several thousand charter schools with, in the aggregate, students in charter schools not faring as well as students in traditional public schools.” (CREDO, Stanford U.)


"…based on 19 studies, conducted in 11 states and the District of Columbia, there is no evidence that, on average, charter schools out-perform regular public schools. In fact, there is evidence that the average impact of charter schools is negative…” (The Charter School Dust-Up-Lawrence Mishel, Martin Carnoy et al).


Academically ambitious leaders of the school choice movement have come to a hard recognition: raising student achievement for poor urban children — what the most fervent call a new civil rights campaign — is enormously difficult and often expensive.   Even the leading proponent American Federation for Children has removed, from its web site home page, its emphasis on charters and instead recognizes the reemerging voucher movement.


                When New Orleans’ own choice guru Leslie Jacobs’ web site headlines that the 1,700 or so students enrolled with voucher support in the city’s private and parochial schools fared even worse than the Recovery School District’s direct run schools, that has produced a decidedly sour taste in the mouths of "reformers”.


                The current election to fill three seats on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is a contest over expansion of "reform” or "change” that largely relies on creating ever more charter schools or converting the voucher pilot to a statewide program, and those candidates intent on following a more proven path to improved school performance.


            A review of the rank-order listing of School Performance Scores on the state department of education web site reveals a stark reminder that experiments in education have a long way to go. 


            When a national rating system reveals that Ben Franklin Senior High in New Orleans is the 27th best high school in America, and that five other Louisiana high schools earned silver medals (Baton Rouge Magnet High, Bolton High, Caddo Parish Magnet High, LSU Lab School, and Lusher Charter), and still another twenty-five Louisiana high schools earned bronze awards, a rational thinker must conclude that the feeder schools to these high schools are doing something correctly.


            Conversely, one looking at RSD high school performance finds none even close to these high performing public high schools or their middle school feeders.


            When it comes down to how these schools excel, it is clear that the student body is highly qualified and the teaching corps highly qualified as well.


            Louisiana’s teaching corps now ranks 15th highest nationally in the total number of National Board Certified Teachers.  Earning national certification is a most rigorous process.  To earn certification, teachers must respond to computer-based exercises that measure subject matter knowledge.  They must also assemble an extensive portfolio that includes video recordings of their classroom teaching, written analysis of student learning, and evaluation of their teacher practices.  It often takes as much as three years to complete the certification process.


            More than 1,500 teachers in Louisiana public schools are now National Board Certified Teachers, and additional teachers are in the process of earning certification. 


            Is there a rational, unbiased thought process that concludes charter school faculty, made up of first and second year college graduates outbound from teaching after a two-year stint, gives students a better opportunity to learn?


            What rational thought yields is a conclusion that advocates for "change”, as defined by the financial elite of Wall Street, see education as the last frontier to be occupied by the "free market enterprise.” 


            Clearly a vote for Chas Roemer, Carolyn Hill and Kira Orange-Jones is intent on putting the pedal to the metal to propel increased charter operation.  A vote for Donald Songy, Louella Givens and Jim Guillory suggests that continued acceleration of working practices is judged more beneficial to Louisiana children.


Don Whittinghill

Baton Rouge, LA



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