Posts Tagged 'testing'

The Betrayal of New Mexico Public Education

Betrayal is an interesting word with many connotations. Generally the word is taken to mean the violation of some form of contract, trust, or confidence – a breech of faith. In my opinion, the children, parents, and teachers of New Mexico were betrayed by the passing on of Hanna Skandera to continue her odious mission in the office of Secretary of Education.

Skandera is a gift that keeps on giving who came to us courtesy of the current Governor’s billionaire campaign contributors including $10,000.00 directly from the Koch boys and $1.3 million from the Republican Governors Association which was gifted with $1 million also from the Kochs.

Skandera, lacks even the most basic of qualifications for the position she holds, the authority she wields and she is paid $125,000.00 a year – more than any classroom teacher could ever dream of earning. Is it ironic that Skandera could not be hired as a classroom teacher in a New Mexico public school? The New Mexico requirements for a teaching certificate at the elementary level are:

1.  A Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university.

2.  30 to 60 semester hours in an Elementary Education program including student teaching.

3.  6 semester hours of credit in the teaching of reading if you entered college or university after 8/1/01.

4.  A minimum of 24 semester hours in one teaching field such as mathematics,language arts,reading, history and so forth.

A starting teacher, having met the qualifications above makes on average $32,000.00. Skandera has not met these minimum qualifications and yet is paid 4 times what a qualified starting teacher is paid. Consider for a moment the inversion of values expressed in this distortion. Consider also how insulting and demoralizing it is to be evaluated by a political operative who is less qualified and less experienced than you are.

Skandera was a foot-soldier for one of the major proponents of for-profit public education, Jeb Bush and his coterie of “reformers”, coming as she did from Florida where teachers have been harassed and made miserable to the point of resignation. Many well qualified and dedicated Florida public school teachers quit rather than endure the harassment. Of course Bush doesn’t know anything more about education than do his minions – what they do know is that public education is a soft target and there’s lots of money to made privatizing it.

School teachers are not known to be hard line activists and teaching results are not linear with regard to children’s ages and individual abilities across a school population thus making teachers held to so-called “objective standards” vulnerable. There is, of course, no such thing as a “standard” child but standardized tests are rationalized as ammunition to attack teachers. Also, teacher unions are not famous for weeding out their weak and incompetent colleagues. A quick look at New York City’s infamous  “rubber rooms” confirms that, so there is plenty of blame to go around. Teachers unions desperately need, as do unions such as carpenters and plumbers and electricians do,  to weed out incompetence. This would require in-union testing and rating just as journey-men carpenters have to pass their union’s internal testing regimes. The resulting ratings are unassailable.

However, no matter how you calculate the situation, destruction of public education and replacing it with for-profit assembly lines is clearly not the answer to the question of school reform nor are major initiatives with clever propaganda-like, dissembling names such as  “No Child Left Behind” which have been exposed for the scams they are. Our current President and his hoops playing buddy  are just as dangerous and have been as harmful to public education as Republicans. Neoliberals are like Trojan Horses welcomed within the gates of civility but containing barbarians.

While Republican Senator Mark Moores of Albuquerque considers the day a victory for Skandera it is, at the same time, a terrible and tragic loss for the children and their families, our dedicated teachers, and the schools and communities of New Mexico. They have all been betrayed and at great cost to the embattled social contract which requires children to be educated by and for the community — not by corporations. The future of public education in New Mexico has been betrayed as well and the only apparent solution is an unrelenting effort to unseat Martinez and her gang and send the carpet-baggers packing in the next election. It can be done – it must be done.

The Skandera Scam

Time is of the essence in addressing education and the machinations of the New Mexico Public Education Department and its conservative allies such as the Rio Grande Foundation to undermine and replace public education with privatized for-profit schools. Nowhere is the devolution of the American social contract more evident and more tragic in its consequences than the attack on public education. Public schooling has become a target for every know-nothing politician, up-and-coming right–wing operative and demagogue with an agenda and looking for attention across the country – not to mention campaign contributors from special interest groups. Political campaigns against public education are being fueled and funded by right-wing foundations, alliances, institutions and so forth with one objective – to privatize public education. To turn public schools into profit centers.

New Mexico does not have a legitimate Secretary of Education. We have an “acting” secretary, a secretary designate, and brother, is she ever “acting,” especially on behalf of her out-of-state sponsors and benefactors. She is also “acting” in that she has absolutely no credentials as an educator; she is, in truth, a Trojan horse for the school privatization cartel. Hannah Skandera came to New Mexico with an agenda, and she has pursued it relentlessly, with the help of the Rio Grande Foundation, enabling that organization to front for the online charter schools —New Mexico Connections Academy. In a moment of rare candor she once excused herself by saying that she perhaps needed to have learned more about New Mexico before introducing so many “reforms”. Yeah!  Right!

The governor, for her part, also a non-expert on childhood education, has beat her drums for retention in grade for third-grade students who fail to learn to read on someone else’s schedule. Anyone who drags this tired fossil out of its well-deserved mummification deserves banishment from any position where they might have contact with students and teachers. In Finland, where they boast one of the world’s most successful public education systems, they don’t even have grades between primary and secondary levels. In Union City, New Jersey the school system was in shambles and the state was poised to take over the system. Today, they have a high school graduation rate of 89.5 percent, which is 10 percentage points above the national average. How did they do it? With third-grade retention? Absolutely not! No teachers were fired, parents were integrated into the programs; there are neither charter schools nor “Teach for America” operatives in the system either. They start pre-kindergarten with as many 3- and 4-year-olds as possible. What’s their “secret”?  Respecting good teachers, bringing parents into the process, setting high expectations, while at the same time working with children as individuals.

As I wrote some time ago, Skandera was hired as a pay-back to Gov. Martinez’s election contributors. Prior to moving to New Mexico, and after serving on Jeb Bush’s staff, the young lady was given a plum job in Texas running a private training school, Laying the Foundation. The mission of Laying The Foundation is to train individuals to replace real teachers on the cheap. Skandera has no education credentials whatsoever but she does have political credentials in abundance – she was and still is a trusted operative, a foot soldier, in the public school privatization movement led nominally by her former employer, Jeb Bush. Since her appointment here, Skandera has appeared at numerous conventions and conferences across the country organized around the idea of public school privatization, sharing the stage with such notable sharks as Rupert Murdoch, who once exclaimed his enthusiasm for the education business as a multi-million dollar opportunity.

The grade school non-scandal perpetrated by Skandera is a good example of her tactics and how little respect she has for public education and teachers. Officials from Skandera’s office conducted a Gestapo-style “raid” at Albuquerque’s Sierra Vista Elementary school on the pretext that teachers were gaming the testing system. The school’s teaching day was disrupted, substitute teachers had to be brought in, teachers were cross-examined, and in the end the PED issued a letter stating that while no crimes were found the school and teachers had better well be careful – or else. This raid, in the PED’s own words, was based on “circumstantial evidence” and “hearsay.” Brilliant! No! Disrespectful? Yes!

So, the question is: What is this all about?

The answer: Money!

Money for whom? Money for people like Rupert Murdoch and Jeb Bush and, of course, campaign contributions to the governor’s PAC.

There is no need here to enumerate more instances of Skandera’s disrespect for children, teachers, administrators, the New Mexico Public Education Commission and just about anyone else not signed on to her political agenda. Skandera has been engaged in a relentless campaign to privatize public education from her first day in New Mexico, and she is gaining on it every day. For delivering New Mexico into the hands of the privatizers Skandera will no doubt be handsomely rewarded with another public education department assignment in a vulnerable state or a comfortable sinecure at one of their numerous front foundations or propaganda think-tanks.

The matter once again rests in the hands of the New Mexico Senate Rules Committee. Will they punt Skandera’s nomination again or will they man-up and send her packing? The governor, for her part, needs to commission the PEC to conduct a thorough search for candidates with proper academic credentials and experience as opposed to canvasing donors for political hacks.

For the children, teachers, parents, communities, and for the future of New Mexico, the stakes are high.

The American Taliban – Part 4

Target – Public Education

The old Jesuit motto: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” is a bold statement, a boast in fact. Regardless of other considerations the statement expresses an absolute faith in education. And, is it not true that a child well schooled to the age of seven has probably developed habits of mind that make further education possible? All children with the help of responsible caring adults are capable of reaching or even exceeding their innate capacities. This process is the generally understood function of public education, its raison d’être. A population of capable citizens educated to the maximum of their abilities is the aim public education.

In practice, however, we find another story, one less optimistic, less idealistic, and becoming more Darwinian, venal, and draconian. The reasons for this have much to do with denial of the reality of unequal intellectual endowment and powerful forces seeking to privatize exploiting that inequality. It is very bad form to open a public discussion about unequal learning abilities and intellectual capacity. No parent wants to be or will tolerate being told – “ Your kid isn’t smart.” The reality of this denial results in diminished educational experiences for all students across the spectrum of natural abilities. Universal testing mania, deliberately ignoring this reality, pits all children across the intellectual spectrum against all others without regard for innate ability penalizing teachers and students alike.

Defensive teaching to a standardized test becomes inevitable and becomes teaching to the lowest common denominator. By definition no standardized test recognizes much less respects individual innate ability. It is about politics and money, nothing else. The cruelty of such facile schemes as “No Child Left Behind” leave all children behind because the premise of the program is false and empty of honest pedagogical reasoning. Standardized means just what it says, standard – a predetermined level of attainment across the spectrum of abilities. Just how is such a standard achieved by children who are not equal mentally and/or are from homes and neighborhoods where school learning is not a value? What is being compared to what is the question left unanswered.

None of the foregoing is intended to discredit the value of testing student achievement for pedagogical purposes but rather to point out its inappropriate application when used to assess and compare school populations locally, statewide, and nationally. The use of such testing is unquestionably unfair to the children as much as it is to teachers. In short there are no such creatures as “standard” children, “standard” classrooms, or “standard” teachers. To contend otherwise is an obvious sign of intellectual dishonesty at best or ulterior motives at worst. What if the NCLB, ABCDF and Race To The Top nonsense have strategic non-educational motives? But, let’s leave that question on the table for the moment and tackle a few related questions; we’ll come back to it shortly.

For the moment put yourself in the place of a classroom teacher with 20 perhaps 30 kids; a classroom of children with diverse intellectual capacity, attention spans, diet, and home life to mention only  a few of the variables. By the end of the semester you are expected to lead each child to a “standard” level of achievement regardless of those variables. You will be evaluated on the test scores these kids achieve. Your job and your pay are contingent upon good results. Does this sound like a good deal for you? For the kids? For the school? I don’t think so. In fact it is destructive as it stigmatizes and deprives children of their personal dignity and demonizes and punishes teachers for matters that are entirely out of their control. It puts teachers in the situation of a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest. Education is not a manufacturing production process and children are not products like refrigerators to be popped off the end of an assembly line. No one is standard.

Taking up the question posited earlier, why over the past several years have we witnessed this unrelenting assault on public education and public school teachers?

What’s up? -  Surprise!   -  It’s all about money, folks.

In the words of Rupert Murdoch: “When it comes to K–through–12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting to be transformed.” The American Taliban is on the march to privatize America’s public education (and everything else so far as that goes) by whatever means because they see it as a $500 billion market. It’s about money not children, it’s about profit not learning. It’s about private entities such as Wal-Mart, American Legislative Exchange Council, Laying The Foundation, Americans for Prosperity (read “Profit”). Murdoch, at another gathering of privatization crusaders, said, “ … we must approach education … willing to blow up what doesn’t work or gets in the way.” When the Bush administration foisted NCLB on the country, public schools became equivalent to Sadam Hussein’s WMD – manufactured facts and little if any truth. The assault continues today as children are being used as right-wing chew toys.  It is a war against the most cherished and valuable of public services and dedicated public servants – teachers and teaching the young. It is a clear and present thrteat to the American social contract of which public education is an essential part.

Sowing doubt and mistrust creates a sense that there are possibilities left untried or ignored. As Nicolas Sarkozy put it in another context: “This is how we create a gulf of incomprehension between the expert certain in his knowledge and the citizen whose experience of life is completely out of synch with the story told by the data. This gulf is dangerous because the citizens end up believing that they are being deceived. Nothing is more destructive of democracy.” Distrust and fear are the weapons the American Taliban are using against public education and truth.

The NYPS Blues

The NYPS Blues

Is the war against public education guerrilla class-warfare conducted through surrogates? It certainly looks like it. I have always believed that if something looks like “it,” behaves like “it,” and smells like “it,” odds are “it” is “it.”

The “it” in New York City came when the anti-teacher/anti-public education mayor and the ever-devolving New York Times published the results of a citywide teacher evaluation. The person who created the evaluation openly cautioned against publication of the results as they are not, in his opinion, a reliable indicator of teacher effectiveness for a number of technical reasons, including that the evaluation system is new and interpreting it at this early date is an inaccurate and uncertain proposition. He ought to know. Yet, the billionaire crusader mayor of New York joined by the New York Times proceeded to do just what was warned against. In such a circumstance the first question that comes to mind is one of motives. In both cases the motives seem abundantly clear.

Teachers are an easy target for political hacks who have an unrelenting agenda to privatize public education and who are looking to make points with a misinformed public. In the case of the NYT, one must wonder why a national newspaper with what were once impeccable credentials is transforming itself into an over-priced upscale version of the National Inquirer or some sort of Murdoch sensationalist rag. You can’t tell me that the sophisticated editors at the Grey Lady are unaware that once something has been published, no amount of self-serving mea culpas and Public Editor penance will undo it. The damage was done and done willfully, and it cannot be undone. Period. The implications and consequences of what is going on in New York are clear for the rest of the country.

The “it” moment in New Mexico came when, in a case of NYPS Blues, Edunazis went after teachers and schools in an even more despicable manner. Last Thursday (01/02/12) morning, NM PED storm troopers conducted a raid at Albuquerque’s Sierra Vista Elementary School. The troopers removed teachers from classrooms for interrogation in response to an anonymous tip that irregularities had taken place amounting to cheating on tests. Substitutes had to be found for the teachers being questioned so there would be no interruption in the normal school routine. It should go without saying that a civilized inquiry could have been conducted after school hours or on a Saturday. No one’s life was in danger, the school wasn’t going to be blown up, children weren’t being abused, no one was selling drugs in the corridors; clearly there was no emergency to merit the SWAT team tactics. Taking into account the PED’s trouncing during the legislative session, this was a very deliberate publicity stunt. And to top it off, all of this well-publicized sensationalist melodrama was justified on the basis of an alleged anonymous “TIP”? I smell a rat.

The PED’s persistent hidden agenda would not have been as well served by a respectful and civilized inquiry, now would it? For the second consecutive year the Legislature didn’t hold a confirmation hearing for the PED’s Dear Leader, and her proposed antediluvian new school initiatives went down in defeat as well. Was the dramatic raid was a face-saving acting out? Of course it was.

I think it only fair to ask where New Mexico schools are heading with this police-state behavior by the PED. I can’t imagine a more humiliating and disgraceful treatment of teachers than what took place at Sierra Vista school. What’s next, re-education camps for teachers al la Chairman Mao or perhaps Siberian-type work camps – you know, gulags for those who won’t buy into the PED program? The PED program being to prove by whatever means that public schools are failing in order to justify privatizing them. The tactics appear to be: If you can’t get in the front door, break in the back way.

Remember that New York Mayor Bloomberg’s first Chancellor of the public school system, Joel Klein, took a meat-axe approach to the city’s vast school system. The charge then was that the schools and teachers were inefficient, failing and a budgetary drain on the city. The creation of charter schools would be the answer, the public was told, which prediction ultimately proved to be far from true. Klein moved on, not surprisingly, without any substantial or lasting achievement to become Rupert Murdoch’s main man. You will recall Murdoch as the bloke from Down Under who sees public education as a $500 billion opportunity for entrepreneurs like himself, with the help, no doubt, of Mr. Klein. Mayor Bloomberg next gave the Chancellor’s job to a woman business executive, Catherine Black, who had no background and no experience in education at all except her own schooling and that was likely not at P.S. 101. Thankfully, she lasted only a short time and was basically embarrassed out of office. In New Mexico we have Hanna Skandera who also is unqualified by any measure to be a Secretary of Education anywhere. We also have a Governor whose election campaign received substantial contributions from donors with school privatization agendas and who, no doubt, want their investments to pay off in the form of privatized schools.

While these and other Republicans have not been alone in their persecution of public education – I would include our neoliberal US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, in this mob – there has been a notable transformation from the kind of Republican once represented by Dwight Eisenhower. We now have a new breed, Repugnicans – a group for whom profit in any endeavor reigns supreme and for whom shared social outcomes such as an educated public are but a quaint and dim memory of a more civilized and humane time.  Across the country they are spreading an epidemic of sociopathy and destruction of the American social contract, especially where it comes to public education – a very bad case of the NYPS Blues.

This post may also be viewed at: http://www.thelightofnewmexico.com/

 

 

 

How Great is Great?

New Mexico Teachers: How Great is Great?

Last week legislators from around the country flocked to an all-expense-paid (including travel) get-together at an exclusive island resort off the coast of Florida—the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island. The tab was picked up by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), leaving one to wonder just what the legislators exchanged in return for the pleasure of their company. The party was labeled “ALEC K-12 Education Reform Academy.” Oh, and the party was closed to the public and the press and protected from intruders by private security guards.

New legislation regarding teacher evaluations now being proposed in the New Mexico Legislature to “evaluate” teacher performance has been derived from examples of “model” legislation provided to legislators by ALEC. The ALEC is sponsored by large corporations and billionaires with visions of new sources of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, and the organization provides legislators with what they euphemistically refer to as “model” legislation. The model legislation is provided to legislators on a number of topics and is written to specifications dictated by the corporate sponsors of ALEC to serve their ends. In the case of public schools the ultimate goals are to privatize public education, eliminate teacher unions and make money for the sponsors. Simple enough.

We have had an example in New Mexico of such ALEC-dictated legislation in the form of the ABCD-F Act. A great deal of the language and intent in that travesty flowed from ALEC plumbing where it was called the “Education Accountability Act.” Presently we are seeing two bills, HB 249 and SB 293, wending their way though the Legislature, both having to do with teacher and administrator evaluation. The two bills, sponsored by legislators sympathetic to the governor’s and secretary-designate’s agenda correspond closely to three ALEC-authored models: “Great Teachers and Leaders Act,” “Career Ladder Opportunities Act” and “Teacher Quality and Recognition Demonstration Act.” All you have to do is add local water, shake and bake, and presto, you have made-to-order legislation, compliments of ALEC.

“Great Teachers and Leaders Act”? Just how great can a teacher be when children come to school unmotivated and unprepared to learn? That is not the question being asked, of course, by the sponsors of new legislation being presented at the Roundhouse. When I first read Secretary-designate of Education Hanna Skandera’s public exclamations about how “great” New Mexico’s  teachers are and how she wanted to climb up to the roof-tops to “scream” out how much she loved and respected teachers I knew exactly what was coming. And I was right. This was a perfect example of what I call damning with cynical praise.

So what is this about? Why do teachers, administrators and schools have targets on their backs? It is because public schools can be replaced, so can teachers and so can administrators. What can they be replaced with? Vouchers for private for-profit schools and teachers from private training programs like Teach For America and K-12, that’s what. This monkey business is not unique to New Mexico either; it is going on across the country, where conservative legislators and governors have taken control of state houses. The attacks on public education are accompanied by attacks on many other public services in order to achieve a political goal of reducing government services and privatizing whatever is left.

What is not being said in this proposed legislation was perfectly articulated by a Santa Fe teacher. Laura Carthy had this bit of wisdom to offer, born of experience: “They want to hold us accountable, but how can they hold me accountable for students who aren’t here, who are constantly tardy and miss five to 20 minutes of instruction a day?” Carthy enumerated many of the issues teachers and administrators face on a daily basis and over which they have no control, such as children not eating, not sleeping and not doing their homework. (S.F. New Mexican 12/18/11) The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is also an advocate for these neo-liberal policies, and he wants to tie federal funding to Skinnerian testing performance evaluation regimes. While Ms. Skandera is on the rooftop and Arne is shooting hoops with the president people like Laura Carthy are in the trenches.

In December, 2003 Ms. Skandera appeared at a luncheon as a Hoover Research Fellow with her mentor and distinguished Hoover Institute professor, Richard Sousa. Interestingly, Sousa is best known as an expert on labor economics and, incidentally, K-12 education. Sousa and Skandera reported on their research and offered suggestions for improving education through school choice, testing and accountability. The term accountability in Sousa’s parlance includes evaluating teachers, hence our Secretary-designate’s ABCD-F Act and now proposed legislation in the form of HB 249 and HB 293. As the old saying goes, the apple seldom falls far from the tree. In this case Professor Sousa’s former research assistant is following the script, and what has followed are the three pillars of the New Mexico ABCD-F Act and the new teacher accountability legislation— school choice, testing and accountability.

This essay first appeared at Light of New Mexico

 

 

Listen and Show Some Respeto

Listen and Show Some  Respeto

Listen, Listen. Listen. That was the watchword, the first principle I was taught when working for the University of Wisconsin Extension Services which I did throughout my graduate studies. I traveled that state conducting extension service programs all of which were developed by listening to the communities we served. When I was first elected majordomo of my acequia here in the northern mountains I spent most of my time asking questions about what was needed to make the ditch function more fairly and efficiently and listening carefully to the answers. I sat for hours listening to viejos tell me the history of this very old acequia dug by hand from the mountain to the meadows. Respeto. I spent my time getting to know the families served by the ditch and walked the land the acequia passed through from the mountain presa to the last gate at the farthest end of our llano’s irrigated fields. This was my experience in Wisconsin coming into service in New Mexico and tempered by Governor Lew Wallace’s dicho – “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico.” I had no “calculations” but knew that listening to people tell you about themselves, their needs and their experiences will not fail you and a plan will make itself evident in proper time. Listen.

Our Secretary-designate of Education has not distinguished herself with a willingness to listen and this is not without consequences. New Mexico failed to receive a waiver of the NCLB requirements because the Secretary-designate of Education and her allies were eager to push their imported, ALEC-inspired ABCD-F Act through the legislature. In passing this piece of retrograde legislation the State failed to meet the Federal requirements for exemption from the NCLB. Interviewed on the KOB-TV web site, APS Superintendent of Schools, Winston Brook, voiced his opinion that the ABCD-F grading system didn’t meet federal requirements. Winston went on to say that Skandera was made aware of those concerns before she released the grades. Brooks was also aware that the U.S. Secretary of Education had written a letter to Skandera telling her she needed to address the issues. Obviously the federal concerns were not dealt with in a timely manner hence no exemption.

Carrying water for ALEC has its price and in this case the price will paid by New Mexico’s schools, teachers and children who have been saddled with the ABCD-F Act and will now struggle to be released from the NCLB requirements. There is no denying Ms. Skandera came to New Mexico on a mission and she has been notably single-minded about carrying out her assignment. Her ideological blinders have kept her from grasping the cultural realities of the state including our diverse languages a tradition for which she has demonstrated a profound lack of respete.

Skandera has placed herself within an ideological cocoon comprised of her own imported staff and well paid out-of-state consultants, which has resulted in a tragic lack of critical understanding and ham-handed policy execution. Her reform process has been a self-affirming and thus a self-defeating feed-back loop. She and her advisors have all been on the same page but the book they are using is about somewhere other than New Mexico.

What we have received is a lot of fancy doubletalk such as this recent example from the Secretary-designate: “New Mexico consistently has been ranked 48th, 49th or 50th in most of our achievement rankings, etc.. And for the first time we will be in the top 11 states championing reform, and I believe we are headed in the right direction…”. This statement would be held up for ridicule in any logic class. The speaker equates “achievement rankings” and “championing reform” as though they are equivalents. Reform and achievement are not even remotely the same thing and cannot honestly be used in a comparative sense; they are totally unrelated ideas being force fit into being equivalent to make it sound as though something profound is happening. This is the definition of propaganda -  false ideas spread deliberately to further one’s cause. It’s time for the current Governor and her administration to show some respeto for the people of New Mexico. Escuche, Escuche, Escuche.

This was first published at: http://www.motivationalbooks.com/thelightofnewmexico/

Trojan Horse

TROJAN HORSE

Senate Bill 427 a.k.a. “The A-B-C-D-F Schools Rating Act”-talk about a “gotcha.”  This piece of work makes the Trojan Horse look like a party favor.

Double Standards

Not that this is a new fast shuffle; in the Spring of 2011, Secretary-Designate Skandera overruled the Public Education Commission’s 2010 decision to disenfranchise three failing charter schools for falling below acceptable achievement standards. Ms. Skandera “declined” the Commission’s ruling stating she would decline decisions based on failure to meet Standards Based Assessment tests because such tests are an “obsolete metric.” So, what is the Skandera-sponsored A-B-C-D-F Schools Rating Act about if not test-score-based metrics? The Act says specifically that public schools will be rated according to the New Mexico Standards Based Assessments. Yet the PEC  was overruled for basing its decision regarding the charter schools on Standards Based Assessments. Charter schools are defined in law as public schools and as such the same standards must apply. The same people who pronounced the metrics to be obsolete had, just a few months earlier, incorporated them into legislation.

More is More

The questions don’t stop here either. According to the act parents may move their children from a school rated F to “the statewide or a local cyber academy” neither of which are included in the rating system nor are academic standards for these entities referred to or provided for in law. The A-B-C-D-F  Act states that growth “means learning a year’s worth of knowledge in one year’s time.” You will look in vain for a definition of “a year’s worth of knowledge.” What hat did they pull that one out of? Further on in the Act you will find reference to “proven programs” and, once again, without definition. This kind of flim-flam puts public schools on very shaky ground having to meet unspecified and undefined requirements such as “a year’s worth of knowledge” and presenting “proven programs.” What proven programs are they talking about? Where will we find these proven programs? Who has proven the programs and what were their qualifications? Is a “year’s worth of learning” the same for Ms. Skandera as it would be for Governor Martinez? What metrics should we use to determine if either of them has acquired a year’s worth of learning?

TO WHAT ENDS?

This A-B-C-D-F Act business, and it is a business, is an unmitigated disaster and a well thought out strategy in my opinion to set up public schools in New Mexico to fail. The Trojan Horse is here to open the gates for privatized for-profit schooling ultimately taking control away from communities and parents and placing it in the hands of corporations. I suspect what Skandera and company have in mind is quite simple. Just as is the case now with some social services and prisons, the state will contract with private entities such as Teach for America or K12 to run our public schools. The New Mexico Public Education Department this past November issued a purchase order for Teach for America indicating that business is already being done with that entity. Rupert Murdoch, speaking at a recent conference in San Francisco, a gathering at which our Secretary-Designate also appeared, had this to say, “When it comes to K-through-12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” Murdoch’s education business is called Wireless Generation. The vultures are circling!

Once the schools have been contracted out we can say goodbye to parental and community input – say goodbye to public education. The schooling factories of the future, while generating sweet profits for the corporations that run them, will soon be churning out standardized “graduates” ready to be plugged into whatever corporate enterprises need them. It should also be noted that none of these reforms cops to what they will do with slow learners, under-achievers and the kids and parents who simply don’t give a damn about education. The requirement for human teachers/trainers will be minimized, as will be their wages. Cyber machines will handle the kids more efficiently in this scenario and without requiring health insurance, retirement plans, sick leave, wages or respect. Oh, and one more thing – they don’t go out on strike for better working conditions. Gotcha!

This essay first appeared in The Light of New Mexico – print and web editions 2/14/12

The Tenticles of Profit

PUBLIC EDUCATION AND THE TENTICLES OF PROFIT

A new reality is beginning to unfold. This other-reality is inhabited by fabulously wealthy people who want, indeed are compelled, to become even more wealthy since having all but a tiny percentage of the real world’s income is not quite enough – they apparently want it all. The May 2011 edition of Vanity Fair reports that 1% of the US population takes in 25% of all income and holds 40% of the nation’s wealth. http://www.vanityfair.com/society/features/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105 There is today, it seems, an epidemic of consummate sociopathic greed by people who profit on everyone else’s losses and who buy politicians with the same ease normal people buy groceries. To further their ends the other-reality hosts pool-side gatherings at plush resorts for ambitious and eager other-reality wannabes to discuss how best to go about achieving their agendas. In these settings the wannabes rub shoulders with the other-reality folks and offer their services and willingness to assist the sponsors in their quest for an even greater slice of the National Pie. We can only wonder what the rewards can be for providing such assistance. One example, perhaps, of what possibilities might exist is revealed in how Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin, cheerfully responded to a caller he thought was one of the multi-millionaire Koch brothers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBnSv3a6Nh4

Privatizing Public Education is one potential source of new wealth being explored by the other-reality people. Achieving control of the Public Education system which has existed, for better or for worse, in the US for more than a century, requires operatives appointed to governmental offices of education willing to carry out the agenda, New Mexico being one such example. Why not start the take over process with politicians who could use a little financial help with their campaigns provided by “Foundations” dedicated to the preservation of Democracy? A little help here and there results in such appointments to public office as I have described above and pretty soon you are on your way to grading schools and grading teachers and, in the end the inevitable conclusions that students are failing, teachers are failing and, of course, public schools are failing. Our only hope then in this scenario is privatization.

If you think the above is exaggeration please check out the following web sites which were provided by a reader of one of my earlier essays, “Hemingway” and I share his annotations here, with my thanks:

Hemingway

August 2, 2011 • 9:23 am

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) sponsored model bills aiming to privatize public education, eliminate teacher’s unions, and make American universities adhere to the right wing and libertarian viewpoint.

http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Privatizing_Public_Education,_Higher_Ed_Policy,_and_Teachers

http://www.alec.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home&Template=/Templates/TemplateHomepage/ALEC_1502_20070319T102535_LayoutHomePage.cfm

The Kochs have given ALEC contributions exceeding $1 million—not including a half-million loaned to ALEC when the group had financial problems. “The Kochs’ mistrust of public education can be traced to their father, Fred, who ranted and raved that the National Education Association was a communist group and public-school books were filled with “communist propaganda,”

http://www.thenation.com/article/161973/alec-exposed-koch-connection

Interestingly ALEC was behind the scenes in Wisconsin in the education fight. Read this article by Dr. William Cronin.

http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/15/alec/

This is wrong! “

The Koch Brothers and others of their political persuasion it should be pointed out are not, lest we demonize them, the only example of moneyed people financing a social agenda. Money is power of course and the willingness to use it for social change has always been with us as a society. Recall the Carnegies and Rockefellers and presently Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and so on who are using their fortunes to sponsor scientific exploration and the advancement of technology and knowledge and create a safer disease-and hunger-free world.

WHO IS FAILING WHAT?

Let’s examine the failing schools agenda and how it is being rationalized for public consumption. Are teachers failing? Who says so and what is their agenda? Here is an exchange between the actor Matt Damon (whose mother is a teacher) and a “reporter” from a Libertarian “news” organization: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFHJkvEwyhk&feature=player_embedded

Teachers seem to have become a favorite soft target for the industrial reformers. Teachers are a convenient target for several reasons including their own unions which have failed to seize the moment and take control of the narrative. As an example of the assault on teachers, one of Governor Scott Walker’s first legislative “achievements”, in his opinion at least, was to disenfranchise Wisconsin teachers’ unions. An August 10th, 2011 item on the KOAT-TV web site details the problems teachers in Albuquerque are going to face with a 7% increase in class sizeshttp://www.koat.com/news/28819192/detail.html    And, rest assured these class size increases will result in matching increases in standardized test result failures. This will be one more blow against the autonomy and authority of classroom teachers setting them up as scapegoats for politicians. Teachers will be blamed for the failures and the privatization band will strike up its familiar marching tune – “Privatize, privatize – Oh the results you’ll see. You won’t believe your eyes!

http://www.utahnsforpublicschools.org/policycenter/KeyLessonsClassSizeandStudentAchievement.htm

Tests can also exert a corrupting influence as we recently saw in the exposure of wide-spread cheating of No Child Left Behind test results in Atlanta, Georgia. According to ABC News in reporting the story at the time: “In Georgia, teachers complained to investigators that some students arrived at middle school reading at a first-grade level. But, teachers said, principals insisted those students had to pass their standardized tests. “Teachers were either ordered to cheat or pressured by administrators until they felt they had no choice, authorities said.” In New Mexico 87% of schools fell short in the state-wide evaluations. Are schools failing? The best answer is probably, yes, and for good reasons. Are privatized schools doing better across the board? Not really.

It isn’t that privatized schools, as such, are instruments of some hidden social control agenda, many are not. The KIPP charter schools, for example, are first rate. The administrators, teachers and students are motivated. The educational results gained by these schools are excellent with a high number of graduates going on to college although I am not in favor of using that as an absolute metric for assessing schools and public education. But, more importantly KIPP schools motivate their students to learn. They mentor and develop their teachers in earnest, they engage parents, and they engage children holding their attention for a longer school day and week than public schools do. The “sample daily schedule”, as posted on the KIPP web site, gives teachers two hours of prep time between 8AM and 3PM, during which time they also teach 3 one-hour classes and get a 40-minute lunch break and get an hour for “advisory meetings”.  The hours 3PM to 5PM are a blend  of electives, prep and meetings. These particular charter schools are educating children with great success.

However, in spite of all the good these schools do the question remains – why can’t public schools do the same? Why can’t the existing public schools system be charged with the same responsibility, given the same resources and accomplish the same results?

AUTHENTIC EDUCATION

I have stressed many times in these essays that education is not a manufacturing process and uniformity is not the objective of authentic learning. There is no such thing on Earth as a “Standard Child” and by that reasoning alone standardized testing as the ultimate measure of pedagogical success is false out of the box. To claim otherwise is to trivialize human nature and human experience – it is, in fact, dehumanizing. To contend that standardized testing is a fair and proper method of assessment betrays a diminished view of humanity and ignorance of the educational process. The key to authentic education is interest and when interest is absent so too is authentic learning. Needless to say authentic learning and teaching go hand-in-hand and neither can function when a teacher cannot devote an appropriate amount of time to each learner. So, when a school system increases class sizes and decreases the number of available classroom teachers no claim to authentic teaching and learning can be made. This is a prescription for failure writ large. Class sizes must be adjusted to reasonable levels if effective teaching and learning are to take place. Next parents must be as fully engaged in the process as they are required to be in the charter school schemes.

In a recent news report( http://www.krqe.com/dpp/news/education/social-promotion-could-be-on-agenda) about the push to eliminate, by statute, social promotion in New Mexico, Robin Gibson (A fourth grade teacher at Sandia Base Elementary School) said, ” … it’s unreasonable to think all students learn at the same pace. Kids are all coming from different backgrounds and we need to work with them and not punish them for something they can’t control.”  So, what is the answer to this push, this fixation, to punish kids who don’t learn at the same rate as test writers think they should? How about doing away with grade levels at the elementary level and rather setting performance standards for matriculation? So simple. This is what REAL school reform needs to be about, the simple recognition that children, just like adults, do not all learn at the same rate. Next, in the lower grades do away with the fixation on standardized testing. Tests can certainly be useful as diagnostics (their only real value actually), instruments of policy and policy making or, just as easily, justification for the privatization of public education.

There are people out there waiting to pounce on failed schools and failed school systems. The hucksters will promise greater instructional success with lower costs and greater uniformity of results across the board. This will be brought to you by people who have social control and profit foremost in mind. These entrepreneurs can buy with ease politicians and acolytes; the real victims will be children and the greatest loss will be felt by society itself. Is this the new reality we wish to subscribe to, making rich people richer and, at the same time, impoverishing public education and consequently our children? It will be a hollowing out of the social contract and of our civil society. These possibilities cannot be taken lightly and certainly cannot be dismissed as paranoid rant – it has happened to other countries and societies throughout history and it can happen in the US just as easily. It does us well to consider that those who do not remember history are destined to repeat it.

What must we do to make schools safe from privatization and loss of public control? In my opinion perhaps the most important first step must be to depoliticize public education. This is a matter of grave consequence as partisan politics have no place in the process of schooling. Authentic school reforms must be immunized against politicization, commercialization and interference by people whose only qualification is that they have managed to be elected or appointed to public office. Educators must speak out forcefully, defend their expertise and demand control of the process of schooling. I think class sizes must be held at a level where each child can receive proper attention. How can teachers teach where class sizes clearly exceed any possibility of individualized attention? I cannot emphasize this class size issue too strongly. Each child as a learner is a unique center of experience and each child learns at a rate particular to that child so how then can any normal human teacher accomplish the level of individualized attention required to instruct each child with large class sizes and why aren’t parents up in arms over this breech of trust? Parents must be fully integrated into the educational model as the ultimate source of motivation and discipline. Being educated and being able to test out are two vastly different things. The question is, simply put, what are we after in public education – educated individuals or test-taking automatons?

A New Tower of Babel

THE NEW TOWER OF BABEL

” [H]uman community depends on language” say the authors of the language chapter in the book Deep History (Andrew Shryock and Daniel Lord Smail, Univ. of California Press, 2011). The authors use the lesson of Babel described in the bible as an example of the power of language. According to the Babel story everyone spoke the same language until someone had the bright idea of building a tower so tall they could reach heaven. Their idea didn’t sit well with the proprietor of heaven so he “confounded” their language to prevent the project from proceeding. In short, control language and you control people.

Deliberate inversion of language has always been a favored tool of propagandists and demagogues. Consider just for a moment the current revulsion for and fear of the term “class-warfare” on the part of the 1% class. Another gem is referring to public education as “government education”. “Cowabunga Battyman, th’gummint’s after the kids!” In Orwell’s novel 1984 the users of “Newspeak” employed “doublethink” to manipulate the residents of the country.

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.

Newspeak and doublethink are now the “indispensably necessary” staples of the venality and political agendas sweeping across the US in the guise of education reform. By deliberately employing language contradictory to common usage and understanding, these interests are confounding the public narrative. The best example on a national scale is No Child Left Behind, which uses carefully contrived testing to leave not only children behind but teachers as well. In these so-called reform programs teaching becomes testing and failure is all but assured. In New Mexico we have the ABCD-F Schools Rating Act to insure failure, failure as defined by interested parties leading ultimately to privately run schools, online course work and what the Act itself refers to as “cyber academies” which, interestingly enough, are not included in the required ratings under Section 3 of the Act. The objective truth here: testing is not pedagogy, it is not curriculum and instruction, it is a strategy to set up public schools to fail and machine learning to prosper.

If you have any doubts about this strategy read the story in the Washington Post about a fellow who is a school board member, a corporate executive with a BS and two master’s degrees. He took the 10th grade reading and math tests required for students in his school district. He said he managed to “guess” the answers to ten out of sixty math questions and scored a “D” on the reading test. Is it any wonder then that these innocuous sounding rating and testing programs like ABCDF and NCLB are condemning public schools to failure? We must rightly ask, why? What’s in it for the perpetrators? What do they stand to gain?

Minions of wealthy business interests have moved across the country installing themselves into state governments and sundry “foundations”, spreading the idea that public schools are a failure and they have the solution – privatizing public schools, privatizing teacher education and installing high-tech teaching devices. Why? Because people like Rupert Murdoch, the Koch boys, Bill Gates and a host of others, having financed politicians as a down payment, are salivating over their potential profits. Rupert puts that potential at $500 billion.

The Tuesday, December 6, 2011, New York Times had two editorial pieces on education. One piece offered a “how to” as in “How To Rescue Education Reform” that sounded a death knell for teachers, describing “Technology as a Passport to Personalized Education“. In both articles what I found more interesting than the standard hollow circular arguments debasing public education and human teachers was that the three authors are all affiliated with Stanford University, as is the New Mexico Secretary-Designate of Public Education. Coincidence? Perhaps, perhaps not.

A viable democracy requires educated citizens capable of critical thinking and a strong sense of community. There is no social dimension to cyber or any other form of machine learning. Machines, by their nature, isolate learners from the social context provided by public schools and from the democratizing influences of that community. The 21st century Tower of Babel has been constructed and the intent clearly is to confound the narrative in order to dismantle the finest, most democratic and enabling institution this country has ever had, public education. At what price?

Henry Giroux, in Education And The Crisis Of Public Values, (Peter Lang Publishing, 2012) writing about what he calls the politics of humiliating teachers, public schooling and marginalizing youth put it this way.

Despite these grave circumstances, we seem to lack the critical language, civic courage, and public values to recognize that when a country institutionalizes a culture of cruelty that takes aim at public schools and their hard-working teachers, it is embarking on a form of self-sabotage and collective suicide whose victims will include not only education, but democracy itself.

This essay originally appeared at:http://www.nmpolitics.net/

A LITTLE HISTORY

A LITTLE HISTORY

What bothers me most about the current war against public education is that it is a-historical. It is as if schools suddenly went bad a few months ago or coincidentally with Jeb Bush needing something to keep himself busy when his term of office in Florida expired. Without any education credentials whatsoever Jeb is now on the leading edge of the assault on public education and teachers. Foundations and acolytes scattered across the country are feeding the frenzy along with a little help from friends and buddies such as Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, the Koch boys and so forth. Without intending cynicism this to me resembles class warfare more than a little.

As the saying goes, those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it so I thought perhaps a small dose of history would render a bit of perspective to the snake-oil presently being offered by the newly ordained “experts” and their minions. This is also the first time teachers are being cast as villains so I will add here parenthetically, that anyone who thinks teachers control the curriculum in public schools is dangerously misinformed. Control of pubic education is and has long been in the hands of administrators, school boards and state and federal agencies. Teachers hold the lowest spot on the policy totem pole but they carry the greatest liability and the most intimate consequences.

Teachers are the public face of educational policy and so have become targets of opportunity. One television advertising campaign being used to promote mechanized education even goes so far as to demonize teachers as inferred child molesters. This malicious campaign was created by a national consultant who when speaking to wealthy education industry investors advised them that rather than “intellectualize ourselves into the [education reform] debate…is there a way that we can get into it at an emotional level? … Emotions will stay with people longer than concepts… We need to hit on fear and anger. Because fear and anger stays with people longer. And how you get the fear and anger is by reframing the problem.”

Reframing the problem is quite easy so long as no one engages the public narrative from a factual historical perspective. Even a well meaning public or a well intentioned state legislature can be easily manipulated with expertly applied misinformation and distortions doled out by unscrupulous public opinion manipulators and well placed operatives within governmental agencies. Government programs with simplistic innocuous sounding names like No Child Left Behind or ABCD-F – reflect professional advertising and propaganda to reframe the problem. After all, who would openly admit to wanting to leave a child behind. The unscrupulous lust for profit seems to have no moral, social or ethical boundaries. The running narrative placing blame on teachers and public schools has no rational justification. This distortion however is a time-honored technique of despots used throughout history to isolate and demonize minorities. The programs cited above are intended to create failure and thus frame the public dialog. In truth while schools and teachers are certainly not perfect I regard such propaganda campaigns as sociopathic. They are about money, not about children.

The short history of public education from the early 1800s to the present is a record of relentlessly evolving ideas about content and methodology, that is, curriculum and instruction. Generally speaking, public education seems to have absorbed in one way or another all the reforms initiated from the early 1800s to the present. In the 1820s there were Mental Disciplinarians, then Developmentalists and the Social Meliorists who were followed by the Social Efficiency movement of the early 20th century. There were others but these were the most influential and they provided the foundational ideas on which modern American curriculum and instruction were built. Over time the ideas embodied in these movements wove themselves into the fabric of American schooling so completely that they have become indistinguishable. I think it most important to point out here that not one of these influential movements spanning two centuries was ever motivated by profit.

In the early part of the 19th century and into the next the United States was primarily an agrarian society and what public schooling there was reflected that. Starting in the early 20th century the country began its transition to an industrial society. The industrial period ran through two world wars and America became the undisputed industrial giant of the entire planet. Public education was geared to the needs of  an industrial society. Now, in the early 21st century we are becoming a post-industrial society and public education will again evolve to accommodate the needs of the new reality. There have been a multitude of other forces and influences on public education of course but those above are the broad strokes.

It is important also to note that at no time in the span of this history has any one educational movement held complete sway. In fact it seems that as they emerged each went to work with the others. Eventually parts of each became woven into the fabric of the educational experience. Today the US is a diverse society with a large but not dominant agricultural economic sector and, though somewhat diminished, a nevertheless vigorous industrial sector continues as well. Like all of history nothing is all the same everywhere all of the time but the parts and the influences of everything are wherever we look. In the future as in the past public education will reflect the times and the people. America needs people who can think critically, learn readily and reflect the values of the community. Public education’s mission is to encourage learning as a value and as a commitment to the society at large; this requires educating children not training them as if they are destined to become robots.

n.b. An excellent study of the history of American curriculum is:

The Struggle For The American Curriculum 1893-1958, 2nd ed., Herbert M. Kliebard, Routledge,1995

this essay first appeared at: http://nmpolitics.net/index/


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