Archive for January, 2012

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/


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