Archive | October, 2017

American Style Taliban Invading Public Education

26 Oct

Christian soldiers have been marching off to war and elementary school is the battle ground. Writer Katherine Stewart’s book, The Good News Club, The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children provides the disturbing evidence.

The Good News Clubs are after school programs, sponsored by evangelical Christians, in elementary schools across America. Stewart begins her narrative by describing how the 2001 arrival of a Good News Club in Seattle’s Loyal Height’s Elementary School splintered the community and created enduring angst.

Some parents reacted by removing their children from the school. Stewart quotes one dispirited parent as saying:

‘“Before, we were all Loyal Heights parents together,’ sighs Rockne. ‘Now we’re divided into groups and labels: you’re a Christian; you’re the wrong kind of Christian; you’re a Jew; you’re an atheist.’”

The wrong kind of Christians include all New Age churches, United Methodists, Congregationalists, Catholics and Episcopalians. We Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims can just forget about it.

The episode in Seattle conjures images of the nineteenth century religious riots in America.

Horace Mann, a Unitarian, became Massachusetts’s secretary of education in 1837. He resolved the conflicts around religious ideology being taught in school by restricting religious teachings to commonly shared Protestant values.

Stewart informs about the result, “Representatives of a number of sects immediately and vigorously attacked him, but large majorities agreed with this policy, and it soon became the norm in the ‘common school,’ or public school, movement.”

She continues, “Common school textbooks at the time were filled with racist characterizations of the Irish, and the Pope and his clergy were described as ‘libertine, debauched, corrupt, wicked, immoral, profligate, indolent, slothful, bigoted, parasitical, greedy, illiterate, hypocritical, and pagan,’ according to … Professor of History, David Nasaw.” Of course, the growing immigrant Catholic population did not like it.

  • In 1844 religious riots broke out in Philadelphia.
  • In 1859 Boston had its turn for rioting. A Catholic boy refused to recite the Protestant version of the 10 commandments and was beaten for thirty-minutes.
  • In 1869 a Bible War raged in Cincinnati when the school board tried to assuage sectarian conflict by banning reading the Protestant Bible in school.

Stewart apprises her readers of how seriously America’s leaders took these disputes, “In 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant declared that if a new civil war were to erupt, it would be fought not across the Mason-Dixon Line but at the door of the common schoolhouse.” Stewart says concerns over religion in public schools continued growing and prompted another Grant speech in 1876:

‘“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions,’ he said. ‘Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.’”

Great landmark decisions on the relationship between religion and school were decided by the Supreme Court in the 1962 and 1963 with eight to one decisions banning formal prayer in school. Stewart observes that these decisions received three votes from the four conservative judges on the panel. She explains the reasoning:

“This approach drew principally upon the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which, according to Thomas Jefferson’s interpretation, erects ‘a wall of separation between church and state.’”

Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia Tear Down that Wall

The evangelical Christian movement gained prominence beginning with Jerry Falwell’s moral majority in 1979 and the arrival of in 1977 of Pat Robertson’s 700-Club on ABC. These two movements developed large followings and generated huge sums of money. A significant portion of that money was spent on legal activism.

Stewart quotes Clarence Darrow who is famous for among other things representing John Scopes in Tennessee’s “monkey trial.” Darrow declared:

“I knew that education was in danger from the source that has always hampered it – religious fanaticism.”

In the same vain, when discussing the legal strategy of the Christian right, Stewart asserts:

“It is an attempt to use the principles of tolerance to secure a place for intolerance, discrimination and religious bigotry in the public schools and elsewhere.”

A significant figure in the tearing down of the separation of church and state is Jay Sekulow, who as general counsel for the “Jews for Jesus” began arguing cases before the Supreme Court. Sekulow was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn. He converted to evangelical Christianity while attending Atlanta Baptist College (now Mercer University).

In 1990, Pat Robertson brought Sekulow together with a few other lawyers to form the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).  Stewart conveys:

“The new outfit lined up alongside the Liberty Counsel, which was founded in 1989 by Mathew and Anita Staver and became affiliated with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in 2004. In 1994, the Alliance Defense Fund, or ADF, added its name to the growing roster of Christian legal defense organizations with the backing of a group that reads like a Who’s Who of the new Christian Right: Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ; D. James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Ministries; Larry Burkett, founder of Christian Financial Concepts; James Dobson, founder of Focus on Family; Marlin Maddoux, President of International Christian Media; Donald Wildmon, founder of American Family Association; and more than two dozen other prominent Christian ministries and organizations.”

In 2001, this massive legal artillery succeeded in undermining the separation of church and state most significantly with its victory in Good News Club v. Milford Central School. The upstate New York K-12 school denied a Good News Club’s application to run an after-school club. The denial was based on school policy and concerns about violating the Establishment clause. Stewart laid out the history and arguments for this case and concluded:

“The explosion of school-based church-planting in New York and across the nation that began in 2002 did not reflect a spontaneous eruption of religious enthusiasm. It was simply the direct consequence of the Supreme Court’ decision in the case of Good News Club v. Milford Central School in 2001. An alien visitor to planet First Amendment could be forgiven for summarizing the entire story thus: Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, together with a few fellow travelers on the Supreme Court and their friends in the ADF and ACLJ, got together and ordered that the United States should establish a nationwide network of evangelical churches housed in taxpayer-financed school facilities.”

Church-Planting

 On Sunday Morning in San Diego, California if you are driving up Genesee Avenue toward the University Town Center mall you will pass the Grace City church. Most residence would think of it as University City High School, but starting in 2015 it became the domain of an evangelical Christian sect on Sundays.

UC High_Grace City

University City High School/Grace City – Photo by T. Ultican

Originally proposed in 1962, bonds to build University City High School were not passed until 1976. Legal roadblocks delayed the construction until 1980. The schools web site concludes its history of the school’s founding:

“In September 1981, the school opened. Twenty years of effort finally bore fruit. In every phase of the battle, the crucial factor to success was the willingness of the concerned, active and involved University City community who gave time, effort and money to carry the project through to its successful conclusion. A grassroots effort to build a community high school resulted in the beautiful, well-equipped complex.”

It is certain that many of the community residence who worked for and paid for University City High School would be shocked that the facility is now in regular use to advance a particular religious sect. Even more disturbing, that sect did not originate from within the community but was “planted” by non-resident proselytizing evangelicals.

Grace Citie’s founding family is Randall Tonini who served in the Compassion Christian Church of Savannah, Georgia and his wife Laura who met Randall at Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee. Johnson University is a private Christian University. They left Savannah to come to San Diego on a religious mission.

The Grace City web presence states, “We are a part of a larger network of churches planted with the partnership of Stadia to bring the Gospel throughout San Diego County.”

Stadia’s “who we are” statement proclaims:

“Stadia began in the fall of 2003, when leaders of the Northern California Evangelistic Association (NCEA) met with leaders of the Church Development Fund (CDF) to create a nationwide church planting organization called Stadia. Since then, Stadia and our partners have planted almost 289+ U.S. churches and 189+ global churches and has mobilized sponsorship of over 25,000 children in impoverished communities.”

And about children they state:

“Children are close to the heart of God. So they are close to the heart of Stadia. “And whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me.” 85% of those who make a decision to follow Jesus do so between the ages of 4 and 14.”

Luis Bush, a Christian big picture strategist, was the first to call it the “4/14 Window.” Stewart discusses this issue at length and adds profound context and insight. One of her many paragraphs on the subject reads:

“Bush’s ideas lit up the skies of the missionary community like a bright flare in the night, illuminating the path for evangelicals worldwide and missionaries in particular. ‘Political movements (like Nazism and Communism) trained legions of children with the goal of carrying their agenda beyond the lifetimes of their founders…. Even the Taliban places great emphasis on recruiting children,’ wrote Dr. Wes Stafford, president of Compassion International, one of the largest worldwide missionary groups, in an introduction to Bush’s 2009 book, The 4-14 Window: Raising Up a New Generation to Transform the World. ‘May God inspire you to join us in His battle for the little ones!’”

In discussing this ominous ideology towards other people’s children, Stewart’s thoughts resonate:

“It is easy enough to dismiss these new missionaries on account of their extremely narrow notion of what constitutes Christianity. It is easy to disdain them in the same way that they disdain United Methodists, Roman Catholics, and U.S. Episcopalians. It isn’t hard for most observers to detect the authoritarian impulses and undercurrents of hostility and aggression that drive them to seek ‘spiritual’ authority over others and embolden them to pit children against children, children against schools, children against their own parents.”

Fellowship of Christian Athletics

For the past few decades, I have been seeing more and more athletes at every level pointing skyward when they hit a home-run or score a touchdown. As a kid, I saw BYU players joining in public prayer after games, but now I see public high school kids doing that. From Stewart, I learned that this did not just happen. It is a result of a well-funded campaign led by a group called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).

With funding from people like Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-Fil-A, and non-profits like the Bradley Foundation, FCA has infiltrated sports programs at all levels, marketing their version of “muscular Christianity” to impressionable young men and women. FCA leaders imbed themselves in teams and form sports “huddles.” Thus a peer pressure forms that indicates not precipitating in the prayers and the overt religious gestures means not being a team player. Stewart shared:

“In San Diego, California, a long-serving vice principal who wishes to remain anonymous observes that thirty years ago, prayer played a peripheral role in high school sports. Now, he says, there are FCA huddles at nearly every high school in the region.”

Conclusion

Katherine Stewart’s book is written in an enjoyable and fascinating fashion and her personal research is extraordinary. The account of witnessing the infamous Texas school book wars of 2010 or her telling of attending evangelical missionary conferences or her description of the misinformation being disseminated to teenagers in the now federally financed “abstinence-only” sex education programs are illuminating. All Americans concerned about – freedom of religion; Shielding children from unwanted religious indoctrination at school; and protecting public education – should read this book. Reading this book has been an eye-opening experience.

U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is a devout member of an evangelical church, Mars Hill Bible Church. It is a widely held view within the evangelical movement that public education is a godless secular movement that provides an opening for Satan. That explains why so many evangelicals home school their children. It seems likely that our education secretary has an evangelically based anti-public education agenda. Arguing the relative merits of school policies misses the point.

It is more likely that religious ideology is the point.

Rethink and Rollback the Expansion of AP and IB

19 Oct

What if the education reform ideology is wrong? What if the ideology of reform was based on an incorrect understanding of developmentally appropriate pedagogy? In a 2006 hearing before the senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, Assistant Secretary of Education, Henry Johnson testified, “We believe that the Advanced Placement program offers a proven, scalable approach to raising expectations and increasing rigor in America’s high schools, particularly those with high concentrations of low-income students that typically do not offer such curricula.” What if that belief is ill-founded?

I taught AP physics and what a treat that was for me. I always had the highest performing students in the high school. This year both the salutatorian and the valedictorian were in my class. It was way more interesting than teaching a concepts oriented class in physics designed for the general student. Of course, I enjoyed teaching AP Physics to the school’s elite students, however, I perceived a dark side. The more I pondered it, the more I concluded that the AP and IB programs were developmentally inappropriate.

Physics Lab 2

Mar Vista High School – Picture by Thomas Ultican

IB stands for international baccalaureate. People who worked in embassies or other out of country assignments put their children in international schools. When they move from one country to the next, the school curriculum tended to be significantly different. IB developed to standardize curriculum from one country to the next. The IB program is unnecessary in America. Local communities who pay for schools deserve input into the curriculum and locally developed curriculum vetted by education leaders at local universities is more meaningful to the community.

AP stands for advance placement. It is a product of College Board, the testing giant that produces the SAT tests. College Board is organized as a “non-profit” but it has hundreds of employees making six and seven figure incomes. AP is being heavily promoted by technology companies, politicians and other corporations. There is a push to make AP the leader in curricular development and teacher training. AP employs the teach to the test strategy of pedagogy.

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) is now putting pressure towards the expansion of AP courses in high schools across the nation. A teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School District wrote me this week saying teachers are under heavy pressure to participate in NMSI/AP sponsored training and AP class promotion.

Both AP and IB, allow students to earn college credits that are accepted by most universities. But is it developmentally appropriate? Are we harming students?

“Sicker Not Smarter”

Paraphrasing an observation about American public education students between world war II and the publishing of “A Nation at Risk” in 1983:

“They were not serious about learning. They went to dances, participated in sports and performed in plays. They hung out with friends and listened to rock music. They seldom studied and were consistently average performers when compared with foreign students. They graduated from high school and three months latter a miracle occurred; they became the top college students in the world.”

Throughout the history of American education there has been a constant healthy debate about pedagogy. It would be difficult to find any professional educator that does not believe education in public schools can be improved. However, education reform that is not developmentally appropriate is many times worse than the derided status quo.

The 1983 polemic “A Nation at Risk” marks a transition from education guided by professional educators to education guided by powerful business leaders, politicians and famous scientists. Convinced that education in America was failing, their solution was education standards, testing and competition. The famous education writer from Harvard University, Alfie Kohn characterized modern education reform in his 2001 book, The Schools Our Children Deserve: “The dominant philosophy of fixing schools consists of saying, in effect, that ‘what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner, and we’ll have a better country.’” (page 16)

Two years ago, Vicki Abeles published her book Beyond Measure, Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation. She opened chapter 1, “Sicker, Not Smarter” by quoting Stuart Slavin, a Saint Louis University School of Medicine professor and pediatrician. He shared,

“My personal feeling is that we are conducting an enormous and unprecedented social experiment on an entire generation of American children, and the evidence of a negative impact on adolescent mental health is overwhelming. … It is even more profoundly disturbing when one considers that there is absolutely no evidence that this educational approach actually leads to better educational outcomes.” (page 15)

Abeles quoted Donna Jackson Nakazawa, “There’s a perception that constant high demands will make kids stronger says Nakazawa, ‘“but biologically that is not the case; it’s actually breaking down the brain rather than creating resilience.”’ (page 31) Abeles continued:

“We think of the years from zero to three as the critical period for brain development, but Temple University neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg underscores that adolescence is another one. ‘[T]he brain’s malleability makes adolescence a period of tremendous opportunity – and great risk,’ writes Steinberg. ‘If we expose our young people to positive, supportive environments, they flourish. But if the environments are toxic, they will suffer in powerful and enduring ways.’” (page 36)

Writing for the New York Times Magazine this month Benoit Denizet-Lewis addressed the deteriorating mental health manifesting among America’s teens. She reported,

“… Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University who has studied distress and resilience in both well-off and disadvantaged teenagers, has found that privileged youths are among the most emotionally distressed young people in America. ‘These kids are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic,’ she says, but there’s ‘contempt and scorn for the idea that kids who have it all might be hurting.’

“For many of these young people, the biggest single stressor is that they “never get to the point where they can say, ‘I’ve done enough, and now I can stop,’ Luthar says. ‘There’s always one more activity, one more A.P. class, one more thing to do in order to get into a top college. Kids have a sense that they’re not measuring up. The pressure is relentless and getting worse.”’

AP Like Common Core is not Age Appropriate

 I taught my first AP physics class in 2004, my first year at Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach, California. All my AP students were taking multiple AP classes and four of them were taking five. I was shocked! They were high school kids not college kids but were allowed – no encouraged – to take a heavier academic load than most college students take.

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post creates an annual ranking of America’s high schools. He explained the ranking criteria with this year’s rankings:

“America’s Most Challenging High Schools ranks schools through an index formula that’s a simple ratio: the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year, divided by the number of seniors who graduated that year. A ratio of 1.000 means the school had as many tests as graduates.”

Today, we actually have AP classes for ninth graders and non-profit organizations pressuring public and charter schools to accelerate moving college education into high school. Like the inappropriate efforts to make kindergarten the new first grade, and move advanced mathematics into 7th grade, college classes in high school are not developmentally appropriate.

History Teaches that Breaking the AP Hold in America Will Not be Easy

 By the 1980’s, an education philosophy popular among the titans of industry started dominating. This ideology posits that standards, high expectation, increased rigor and accountability are the keys to improving k-12 education. In 1994, the CEO of IBM, Louis Gerstner wrote in his book Reinventing Education:

“Schools must meet the test any high-performance organization must meet: results. And results are not achieved by bureaucratic regulation. They are achieved by meeting customer requirements by rewards for success and penalties for failure. Market discipline is the key, the ultimate form of accountability.”

Gerstner started and led a non-profit called Achieve Inc. Achieve wrote and holds the copyright for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These standards have wide financial and political support; however, they are so poorly written, that California re-wrote their version of the NGSS.

In 2010, Bill Gates, who also became an advocate of standards and testing, instigated the writing of the Common Core State Standards. Twenty-one people working in secret wrote the standards. Nineteen of the twenty-one writers came from the testing industry including fifteen from College Board and ACT.

I am not saying there is an evil conspiracy here. I believe that people like Peter O’Donnell the wealthy businessman and political activist from Dallas, Texas, who poured personal wealth into promoting AP are totally sincere in their desire to improve the plight of education in America. I have the same view of Bill Gates and Louis Gerstner. The problem is they have great financial and political power, unfortunately, they do not know what they don’t know about human development and good pedagogy.

Today, colleges throughout the nation are giving college credit to incoming students for successfully completing AP courses. In addition, they are giving extra weight towards admissions to applicants with multiple AP courses on their transcripts. This system is well established and ubiquitous. Chinese history teaches how difficult it is to mitigate this kind of culture.

Two years in a row, representatives from the Chinese ministry of education came to observe classes at Mar Vista High School. They even contracted with one of our math teachers, Mark James, to go to China and teach a model class. In China, there is general agreement that their high-pressure test centric education needs reforming. It is harming the youth.

In Young Zhao’s book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon there is a chapter titled “The Witch That Cannot Be Killed.” In it he wrote:

‘“Thus, more than a decade’s history of prohibition orders from educational departments has been a history of ineffective orders,’ notes a report in China Weekly after reviewing numerous attempts to curtail the power of testing in Chinese Education. How is it possible that in such a tightly controlled, authoritarian society, the omnipotent government has been unable to kill the witch of testing?” (page 151)

Professor Zhao’s answer to his own question is a warning for us. If we ever recognize the wrong educational path we have taken, changing course will be difficult. Zhao explained:

“In the effort to lessen academic burden and reduce testing, Chinese parents, students, teachers, and schools are all playing the prisoner’s dilemma game. Knowing or assuming that others will continue to do more homework, seek private tutoring, and prepare for tests, very few parents, children, and schools would choose to voluntarily reduce the work load for fear of losing the game. Most schools, knowing that others will continue to use exams to select better students and gain an advantage, will choose to continue to use exams to admit students because the school’s reputation is on the line and will be judged by how well its students score in the future. Essentially the dilemma dictates that everyone must continue to behave in the same way. No one can afford to cut back first, for fear that the others won’t follow suit. Consequently, although new policies might bring a better education for all, no player in the education game is willing to take the risky first step.” (page 155/6)

There are many factors that would improve education and they are well know; smaller class sizes, integrated schools, well maintained modern facilities and teachers certificated in the subjects they teach are four such positive reforms. Surprisingly, increasing rigor and driving expectations down to younger students are counter-productive.

Kindergarteners should receive lessons such as don’t eat the clay and it’s not nice to pull hair. Academics are developmentally inappropriate and likely unhealthy for them. Teaching Newton’s laws of motion and principles of algebra in fourth grade will surely cause more harm than good. The nine-year-old brain is not ready for symbolic reasoning. And, teenagers are dealing with natural biological stress; they need a safe low stress environment for healthy development. Rigor and high stakes testing is the wrong recipe.

It is time to rethink AP and roll it back.

NMSI Pushes Bad Education Policies Based on Junk Science

12 Oct

Last Week, I got this message from a colleague in the Sweetwater Union High School District: “you doing ok, brother Ultican? I have a question for you.  In your tireless research and writing on education schemes and scams, what have you learned about NMSI?  They’re in our district now and I’ve got a bad feeling about the direction it’s taking.” In the words of Dr. Johnny Fever, “Sometimes paranoia is just good thinking.”

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) was founded by a group of Dallas area lawyers and businessmen. Tom Luce is identified as the founder and Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil and present US Secretary of State, provided the financing.

An ExxonMobil web-page announces:

“ExxonMobil became a founding sponsor of the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) in 2007 with a $125 million commitment to the non-profit organization, which provides scalable and rigorous program solutions that empower school communities to prepare all students to succeed in college and the workforce.”

Some Background on the Founder

NMSI founder Tom Luce’s bio at the George W. Bush Presidential Center states:

Tom Luce

From the George W. Bush Presidential Center

“Tom Luce, Chief Executive Officer, was a founding partner of Hughes & Luce, LLP, a prominent Texas law firm. … He served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development during the George W. Bush administration ….”

“From 2007 to 2011, he was founding CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, Inc. Additionally, Tom served on Dell, Inc.’s Board of Directors from 1991 until 2012. … He presently serves as the Chairman of the Board for the National Math and Science Initiative.”

Tom Luce is a lawyer not an educator but his fingerprints are all over some of the worst education policies in the history of our country. His bio at the George W. Bush Whitehouse archives says, “… Luce is perhaps best known for his role in 1984 as the chief of staff of the Texas Select Committee of Public Education, which produced one of the first major reform efforts among public schools.” The chairman of that committee was Ross Perot.

A former Texas Lieutenant Governor, Bill Hobby, wrote in 2010 about that 1984 education reform law:

 “Remarkably, most of the reforms initiated in House Bill 72 persist to this day. The teacher test was never repeated, but the statewide student tests are a hallmark of Texas education. They also served as the model for President George W. Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ federal legislation.”

Mark Twain said, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” For Ross Perot, the founder of Electronic Data Systems the problems in education looked like data problems. He and his Chief of Staff, Tom Luce, decided standardized testing and data analysis were the prescription for failing public schools. Unfortunately, standardized testing is totally useless for analyzing learning and public schools were not actually failing.

Tom Luce was also directly involved in implementing NCLB (a spectacular education reform failure) while serving at the US Department of Education.

A Fraudulent Paper from the National Academies Motivated the Formation of NMSI

RISING ABOVE THE GATHERING STORM” was published by the National Academies in 2005. The title of this paper echoes Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm which chronicled the lead up to World War II. The name like its predecessor “A Nation at Risk” indicates that the United States is in imminent danger of losing its superior economic and scientific lead in the world and education is the fundamental problem. Like “A Nation at Risk,” “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” is also a polemic that cannot stand up to scrutiny.

The late Gerald W. Bracey from Stanford University illuminated several false claims that were foundational to the papers arguments. He recited the Academies declaration, “’Last year more than 600,000 engineers graduated from institutions of higher education in China, … In India the figure was 350,000. In America, it was about 70,000.’”

Bracey continued,

“Naturally, given this lofty pedigree, the statistics then materialized in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and on many Web sites. While Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman did not use these specific numbers in his 2005 bestseller, “The World Is Flat,” he did write that Asian universities currently produce eight times as many bachelor’s degrees in engineering as U.S. universities do.”

Bracey discussed the growing doubt about these numbers and cited credible peer reviewed research:

“After an exhaustive study, researchers at Duke University also pummeled the numbers. In a December 2005 analysis, ‘Framing the Engineering Outsourcing Debate,’ they reported that the United States annually produces 137,437 engineers with at least a bachelor’s degree while India produces 112,000 and China 351,537. That’s more U.S. degrees per million residents than in either other nation.”

This is an example of the kind of subterfuge that is being used to promote the unsupportable claim that education in America is not producing enough science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workers.

The impetus and money for writing “RISING ABOVE THE GATHERING STORM” came from the United States Senate:

“Senator Alexander indicated that the Energy Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs, had been given the authority by the full committee’s chair, Senator Pete Domenici, to hold a series of hearings to identify specific steps that the federal government should take to ensure the preeminence of America’s science and technology enterprise. Senator Alexander asked the National Academies to provide assistance in this effort by selecting a committee of experts from the scientific and technical community to assess the current situation and, where appropriate, make recommendations.”

By 2006 that series of hearings seemingly led to President Bush proposing legislation to solve the “crisis” in STEM education. Senate Bill 2198, “Protecting America’s Competitive Edge” came before the senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on March 6, 2006. Although, the PACE bill never became law, the record of this senate hearing chaired by Lamar Alexander is instructive. It is also where the birth of NMSI came to light.

Arden L. Bement, Jr., Director, National Science Foundation, (one of the academies) said during his testimony:

“As you are well aware, the National Science Foundation has been selected to play a major role in the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative. One of the cornerstones of our involvement is preparing the Nation’s scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematics workforce for the 21st century while improving the quality of math and science education in America’s schools.”

“When three quarters of American colleges find it necessary to offer courses in remedial mathematics and 22 percent of entering freshman take these courses, it is clear that our high schools are not doing the job they should be doing.”

Here a spokesman for the National Academies is revealing that they have a big government contract to fix education. They are not likely to say, “public schools don’t need fixing” and the comment about remedial courses for freshman is meritless. There has always been a substantial number of students needing remedial courses – see the 1892 committee of 10 report.

James B. Hunt, the former Governor of North Carolina testified,

“A recent report on 30 countries and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that of those 30 countries–you have probably heard these figures–the United States is 15th in reading, 18th in science, 24th in math. Of the G-8 countries, the eight countries, we are 7th in 10th grade mathematics.

“Now, those are the facts, folks.”

Governor, that was lame. Researchers around the world have been questioning the methodology employed by PISA and especially the value of their international rankings. For a good discussion of the useless nature of PISA comparisons see Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? starting on page 167. Or take a peek at Noel Wilson’s paper Education Standards and the Problem of Error for a discussion of the absolute folly of standardized testing.

James B. Hunt Jr. also testified. He said, “It is a well-documented fact that the single most important element in a student’s academic success is that student’s teacher.”

That is just ignorance. Parents and their economic conditions are far more important.

Senator Edward Kennedy remarked,

“By 2009, 6 million jobs will go unfilled because our youth will not be qualified to hold them. To keep America competitive, we need more students with degrees in math, science, and critical-need foreign languages.”

That is at a minimum uninformed. Kennedy repeats the lack of STEM educated graduates misinformation. He is selling the big lie.

Lamar Alexander announced one of the day’s star witnesses,

“Peter O’Donnell is here, who is a member of the National Academy’s Committee that produced ‘The Gathering Storm,’ and his work in Dallas is one reason for the inclusion in ‘The Gathering Storm’ report of the advanced placement recommendations.”

Peter O’Donnell is a wealthy businessman from Dallas, Texas and a huge contributor to the University of Texas at Austin. He is described by the American Statesman:

“O’Donnell is something of a godfather in the state Republican Party, having chaired it for several years in the 1960s. He was a top adviser to Bill Clements during his successful 1978 campaign to become the state’s first GOP governor in more than 100 years, and he has contributed to many Republican candidates in Texas and across the nation.

Like most modern edu-philanthropists, he has no education experience or training. He testified about his foundation’s Advanced Placement Initiative which became NMSI:

“The Advanced Placement Incentive Program succeeds because of three fundamental concepts: the high standards of Advanced Placement, which is built on a strong curriculum, rigorous national exams, and measurable results; emphasis on excellent teacher training; and financial incentives for teachers and students. Incentives are key to the success of our program. They provide extra pay for extra work and are paid by private donors.”

He went on to describe the principles which were adopted by NMSI:

“These recommendations will provide public schools in the U.S. with outstanding math and science teachers on a scale equal to the size of the problem. The recommendations are based on six concepts:

  1. High standards;
  2. Measurable results;
  3. Integrated curriculum for math and science for grades 6-12;
  4. Quality teacher training that is based on content;
  5. Incentives to teachers and students based on academic results;
  6. Implementation vehicle in each State to manage the programs to ensure quality control and accountability.

There is general agreement that these six concepts will strengthen education, especially in math and science.”

In other words, NMSI calls for teacher merit pay, a hundred-year-old idea with a hundred years of failure to back it up. It employs top down control by using College Board to design curriculum and train educators. It calls for bribing students to study hard which most education theorists would agree is a way to undermine a student’s need to know and harms self-motivation.

NMSI has been moving into San Diego for a while. It is not just in the Sweetwater School District, in 2015 Serra High School of the San Diego Unified School District held an NMSI AP Incentive Awards Night. The announcement says, “Over $32,000 will be given out to 178 current students and graduates. Three students will be given $500 checks!”

Wealthy Texas conservatives say we should turn away from education professionals at Stanford or those at the California State University and the University of California systems. We should embrace the teach to the test education philosophy of College Board and bribe students to get them engaged. We should do this even though there is no independent evidence supporting NMSI’s claims of success.

I Will Let the Curmudgucator Conclude my Article

Three years ago, Peter Greene wrote about NMSI:

“While there may be similar-ish programs in districts across the country, the big dog in the AP bribery biz is the National Math and Science Initiative. NMSI is an organization that was launched “to address one of this nation’s greatest economic and intellectual threats – the declining number of students who are prepared to take rigorous college courses in math and science and are equipped for careers in those fields.” You may recognize that as a classic reformster talking point– low test scores are a threat to our national security– and in fact, the big launching funders of NMSI include Exxon, the Michael and Susan Dell foundation, and the Gates Foundation. Partners also include the US Department of Education and the College Board, because why not fund an advocacy group that is telling everyone that your product is really important. This isn’t philanthropy– it’s marketing.”

Personalized and Blended Learning are Money Grabs

5 Oct

Big tech and their friends at big banking have turned to public education budgets for a new profit center. In the latest version of the federal education law, compliant legislators provided for both industries. They gave bankers social impact bonds and incentivized education technology. There are solid reasons to think both decisions harm most Americans while lining the pockets of corporate elites. I discuss some of the technology portion here.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a reauthorization and amendment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Big money for technology is specified in Title’s I and IV of ESSA. This federal law specifies large grants to promote both “blended learning” and “personalized learning.” It also legally defines “blended learning.”

‘‘(1) BLENDED LEARNING.—The term ‘blended learning’ means a formal education program that leverages both technology-based and face-to-face instructional approaches—(A) that include an element of online or digital learning, combined with supervised learning time, and student- led learning, in which the elements are connected to provide an integrated learning experience; and (B) in which students are provided some control over time, path, or pace.” (From official pdf of the law page 1969)

The term personalized learning is somewhat nebulous so I will define it. “Personalized Learning” is a euphemistic term that indicates lessons delivered on a digital device. These lessons are often organized with a playlist and come with a claim of using artificial intelligence to tailor the lessons to the recipient. The scheme is related to competency base education (CBE) and normally includes conferring micro-credentials or badges for competencies completed.

Title-I of ESSA authorizes the following spending schedule:

‘‘(1) $15,012,317,605 for fiscal year 2017;

‘‘(2) $15,457,459,042 for fiscal year 2018;

‘‘(3) $15,897,371,442 for fiscal year 2019; and

‘‘(4) $16,182,344,591 for fiscal year 2020.” (pdf page 1815)

A large percentage of this spending is earmarked for digital education; however, it is difficult to tell what the exact percentage is. However, it is clear that Title-I authorizes spending tens of billions of tax payer dollars on education technology.

Title-IV also authorizes spending on technology and this spending is 100% for technology. Title-IV states:

“There are authorized to be appropriated to carry out this subpart $1,650,000,000 for fiscal year 2017 and $1,600,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2018 through 2020.” (pdf page 1982)

Title-IV also specifies what uses can be made of the funds:

‘‘(1) providing educators, school leaders, and administrators with the professional learning tools, devices, content, and resources to—(A) personalize learning to improve student academic achievement; (B) discover, adapt, and share relevant high-quality educational resources; (C) use technology effectively in the classroom, including by administering computer-based assessments and blended learning strategies; and (D) implement and support school- and district-wide approaches for using technology to inform instruction, support teacher collaboration, and personalize learning;

“(2) building technological capacity and infrastructure, which may include—(A) procuring content and ensuring content quality; and (B) purchasing devices, equipment, and software applications in order to address readiness shortfalls;

‘‘(3) developing or using effective or innovative strategies for the delivery of specialized or rigorous academic courses and curricula through the use of technology, including digital learning technologies and assistive technology …” (pdf page 1981)

Old Rock School

Reputable Education Research Does Not Support this Spending

The Canadian Publication, “The Walrus” distributed a piece called “The Failure of the iPad Classroom.” In the article, author, David Sax, shared some insights from Larry Cuban, a professor of education at Stanford University. Cuban, lives and works in Silicon Valley. Like myself, he began as a hopeful evangelist for education technology, but slowly turned into one of education technologies most prominent skeptics. Sax wrote:

“Cuban cites three reasons that policymakers typically use to justify the purchase of new technology for schools. First, the technology will improve student achievement and marks. Second, the technology will change traditional teaching to nontraditional teaching. Third, the technology will better prepare students for the modern workplace. At best, Cuban says, there is contradictory evidence for the third reason, little for the second, and none for the first.”

Mr. Sax made many cogent statements about education technology in “The Failure of the iPad Classroom.” This statement is a good example:

“Dollars spent on digital education technology are dollars that cannot be spent on teachers, building maintenance, or textbooks. It is money that has been pulled from programs in art, sports, music, and drama. Even though the research shows one of the greatest factors in reading improvements in students is the presence of school libraries, the number of libraries across school boards in the United States has declined dramatically. The logic behind this is often that libraries are pointless in the age of Google and eBooks, and that money would be better spent buying tablets or drones.”

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes” and that: “In the end, technology can amplify great teaching, but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”

John Vallance, a Cambridge scholar and headmaster of Australia’s top K-through-12 school, Sydney Grammer, has said: “I think when people come to write the history of this period in education…this investment in classroom technology is going to be seen as a huge fraud.”

There has also been surprising research coming out of Canada: Students don’t prefer e-learning over traditional education. In a 2011 study, researchers found that students preferred “ordinary, real-life lessons” to using technology.

Researcher Dr. Kentaro Toyama, expecting to find a digital educational cure for the perceived ailments in education, came to understand what he calls technology’s “Law of Amplification”: technology could help education where it’s already doing well, but it does little for mediocre educational systems. Worse, in dysfunctional schools, it “can cause outright harm.”

The Dark Side of Screen Time

Education psychologist and author of Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds, Jane Healy, spent years doing research into computer use in schools and, while she expected to find that computers in the classroom would be beneficial, now feels that “time on the computer might interfere with development of everything from the young child’s motor skills to his or her ability to think logically and distinguish between reality and fantasy.”

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras (Aug 31, 2016) wrote “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax” for Time magazine. When discussing health risks associated with student screen time, he stated, “over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.”

Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me and iGen recently wrote an article for Atlantic magazine about the damage screen time is doing. She shared about the iGen,

“Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”

Reasonably Unbiased Research Instigated by an Industry Supporter Not that Good

When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contracted with the Rand Corporation to make a study of digital learning, the results were not very supportive. The best the lead researcher could say to the Hechinger Report was, “What I hope happens is people see this is a promising approach, but it requires a lot of things to fall into place for it to work right,” Pane said. “People need to have patience; they need to do it a while. Teachers and students need to get used to it.”

In other words, he is saying digital learning is “promising” but not proven. In this country, it seems we have an exaggerated belief in the capabilities of technology to improve anything. I personally had little doubt that education technology would lead to dramatic improvements. It does have positive uses but our refusal to see its limitations is causing damage.

The Rand study collected data on schools that received funding from the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC). A note from the report describes NGLC:

“The NGLC initiative is managed by EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association dedicated to advancing the use of information technology in higher education, in association with other organizational partners, including the League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association for K–12 Online Learning, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. NGLC receives primary funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with additional support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. The initiative supports school districts, charter management organizations, and partner organizations that embrace PL as a means to dramatically increase college readiness rates, particularly among low-income students and students of color.”

There were 40 participating schools in the study and the data generated was predominately surveys of students, teachers and administrators. There was a small-scale analysis of standardized testing data based on MAP testing at 32 of the schools. Comparisons were made with a “virtual comparison group.” The study noted several possible biases in the data. The conclusion for one-year achievement comparisons says:

“We estimated positive treatment effects of approximately 0.09 in mathematics and 0.07 in reading, as shown in …. Only the mathematics estimate is statistically significant. These effect sizes translate to gains of about 3 percentile points; specifically, a student who would have performed at the median in the comparison group is estimated to have performed 3 percentile points above the median in an NGLC school in both subjects.” (Rand study page 34)

Let us ignore the fact that standardized testing is useless. Since the advent of No Child Left Behind’s test and punish philosophy of education improvement, every educator knows that teaching to a test will improve test scores. Computer based education is fundamentally a method for drilling for the test. It is surprising that these estimated effect sizes are so small and even insignificant for reading.

The survey data in the Rand study compares the NGLC schools in the study group with a national sample. I was surprised to learn that NGLC students do not feel as safe.

Rand Student Opinion Survey

From page 24 of the Rand Study

Bad Education Philosophy is the Source of “Personalized Learning” Failure

The behaviorist ideology of B.F. Skinner informs “competency based education.” CBE is the computer based approach that replaces the failed 1990’s behaviorist learning method called Outcome Based Education. Outcome Based Education is a renamed attempt to promote the 1970’s “mastery education” theory. Mastery education’s failure was so complete that it had to be renamed. It was quickly derided by educators as “seats and sheets.” These schemes all posit that drilling small skills and mastering them is the best way to teach. It has not worked yet.

Today’s proponents of behaviorist education hope that technology including artificial intelligence backed by micro-credentials and badges will finally make behaviorism a winner. It will not because little humans are not linear learners. Non-alignment with human nature is a fundamental flaw in this approach. In addition, behaviorism is not known as a path to creativity or original thinking. Those paths are created between teachers and students through human contact; paths undermined by “digital education.”

Artificial intelligence is more science fiction than reality. Computer scientist Roger Schank, a pioneering researcher in artificial intelligence notes,

“The AI [artificial intelligence] problem is very very hard. It requires people who work in AI understanding the nature of knowledge; how conversation works; how to have an original thought; how to predict the actions of others; how to understand why people do what they do; and a few thousand things like that. In case no one has noticed, scientists aren’t very good at telling you how all that stuff works in people. And until they can there will be no machines that can do any of it.”

With no unbiased positive proof of concept, hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ dollars which were earmarked for education are being spent on technology. It is likely that much of this spending will cause harm and that schemes like “personalized learning” will not deliver benefit to anyone who is not in a hi-tech industry.

These dollars could have been spent on better facilities, smaller classes, and better teacher education. Instead, the money is wasted on dubious theories propounded by leaders in hi-tech industries.