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White Man Fights Slavery; Calls for Ending Public Education

17 Nov

Lee W. Olson feels enslaved by having to pay taxes especially those that go to pay for public education. Taking action to end slavery, he filed three citizen initiatives with the Attorney General of the State of California. His “California Freedom from Slavery Act” initiative would end state and local taxes after 55-years of age. The “California Parental Rights Act of 2018” puts parents in charge of education standards. And the “California Education Tax Relief Act” exempts people with no children in public schools from paying taxes to support public schools.

Perhaps Olson would be better served to find another metaphor than slavery. People from a legacy of slavery, might be a little offended by the whining of a well-off white man. However, he is persistent.  In 2009, he filed three similar ballot initiatives addressing the same principles, if you can call them that.

Slave Home

Home of a Self-Identified California Tax Slave

Olson must be sincere in his motives; each of these initiative filings includes a $2000 fee. The Attorney General must “request the preparation of a fiscal impact analysis from the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst’s Office” before issuing a circulating title and summary. The state has less than 65 days for this process. The fee helps defray the cost of the approximately 200 of these proposals the state receives every election cycle. The proponents will get the fee back if they gather enough signatures to put the initiative on the ballot. Lee’s initiatives have yet to make a ballot.

Curmudgucation Inspired this Story

I read education blogs and one of my daily reads is a blog by Peter Greene of Pennsylvania called Curmudgucation. I met Peter at a National Public Education conference in Chicago. He is one of those guys that knows everything. Not in a know-it-all kind of way but in a he really has a great breadth of knowledge way. His blog is witty, creative and somehow, he is often one of the first people on the blogosphere to spy a new development.

November 10th, Peter wrote a piece he called “CA: A Silly Proposal.” His lead sentence, “It should be said right up front that this measure has little chance of making it all the way to becoming an actual law, and the only big mystery here is why a local news station would bother to cover it at all.” It seems that Peter somehow noticed the story of Lee’s no kids – no taxes for school initiative on a local Sacramento, California CBS affiliates morning news show.

I became intrigued and soon found that there was a trio of initiatives filed including the one Peter Greene referenced all submitted by:

Signature

Now that we have evangelical Christians setting up church in public schools and also running after school programs, plus corporations are legally identified as people with first amendment rights – I take kooky ideas seriously. Who is Lee Olson? How strong is the Committee to End Slavery? Do they have the ability to gather the required 585,407 signatures for each petition in the next six months?

Bolsa Chica

Google Maps Satellite View – 16458 Bolsa Chica Street, #165 Huntington Beach, CA 92649

The address appears to be an office for Olson Leland and Edwards, LLC, a real estate investment company. There promotion at connected investors reads, “Olson Leland & Edwards, LLC is a real estate company with 1 employee(s). This company has been part of Connected Investors since 07/24/2009 – Olson Leland & Edwards, LLC is a real estate company in HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA.” WPnumbers lists Lee Olson as chief executive.

A public records search finds that Lee W. Olson is 72 years old and lives in Westminster, California. A search of a real estate data, shows the Olson is 75 years old and retired. It also says a 2014 property assessment valued his home a little more than $500,000 which is modest by California standards.

To sum up, Lee Olson is a retired real estate dealer over 70 years-old and lives in Westminster, California. He still has some relationship to Olson Leland and Edwards, LLC and maintains a business address in Huntington Beach, California about 3 miles from his home. Except for the six state initiatives he has filed there are few other mentions of him in the media. He does own a web domain, http://www.lovetrumpseverything.com/, but there is nothing on it.

The Committee to End Slavery does not seem to be a functioning body. It has no web presence and there is not a mention of the group in the media that is not tied to Lee Olson’s state ballot initiatives.

Gathering over 700,000 signatures to ensure that 585,407 of them are validly registered voter signatures looks to be out of the realm of possibility. Peter Greene’s observation that why a media outlet would run this story is well founded.

Yet, A Dark Motivation Appears Here

It is the same motivation that is pushing Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos’s drive to privatize public education. It is motivated by a fundamentlist religious belief.

Lee Olson calls one of his proposed initiatives “California Parental Rights Act of 2018.” California’s Attorney Generals official summary says in part:

“PROHIBITS GOVERNMENT FROM ENFORCING EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS AND MAKES PARENTS AND GUARDIANS SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR CHILDREN’S EDUCATION. …

“Changes Constitution to prohibit state and local government from requiring parents and guardians to meet educational standards.  Gives parents and legal guardians the sole authority and responsibility to educate their children, including the right to determine the venue, curriculum, and methods of education.”

Olson’s web domain name seems related to the Christian oriented love trumps everything key to life or a similar evangelical groups. The findings he wrote for this initiative would at one time have been deemed the hateful discourse of a kook. Now they are a serious and dangerous attack on constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state.

In the findings for this initiative Olson writes:

“(1) The responsibility for the raising of children lies solely with parents, or legal guardians, in accordance with our Creators command given to parents, not the government, to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

“(2) The government has immorally usurped, at gun point, the Creator endowed inviolable right of parents to control the education of their children.

“(3) The government has used its powers of coercion not only to usurp the Creator endowed inviolable parent’s rights but also to promote immoral teachings contrary to the way the Creator has said the child should go.

“(4) The government schools reject abstinence from sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage and teach that fornication is not only okay but it’s expected.

“(5) The government schools teach that homosexual behaviors are morally acceptable and should be praised, contrary to the Creator’s instructions for healthy living, by idolizing and establishing Harvey Milk Day honoring a man known primarily for his homosexual exploits rather than any good done for the public. …

“(6) Government schools have a full court press on to eradicate Judeo-Christian moral principles from any discourse in the lives of California residents.

“(7) Government school promotion of immoral sexual behaviors, especially fornication and homosexuality, …”

How did Christianity become so infused with hate and bigotry? Are these really the views of Jesus of Nazareth? I certainly don’t believe he taught discrimination against gays and lying about sex education.

I heard the points Olson made about sex education at the July 24 San Diego Unified School District board meeting. A new sex education program was being adopted. A relatively large group of people apparently from the same Christian sect started denouncing the sex education curriculum as pornographic and against God’s Law. People in the audience were holding up Bibles and cheering on their speakers. One speaker who identified himself as Mr. Brookes said that this sex education program was against God’s Law and that it promoted deviance and rebellion. He also said that Planned Parenthood is evil and that they support this curriculum.

Olson is not just one crackpot looking for attention. He seems to be part of an American religious movement working to end public education and establish a Christian theocracy.

In Olson’s initiative that could be called “No Tax Money for Government Schools”, he also has a long list of frothy findings. Here are three:

“Parents pursuing alternative education are penalized unfairly by having to not only pay for their children’s education but also by being forced to pay for the education of other children (and university/college students) enrolled in government schools via various government taxes, or other schemes, which extract their financial resources at gun point.”

“The Committee to End Slavery fully supports the inviolable right of parents to control the education of their children, including in whatever setting they choose, even the uninformed choice of enrolling in government schools. Our Creator never assigned the right and responsibility of a child’s education to a government entity; the government has usurped that inviolable right and responsibility at gun point.”

“The Committee to End Slavery condemns the theft of property (money) from Californian’s, euphemistically called taxation, to pay for government schools. Especially when their primary purpose is to create a dumbed down populace easy to control and prepared only to service the (slave) labor needs of the oligarchy that rules over us.”

It appears there is very little reason involved here and disdain for our government at all levels. This kind of thinking seems like a natural development from Ronald Regan’s nine most terrifying words in the English language; “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” I find this kind of hatred of America and its institutions worrisome.

It is About Ending Public Education

Olson’s three initiatives are aimed at the November 2018 ballot and were certified for signature gathering on November 9, 2017. Each initiative was given an ID and a cost estimate.

17-0028, “California Education Tax Relief Act” aka “No Tax Money for Government Schools”, cost $30 billion-dollar reduction in revenue.

17-0029, “California Freedom from Slavery Act” aka “Geezers Don’t Pay”, cost $60 billion-dollar reduction in revenue.

17-0030, “California Parental Rights Act of 2018” aka “Government Schools Are Evil”, cost cannot be calculated but possibly a lot.

Lee W. Olson’s initiatives are the work of a crackpot with too much money. However, he is not that far from our present mainstream school reform. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has an agenda that is not all that different from Olson’s. There is a dangerous sectarian attack being waged against both public schools and the constitutional guarantee in the second amendment of a separation of church and state.

Hi-Tech Profit Motive and Power Trumps Good Pedagogy

9 Nov

“The Silicon Valley assault must be turned away, not because they’re bad people but because they are peddling snake oil,” says veteran education writer, John Merrow. He is referencing education technology sales. In the last 10 years, titans of the tech industry have dominated K-street. Hi-tech is now the big dog spending twice as much as the banking industry on lobbying lawmakers.

They funds think tanks to promote their agendas like coding in every public school in America or one to one initiatives (a digital device for every student) or digital learning. Researchers working in think tanks like the New America Foundation will be disciplined if they upset a corporate leader like Google’s Eric Schmidt; ask Barry Lynn.

Writing for the Guardian, Ben Tarnoff reports, “Tech’s push to teach coding isn’t about kids’ success – it’s about cutting wages.” The premise is that coding is “a skill so widely demanded that anyone who acquires it can command a livable, even lucrative, wage.”

The flaw here is that there is no need for a flood of new programmers. It will only drive down wages, which have already stagnated, and that is the point. A 2013 Economic Policy Institute research paper stated:

“For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job.”

“In computer and information science and in engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50 percent more students than are hired into those fields each year; of the computer science graduates not entering the IT workforce, 32 percent say it is because IT jobs are unavailable, and 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations.”

School leaders are the primary targets of the ed-tech sales pitch. They are flown to conferences at pricy resorts where vendors pay thousands of dollars to meet with them. Writing for the New York Times, Singer and Ivory report about Hewlett Packard’s big score in Baltimore via the office of Superintendent Dallas Dance. They observed:

“In some significant ways, the industry’s efforts to push laptops and apps in schools resemble influence techniques pioneered by drug makers. The pharmaceutical industry has long cultivated physicians as experts and financed organizations, like patient advocacy groups, to promote its products.”

MVH Staff Oct 2016

Some Ed-tech Sales Targets

Personalized Learning and Summit Schools

 Diane Tavenner is the Board Chair of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). Her bio at CCSA informs us:

“In 2003, Diane founded Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City. Today, Summit Prep is ranked by Newsweek as one of 10 miracle high schools in the nation that is transforming student lives. 100% of Summit’s graduates exceed the entrance requirements for the UC/CSU system and 97% of the graduates have been accepted to at least one four year college.”

Kristina Rizga’s lengthy article in November’s Mother Jones magazine is called “Inside Silicon Valley’s Big-Money Push to Remake American Education – Personalized learning is the latest trend to catch the eye of tech moguls—and Betsy DeVos. But does it work?” Her article, focuses on Tavenner’s schools. With 97% of graduates accepted to a four-year college, Rizga reports a fly in the ointment:

“But even as students thrived and Tavenner began opening more Summit schools around the Bay Area, administrators started learning that high school success wasn’t translating once Summit students headed off to college. In 2011, when Tavenner and her team surveyed students from their first class, the responses depressed them: Only a little more than half were on track to graduate.”

In addition, they learned that more than one-third of their students in colleges required remedial classes which indicated a high risk of not graduating. The reality was that students over at Mountain View High School, where Tavenner once taught, were being better prepared for college. The “miracle” schools were not that miraculous.

Originally, Summit schools focused on personalized learning like that championed by the popular bay area private schools, Montessori and Waldorf. Each student would have a personalized learning plan instead of the typical structure of lectures and textbooks, identical worksheets and being sorted by age. With the depressing 2011 data in mind, Tavenner added a new wrinkle, marring personalized learning with technology. Summit gained enhanced attention from education leaders, policy makers, and enthusiastic tech billionaires.

In 2013 Mark Zuckerberg offered to help. The new core of Summit’s personalized approach is the Summit Learning Platform, designed in partnership with Facebook. The software provides students with a daily overview of their responsibilities and progress, which are marked against their yearly personalized academic goals.

Since 2014, 330 schools in 40 states have signed up to adopt the Summit model. They are betting on an untested hypothesis that tech can save costs, increase engagement and allow teachers more time to provide individualized instruction.

Huge sums of money are flowing into this endeavor. Rizga writes:

“In a recent speech, Zuckerberg said he plans to “upgrade” the majority of about 25,000 public middle and high schools over the next decade. He and Chan have also pledged to donate “hundreds of millions of dollars per year” to bring personalized learning to other schools through the new Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, …. They aren’t alone: Bill Gates’ foundation has committed $300 million to the movement since 2009, and Netflix founder Reed Hastings has invested at least $11 million into personalized math software.”

Julian Cortella worked at Summit from near its beginning. He left in part due to concerns about the new tech infused Summit. The low-tech Summit campus, where he taught, was outscoring the tech infused ones. Rizga paraphrased him, “A former mechanical engineer who spent significant time working in Silicon Valley startups, Cortella is not against technology in the classrooms. Instead, he says his 13 years of hands-on classroom experience tell him that the tech enthusiasts rely too much on untested assumptions.”

Larry Cuban taught Tavenner at Stanford. She credits Cuban and Linda Darling-Hammond with being particularly inspirational. Rizga shares his observation:

“Cuban told me one of Summit’s key strengths is its skilled, well-trained teachers—teachers get eight weeks of paid time to improve their craft during the school year, in addition to one paid month during the summer—who use technology to achieve specific goals and their professional judgment to make decisions on how and why certain learning will take place.”

Not only are Summit’s achievements over-blown, but it is not a model easily replicated. What public school can offer teachers competitive wages and this much professional development? Public schools don’t get money from Eli Broad, Bill Gates and the Silicon Valley Foundation.

Experimenting on Other People’s Children

Many of the education initiatives coming from Silicon Valley are also reckless experiments. A recent experiment was called Altschools. A 2015 news release from Altschools said:

“May 4, 2015 – AltSchool kicks off Teacher Appreciation Week with $100 million in funding to further its vision to reinvent U.S. education from the ground up. Founders Fund and Andreessen Horowitz led the round with Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s donor-advised fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Additional investment came from Emerson Collective, First Round Capital, Learn Capital, John Doerr, Harrison Metal, Jonathan Sackler, Omidyar Network and Adrian Aoun.”

“In 2013, founder Max Ventilla and his team … began AltSchool by asking, how would school look if we designed it from scratch today?”

“In 2013, there were 20 students in one school. This year, there will be up to 500 students in eight schools. And soon, AltSchool will start offering its model to schools nationwide, so that each child can access a high-quality education that will help them reach their full potential.”

On Novermber 1st, Bloomberg reported:

“Max Ventilla sold investors on a promise to build modern, technology-infused schools that would revolutionize education. The former Google executive convinced Mark Zuckerberg and prominent venture capitalists to commit $175 million to his startup, AltSchool. The company built at least nine grade schools in California and New York, some equipped with ceiling-mounted video cameras, an abundance of computers, custom apps, robots and 3D printers.

“But five years after opening, the for-profit venture has yet to solve a basic business equation. Despite charging about $30,000 for tuition, AltSchool’s losses are piling up as it spends at a pace of about $40 million per year. The San Francisco company is now scaling back …. In an interview, Ventilla said it’s all part of the plan. The startup is shifting its focus to selling technology to other schools, a business which has struggled to date but that he said has a more promising future.”

So that means, those rich kids in Palo Alto are looking for a new school. They will be fine, but the bad news is now we have another software company peddling their unproven wares. Watch out Reed Hastings, DreamBox has a new competitor!

No Independent Rigorous Research Supports Recent Technology Spending by Schools

An Edweek article  by Benjamin Herold opens with a quote from veteran teacher, Tiffany Dunn of Kentucky. ‘”This whole thing is coming from the tech industry, which doesn’t understand that what kids need is someone to love them and get excited about them,’ Dunn said. ‘I’m not aware of any research that says sticking a child in front of a computer for hours on end does them any good.”’

The massive purchase of technology here in San Diego is not an aberration. Herold reveals, “Schools are buying in: 97 percent of district leaders surveyed by the Education Week Research Center last year indicated that their districts had invested in some form of personalized learning.”

In the article, Herold also reported that Alfie Kohn called personalized learning, “behaviorism on a screen.” Also, Michael Petrilli said it encourages a “reductionist type of education” that “breaks learning into little bits and scraps and bytes of disparate skills, disconnected from an inspiring, coherent whole.”

Herold shared some quotes from ed-tech experts. Audrey Watters has written, “When Facebook promises personalization, it’s really about massive data collection.” And from Stirling University in the United Kingdom, Lecturer Ben Williamson says, “We need to open up a bigger debate about whether we really want Silicon Valley establishing this new model of data-driven schooling. These are people whose vision for reforming public education puts their own industry in charge.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contracted with the Rand Corporation to make a study of digital learning, the results seem legitimate but not that supportive. The best the lead researcher, John Pane, 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.”

Susan Payne Carter, assistant professor of economics at the United States Military Academy, Major Kyle Greenberg, research analyst at the Army’s Human Resources Command and Michael S. Walker, research analyst at the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation within the Office of the Secretary of Defense wrote about a West Point study of laptops in the classroom. The study at West Point results:

“Overall, students in our sample did relatively well on the final exam, but those who were prohibited from using Internet-connected devices during class did best. … Students in classrooms where only tablets were allowed under strict conditions did slightly better, with an average score of 71.4 percent, but they still had lower scores than students in the technology-free group.”

Carter et al also share the from the literature:

“In K–12 schools, where students do not typically take lecture notes, a growing body of research has found no positive impact of expanded computer or Internet access. For example, a 2002 study by Joshua Angrist and Victor Lavy found that installing computers throughout elementary and middle schools in Israel had no effect on student achievement, even though their teachers used more computer-aided instruction. Another study, published in 2006 by Austan Goolsbee and Jonathan Guryan, found that the federal E-Rate program expanded California students’ Internet access by 66 percent over four years but did not have an impact on student achievement (see “World Wide Wonder?” research, Winter 2006). Other studies have found no link between enhanced student outcomes and expanded information-technology spending, universal-laptop programs, and providing students with home computers.”

Conclusion

Large amounts of money are being wasted. Massive spending on ed-tech is not supported by research and in fact may be doing great harm. Will some ed-tech products come to be viewed in the same way people now view the miracle drug thalidomide? The “Digital Promise” is a digital Trojan horse fleecing tax payers and stealing from children.

An Educators Preference for the Next California Governor – John Chiang

2 Nov

It seemed like identifying the best option for our next governor would be difficult. It wasn’t. The next governor will most likely come from the big three in the Democratic party; Gavin Newsom, Anthony Villaraigosa or John Chiang. Republican, John Fox is fighting against history and Delaine Eastin has yet to raise enough money to be taken seriously. Breitbart favorite, Travis Allan, has raised even less money than Eastin.

The Case for John Chiang (pronounced chung)

Recently, I asked the head of a Democratic Assembly member’s staff who the member was supporting for governor. He would not say but shared his own opinion. He said Jerry Brown had been successful as governor because of his fiscal responsibility. The staffer said that John Chiang was the only Democratic candidate who would control the spending of California’s democratically dominated assembly.

The 55 years-old Chiang’s education and experience include a degree in finance from the University of South Florida; a law degree from Georgetown; past work experience that includes tax law specialist for the IRS and an attorney for the California state controller’s office.

Chiang’s career in public office began in 1997 when he was appointed to the California Board of Equalization, and then was elected the following year to the same position. Chiang won re-election in 2002, and then went on to serve two terms as California state controller. In 2014, he was elected California state treasurer.

Gridlock and rancor dominated Sacramento in 2008. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, reacted to the ensuing budget crisis by ordering state worker’s pay to be slashed and thousands of others to be laid off. Chiang refused to comply. “Frankly, [the governor] is just trying to make me do something that’s improper and illegal,” Chiang told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The New Yorker chronicled this episode dubbing Chiang an unlikely hero,

“Under Schwarzenegger’s plan, the workers would receive their full salaries once a budget was approved. But California had enough cash in its accounts, and, in Chiang’s view, the Governor’s move could violate the Fair Labor Standards Act. Moreover, he thought, it was cruel. It was the height of the financial crisis, and mortgage defaults were up more than a hundred per cent over the previous year.”

“The Sacramento Bee, adapting the iconic image of a protester at Tiananmen Square, published a cartoon that depicted Chiang as a lone resister before a line of Hummers, with “Arnold” stenciled on the bumper of the lead vehicle. The Liberal O.C., a progressive blog, nicknamed him ‘the Controllernator.’”

Schwarzenegger sued Chiang but eventually, Schwarzenegger’s replacement, Jerry Brown, dropped the legal action.

An NBC report on Chiang notes:

“Chiang’s campaign site lists an extensive rundown of his accomplishments as controller and currently as treasurer that include restructuring the state’s debt during the recession “to generate $2 billion for schools, infrastructure and public safety” and imposing sanctions on Wells Fargo following a scandal that revealed over 2 million fake bank accounts.”

Because of the relentless attacks on public schools and educators, candidate views on education are key. Many self-styled “progressive democrats,” have adopted education positions attacking teachers’ unions and promoting privatization (Rahm Emanuel, Corey Booker, Antonio Villaraigosa). Some position statements promulgated by Chiang’s campaign:

“In 1988, California voters approved Proposition 98, which requires a minimum percentage of the state budget to be spent on K-12 education. Unfortunately, while Proposition 98 was meant to create a constitutional “floor” for education spending, it has turned into a political ceiling. As a result, California is grossly under-invested in public education.”

“We also must protect the collective bargaining rights of our educators, classified employees, professors, early childhood educators and child care providers. It is critically important that the people who interact with our students and children every day have a seat at the table and a voice on the job to advocate for the best conditions possible for our children to learn.”

“We must also increase both the quantity and quality of California’s early childhood education programs and assure free access for all working families.

“We also know that small class sizes are the key to improving student learning. We need to expand the Class Size Reduction program so our students have every opportunity to learn.”

“Cities and states across the nation are jumping on board and are finding innovative solutions to provide two free years of community college. California needs to find a way to get to that place, where we make community college free while ensuring students are on the right path through participation and graduation.”

“To reclaim the promise of quality education, we must ensure that children and their families have access to wraparound services to meet their social, emotional and health needs.”

Money, Money, Money

John Cox, the Republican gubernatorial candidate from Rancho Santa Fe, is fighting an uphill battle and he has yet to share his views on issues like education.

When Pete Wilson was running for reelection as governor in 1994, he used proposition 187 as a wedge issue. The proposition established a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibited illegal aliens from using non-emergency health care, public education, and other services in California. Another Republican candidate for governor, Ron Unz, campaigned against bilingual education. Both positions alienated many people in the Hispanic community.

Even more damaging to the image of the Republican party in California is the widely held view that they cannot govern. Californians blamed them for repeated failures to pass a budget which led to service interruptions and layoffs. Originally, Democrat, Gray Davis was blamed. However, his Republican replacement, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was also unable to pass a budget. So, intransient Republican legislators inherited Gray’s reputation as the source of the problem.

John Cox is not likely to become governor, but his views about political corruption are interesting. He states:

“Think about it. Legislators are largely funded, not by the voters, but by the lobbyists whose bills they’re going to vote on.

“You couldn’t have designed a system more fraught with temptation, or ripe for reform.”

Reforming California’s system of government appears to be Cox’s sole issue. In a system that makes it impossible that someone without access to financial resources be taken seriously, Mr. Cox became relevant. He donated himself $3,000,000.

Money on Hand July 31_2017

Campaign Funds Report to State of California

A Daily News article from this May reported on the effect of the Los Angeles School Board election for those advocating a privatized education system:

“Advocates for change include Netflix founder Reed Hastings and developer Eli Broad, who have poured millions of dollars into pro-charter groups that fund political campaigns. Their recent win in Los Angeles “portends a massive investment in the superintendent’s race and the governor’s race,” said Mike Trujillo, a Democratic political consultant who worked on campaigns for Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin, the newly elected Los Angeles school board members.

“There is not a better motivator than the nectar of victory to push along the issue that you care about, and that’s improving public education and ensuring that every child in every school has a high-quality teacher,” Trujillo said.

“Trujillo worked closely with Antonio Villaraigosa when, as mayor of Los Angeles, he bucked the teachers union and took control of several low-performing schools. Now running for governor, Villaraigosa has signaled that education will be a focus of his campaign. In his speech at the Democratic convention, Villaraigosa called the education split ‘the most important civil rights battle of our generation.’”

The largest contributors to both Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa are Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the billionaires behind Fiji Water and POM Wonderful juice contributed $116,800 to Newsom and $112,000 to Villaraigosa.

Gavin Newsom also got large contributions from Trump supporter Peter Thiel, from George Soros and from Laurene Powell Jobs.

Villaraigosa scored big contributions from fans of privatizing public education; Eli and Edythe Broad ($112,800), Anschutz Entertainment Group ($56,400), and Reed Hastings ($56,400).

Chiang’s big money contributions come mostly from wealthy Chinese business people like CC and Regina Yin, owners of dozens of McDonalds restaurants who contributed $94,600.

Newsom and Villaraigosa on Education 

Villaraigosa has education views that are almost identical to the hedge fund supported group Democrats for Education Reform and the California Charter School Association. He will surely receive more large amounts of funding from these entities and their fellow travelers. His anti-teachers’ union message is popular with billionaires.

The attacks on the teachers’ union are disingenuous. Teachers’ unions are driven by impassioned idealistic young women who believe in social justice and public education. Trying to make them into enemies of the public is a cynical ploy. It is especially damaging in an era when working people have less and less protection from mega-wealth.

Gavin Newsom in more nuanced than Villaraigosa but no friend of public education. Last month Newsom responded to a question about charter schools:

“I’m not interested in the stale and raging debate about which side, which camp you’re on – are you with the charter people, are you anti-charter, are you with the teachers, are you anti-teacher. I’ve been hearing that damn debate for ten damn years. With all due respect, I got four kids. I have an eight-year-old, second grade. I have a five, three and a one year old. I’m not gonna wait around until they’ve all graduated to resolve whether Eli Broad was right or whether or not the CTA was wrong. I’m not interested in that debate. I’m interested in shaping a different conversation around a 21st century education system that brings people together, that could shape public opinion, not just here in the state, but could shape an agenda more broadly across the country, particularly in a time of Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump. We need that kind of leadership.”

During Newsom’s last run for governor in 2010, he said:

“To close this achievement and opportunity gap, underperforming public schools need more resources, and above all, real accountability for results. Accountability means ending social promotion, measuring student performance with standards-based assessments, and testing teachers for subject-matter competency.”

Newsom adopted the manifesto, “A New Agenda for the New Decade” and his goals for 2010 were:

  • Turn around every failing public school.
  • Make charter schools an option in every state and community.
  • Offer every parent a choice of public schools to which to send his or her child.
  • Make sure every classroom has well-qualified teachers who know the subjects they teach, and pay teachers more for performance.
  • Create a safe, clean, healthy, disciplined learning environment for every student.
  • Make pre-kindergarten education universally available.

Newsom has not repeated his call for charter schools, merit pay and standardized testing in 2017 but he has not retracted them either.

Newsom also embraces the tech industry. He joins their attempt to control curriculum by promoting computer science education as a core subject in k-12 schools and in universities. He also promotes their fraudulent STEM shortage propaganda.

Does Character Matter?

In 2007 both Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa were involved with illicit affairs.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported,

“San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s re-election campaign manager resigned Wednesday after confronting the mayor about an affair Newsom had with his wife while she worked in the mayor’s office, City Hall sources said.”

Meanwhile in LA the Daily News reported:

“The revelation of a romantic relationship with television newswoman Mirthala Salinas came to light in a Daily News story today after the mayor had dodged months of questions about the breakup of his marriage.”

“For the sometimes rocky marriage of the mayor and his wife, who merged their surnames Villar and Raigosa when they married some 20 years ago, it was the beginning of the end.”

Shouldn’t bad personal conduct be a red flag when bestowing public trust?

Conclusion

If Delaine Eastin were financially more viable, then this recommendation would have been more difficult. I think I would have ended in the same place because of Chiang’s financial acumen but Eastin has always been a feisty leader with good instincts.

For the reasons stated above, I am supporting John Chiang to be California’s next governor.

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.”

Selling Education Technology Via the Federal Education Technology Plan

28 Sep

In January the Office of Education Technology, a unit of the U.S. Department of Education, released its 2017 National Education Technology Plan Update (NETP). The update is not a reasoned meditation on the use of education technology informed by our nations vast academic research infrastructure. It is a polemic hyping the use of technology in America’s classrooms. Director Joseph South, Office of Educational Technology US Department of Education, concludes his introductory remarks:

“…, it is now more apparent than ever that the courageous efforts of educators to embrace the role of thoughtful, reflective innovators who work collaboratively with each other and alongside their students to explore new learning models, new digital learning environments, and new approaches to working, learning, and sharing is essential if we want technology to be an effective tool to transform learning.” (page 2)

The question is, do we want digital learning environments? Are they conducive to creative and healthy development? Are there dangers involved with this approach? Are we moving along a technologically driven path without the requisite caution? The NEPT is not troubled by such doubts.

I do not oppose the use of technology in America’s classrooms. I taught high school math and physics and at one time I worked in Silicon Valley as a researcher in the magnetic recording industry. However, the best use of technology in school settings is developed by education professionals and not by technology product developers. The educators goal is better pedagogy. The developers goal is a new widget (often with a short life span) that wins in the market place.

Audrey Watters has been writing about technology in education for most of the 21st century. Audrey’s latest book is The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology published in 2016. He made these remarks to a class at MIT on September 7th.

“I don’t believe we live in a world in which technology is changing faster than it’s ever changed before. I don’t believe we live in a world where people adopt new technologies more rapidly than they’ve done so in the past. (That is argument for another talk, for another time.) But I do believe we live in an age where technology companies are some of the most powerful corporations in the world, where they are a major influence – and not necessarily in a positive way – on democracy and democratic institutions. (School is one of those institutions. Ideally.) These companies, along with the PR that supports them, sell us products for the future and just as importantly weave stories about the future.”

I quote Watters here because his statement about the major influence of technology companies is completely borne out by a cursory read of the NETP 2017. It is not just in the US where the outsized influence of these giant technology companies is being felt. In August, the Open Review of Education Research Journal published a paper from New Zealand by Noeline Wright and Michael Peters. In Response to a 2007 document from the New Zealand Ministry of Education they wrote:

“This document advocates e-pedagogy, social learning and student-centred approaches. The lure of what digital technologies can offer in properly constructed learning contexts masks some of the ways in which it can be interpreted to fit a neo-liberal, privatised, deprofessionalised education agenda. This is an agenda using big data to create mastery learning feedback loops for learners. It is cheaper, more efficient and involves fewer teachers. However, a key issue with this kind of thrust is that the capabilities needed for successful citizenship and employment centre on creativity, adaptability, critical thinking and nuanced understandings of complex ideas. Mastery learning, instead, is often focused on providing behaviourist instant feedback, rewarding content knowledge rather than an ability to argue, critique, create and repurpose. This is because content ‘facts’ can be quantified and machine assessed.”

A Look at The NETP for 2017

Selling SEL and Technology

This graphic from page 11 is followed with, “A key part of non-cognitive development is fostering a growth mindset about learning. Growth mindset is the understanding that abilities can be developed through effort and practice and leads to increased motivation and achievement.” (proof?)

The next sentence informs readers, “The U.S. Department of Education has funded several growth mindset–related projects, including a grant to develop and evaluate SchoolKit, a suite of resources developed to teach growth mindset quickly and efficiently in schools.”

Once a student demonstrates they can pass the government sanctioned attitude test, they can get a micro-credential. Today, in China, one can earn citizenship merit badges. Behavior badging in China is explained in this video about gamifying good citizenship. Behavior modification is now a part of micro-credentialing promoted by the NETP.

The NETP is organized into five topics; Learning, Teaching, Leadership, Assessment and Infrastructure. By the time the reader gets to Assessment and Infrastructure some of the material gets redundant. Each topic is addressed with a set of assertions supported almost exclusively by antidotal evidence. After assertions are made, a report on how some school or district has successfully implemented the technology. Page one of the plan informs readers:

“This document contains examples and resource materials that are provided for the user’s convenience. The inclusion of any material is not intended to reflect its importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed, or products or services offered. These materials may contain the views and recommendations of various subject matter experts as well as hypertext links, contact addresses and websites to information created and maintained by other public and private organizations. The opinions expressed in any of these materials do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education.”

This disclaimer is completely disingenuous. This is exactly what the document does; it promotes these materials. On page after page the services and products endorsed invariably have large endowments from the technology industry. For example, a page 11 statement,

“For the development of digital citizenship, educators can turn to resources such as Common Sense Education’s digital citizenship curriculum or the student technology standards from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).”

When we look at the ISTE web-site, we learn that Dallas Dance the former Baltimore superintendent of schools who is under criminal investigation is on the board of directors. At the site you can read all about the benefits of being a corporate member of ISTE. We also discover that:

“Year around sponsor Microsoft Corporation is Supporting bold education reform, Microsoft’s mission is simple: support bold education reform to help prepare students for today’s highly competitive workforce, and support our U.S. educators with software and programs that fuel powerful learning and digital-age skills.”

In addition, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also kicked in $1.4 million to ISTE.

Common Sense says it’s “the nation’s leading independent non-profit organization dedicated to empowering kids to thrive in a world of media and technology.” It also claims that 40% of its support comes from private foundations. In January the Gate’s foundation gave them another quarter of a million dollars. They have many working relationships with tech companies and an interesting board of directors including; Manny Maceda, Partner, Bain & Company; Gene T. Sykes Managing Director, Goldman, Sachs & Co.; and Bill McGlashan, Managing Partner, TPG Growth.

It is possible to make a count of all of the similar kinds of examples to these in the NETP but it takes a while. In another claim, the NETP states, “Technology access when equitable can help close the digital divide and make transformative learning opportunities available to all learners.” (Page 17) The example given is from San Francisco:

“BGC [Black Girls Code], founded in 2001 by Kimberly Bryant, an electrical engineer, aims to “increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color to become innovators in STEM subjects, leaders in their communities, and builders of their own futures through exposure to computer science and technology.”

How can I find fault here? To start with STEM is and always was a fraud. As for BGC, there is a reason that Verizon, Adobe, Salesforce, AT&T, Google, Oracle and others are giving BGC money. The New York Times reports that coding is being pushed into schools by the Titans of tech. There is an obvious down side to this corporate agenda; What if in a decade coding is no longer a skill in demand? Education priorities should not be driven by self-interested amateurs.

One of the more disturbing ideas promoted by NEPT appears on page 39. The example comes from a school district in Wisconsin that used the Digital Promise educator micro-credentialing framework as a guide, teachers in the district took a technology proficiency self-assessment, which they used as a baseline for their personal professional growth. The teachers then worked by themselves and in collaborative teams to develop specific professional learning goals aligned to district strategic goals, which they submitted to district leadership for approval.

The NETP explains,

“Once these goals are approved, the teachers establish measurable benchmarks against which they can assess their progress. Both the goals and benchmarks are mapped to specific competencies, which, in turn, are tied to micro-credentials that can be earned once teachers have demonstrated mastery. Demonstrations of mastery include specific samples of their work, personal reflections, classroom artifacts, and student work and reflections, which are submitted via Google Forms to a committee of 7 to 10 teachers who review them and award micro-credentials.” (emphasis added)

Digital Promise is a technology industry Pied Piper and their supporters are the most famous in the pantheon of technology industry “philanthropy”. The list includes Bill and Melinda Gates, Chan and Zuckerberg, Bill and Flora Hewlett; Michael and Susan Dell, Laurene Jobs and on and on.

The proceeding three examples were selected somewhat randomly. They are not necessarily the most disturbing or most egregious examples of the technology industry driving education policy through the National Education Technology Plan. There are at least twenty more cases that are equally as eye popping or more so. These are just three examples that demonstrate the unhealthy influence the technology industry has over education policy.

Conclusion

The ubiquitous power of the technology industry both in terms of money and political influence makes the gilded age look like a paragon of democratic action. They are selling bad products that are harming America’s world envied public education system. Our students have never scored particularly well on standardized tests when compared to the rest of the world, but they have outscored everyone by a wide margin when it came to creative thinking, developing new industries and advancing civilization.

These giant greed infested technology companies with their neo-liberal and libertarian ideologies have tremendous wealth which gives them great political power. However, as Diane Ravich has said, “they are few, we are many.” The people still control. We need to keep doing what educators do. We need to educate America about this ongoing dangerous attack on our schools and our democracy. We need to keep exposing these profiteers lusting after tax dollars that are supposed to go to educate America’s children.