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Democracy’s Schools: A Good Read

21 May

The unprecedented development of a pan American public education system arose between the end of the Revolutionary War and the beginning of the Civil War. In Democracy’s Schools, Johann Neem explains the origins of the egalitarian spirit manifested in the uniquely American system, the system’s rapid development from the bottom up and he presents evidence about ideological debates that are still unresolved in the twenty-first century. These explanations are informed by impressive scholarship.

Cover Photo_05192018

The Cover Art for Democracy’s Schools Employs Charles Frederick Bosworth’s Oil on Wood Painting, “The New England School” (ca. 1852)

Massachusetts philosopher and Unitarian church minister, William Ellery Channing, had a profound influence on egalitarianism in public education. He believed that within each person were “germs and promises of growth to which no bounds can be set.” Everyone was seen as inherently equal and deserving of education that develops the capacity for creating “self-culture.” Neem paraphrases Channing, “To educate some for work and others to appreciate beauty was to commit a crime against human nature.”

Neem states, “Nobody made the case for self-culture more strongly than Horace Mann.” Mann trained as a lawyer after graduating from Brown University. “In contrast to Democrats like Andrew Jackson, Whigs like Mann believed that the state had an obligation to improve individuals and society by developing their moral, intellectual, and economic potential.”

Mann’s wife of two years died in 1832. His deep depression caused good friend Elizbeth Peabody to introduce him to Reverend Channing. The reverend had a profound influence on Mann’s understanding of education. When Massachusetts established a board of education in 1837, Mann became its first secretary.

The establishment of public high schools exposed deeply held difference about education. The common schools which educated through the equivalent of middle school were rapidly embraced. With Mann leading the charge, they were adopted in one community after another. However, many Americans did not trust reformers calling for the establishment of public high schools. They wondered if higher education wasn’t just a way to justify elite privilege.

To reformers, public high schools would expose the most talented children to the kind of education that had been the exclusive heritage of the wealthy. However, their arguments did not prevail, and the public high school development advanced slowly. Neem reports, “by 1890, only 6.7 percent of fourteen- to seventeen-year-olds were enrolled.”

Writing about the “overlapping consensus” for public education, Neem says,

“Since its inception, American public education has served many masters. It sought to educate citizens, to promote self-culture, and simultaneously to prepare people for success in the workplace. The public schools reflected the complicated aspirations of policy makers, education reformers, citizens, parents, teachers, and students. In America, schools benefited from an overlapping consensus in which the various stakeholders did not always agree on why schools existed but agreed that they ought to exist. This overlapping consensus fueled the dramatic growth in public school enrollment between the Revolutionary and Civil War.

“But since Americans did not always agree on the purposes of education, public schools also generated intense political conflicts. Perhaps for most Americans, schools were practical institutions. They gave young children basic skills, reinforced the community’s morals, and prepared them to be citizens and productive members of society. But to reformers, public schools would also elevate the human spirit. To do that, the following chapters argue, reformers sought to transform the content of curriculum and how teachers taught and ultimately, to make public schools free and universal.”

Jackson to Trump 200 Years; Same Dynamic

I agree with Newt Gingrich (a politician named after a salamander), the first Democratic President, Andrew Jackson, and today’s insurgent Republican President, Donald Trump, have commonality. In 1828, Jackson, one of the largest slave owners in Tennessee, became the champion of the common man against elites. In 2016, Trump, the wealthy New York real estate developer, cultivated the aura of a champion of the common people fighting against elite privilege.

In 1818, education reformers were pushing for liberal education for all free children. University of North Carolina President, Joseph Caldwell worried that many Americans had “become avowed partizans of mental darkness against light” who were “glorying in ignorance.” Jackson’s supporters did not trust elites and thought classical liberal education was old fashioned and elitist. They wanted just the basics of reading, writing and mathematics. These sentiments and concerns are still heard today.

Channing taught that the purpose of education was to develop human beings in God’s image. His protégé, Horace Mann, was attracted to the new “science” of phrenology. Phrenology conceived of the brain as malleable which gave Mann added confidence concerning the value of universal education. In some ways, today’s standards and testing are the modern equivalent of phrenology; uninformed, potentially harmful yet a policy guide.

An enduring tenant of American public education was championed by Ohio’s superintendent of schools. He argued that both girls and boys were endowed with the faculties “of memory, of reason, of conscience, of imagination, and of will” therefore, school must ensure “all of these are to be developed” in both sexes.

It was widely believed that self-control was the key for education to cultivate the best within us. “Otherwise, people would not be free, or self-made, but remain an unformed bundle of impulses with no ability to resist immediate temptation.” There were to be no excuses. Discipline was the precondition to freedom and a key purpose of education.

The first development in a new American community was invariably the establishment of a school. Community members naturally accepted that their religious beliefs would be reinforced at school. Neem described the understanding, “A good education required shaping character, and this required religion.” However, efforts to accommodate all faiths meant eliminating those ideas that were not common. The American Sunday School Union questioned the public schools’ determination “To Diffuse Knowledge without Religion.”

In a heated debate with Frederick Packard, American Sunday School Union Corresponding Secretary, Horace Mann upheld non-sectarianism. Packard responded that Mann’s non-sectarianism reflected the sectarian principles of his own Unitarian church.

Neem shares, “The Sunday school movement emerged in order to ensure that young Americans would receive the religious education that they did not get in common schools.”

The belief that Christianity belongs in the public education curriculum is still strongly    embraced by some sectors of today’s pluralistic society*. In 2001, Dick and Betsy DeVos answered questions for the Gathering where Dick complained that church has retreated from its central role in communities and has been replaced by the public school. He said it is our hope “churches will get more and more active and engaged in education.”

*Betsy DeVos while channeling Margret Thatcher claimed there in no such thing as society.

Development and Pedagogy

There was a divide between those who supported the reformers’ programs and those who wanted just the basics of reading and cyphering. Better-off farmers were generally in favor of liberal education including studying the classics. Poorer citizens had a tendency to embrace the less costly and more practical basics only. Neem reports, “Because of their political power and the way the tax burden fell largely upon them, slaveholding elites spread an antitax gospel to convince ordinary whites that taxes were a bad thing.” Today that same gospel is advocated by wealthy elites in America’s two major political parties with a more determined effort coming from conservative funders. (emphasis added)

America’s schools were a battlefield. Violence was used as both a method of discipline and motivation. Lessons were almost exclusively memorization and regurgitation. If the recitation was incorrect students were regularly struck across the cheek, ear or bottom. Students often had their hands struck harshly and repeatedly for minor infractions. Harsh discipline combined with drill and skill pedagogy is still practiced in modern “no excuses” charter schools.

Reformers were convinced that authoritarian pedagogy was ineffectual. They started looking to innovations in Europe for guidance. As early as 1817, Archibald Murphey of North Carolina was informing the state legislature about new approaches to education in Europe. In 1819, a New York school teacher, John Griscom, published A Year in Europe. Both Murphey and Griscom praised the schools of Prussia and the Swiss educator, Johann Pestalozzi.

In 1843, Horace Mann married Mary Peabody and for their honeymoon they toured schools in Europe. Mann recognized that schools in democracies could not promote “passive obedience to government, or of blind adherence to the articles of a church.” On the other hand, he was enamored by the organization of the Prussian schools. Schools were divided into age-based grades to facilitate age appropriate pedagogy. Most of all Mann was impressed by the teachers of Prussia. He called for improvement in the status of the teaching profession in Massachusetts and improvement in training.

A popular alternative to the Prussian model and Pestalozzi’s views on pedagogy was Lancasterianism named for its originator, Joseph Lancaster. Neem explains the popularity of Lancaster’s approach,

“This approach had several advantages. First, it was cheap because Lancaster relied on older students to teach. Second, some considered Lancaster’s emphasis on repetition and competition to be effective. In groups of ten or twelve, led by a monitor, students drilled in reading, spelling, or arithmetic. Each day, every student was ranked publicly, motivating students to excel or, at least, to avoid embarrassment. Students received “merit tickets” for behavior and performance.”

Mann worried that Lancasterianism taught students to compete for external rewards and glory instead of developing appropriate moral character. He felt the system deprived students the benefit of a qualified well-prepared teacher. Mann wrote, “One must see the difference between the hampering, binding, misleading instruction given by an inexperienced child, and the developing, transforming, and almost creative power of an accomplished teacher.” Reminds one of Texas businessmen paying cash rewards to students for passing AP exams, the push for scripted education and Teach for America.

Mann was so taken by his European experience, that he wrote in official reports of the inspiring, engaging, loving classrooms he observed in Prussia. Boston’s schoolmasters replied that education “amateurs” like Mann rarely cared about what actual teachers might think. Neem notes, “The teachers felt insulted by Mann’s tone, which suggested that Prussia’s teachers were doing great things while back at home every teacher was incompetent.”

Reformers believed that by tapping into children’s curiosity and interest they would become independent learners. Experienced teachers knew that students also needed discipline, or they would only engage in what they liked. Educators felt that though nice to appeal to children’s moral sense still “Massachusetts was not some prelapsarian Eden.”

Maybe the blindness to practical classroom reality explains some of Bill Gates’s serial education reform failures.

Charter Schools and America’s Curriculum

After the Revolutionary War, states recognized the need for an educated citizenry and schools, but they lacked the capacity to develop and fund public education. Concurrent with building public schools, state governments also encouraged citizens to create charter schools called academies. By 1855 there were more than 6,000 of these state-chartered schools operating compared to almost 81,000 common schools. Neem observed,

“But American leaders ultimately concluded that academies were unable to meet the nation’s need for an educated public and worse, that they exacerbated the division between the haves and have-nots. In the post-Revolutionary era, Massachusetts governor Samuel Adams asserted that academies increase inequality because well-off families who sent their children to academies would be less willing to pay taxes for the state’s common schools. ‘Citizens,’ Adams argued, ‘will never willingly and cheerfully support two systems of schools.’”

So, charter schools were not an invention of Ray Budd in a 1970’s paper. They had existed since the time of the American Revolution, however, nineteenth century politicians and reformers concluded they were not a good fit for democratically sponsored education.

Reverend William Holmes McGuffey was a stern task master in the classroom. He expected good behavior and would tolerate nothing less. He also disliked rote memorization and recitation pedagogy. In the 1820’s, McGuffey wrote the first edition of his reader. Its readings were laced with moral lessons and Biblical verses. It taught a protestant ethic. Between 1836 and 1920, the reader sold as many as 122 million copies and most of these copies were used by several students. It has been said that McGuffey was responsible for “making the American mind.”

In post-revolutionary war America, large numbers of Catholic Immigrants arrived, and they did not like the anti-Catholic lessons taught in common schools. Protestants viewed Catholics as antidemocratic because of their allegiance to the Pope who opposed democratic reform in Europe. Catholics did not want their children abused in common schools. They started developing their own school system and wanted government support for their schools. This was just one of multiple pressure points creating the “Bible wars.”

The fight over religion in school became so intense that in 1876 President Ulysses S. Grant declared:

‘“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. … 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.”

I have touched lightly on just a few of the early developments in public education chronicled in great depth by Neem. My main take away from this read is that in developing universal free public education in America the foundation for democracy was forged. That foundation is under attack today. Read this book and you will deepen and reinforce your own need to protect America’s public schools.

A Horror Story by Steven Singer the Gadfly

23 Dec

Steven shares a hoary story that has become a national crisis. Unlike a Steven King novel, this book, Gadfly on the Wall, is not a fantasy. It is impossible to overstate the damage being done to America and its children by the greedy, the self-centered and the stupid. They are set on destroying free universal public education in America.

Billionaires be wary, Steven says he is ready to kick your sorry asses.

Many people were disheartened when Donald Trump became president and installed an evangelical who despises public schools as Secretary of Education. Her agenda seems to be ending public education and creating a system of government financed Christian schools. Here, I really love Steven’s attitude. He says,

“We lived through administrations that wanted to destroy us and actually knew how to do it! We can take Tiny Hands, the Bankruptcy King any day! This is a guy who couldn’t make a profit running casinos – a business where the house always wins! You expect us to cower in fear that he’s going to take away our schools. Son, we’ve fought better than you!”

I first met the author of The Gadfly on the Wall at Chicago’s Drake Hotel almost three years ago. Educators, parents and others were arriving for the National Public Education (NPE) conference. The Drake’s lobby waiting area is at the top of a short flight of stairs next to the room where hi-tea has been served since the 19th century. It was here that I met Karen Wolfe from LA, Larry Profit from Tennessee, Steven Singer from Pennsylvania and many others.

My Singer Collage

Steven Singer Collage by T. Ultican

That evening the tall Anthony Cody was at the top of the stairs greeting new arrivals; many of whom gathered in the elegantly appointed waiting area. It was a conducive atmosphere for my first conversation with a humble bespectacled somewhat chubby Steven. I had been reading Steven’s new blog and really liked it. Later, I made some notes about the evening’s encounters intending of write about it when time permitted. Steven beat me to it. In the morning our arrival scene was covered by a wonderful post in his “Gadfly on the Wall Blog.”

I have learned that Steven is disciplined, efficient and a very hard worker. He is emblematic of the teacher blogger. His opinions are sometimes hyperbolic but when he states a fact it is well sourced and the source is readily available. I have often used sources Steven provided when doing my own writing.

Unlike education journalism in commercial and non-profit media, teacher bloggers show more integrity because their peers in the profession demand it. Also, billionaires are not underwriting their blogs. Teachers are providing unvarnished truths about the attack on public education. The Gadfly on the Wall is a compilation of three years of blogs calling out the perpetrators of the attacks on public schools for their false narratives about failing public schools, their often-racist agendas, and their manipulation of data used to justify charter schools, testing and vouchers.

I met Steven again at NPE2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was the same humble likable guy but much busier. I had limited opportunity to talk with him, because he had become a central figure in the Badass Teachers (BATs) Association and he was in demand.

Teachers and their relationships with students are critical. Phony “personalized learning” sold by technology companies and “no excuses” charter schools run by amateur educators are not good enough. Heart and commitment are required. In the article called “Killer in My Classroom,” Steven tells the story of an 8th grader, Tyrell:

“Almost always calm and in control. He was well above the others academically. When one of the others lost his cool, Tyrell would help talk them down.”

Tyrell was moved out of Singer’s remedial classroom and back to regular classes. In his last conversation with Tyrell, Steven tried to convince him that he had better options than “making a stack on the street.”

Steven still wonders if he could have made a difference for Tyrell if given more time, but he will never know. He also has no way of knowing how many children he may have saved. The Tyrell saga still haunts Singer. He shares,

“And Tyrell? About a year later, I read about him in the newspaper.

“Police think it was a drug related hit. Tyrell was in the backseat. He put his gun to the driver’s head and pulled the trigger.

“Bam.

“No more future for either of them.

“Except on restless nights when Tyrell’s face keeps coming back to me.”

School Choice

The Gadfly on the Wall is organized into five sections: Introduction; Racism and Prejudice; School Choice; Testing; and Teaching. I particularly recommend the article from School Choice, “Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice.” Reason number 10 identifies the root problem. Singer does not mince his words:

“10) School choice is not supported by grass roots movement. It is supported by billionaires.

“The proponents of school choice will tell you that they are only doing the will of the people. This is what parents want, they say. Baloney. … They want to steal the public system and replace it with a private one. They don’t care about your child. They just want to steal the hundreds of billions of tax dollars we pay to educate our children. This is not philanthropy. It is a business transaction meant to screw you and your child out of your rights.”

The Brown versus the Board of education decision spurred “choice.” Singer describes the uncanny resemblance charter schools have to the mid-1950’s scheme hatched by Georgia’s then Governor, Herman Talmage. He said, “We can maintain separate schools regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court by reverting to a private system, subsidizing the child rather than the political subdivision.”

The Madrasa schools of the middle east are often cited as fomenting terrorism by indoctrinating students. In his book, Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner also criticized these schools for employing – almost exclusively – rote memorization, which he said circumscribed creativity.

The modern voucher school movement is making tax money available to Christian oriented school systems that are using a similar pedagogical approach to the Madrasa schools.

This December, Rebecca Klein wrote an article in the Huffington Post, “Voucher Schools Championed By Betsy DeVos Can Teach Whatever They Want. Turns Out They Teach Lies.” She reported, “In Indiana, about 4,240 students received over $16 million in scholarships to attend schools that use the Abeka or Bob Jones curriculum, according to 2016-2017 figures from the Indiana Department of Education.”

Singer writing about the same issue, “These books include the following gobsmackers:” He lists seven gobsmakers. Here is number seven:

“7. Brown v. Board of Education is described as social activism by the Supreme Court: ‘While the end was a noble one – ending discrimination in schools – the means were troublesome … liberals were not willing to wait for a political solution.’

“Teacher’s Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999 (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1998), p. 34”

Steven goes on to say of school choice,

“The bottom line is this – voters don’t want school choice. It does nothing to better children’s educations. It is a product of segregation and racism, and even in its modern guise it continues to foster segregation and racism.”

Testing

Singer makes the argument that when comparing test scores from the US to other countries we are “comparing apples to pears.” The December 12 Washington Post reported on the latest dismal international testing results in reading by US fourth graders. A few days later, Diane Ravitch posted an analysis of these scores by David Berliner. Score on the paper and pencil version of PIRLS 2016:

  • USA 549
  • Singapore 576
  • Hong Kong 569
  • Finland 566

Berliner looks at some demographic information and says “First, we can note that Asian Americans scored 591. That is, our Asians beat the hell out of Asian Asians!” Some more US data shared by Berliner:

  • White Kids (50% of our students) – 571
  • Upper Middle-Class Schools with 10% to 24 % Free and Reduced lunch – 592
  • Schools with 25% to 50% Free and Reduced Lunch – 566

Berliner draws the conclusion, “It’s our social and economic systems, not our schools, that cause lower scores than is desired by our nation.”

Singer asserts,

“By any fair measure, America’s public education system is simply stunning. But the media perpetuates the myth that we’re failing.”

The post called “Standardized Tests Have Always Been About Keeping People in Their Place” was an eye opener for me when I first read it. I have often referred to Singer’s sources showing eugenics is the genesis of standardized testing.

Carl Brigham was one of the original pseudo-scientists claiming that their intelligence tests proved that white people possessed superior intelligence to non-whites. Singer shared this gobsmaking information:

“Brigham created a civilian test of intelligence that could be used to sort and rank students …. He called it the Scholastic Aptitude Test or S.A.T.

“Yes, That SAT.”

Page after page, Steven’s book takes on the forces working to control curriculum, and teacher professional development. His points are powerful.

Racism and Prejudice

This section begins with the article “I Am Racist and (If You’re White) You Probably Are, Too.” Other than a short introductory piece, this is how the book begins. I think that is unfortunate.

I am a white guy who grew up in Idaho, one of the whitest places on the planet. I remember my Asian stepdaughter looking for another Asian face in a busy mall in Boise and it was some time before she saw one. I was seventeen before I talked to a black person, because I had never met one. However, my teenage heart was thrilled by Martin Luther King and his fight for justice.

Racist is a word and it has a dictionary definition. Miriam Webster says, racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” and Dictionary.com says a racist is “a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that one’s own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.”

I have heard the claim that minority peoples in America cannot be racist because they lack the financial and political power to oppress the oppressors. However, the word racist does not mean oppressor and to use the term for that meaning invites miscommunication. Racism is a sensitive subject and if miscommunication alienates people, they will not apprehend your message.

I am convinced that Steven’s central point is correct, but the implication of the opening article is if you are white; you are a racist. That cannot be true. Racism is a human problem akin to tribalism and is a worldwide plague for which white people hold no dominion.

The rhetoric about failed public schools normally refers to schools in minority communities. Based on years of ingrained racial prejudice and at best benign neglect, schools for “those people’s children” were not properly funded.

For example, a parent from New Orleans told me about sitting in middle school classrooms with 55 students and no air conditioning. Plus, the fan could only be run 10-minutes each hour. She said that students would watch the clock like a hawk for their 10-minutes. So, when charter schools came to New Orleans, many black parents were enthusiastic about someone finally promising to spend money on schools in their neighborhoods.

In this section, Steven makes many important points. He writes, “If you are not careful, being a public school teacher can be an act of colonization.” For the past more than a decade, I taught in a high school dominated by Mexicans. I was often the only white guy in class. As my experience grew, I became more and more cognizant of how important it was that instead of implementing my culture, I assimilated and venerated their culture.

I was particularly moved by Singer’s treatment of educating refugees. He noted,

“Some may shudder or sneer at the prospect of giving shelter to people in need, that is the reality in our public schools. In the lives of many, many children we provide the only stability, the only safety, the only love they get all day.”

He concluded the article on refugees:

“So if we’re considering letting in more refugees, don’t worry about me. Send them all my way. I’ll take all you’ve got. That’s what public schools do.”

I have tried to give a flavor of this wonderful book along with some of my own views. The bottom line is that Gadfly on the Wall is entertaining, informative and provocative. Thank you, Steven.

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.

Two but Not Two Frauds: STEM and Education Technology

19 Sep

Last year, IBIS Capital produced a report for EdTechXGlobal stating, “Education technology is becoming a global phenomenon, … the market is projected to grow at 17.0% per annum, to $252bn by 2020.” Governments in Europe and Asia have joined the US in promoting what Dr. Nicholas Kardaras called a “$60 billion hoax.” He was referring specifically to the one to one initiatives.

An amazing paper from New Zealand, “Sell, sell, sell or learn, learn, learn? The EdTech market in New Zealand’s education system – privatisation by stealth?” exposes the promoters of EdTech there as being even more bullish on EdTech. “The New Zealand business organisation (they spell funny) EDTechNZ, indicates on its website that educational technology is the fastest growing sector of a global smart education market worth US$100 billion, forecast to grow to US$394 by 2019.”

These initiatives are fraud based agendas because they focus on advancing an industry but are sold as improving schools. Unfortunately, good education is not the driver; money is. Speaking this month to a class at MIT, Audrey Watters shared insights into the phenomena,

“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.”

As Trevor Noah explains in this short video this influence is not called bribery.

STEM Fraud

I was the head “tribologist” (study of things that rub together) at Sunward Technologies in San Diego, when in 1995 it was purchased by Read Rite Corporation of Milpitas (Silicon Valley). Three years earlier, every interview for graduating engineers at San Diego State University was cancelled because of the downturn in demand. In 1993, our personnel department screened more than 100 resumes before I was asked to interview five candidates for a job opening in my lab. The final decision was difficult because all five were well-qualified.

When I arrived in Silicon Valley in 1996 there did not seem to be any difficulty hiring engineers, but corporations were cannibalizing each other. As soon as a company made a technical advancement, their engineers were being pursued by competitors. This looked to be a significant motivator for hi-tech corporations lobbying for H-1B visas. H-1B visas tied the worker to the company that sponsored the visa.

In January of this year Congresswomen Zoe Lofgren introduced a bill to reform the H-1B visa abuses. Her press release said,

“My legislation refocuses the H-1B program to its original intent – to seek out and find the best and brightest from around the world, and to supplement the U.S. workforce with talented, highly-paid, and highly-skilled workers who help create jobs here in America, not replace them,” said Lofgren. “It offers a market-based solution that gives priority to those companies willing to pay the most. This ensures American employers have access to the talent they need, while removing incentives for companies to undercut American wages and outsource jobs.”

To me this is the same malarkey she was spreading in 1996 when I arrived in the bay area. In 1998 the Tech Law Journal Congressional Scorecard rated Lofgren, a Democrat from Silicon Valley, in the top ten for supporting the high-tech industry. The Law Journal explained its ranking metric,

“All 100 Senators and all 435 Representatives were rated on a 0 to 100 scale on the basis of their support for high tech.  The scorecard utilized five objective criteria (roll call votes on, and sponsorship of, bills pertaining to encryption, Internet tax moratorium, securities litigation reform, H1B visas, as well as membership in the Internet Caucus.” [emphasis added]

Before the H-1B visa program, when a technology change eliminated a function, the engineers and technicians effected would be transferred to other departments. After H-1B, they were laid off and hiring firms would find ways to claim that only an H-1B applicant could fill the jobs in those other departments. The corporations gained indentured servant like control and wages stagnated.

By 2001, I was in graduate school at UCSD where I first heard about the need for schools to help train more STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) professionals. Like most people, I drank the Kool-aide. But, we were all victims of a misinformation campaign being waged by leaders in high-tech. As Jay Schalin observed,

“The real facts suggest that, in many STEM specialties, there is a labor glut, not a shortage.”

“The apparent misinformation continues to this day. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been particularly vocal about supposed shortages of skilled labor in the computer industry.”

By 2004, a Rand Corporation study was already questioning these claims.

“Concerns about the size and adequacy of the U.S. scientific, technical, engineering, and mathematics workforce have grown amid fears of a dwindling labor pool and concern that this may erode U.S. leadership in science and technology and could complicate mobilization of appropriate manpower for homeland security. In the past, such fears have failed to materialize, and surpluses have been more common than shortages.”

In a 2014 Atlantic Magazine article, Michael S. Teitelbaum reported,

“No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree. All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more.”

The trumpeting of a “STEM shortage crisis in America” is and always was a hoax. This same con is deforming public education. The new Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards were motivated respectively by Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Louis Gerstner (IBM). As a result they devalue humanities and glorify science and engineering based on this same fraudulent STEM claim. There must be a thousand charter schools that advertise themselves as STEM academies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here in California this same lie is being used to promote yet another attack on local control of public schools. In July, Raul Bocanegra (D-San Fernando) announced new legislation that would create a State authorized STEM school for 800 students. It would be privately managed and sited in Los Angeles county.

The news organization Capital and Main stated, “For a district that is already the largest charter school authorizer in the nation and is still gun-shy after recently fending off a takeover attempt by billionaire school choice philanthropist Eli Broad, any scheme that promises further stratification is an existential threat.”

Diane Ravitch claimed, “LAUSD already has STEM schools, but this is Eli’s STEM school, and he really wants it.” The billionaire real-estate mogul and insurance salesman is widely believed to be the driving force behind this legislation.

The proposal would be an end run around local control. Instead of local school districts supervising the new charter school, the state board of education would be the authorizer and supervisor. It is an extreme idea that perverts further an already perverted state charter school law.

Strangely, that did not stop the two most important newspapers in southern California from supporting it.

The LA Times which gets $800,000 a year from Eli Broad wrote a really strange editorial in which it admitted that the law would be problematic and undermine local governance. But it fell back on a favorite billionaire inspired reform reason for supporting the law, “But right now, the overriding concern should be providing as many great public schools for low-income kids as we can manage.” Those billionaires just love love love poor and minority children.

The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial page gushed over the idea of creating a new privatized school based on the fraudulent STEM premise and thwarting local control. The main beguiling point was delivered in this paragraph;

“So it sounded like a great idea when two San Fernando Valley Democrats — Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra and state Sen. Anthony Portantino — introduced a bill to build a pioneering state-run STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) middle and high school in downtown Los Angeles. The idea is even more appealing because it called for educating talented minority students from poor communities without the same opportunities enjoyed by students in wealthier areas. The cherry on top was that deep-pocketed Angelenos with a desire to make the California tech world more diverse are behind this concept — that could be a model elsewhere — and are eager to provide supplemental funding.”

It seems the fourth estate no longer ferrets out fraud and corruption but is instead complicit in these nefarious plots.

Unfortunately, Education Technology is Greed Driven

Hi-Tech and digital initiatives are careening down a dark road. Because of the extreme power of hi-tech corporations like Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and many others, the development of education technology is being driven by their needs and not the needs of students. Students have become their guinea pigs as they release one untested technology after another into America’s classrooms.

Technology has a potential to enhance education but it also has the potential to cause great damage.

A century ago, there were people taking correspondence courses and getting great value from them. Today, the modern equivalent of the correspondence course is the online class.

However, students at screens like correspondence students will never achieve equal benefit to students with a teacher, because the teacher-student relationship is the most important aspect in education.

Teacher-student relationships are different than those with friends, parents or siblings. My personal experience was that I felt a genuine selfless lover for my students and we communicated about many things; often personal but mostly academic. I also felt a need to protect them. In America’s public schools, a student might have that kind of close relationship with more than 40 adults during their 12 years in school. This is where the great spark of creativity and learning leaps from teacher to student.

I have put students at screens in my career, but I never found great benefit in the exercise. On the hand, I have found technologies like graphing utilities to be highly beneficial, but it was the interaction with my students that was of most value for deep learning, enhancing creativity and developing a love for learning. If technologies destroy these relationships then they become a net evil.

I quoted Audrey Watters speaking to an MIT class about hi-tech corporations and the stories they weave. Here is his description of those stories:

“These products and stories are, to borrow a phrase from sociologist Neil Selwyn, ‘ideologically-freighted.’ In particular, Selwyn argues that education technologies (and again, computing technologies more broadly) are entwined with the ideologies of libertarianism, neoliberalism, and new forms of capitalism – all part of what I often refer to as the “Silicon Valley narrative” (although that phrase, geographically, probably lets you folks here at MIT off the hook for your institutional and ideological complicity in all this). Collaboration. Personalization. Problem-solving. STEM. Self-directed learning. The ‘maker movement.’ These are all examples of how ideologies are embedded in ed-tech trends and technologies – in their development and their marketing. And despite all the talk of ‘disruption’, these mightn’t be counter-hegemonic at all, but rather serve the dominant ideology and further one of the 21st century’s dominant industries.”

A faculty colleague of mine said, “the last thing 21st century students need is more screen time.” I believe Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me and iGen would enthusiastically agree. She recently wrote an article for Atlantic magazine describing the dangers of screen time to the current teen generation she calls the iGen. Based on her research she said,

“Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan. (That’s much more than the risk related to, say, watching TV.)”

“The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.”

“There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.”

“In 2011, for the first time in 24 years, the teen suicide rate was higher than the teen homicide rate.”

Obviously, many of our institutions have been corrupted by the immense power of concentrated wealth and especially by hi-tech industries. The money being chased is enormous, but there are more of us. If we educate ourselves, our families and our neighbors we can reform these greed driven forces into forces for good, but we need to pay attention.

Go Public, Trauma Informed Education and EnCorps

5 Jul

A story of intrigue, real education reform and wealthy ignorance.

A film maker, Rita Grant, called asking me to join an expert education panel at San Diego State University (SDSU). She said she found me when reading Diane Ravitch’s blog and thought I would be a good fit. The event was a screening of the film Go Public at EnCorps’ Summer Residential Institute, followed by question and answers with the panel. I was not familiar with EnCorps, Go Public or Rita but nothing ventured nothing gained. So, I went.

I arrived at the Aztec Student Center in time to see about 150 people in matching EnCorps tee-shirts posing for pictures. Apparently, all of them had worked in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field and were recruited by EnCorps to enter the teaching profession. I was pleased to learn that it wasn’t another fraudulent path to becoming a teacher. Encorps recruits STEM professionals to become teachers or tutors. If they choose to teach, they are must complete an accredited teacher certification course.

EnCorps

I met a wonderful group of people, but their organization’s reason for being is misinformed. It’s another education reform organization created by a well-connected misinformed rich person with little relevant training or experience in education, Sherry Lansing.

To be fair unlike many wealthy education philanthropists, Lansing does have some experience. Her foundation web site says, she “spent four years after college teaching high school English and math at public schools throughout the Los Angeles area.” Lansing graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree from Northwestern University in 1966. Her short experience is from five decades ago, an era with slide rules, mimeographs and typewriters. Maybe that experience is why – uniquely among wealthy school reformers – she seems to be a friend of public schools.

Lansing is known mainly for her career as a motion picture executive. Her bio at Huffington post says,

“During nearly 30 years in the motion picture business, Lansing was involved in the production, marketing, and distribution of more than 200 films, including Academy Award winners Forrest Gump (1994), Braveheart (1995), and Titanic (1997). In 1992, she was named Chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures and began an unprecedented tenure that lasted more than 12 years. In 1980, she became the first woman to head a major film studio when she was appointed President of 20th Century Fox.

Lansing writes about founding EnCorps:

“California students rank 43rd in the nation in mathematics and science, according to the California STEM Learning Network. There are fewer than 1 in 6 in-state college students majoring in STEM, despite the fact that there are currently 1.5 million unfilled jobs in STEM fields in California, the STEM epicenter of our nation. How do we explain such sobering statistics?

“The solution to our STEM crisis is both obvious and exciting: Recruit and transition experienced STEM professionals into second careers as math and science teachers. They can both lead and revolutionize our most underserved school districts. Who better to teach and inspire our next generation of engineers and innovators than STEM professionals who have invaluable insight and real life STEM experience?

“This is the mission of the EnCorps Teachers Program, which I founded in 2007.”

Like the studies from the milk industry saying, “it does a body good” or drug companies selling us modernized snake oil, Sherry is citing statistics generated by an organization financed by Google, Cisco, Battelle and Time Warner. It’s wrong. There is not now nor has there ever been a shortage of STEM trained workers in California or America. Just a shortage of STEM trained workers willing to work as cheaply as some CEO’s would prefer.

Here is a quote from a 2013 article in the Columbia Journalism Review and this is not an outlier:

“Figures from the National Institutes of Health, the National Academies, the National Science Foundation, and other sources indicate that hundreds of thousands of STEM workers in the US are unemployed or underemployed. But they are not organized, and their story is being largely ignored in the debate over immigration reform.”

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers magazine, Spectrum proclaimed “The STEM Crisis Is a Myth.” They counselled “Forget the dire predictions of a looming shortfall of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.”

Writing for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, Jay Schalin observed,

“Everybody knows that the best way to get ahead today is to get a college degree.  Even better is to major in one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects, where the bulk of the jobs of the present and future lie. Politicians, business leaders, and academics all herald the high demand for scientists and engineers.

“But they are, for the most part, wrong. The real facts suggest that, in many STEM specialties, there is a labor glut, not a shortage.”

“The apparent misinformation continues to this day. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been particularly vocal about supposed shortages of skilled labor in the computer industry.”

Walter Hickey writing at the Business Insider stated,

“We clearly don’t have a STEM shortage. If we did, rudimentary economics would kick in and show either low unemployment for new majors or a rising price of computer science labor. People wouldn’t say they’re out of the industry because of no jobs.”

Michael S. Teitelbaum wrote a piece for Atlantic magazine titled “The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage.” He reported:

“A compelling body of research is now available, from many leading academic researchers and from respected research organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute. No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree. All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more.”

So, Sherry there is no STEM crisis, but even a blind old squirrel is rumored to get a nut now and then. There is a looming national teacher shortage. Your organization is contributing to solving that situation and your people are wonderful. I was impressed by the recruits I met at SDSU.

Go Public

The main event of the evening was the screening of “Go Public,” a 90-minute long documentary to which Rita Grant was a contributor. “Go Public” is the story of one day at the Pasadena School District. Fifty film makers contributed segments that started with 5:30 AM alarm clocks going off in student homes and ended with those same students going to bed. It chronicled in detail a May Day in 2013 from the janitor unlocking school gates to students performing in after-school sports and music programs.

If you get a chance, see “Go Public,” do so. For any teacher, the scenes will be as if pulled directly from our own lived experience. “Go Public” shows how amazing public schools are and makes the point that everyone; parents, certificated staff and noncertificated staff, is key to the school’s success.

Rita told me that before she started making documentaries about public schools, she “had been drinking the Kool-aide.” I could relate. Before I started teaching, I believed that many teachers had become low quality burnouts who were failing students. Rita saw through the lenses of her cameras the reality of how amazing public schools are.

I believed I was on a quest to save public schools from “bad teachers.” At my first teaching assignment, I was startled to find nothing but dedication and professionalism. I have taught in both wealthy communities and poor ones, but the one constant has been the high quality of the teaching and dedication of the public-school staff.

Trauma Informed Education

The third member of our three-person panel was Godwin Higa, Principal of Cherokee Point Elementary School. Godwin is committed to “trauma informed education” for which his school is a model. Cherokee Point Elementary, part of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), is in a low-income ethnically dominated neighborhood known for many social problems: gangs, drugs, domestic violence, poverty, murder, incarceration, deportation, etc.

higagirls

One-hundred percent of the students at Cherokee Point qualify for free and reduced lunch and all of the children have been exposed to adverse childhood experiences which are root causes for many issues including cognition being compromised. Principal Higa wrote about his school in EdWeek:

“The impact of childhood adversity and trauma–such as physical and emotional abuse or neglect, or mental illness, addiction or incarceration of a parent or close family member–can last through adulthood. Research shows that children exposed to adversity are at higher risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, learning difficulties in school, contact with the justice system, as well as addiction and economic hardship.”

Rita Grant has pointed her camera toward Principal Higa and the work he and his staff are doing. In this short video(6 minutes), the concept of a trauma informed school and restorative justice are highlighted. Instead of punishment, trauma informed is discipline through respect, dialog and understanding. Hige makes the point that knowing the students, their families and the issues they are living with is vital.

When Higa first arrived at Cherokee Point, he was receiving hundreds of student discipline referrals from teachers and others. In addition, there were several district level policies that mandated suspensions for certain categories of violations. Higa successfully lobbied the district into only enforcing the state mandated automatic suspension for bringing a weapon to school.

During our panel session, Higa said, that he did not suspend any students for the past three years and referrals have reduced to about 20 per year. Some of those twenty referrals were for things like “Phillipe missed breakfast this morning and he seems really hungry.” Mr. Higa said, “Those are the kind of referrals, I don’t mind getting.”

Higa described their method at Cherokee Point in his EdWeek article sited above:

“We follow a trauma-informed model and restorative justice practices that help students learn to cope with adversity and resolutions in a healthy and compassionate way. All of our teachers are trained to proactively engage students and their parents, and collectively create a plan to address both the conflict and the deeper underlying issues. Parent leaders are training other parents about trauma-informed care at monthly workshops. We also have trauma-informed and trained counselors on site who provide intensive support to students who suffer from major traumas that teachers alone are not trained to handle.”

In 2015, SDUSD adopted a plan to became a trauma informed district. Superintendent Cindy Martin was asked if she could see a difference at the pilot schools where trauma informed is in place. She said, “The minute you walk on the campus you can tell. The warmth of the school, the energy of the school and connectedness and kids that want to reach out and talk to you.”

Unfortunately, SDUSD is in a financial crush between the huge stranded costs associated with unplanned charter school expansion and spending on technology. The Voice of San Diego reports on the implementation of restorative justice and trauma informed schools:

“A lack of human and financial resources seems to be behind the slow rollout of San Diego Unified’s restorative justice program, in which students who’ve done something wrong work together with their victims to listen and heal. One district official said San Diego Unified allocates fewer financial resources to restorative justice programs compared with other school districts around the state.”

For more information about trauma informed schools visit the adverse childhood experiences web presence, Aces Too High.

There are some genuine school reforms that excite education professionals and trauma informed schools with restorative justice programs being one of them. It is too bad the billionaires are intent on computer based depersonalized education, blaming teachers for poverty and privatizing public schools. Their enormous wealth could do some good if they listened to professional educators instead of obsessing over their own biased uninformed opinions.

Education Reform That Works

17 Apr

The Teacher Powered Schools (TPS) movement has a history of success and is now in more than 100 schools. It won’t make anyone rich but it just might bring a new area of positive growth in the teaching and learning process.

It could be argued that TPS has been around since Socrates. More recently, Debra Meier’s efforts to democratize schools in New York and Boston along with her friend Ted Sizer’s thinking has set a foundation for today’s movement. The modern TPS movement stemming from the 1990’s accelerated in 2012 with the publication of Trusting Teachers with School Success by Kim Farris-Berg and Edward Dirkswager with Amy Junge.

By 1997, Debra Meier could open one of the first TPS schools, Mission Hill k-8 in Boston. Her glowing reputation led school officials who would normally have been quite skeptical to embrace her concept. A case study describes the school’s governance:

“A governing board, consisting of a council that represents parents, faculty, students and other community members, oversees the school to ensure the teacher team continues to meet the needs of students effectively but delegates decision-making authority to the teacher team. The teachers and the principal they selected collaborate on all decisions, including curriculum, staffing, and the school’s schedule. They involve all local education stakeholders in decisions regarding principal selection, determining the school’s mission, and approving staff-developed budget and human resources plans.”

Following 20 years of experience, a local New England news outlet reports,

“According to the Boston Public School District, 32% of students in the district will attend one of four types of teacher-powered or autonomous schools, like Mission Hill next year.”

In 2014 the Teacher Powered Schools initiative was launched. Their reported vision is:

“While the initiative recognizes the many other important efforts focused on teacher leadership and professionalism—for example, offering pathways for advancement without leaving the classroom, amplifying teachers’ voices, and fostering PLCs—its explicit focus is on empowering teacher teams to secure collective autonomy to design and run schools.”

The TPS initiative also provides a list of TPS schools and the following map of school locations.

School Map

 Teacher Powered Schools Have Diverse Supporters

 In a recent article about school choice, the founder of the Center for Teacher Quality, Barnett Berry wrote,

“But let me say, as many other scholars have as well, that the research is clear: ‘There is very little evidence that charter and traditional public schools differ meaningfully in their average impact on students’ standardized test performance.’”

He then commented on TPS:

“Now these are schools worth choosing—and all students should have the choice to be a part of them. Parents and students have choice in the TPS environment, and so do their teachers. In choosing Teacher-Powered Schools, we as a society put the public good back in public education.”

My friend Larry Lawrence instigated me writing this article when he sent me a link reporting on the 2017 TPS conference that he attended in LA. I forwarded the link on to my boss, the Superintendent of the Sweetwater Union High School District, Karen Janney.  She responded:

“I support the premise that TPS is learning and expanding with their work. I especially liked this paragraph:

“Teacher-Powered Schools center on eight practices that include a common purpose and vision, collaboration for the good of the whole school, ongoing learning, individualized student learning, holistic approach to discipline, multiple measures for student performance, teacher evaluation and improvement, and budget trade-offs to serve students.

“In fact, as a district, we are working towards many of those practices.”

Many people have commented on the book credited with accelerating the TPS movement by, Kim Farris-Berg and Edward Dirkswager with Amy Junge, Trusting Teachers with School Success. A few short snippet of these comments follow.

Linda Hammond-Darling, the famed Stanford researcher noted.

“While many school systems push authority upwards to administration and accountability for results downwards onto individual teachers, Trusting Teachers shows us what can happen when authority and accountability are brought together and teachers have a seat at every table.”

James A. Kelly, Founding President, National Board of Professional Teaching Standards observed,

“In this important book, the authors turn education reform upside-down. They propose that teachers be empowered to manage their own teaching and their student’s learning. Let’s put teachers in charge of teaching! The distinct contribution of this book is that it takes the reader into many highly successful schools in which “trusted” teachers already have professional responsibility for teaching and learning.

Michael Petrilli, Executive Vice President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute stated,

“We need ways to press the case for reform without alienating our great teachers, without turning them into the enemy, the problem, and the object of our disdain. This book describes one way to celebrate, engage and empower them.”

Adam Urbanski, President of the Rochester (NY) Teachers Association, Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers, and Founding Director of the Teacher Union Reform Network wrote:

“Unleashing the collective wisdom of teachers is the best hope for improving our public schools. This provocative, sensible and practical book offers concrete evidence that it can be done and, in fact, is being done. And now that we have already tried virtually everything else, let’s do the right thing and turn teacher-run schools from the exception into the norm.”

Education Publications are Noticing

A 2015 article in NEA Today by Mary Ellen Flannery describes the transition to a TPS structure by the teachers of the Reiche Community School in Portland, Maine. Flannery wrote,

“More than five years ago, when a well-liked principal moved along to another assignment, Reiche teachers and their union, the Portland Education Association, worked with district officials to put in place an alternative governance model.”

“Simply put, the teachers took over.”

Flannery declared,

“Although the governance structure may vary among the nation’s teacher-led schools, they all have teachers with a renewed sense of purpose and professional autonomy. ‘Every teacher has a voice here,’ says kindergarten teacher, Kevin Brewster, one of the original teacher-leaders at Reiche.”

Carrie Bakken is a program coordinator and teacher at the Avalon School in St. Paul, Minn., which she has worked at since it opened in 2001. Bakken published an article in edweek about the successes at her charter school opened with a TPS governance model. She asserts:

“With this kind of autonomy for teachers, Avalon School easily retains 95-100 percent of its teachers annually. This high rate of retention allows us to build ongoing relationships with one another, our students, and their families. It allows us to implement a strategic plan and continuously improve our learning program because we know the staff will be there to do the work.

“Best of all, this framework for governance seems to benefit students. Avalon has a higher percentage of students who are proficient on math and reading state tests than the average for St. Paul Public Schools, and each year 75-80 percent of our students go on to attend a post-secondary institution. Some other teacher-led schools around the country have experienced similar success.”

In a US News & World Report article, “A School Without Principals Yes Really,” Allie Bidwell also discusses the view of school principals. He conveys:

“Both Farrace and Gail Connelly, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, say that while they’re supportive of collaboration between principals and teachers, it’s too soon to tell whether teacher-led schools will be successful on a large scale. Effective principals, they say, know how to harness the talents of teachers within the school and provide more leadership opportunities for them – but it doesn’t happen in nearly enough schools.

“’From our perspective, it’s not a matter of either/or. It’s principals and teachers working in collaboration and leading today’s complex learning environment,’ Connelly says. ‘It takes both to really create the optimum learning environment that can help each and every child succeed.’”

“In Cincinnati, the Hughes STEM High School operates with a principal. But because the purpose of teacher-led schools is to promote teacher autonomy, all decisions are made by teachers in collaboration with the principal, who cannot veto what the teachers decide. The school has a district-approved principal as part of a collective bargaining agreement between the local school board and teachers’ union to ensure collective leadership.”

I did find a very strange article about how wonderful TPS is by Tom Van Der Arc. He praises the concept but nit-pics the term autonomous. Then for no apparent reason other than his need to sell privatizing schools and technology he writes:

”One of the exciting things about the shift to personal digital learning is the explosion of career options for learning professionals — more school models, more learning services, and more ways to contribute. In every other profession, there is a choice of working for a government services, a large private practice, a professional partnership, or as a sole practitioner. Teachers should have the same options.”

Why Isn’t TPS More Widely Embraced?

Perhaps a research paper out of the United Kingdom by Daniel Muijsa and Alma Harris points to the issue. They note that the UK is behind both the US and Australia when it comes to teacher leadership but see similar positive results emerging in the UK. The research found that high levels of engagement and involvement of staff in the developmental work of the school promoted high levels of self-esteem and a willingness among teachers to engage with new ideas. However, they reported some barriers to teacher leadership:

“The study found a wide variety of barriers to the development of teacher leadership. Three main categories emerged from the data. The first of these is the external educational context.”

“The proliferation of top-down initiatives emanating from central government was similarly viewed as stifling teacher initiative and leadership capabilities.”

“The lack of time for teachers to engage in activities outside of classroom teaching and administration appears to be a key inhibitor to teacher leadership, as it is to other educational initiatives.”

“Finally, the role of senior managers in some cases can be seen as a barrier particularly where not all senior managers are willing to relinquish control, where leadership from the head is seen as weak, or where senior managers are poor communicators.”

In February, I wrote “Education Reform Musing” in which I called for democratizing school governance. The TPS movement seems to accord exactly with my idea. And the charter schools that are embracing this philosophy appear to be making a positive contribution to public education in a way congruent with Albert Shanker’s vision.