Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

Memo on Education to My Congressman, Scott Peters

24 Jul

In 2000, you became my city councilman. Then in 2012, you became my Congressman in the 52nd District. I have always respected your work and integrity. However, when it comes to education, I see the Democratic Party as part of the problem and not the solution. Your latest response to me further reinforced my belief that politicians are being so propagandized by big money interests that they do not know what is real concerning education policy.

America’s Public Education System Trails No-One

Your last message to me contained several statements that I consider misguided. This paragraph is verbatim to one I received from you in July, 2015 and it is not defensible. Your office wrote:

“In an increasingly global economy, it is critical that we make educational investments that put our students in a position to compete with the rest of the world. For years, the United States has trailed China, India, and others not just in investment in education, but in student achievement. When making changes to education policy, Congress should be sure that it is closing that gap.”

It is well known that the United States spends far more on education than China and India combined, but more importantly the United States has never trailed China or India in education. On international testing some cities and countries around the world have achieved spectacular scores. However, these scores are averages and because our education system is much more universal we test all our students; they don’t. Plus, we have a huge number of students living in poverty.

But, on an even playing field, the team from the United States just won the world’s oldest international math and science competition for the second year in a row. In The International Mathematical Olympiad team USA came in first ahead of Korea, China, Taiwan, Russia, Singapore and the rest of the field from 109 countries.

Last year in response to my comments about HR 5 the pre-cursor to the new federal education law, ESSA, you made the same claim as above. At that time, I informed you of America’s continued unparalleled achievement in Nobel Prize winners:

 “Student achievement measures depend upon what you want. If the goal is creative students who can innovate and lead happy lives, then our system is clearly out producing India and China. One measuring stick might be Nobel Prize winners since 1949: America had 313 laureates; India 7; and China 8. Of the 8 Chinese, the Dalai Lama and Liu Xiaobo who won peace prizes both are considered criminals – Xiaobo is still in a Chinese prison; four are scientists who earned their degrees in the United States or Great Britain; and only the two literature recipients were educated in China. To recap, since 1949 two international and widely recognized citations for Chinese educated students compared to 313 such citations from our world’s best American education system.”

To wrap up the point I am making here, it is a slander of the world’s greatest education system to say that it is lagging any other country. It is just not true. When establishing policy in any field one must deal with reality not illusion.

STEAM and STEM are Frauds

Your message continued:

“That’s one of the reasons I support making key investments in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Design, and Math (STEAM) education programs. STEAM programs prepare our students to be innovators, put them in position to add to San Diego’s rich legacy of scientific discovery and entrepreneurship, and close the achievement gap between ourselves and are largest global competitors.”

STEAM is derived from the fraudulent idea that the US is falling behind in STEM education. When I was working in Silicon Valley in the 1990’s, newspaper reports were full of baloney about the STEM shortage in America undermining our economic viability in the world. Congresswoman, Zoe Lofgren was championing the need for H1-B visas so American corporations could compete. The result is that there are less opportunities for America’s STEM educated students and here in your district all of the large apartment complexes are filled with Indian people working at QUALCOMM.

There was no shortage, but the STEM field wages were driven down. Here is a quote from a 2013 article in the Columbia Journalism Review and this is not an outlier; there are a host of articles with this same message.

“According to Miller, Neill told them this is not the argument “she normally encounters on this issue.” The conventional wisdom is that tech companies and universities can’t find enough homegrown scientists to hire, so they need to import them from China and India. Neill suggested to Miller and Shah that “we would have more impact if we represented a large, organized group.

“Miller and Shah are, in fact, part of a large group. 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 point is that we do not need ill formed education policies paired with bad immigration policy based on false premises. Instead of STEM or the more politically acceptable STEAM education policies driven from capital cities, we need K-12 schools to provide solid liberal arts programs that will be the foundation for future student growth. Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education from Bush 41’s administration, put it well in today’s (7/24/2016) New York Times:

“If we really cared about improving the education of all students, we would give teachers the autonomy to tailor instruction to meet the needs of the children in front of them and to write their own tests. We would insist that students in every school had an equal opportunity to learn in well-maintained schools, in classes of reasonable size taught by expert teachers. Anyone who wants to know how students in one state compare with students in other states can get that information from the N.A.E.P., the existing federal test.”

 ESSA May Be Worse Than NCLB

One more paragraph from your message to me says:

“Earlier in 2015, the House passed a version of the education bill – a much-needed update to No Child Left Behind – that did not achieve these goals so I did not support it. Since then, I have advocated to make it better. Through negotiations between the House and Senate, Congress came to an agreement on an update, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was a significant improvement. I was joined by over 350 Representatives in supporting the updated bill and the President signed it into law in early December.”

While there is little doubt that ESSA is better than the original house version it is still bad law. Daisaku Ikeda in a book called Unforgettable Friends, writes, “Having been driven from the lectern by the government in the past, Dr. Delich [Francisco J. Delich, Former Rector of the National University of Córdoba, Argentina] is very deeply and personally aware of the evil of allowing government to control education. He wants to build a society in which political leaders respect educators. Education, he believes, is the very foundation of the nation.” ESSA ergates power over schools away from parents and teachers and to the federal government.

This allows the uninformed and the corrupt too much opportunity to harm students nationwide. For example, large sums of money are earmarked for promoting the development of charter schools. Charter schools have not improved education in the least, but they have opened the door for fraud and profiteering at the expense of students.

Democracy is an important principle and no money should be spent on schools by the federal government if that money is not controlled by an elected body. Parents and teachers should control education using democratic processes to govern schools in their local community; not federal or state bureaucrats wielding authoritarian power.

ESSA also mandates standardized testing of all students in grades 3 – 8 and 11. This is a massive waste of money and harmful. For the first time ever student testing results on the nations report card, NAEP, stayed flat of fell during the last 10 years. Massive testing with punitive consequences has harmed not improved schools.

ESSA also provides money for competency based education (CBE) also known as personalize learning. The basic idea behind CBE is to have children sit at computers earning badges for demonstrating a learning competency. It is the worst kind of fill up the student with knowledge pedagogy imaginable but it does have huge profit potential. Emily Talmage a teacher and education writer from Maine has been sounding the alarm about this terrible idea. She writes:

“Although we were assured that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was intended to restore control to states and local districts, the truth is that much of the document was carefully crafted to enable a proliferation of “personalized learning.”

“KnowledgeWorks highlights the many ways that ESSA “opens the door” for personalized learning, including its Innovative Assessment Zones, resources for ‘21st Century Community Learning Centers,’ and grant money for technology available in virtually every section of the document.”

ESSA has made students and communities more vulnerable to being fleeced by corporate carpetbaggers and it increases the role of the federal government in local education policy.

America’s public school system is the foundation that made our great democratic experiment a resounding success. Allowing our schools to be stolen by profiteers actually creates a “Nation at Risk.” The federalized destruction of the public education system has become real. Please be alert to self-serving corporate actors and fight for the survival of the public education system in America.

Tom Goodman’s “Reformster” Thinking

21 Feb

Columnist Fred Dickey from the San Diego Union recently wrote about former Superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, Tom Goodman. Goodman’s tenure (1971 to 1982) is widely considered the most controversial period in the district’s history.

Here are some quotes from Dickey’s column:

“He decries ‘the power of the unions and their representatives that control school board members, the Legislature and the executive branch.’”

 “Goodman is a strong proponent of charter schools, which he says can be tailored to the needs of individual students, their interests and levels of achievement. All made possible, he adds, by freedom from bureaucratic foot-dragging and teachers’ union control.”

 “’To get almost any teaching job in California under current law, you must pay into the labor union and be bound by its actions,’ he said. ‘To me, that takes away the focus on being a professional. Why do they need a union if they have civil service protection?’”

 “He decries that more teachers today don’t share the dedication that was common when he started.”

 Goodman’s last job, “and perhaps his proudest” was with Education Management Systems in the Los Angeles area where he supervised many store front independent-learning charter schools called Opportunities to Learn. Under his leadership (2003 to 2009), the schools expanded from serving 7,000 students to 33,000 students.

Three decades earlier, when he was forced out in San Diego, two issues stood out as causes; harsh battles with the teachers union and plans to shutter 27 schools to save money. The San Diego Union reported that it was around the closing schools issue that the infamous Bob Filner started his political career when he felt disrespected by Goodman and the school board.

 “A San Diego State University history professor and parent-teacher association president, Filner couldn’t understand why Hardy [Elementary] was on a list of 27 schools being considered for consolidation and closure to save money. Parents loved the school and it was jam-packed with students.”

 Filner eventually became President of the Board of Education and spearheaded the replacement of Goodman with the soon to be very popular Tom Payzant.

The San Diego Union reported recently:

 “In 2014, San Diego County had 124 charter schools, compared to 73 in 2009. About 20 percent of students in the San Diego Unified School District have turned to charters, with the district projecting that figure to climb to 30 percent in 10 years— largely due to the popularity and growth of independent- study charters.”

 Isn’t it time to ask if unfettered independent-study charters like the ones Goodman ran in Los Angeles are a good idea? In my school district (Sweetwater), all of the high schools have a learning center. If students are not on track to graduate they are assigned to these independent-study centers to make up credits often while still attending classes in the regular high school.

Independent-study charters take on any student who walks into the strip mall and signs up. Many of us believe the social aspect of schooling is an important part of American democracy and student growth. These kinds of schools likely have some negative impacts on society that should be studied. Are these the kind of schools taxpayers want established with little understanding, oversight, or planning?

The education writer Peter Green recently wrote: “One of the great lies of the charter-choice movement is that you can run multiple school districts for the price of one.” The fact is that fixed costs for school districts don’t go down much when they lose students and taxpayers are being forced to pay for redundant school administrations.

In the same piece Green also noted:

“The other common response of a school district to the loss of revenue to charters is to raise local taxes. If charters want to look at where some of their bad press is coming from, they might consider school boards like mine that regularly explain to the public, ‘Your local elementary is closing and your taxes are going up because we have to give money to the cyber charters.’”

Last year (2014), The Voice of San Diego ran an article called “The Charter Tipping Point” that provided evidence that San Diego is becoming a duel school system with too many schools of the same type in some areas.

When Goodman came back to San Diego in 2011, he became an education expert consultant to San Diegans 4 Great Schools. This group financed in large part by Irwin Jacobs, the founder of QUALCOMM, and philanthropist Rod Dammeyer proposed expanding the San Diego Unified School Board by adding four appointed trustees. The proposal was rejected by San Diegans.

Goodman was an early proponent of closing schools to improve education and he supported limiting democracy. At heart, he probably really cares about education but I don’t like his thinking. He was a “reformster” before there was big money backing his ideology.

My observation is quite different than Mr. Goodman’s when it comes to young teachers. I see nothing but exemplary commitment and dedication by our newest educators.

All “reformsters” are anti-union, but there is an inconvenient truth; throughout the world the top performing schools have teachers unions and the worst performing schools do not.

Open Message to California Senators – Save us from the New ESEA

6 Dec

Dear Senators, Boxer and Feinstein

As senior members of the US Senate, please use your influence to stop the disingenuous rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

There is an effort to ram this bill through congress sight unseen. It only became available to the public and our representatives including you on November 30th. As educators from around the country see the details of this bill, they are deeply concerned for the future of public education in America. Is it the intent of the US congress to privatize public schools like Chile or Sweden did?

I left a job doing research in magnetic recording in 1999 to become a teacher. As a person immersed in the Silicon Valley culture, I was a big believer in technology. After more than a decade in the classroom, I am convinced education technology has been mostly a waste of money. It has not improved either engagement or understanding.

Yet, this federal law spends large amounts of money promoting dubious technology initiatives such as “personalized learning” and “blended learning.” If these are truly good ideas they will be adopted without federal coercion. My personal experience with these ideas says they encourage bad pedagogy. Multiple choices testing to assess drill and skill teaching is the basic strength of these methodologies and that is not good teaching.

This is little more than money being earmarked for the benefit of particular corporations. Most technology spending creates a net harm to our students who are forced into larger classes so districts can pay for the required hardware and software.

The social improvement bonds that appear on page 797 under the name “Pay for Success Initiative” look like a way for Wall Street bankers to get a cut of those education tax dollars. It is a legal opening for investment bankers to pocket taxpayer money. Is this kind of policy the new normal under the citizens’ united ruling?

Today, the biggest threat to quality public schools is the charter school movement. It is a huge problem in California. Charter school theory postulates that charters with less restrictive state regulations are going to experiment with pedagogy and then transfer their successful innovations to the “failing” public school system. This theory was based on a fallacy. Public schools were never failing especially here in California and we have not seen one successful innovative idea come from the charter sector. In fact, those seven-thousand “no excuses” charter schools in the United States are practicing methods harkening back to the 19th century; very regressive education brought by untrained inexperienced people.

Worst of all is the record of charter schools is one of fraud, instability and segregation. It would make sense for the federal government to closely scrutinize this out of control segment of education that is being used by hedge fund investors as an investment vehicle. Instead, this law spends significant money promoting charter schools and coercing states for the benefit of the charter industry. Section 4302 calls for:

 “(1) supporting the startup of new charter schools, the replication of high-quality charter schools, and the expansion of high-quality charter schools;”

This facet of the law will harm public schools and expose more students to the unsupervised education market. It is not about improving schools for children; it is about pocketing those education tax dollars.

In his massive study of the rise and fall of numerous civilizations, the great historian Arnold Toynbee observed in his A Study of History, “The bread of universal education is no sooner cast upon the waters than a shoal of sharks arises from the depths and devours the children’s bread under the educator’s very eyes.” We must protect our precious public education system from the sharks; unfortunately, this law is a shark feeder.

In the December 5th Washington Post, Kenneth Zeichner, a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington at Seattle noted that “Provisions in the legislation for the establishment of teacher preparation academies are written to primarily support non-traditional, non-university programs such as those funded by venture philanthropists.” He believes this law will do significant harm to teacher education in America.

One facet of the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB) that I liked was the requirement for a “highly qualified” teacher in every classroom. As the prominent author and educator, Mercedes Schneider posted to her blog on December 5th:

 “What is interesting is that ESSA foregoes the NCLB language prohibiting emergency or provisional certification. In fact, ESSA does allow for provisional certification and the waiving of licensing criteria for states and schools receiving Title I funding (see page 143). Furthermore, it seems that provisional or emergency certification could be subsumed in ‘certification obtained through alternative routes.’”

 On December 10th, the writer and educator from South Carolina, Professor Paul Tomas, wrote on his blog a conclusion I have reached:

 “At best, ESSA is a very slight shuffling of the test-mania element of the accountability era; however, this reverting to state-based accountability will guarantee another round of new standards and new tests—all of which will drain state and federal funding for processes that have never and will never achieve what they claim to achieve (Mathis, 2012).

 “ESSA will be another boondoggle for education-related corporations, but once again, that profit will be on the backs of children and underserved communities.”

This law does mandate that every child in grades 3 to 8 and 11 is tested every year. The NCLB era has taught me unambiguously that standards based testing harms teaching and learning for many profound reasons. Feedback from this corporate testing is not timely and there is no learning component related to what is going on in the classroom associated with the big test. And worst of all this kind of testing seriously harms the love of learning and thinking. Massive testing is not just expensive, it is harming children.

I know there are many people like the leaders of the AFT, NEA and PTA supporting this law. They believe it is a lesser evil, however, I think they listened to their big donors before they read the legislation. When a group is getting millions of dollars from Bill Gates, it is easy to rationalize supporting his position. Please look closely at this legislation and stand up for parents, children and public schools in America.

Fix it or kill it.