Tag Archives: pedagogy

One to One Initiative Threatens Public Education

27 Mar

One to one classroom agendas have a dark side that includes the destruction of public schools as we know them; where teachers and students interact. It’s a dystopian ideology that posits students earning education badges while working in isolation at a digital screen.

This month, the entire staff at my high school received an email from a colleague who recently volunteered to be on our district’s technology committee. The message said in Part:

“In doing research for next year’s Technology Plan I came across some interesting data collected by the Speak Up 2015 Research Project.

“Although this particular data is from 2015 it still makes a lot of great points! Click on the links below, I promise it is a quick read.  Enjoy!”

The email message included three links to infographics provided by tomorrow.org.

What do Parents Really Think about Digital Learning

Looking Inside Today’s Digital Classroom

10 Things Everyone Should Know About K12 Students’ Digital Learning

These infographics claim that to be the result of authentic unfiltered data from respectively; 38,613 K-12 parents nationwide, 38,157 K-12 educators nationwide and 505,676 K-12 students, parents and educators nationwide. Ever since my Viet Nam war experience, I have been less trusting. I seek verification for all claims. I want to know the research methodology and who is paying.

Project tomorrow’s research is based on volunteers who engage with their web site answering survey questions. The web site is mostly an advertisement for implementing digital learning and a guide for how to lobby local schools to implement it. It has an agenda and a profound bias.

There are more than 90 corporations and non-profits listed as supporters of tomorrow.org, which is the cyber-space marketing location for this group. There are many such groups like this which are lavishly financed by corporations to promote competency based education CBE. Another one is Future Ready. In addition to the eighteen largest contributors pictured below, both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association are contributors to tomorrow.org.

Corporations Sponsoring Project Tommorrow

This time, the Sweetwater Union High School District’s technology committee is being influenced by the corporate sponsors of tomorrow.org. Last time the district technology plan was updated, in 2014, the technology committee was influenced by Project Red. Project Red is supported by many of the same corporations as Project Tomorrow and Future Ready. All three organizations promote one-to-one education at a computer screen. I agree with a fellow teacher who said, “The last thing 21st century students need is to be put in front of another screen.”

Last year when writing about this same issue, I wrote:

“When congress passed the new education law (ESSA), the United States Department of Education (USED) became the nation’s leading education technology sales force. Secretary of Education John King has effectively become a shill for a group of corporations and their ‘non-profit’ foundations working to sell ‘blended learning’; ‘competency based education’; ‘personalized learning’; ‘linked learning’; etc. These initiatives have at least four things in common; they all profit technology companies; they all are unproven; they all promote unhealthy education practices; and they overturn a student’s right to privacy.”

Competency Based Education (CBE) Updates a Failed Strategy from the 1990’s

Obama’s Education Department was an unabashed supporter of CBE and the new federal education law ESSA provides money to encourage CBE. On the Department of Education web-site, it defines CBE:

“Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others.”

“By enabling students to master skills at their own pace, competency-based learning systems help to save both time and money. Depending on the strategy pursued, competency-based systems also create multiple pathways to graduation, make better use of technology, support new staffing patterns that utilize teacher skills and interests differently, take advantage of learning opportunities outside of school hours and walls, and help identify opportunities to target interventions to meet the specific learning needs of students.”

CBE is basically outcome based education moved to digital space. Outcome based education was the new 1990’s name given to a previously failed strategy known as mastery education (AKA “seats and sheets”). Outcome based education failed miserably around the world. The big advantage for CBE is that giant profits are possible for corporate providers, especially technology companies.

I never expected to quote Phyllis Schlafly but she wrote a prescient report in 1993, “What’s Wrong With Outcome-Based Education?” She said:

“Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famous Russian author and former political prisoner in Soviet Gulags, said in a speech in the mid-1970s:

‘Coexistence on this tightly knit earth should be viewed as an existence not only without wars . . . but also without [government] telling us how to live, what to say, what to think, what to know, and what not to know.’

“Unfortunately, that’s what Outcome-Based Education is — a process for government telling our children how to live, what to say, what to think, what to know, and what not to know. What the children say, think and know must conform to the liberal Politically Correct ideology, attitudes and behaviour. What they do not know will be everything else. And because they won’t know the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, they won’t be able to find out. OBE is converting the three R’s to the three D’s: Deliberately Dumbed Down.”

Maybe you dismiss Phyllis Schlafly as a paranoid right wing cook, but this video about how the Chinese are gamifying good citizenship should give you the creeps.

Emily Talmage teaches public school in Maine, where CBE is being piloted. She describes what she’s learned:

‘“By collecting skill-based badges, the record of achievement begun in secondary school becomes the foundation upon which workers build their capabilities and tell their stories to employers,’ explains the infamous testing-behemoth, Pearson Education.

“Knowledgeworks recently described the new learning system as an ‘ecosystem,’ in which the role of the traditional teacher will soon be obsolete.

“With major investments from Wall Street, leaders in the online learning, ed-tech, and student loan industries, and even celebrity billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reed Hastings of Netflix, the transformation has recently been picking up speed. Meanwhile, political groups on both the left and right are moving the system forward by lobbying for ‘personalized,’ competency-based policies and ‘innovative’ assessment systems.” [Note: Reed Hastings of Netflix is also owner of Dreambox Learning, Founder of Rocketship charter schools and a board member of California Charter Schools Association.]

The educator known by his wonderful blog, Curmudgucation, Peter Greene, recently wrote:

“Personalized learning, whether we’re talking about a tailored-for-you learning program on your computer screen or a choose the school you’d like to go to with your voucher, is not about actual personalization. It’s about another path for marketing, a way of personalizing the marketing of the product, the edu-commodity that someone is already trying to make money from.”

There is presently a Tennessee court case asking the provocative question, “does a student have a right to a teacher or is a computer enough?”

What is the Proper Place for Digital Education?

The one-to-one initiative being marketed as personalized learning makes little sense. Having tax payers provide a tablet or laptop computer to every student is crazy. It is obviously not personalized learning any more than correspondence school was personalized learning in the middle 20th century. Some student with unique situations may succeed with cheap on-line learning but as a strategy for most students, there is no reason to think it will work.

Our spending for public education needs to be submitted to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. As much fun as it may be to give every child a digital learning device, the quality of learning would likely be more improved if the school district used that money to reduce class sizes by one or two students. The one to one digital initiative is an unproven theory for improved education but class size reduction is a proven theory.

However, having sufficient computer resources available for students to use makes sense. It might be a good idea to make classes like keyboarding (typing) available and highly encouraged. My students are amazed when they see me typing without looking at the keyboard. That is a skill that has served me well and I think our students should have that opportunity.

Even cyber-course work could be valuable, if it is not mainly about maximizing profits. In his book, Teaching Minds, the cognitive scientist and pioneer in online learning, Roger Schank, makes the point that good online education costs as much as good classroom education. Class size still matters and the learning project designs must be well thought-out and relative to the particular class of students. However, today’s K-12 cyber-schools are really cyber-frauds.

The bottom line with technology spending and use in the classroom is that very aggressive well financed corporate sales teams see schools as a huge market. In addition, federal dollars are getting earmarked by corporate friendly politicians for technology spending. Therefore, it is prudent to look at how valuable this technology really is and not be swayed by the hype.

It is unlikely that good use of technology in education is going to come from the Bill Gates funded Kahn Academy or Tom Vander Ark. It is much more likely that most of the excellent thinking on use of technology in education will come from America’s classroom teachers. Let’s not be bamboozled or intimidated. It is classroom teachers that know what is valuable for learning.

The Education Method and Organization

24 Feb

It was wonderful that day I met Larry Lawrence at a Chicago Hotel frequented by Al Capone (The Drake Hotel). We were in Chicago for the National Public Education conference. I soon discovered two things: Larry only lives thirty miles up the beach from me in San Diego, County and he knows a lot about education. Larry participated in some of the key developments in the history of education methodology. Saturday, we met for lunch and I am still over-stimulated.

This is the third time we have met at the Ki Restaurant in Cardiff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. All three times, Larry has come prepared with notes including an informal agenda. This time, I was pleased that he wanted to begin by talking about a proposed fundamental reorganization of school which decentralizes power and democratizes operations. I had made such a proposal in my latest article which Larry had read. This fit well with his thinking that was influenced among other things by his time at UCLA’s lab school working with John Goodlad and Madelyn Hunter.

The Math Wars

Dr. Lawrence’s professional experience began with “new math.” 1956 was Larry’s third year at Occidental. He had finished the advance Calculus course and decided to register for a class called “Modern Algebra.” After his first day in class, he started studying the class materials and came across a concept he had never seen before, “one to one correspondence”. That concept is now considered an essential understanding for preschool aged children but in 1956 he searched fruitlessly throughout his dorm for anyone who knew what it meant.

Larry spoke about the experience,

“This illustrates the absolute mechanical nature of my math education to that point. This is something I have carried with me throughout my teaching career. How even the concepts that we might consider simple, may have no meaning for our students when they have no context for understanding.”

In 1958, Larry moved on to Teacher College, Columbia University to study math education under the tutelage of Professor Howard Fehr. An obituary in the New York Times said of Professor Fehr:

“Dr. Howard F. Fehr, professor emeritus of mathematics education at Columbia University Teachers College and a founder of new math in the 1960’s, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan after a long illness. He was 80 years old.

“Dr. Fehr, who retired from teaching in 1967 but continued in educational work, was a prolific author and an internationally known educator whose textbooks were used around the world. As the principal author in 1961 of a 246-page report titled ‘New Thinking in School Mathematics,’ Dr. Fehr helped introduce into American classrooms a concept of study and teaching that departed radically from traditional methods.”

Larry recalls Dr. Fehr’s class, “His ‘basic’ course laid out the fundamentals of the ‘new math’ – number systems, characteristics of a field, relations, functions, etc.”

After Teachers College (1959), Larry returned to his old high school, Morningside High in Inglewood, where he created one of the first high school calculus courses in California. In the summers of 1962 and 63, he attended a six weeks training course at the University of Illinois which was a program on how to use the math materials developed by Max Beberman and Herbert Vaugh.

Ralph A. Raimi states that “Max Beberman is generally regarded as the father of the New Math, his teaching and his curriculum project having achieved nationwide fame long before the 1957 Sputnik raised mathematics education to the level of a national priority.” Raimi also reports, “His thesis director at Columbia was Howard Fehr, famous then and later as an authority on the teaching of school mathematics, and a man who directed the PhD theses of many future professors of mathematics education.”

One of the problems for “new math” was it was often rushed into schools before materials were properly vetted or teachers were properly trained. The Stanford Mathematical Study Group (SMSG) under the direction of Edward G. Begle started producing curricular materials in 1958. Unfortunately this SMSG material became derided as “some math some garbage.”

“New math” also gets conflated with the progressive pedagogy. According to E. D. Hirsch, William Heard Kilpatrick was “the most influential introducer of progressive ideas into American schools of education.” (The Schools We Need: Why We Don’t Have Them, Double Day, 1996)

David R. Klein wrote A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century for Math Cognition. In it he wrote of Kilpatrick’s contribution to the math wars,

“Reflecting mainstream views of progressive education, Kilpatrick rejected the notion that the study of mathematics contributed to mental discipline. His view was that subjects should be taught to students based on their direct practical value, or if students independently wanted to learn those subjects. This point of view toward education comported well with the pedagogical methods endorsed by progressive education. Limiting education primarily to utilitarian skills sharply limited academic content, and this helped to justify the slow pace of student centered, discovery learning; the centerpiece of progressivism. Kilpatrick proposed that the study of algebra and geometry in high school be discontinued ‘except as an intellectual luxury.’”

Klein added,

“Meanwhile in 1920, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) was founded, largely at the instigation of the MAA [Math Association of America]. The first NCTM president, C. M. Austin, made it clear that the organization would “keep the values and interests of mathematics before the educational world” and he urged that ‘curriculum studies and reforms and adjustments come from the teachers of mathematics rather than from the educational reformers.’”

The math wars were thus engaged in the early twentieth century. By the dawn of the 21st century it appeared that the NCTM ideology had won the battle. Teaching math became based on teaching a set of discrete skills. However, today, much of the Common Core math teaching philosophy appears aligned with the progressive ideas of Dewey and Kilpatrick. Common Core also embraces the principles espoused by the proponents of “new math.” The “new math” was not really aligned with either side in the math wars but was more about teaching a cognitive understanding or foundation for learning mathematics and developing teaching methods.

Concerning the “new math,” Larry notes, “While it was a struggle for most teachers in the early years, the concepts have become part of the math curriculum of today.”

The influences on Professor Lawrence (Goodlad, Hunter, Fehr, Beberman, etc.) were experienced classroom teachers, developers of pedagogy and leaders in university teachers’ education departments. They were all exactly the kind of people that founders of the no-excuses charter school chains like John King, Doug Lemov, Mike Feinberg, Dave Levin and others disregarded. Instead, they turned to the economist Erik Hanushek for their guidance on good pedagogy.

Organizing Schools

In my article “Education Reform Musing” I proposed a democratized approach to school organization. Instead of a centralizing power in a principle, I advocated elevating the position of department head to lead circular development and establishing committees comprised of administrators, teachers, parents and students to set policies and resolve disputes. Larry was intrigued by this idea and wanted to discuss how it might fit into the structure that John Goodlad had introduced.

In 1959, the year before he became director of the lab school at UCLA, Goodlad wrote The Non-graded Elementary School. Amy Diniz of the University of Toronto comments:

“In the Non Graded Elementary School, Goodlad argued that the rigid graded education system is not designed to accommodate the realities of child development, including children’s abilities to develop skills at different rates to different levels. (Goodlad, 1963) Goodlad suggests that one limiting assumption embedded in the graded school structure is that children’s achievement patterns in different areas of study are going to be the same. However, in reality, most children progress quickly in certain subject areas while struggling in others. As Goodlad’s research demonstrates, it is very common to have a child in grade two have literacy skills of a grade three but math skills of a grade two. With a graded structure that assumes that a child will progress through each area of study at the same pace, a child is given no freedom to develop at the pace that is optimal for his/her needs.

“A second assumption in a graded system is that all students will learn the necessary skills within a year and then be ready to progress to the next predetermined level. In graded systems, students are all placed on an identical learning cycle with no room for diversity of learning patterns. (Kidd, 1973) Goodlad recognizes that under the graded system, the only options teachers have to adjust for students’ different learning capacities and rates are to either promote or hold back a student. However, there is ample evidence to suggest that both early promotion and non-promotion of a student are not strategies conducive for learning and development (Goodlad, 1963).”

I have taught remedial algebra at the high school level and have personally observed students learning math skills and concepts. Unfortunately, they were not learning fast enough to meet the state imposed standards, so, I was forced to give them failing grades. Worse than the graded system is the standardized system. Instead of meeting students where they are, we harm them because the standards do not match their cognitive development. School in America has long been a sorting system that separates the winners from the losers based on a meritocracy with elements of classism and racism coloring the decisions. Even if it were not flawed, the false perception that students achieve the same mental development at the same age convinces many students that they are not as valuable as others.

At lunch Professor Lawrence sketched out a possible alternative. Instead of age 5 kindergarten, age 6 first grade, age 7 second grade and so on, he postulated the possibility of leaning cohorts.

Cohort 1 for ages 5 to 8

Cohort 2 for ages 7 to 10

Cohort 3 for ages 9 to 12

Cohort 4 for ages 11 to 14

Cohort 5 for ages 13 to 16

Cohort 6 for ages 15 to 18

The overlapping age grouping is on purpose to allow teachers flexibility in moving students to new cohorts. The Diniz article describes Goodlad’s vision for this new structure:

“Two elements of Goodlad’s non-graded system include a longitudinal concept of curriculum and planned flexibility in grouping. Firstly, curriculum is centered on continual and sequential learning, with behavior and content running vertically through the curriculum (Goodlad, 1963). Longitudinal learning emphasizes that all skills learned are in fact base components of more complex skills to be learned in the future (Goodlad, 1963). Secondly, grouping is organized around achievement groups, interest groups, work-study groups or a combination of the three with some groupings being heterogeneous in skills (social sciences) and other groups being homogeneous in skill levels (reading).”

Developing a practical method for implementing Goodlab’s ideas was professor Lawrence’s job when in 1966 he joined the UCLA lab school which came under the purview of the UCLA Graduate School of Education. Lawrence says, “My task was to work within my team of teachers to develop a math program that would address the needs of our multiage, team-teaching organization. For the next few years, I explored a wide variety of programs that included SMSG materials and several others that began to be published in the late 60’s and early 70’s.”

John Goodlab was at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1960-1983, where he served as director of the Laboratory School and as dean of the Graduate School of Education (ranked first in America the last seven years of his tenure).

It is unfortunate that education reform became the domain of unqualified billionaires with no pedagogical understanding. It is time to take back our public school system. It is time to reengage with professionals. Privatizing public education is related to greed and foolishness. No excuse charters are related to abuse, segregation and arrogance. People who reject professionals for their own uninformed views are a menace to society. Let us build on the work of professionals like John Goodlab, Madilyn Hunter, Howard Fehr, Max Beberman and Larry Lawrence.

Education Reform Musing

14 Feb

I have done a lot of whining about “corporate education reform” and the “test and punish” theory of education reform and “standards based” top down education. I am in full agreement with the conclusion Kristina Rizga reached after her four years’ study of Mission High in San Francisco, “The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.”

However, I am tired of being Debbie Downer. So, I will share my thoughts on a positive path of improvement for education in America.

Democracy and Local Control

Never let foreigners decide how and what should be taught in your kid’s school. By foreigners, I mean anyone that has never been in the school and lives more than 50 miles away.

Reed Hastings of Netflix was such a heartfelt liberal that he even joined the Peace Corps. He taught mathematics in Africa. Yet, in 2000, this once liberal crusader used his vast wealth to lift the cap on charter schools in California. Today he may be even more infamous for telling the California Charter Schools Association that elected school boards are anachronisms and should be replaced by non-profits running charter schools.

This is the problem with the uber-wealthy and their political assets controlling education. As statistics expert Gene Glass wrote “success in business has proven to them that their circle of competence knows no bounds.” It is my firm belief that the wisdom of the masses expressed through democratic processes is far superior to the dictates of any one of us including political titans and the billionaires.

In 1891, at the NEA gathering in Toronto Canada, Francis W. Parker of Chicago representing the Cook County Normal School declared:

“The soul seeking peace and comfort under the dominance and permanence of fixed ideals shrinks with dismay from the inevitable blunders, stupidity, ignorance and calamities that invariably accompany all democratic growth. The short road of centralization seems to reach in a day that which takes years to accomplish under the patient waiting for that slow dawning of intelligence which leads to right action on the part of democratic communities.

“Our foreign critics mistake variety and honest individual striving for chaos. That which has its birth in the desires and intelligence of the people, and is applied by the will of the people, becomes an organic, permanent factor in the progress of civilization of that people. It is rooted and grounded upon the people-“Vox POTTI. Vox dei.” But that which is imposed upon a people by any authority below heaven breaks into atoms when the intelligence and power of a people can reach and control it.

Centralized power may be a necessity for infancy, but manhood sheds it off for the strong wings of freedom.

In 1916, John Dewey wrote in his book Education and Democracy,

“An aim must, then, be flexible; it must be capable of alteration to meet circumstances. An end established externally to the process of action is always rigid. Being inserted or imposed from without, it is not supposed to have a working relationship to the concrete conditions of the situation.”

It is not just writers from Mother Jones or 19th and early 20th century American educators who warn of the deleterious effects associated with centralized power and ridged standards. The famed Japanese Buddhist philosopher and educator, Daisaku Ikeda writes in his book Soka Education:

“I have in the past called for the principle of the separation of powers to be expanded to give education a status and independence equal to that accorded the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Because education is a profound endeavor that shapes the individuals of future generations, it should be completely independent of political interference.”

Throughout his long illustrious career Mr. Ikeda has developed friendships and established what Peter Greene calls “thinky tanks.” In the book mentioned above, Ikeda quotes Columbia University’s Professor Robert Thurman’s answer to a question he received at the Ikeda founded Boston Research Center for the 21st Century. He was asked how he views the role of education in society. Thurman replied, “I think the question should rather be; what is the role of society in education? Because in my view education is the purpose of human life?”

The former Rector of the National University of Cordoba, Argentina, Francisco J. Delich is a friend who Ikeda wrote about in his book, Unforgettable Friends. Ikeda imparted:

“Having been driven from the lectern by the government in the past [1976-1983], Dr. Delich 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.”

Rizga, Parker, Dewey, Ikeda, Thurman and Delich contravene the thinking of the billionaire class who believe schools should be centrally commanded like the monopolistic enterprises by which they were enriched. People of great moral purpose believe in democratic processes. They understand it is impossible for capitals of power to satisfactorily meet the educational needs of any community by imposition. Democratic processes based locally is the true foundation for developing education. In America, the heart of that development is the board managed public school.

Democratize Schools

 At the school, the power of principals should be reduced and the power teacher department leaders increased. Instead of running schools like a factory with a central figure in charge, schools should be run by committees made up of educators, students, community members and administrators. Many schools in California already have a faculty advisory committees made up of teachers and administrators. They also have school site councils consisting of students, parents and teachers. These groups should run the school.

Today, the only path for advancement available to educators is to leave the classroom and become an administrator. Instead of losing our best teachers to management, pay department heads more and utilize their expertise to improve teaching.

It is unrealistic to expect any one individual (the principal) to be an expert in all disciplines. Make the department chairs the curriculum experts. Add requirements to their position like a master’s degree and ten years of experience. The selection of the department head should remain the purview of the department staff.

Administrators should run school functions like facilities, registration, discipline enforcement, etc. The policies that they administer would be developed by the faculty advisory committee and the school site council.

In other words, let’s democratize our schools and respect all voices including students. District managers should be just that. They should be there to take care of budgets and personnel matters. Schools should not be subservient to districts. Quite the opposite; the district is there to serve the school. We need to get rid of the American ideology that posits a fabled superstar leader. Rather we need to embrace democratic action.

Curriculum

The concept of standards based education was motivated by the undeniable fact that good curriculum is a requirement for outstanding education. Unfortunately, this is the path to authoritarian top down control with its associated negative outcomes. I have written about some of these negative outcomes here.

Today, many states have adopted two sets of terrible education standards which I wrote about here, here, here and here. In a nutshell, standards do not really fit the needs of any schools and they are enforced by authoritarian means based on pseudo-science.

Standards based testing is totally useless for measuring anything other than the economic health of the community being tested. Standards based test cannot evaluate schools, teaching or student learning. As soon as high stakes are tied to them, they become a complete fraud.

We have the best trained teaching force in the history of America. Our teachers are fully capable of designing the curriculum for their schools. Strong department teacher leaders working collaboratively will produce much better curriculum tailored to that community for less money. Because the teachers who developed the curriculum believe in it and are personally invested in its success, they will do a better job of delivering it.

Reality Versus Marketing

Betsy DeVos who is completely unqualified by experience or training has just been confirmed as Secretary of Education. However, this is nothing new. Arne Duncan was also confirmed as Secretary of Education and he was completely unqualified by experience or training. Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walmart heirs wield great influence over our present increasingly autocratic education system and none of them have the kind of experience or training that their level of influence requires. This is our present reality.

Bill Gates has made silly claims like experience, advanced degrees and class size are not that important to teaching and learning. Just yesterday, I read this post, “The Rise of Crony Appointees and the Inexpert Ruling Class” by Professor Paul Thomas of Furman University, Greenville SC. He observed that “Education and education policy have been a playground for Innovators! who have no historical context or real experience in day-to-day teaching and learning.”

Public education is not a business. It’s an environment in which human beings grow intellectually, physically and socially. There is no product and it’s not really a service. Education is unique and trying to fit it into a business box may have seemed like a reasonable idea, but it didn’t work. Business leaders make poor education leaders because they do not have education expertise.

The truth is that expertise based on training and experience are crucial for any endeavor. A deep problem in some charter school chains is they were founded by people who rejected education expertise, scholarship and training. I give details about these schools in this post. There are many possible motives for our current odd propensity as a society to reject professionalism in education and pursue fool’s gold, but whatever the excuse we are harming America.

Yes there are failing schools in America. The cause for that failure are racial segregation, poverty, misguided political policies, racism and graft especially by politicians. The schools in Oklahoma City that John Thompson described fell into their miserable state because of top down mandates and lack of funding. Schools in Newark were the victim of decades of graft.

The failure of all of these schools would have been avoided if professional educators and parents were the dominant voices in the operation of schools.

The cost of testing and technology has drained enormous (unknowable?) amounts of money out of America’s classrooms. In his massive study of the rise and fall of 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 are spending enough money to have splendid houses of learning from coast to coast but education monies are being squandered by politicians and business elites. Squandered on impractical or even harmful ideas like “personalized learning” (a kid at a screen running a program provided by Reed Hastings) or “blended learning” (fraudulent schools in the strip mall giving graduation credits for spending time at a computer) and endless testing. The last thing kids in the 21st century need is more screen time.

To create truly great schools, democratize them, limit technology and use teacher generated assessments.  Stop the money drain and use those resources and good sense to:

  1. Reduce class sizes
  2. Increase teacher pay and teacher education requirements
  3. Value experience
  4. Respect and unleash the vast amount of talent on the staff of every school in America.
  5. Believe in democracy.

Rizga’s Mission High Informs

26 Jan

What is authentic quality education? Reading books by teachers like John Thompson and Ciedie Aechs provides significant insight as they take us inside their schools. Kristina Rizga, a journalist who was imbedded within San Francisco’s Mission High, makes another wonderful contribution to this understanding. For four years, she sat in classes, interviewed students, teachers and administrators. At the same time she studied the pedagogical process with the guidance of friends like Larry Cuban. Her book, Mission High, significantly contributes to the comprehension of sound education.

Solutions for Fixing Schools Are Wrong

In the book’s preface, she declares, “The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.” For multiple decades, classroom teachers have been awakening to that same realization. This time it was an outsider who spent enough time to see how misguided test and punish education policies are; to see how misguided standardized approaches to education are.

Echoing Rizga’s point, The National Education Policy Center recently published a tome entitled, Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms. This following statement is in the introduction.

“Despite this legislative commitment to public schools, our lawmakers have largely eroded ESEA’s [Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965] original intent. Moving from assistance to ever increasing regulation, states gravitated toward test-based reforms in the minimum basic skills movement in the 1970s. A watershed event occurred in 1983 with the report, A Nation at Risk, which was predicated on international economic competitiveness and rankings on test scores. The report was succeeded by Goals 2000, the first federal Act to require states to develop standards-based test goals and measure progress toward them. The stringent and reductionist No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 then followed on its heels. At each step, our educational policies became more test-based, top-down, prescriptive, narrow and punitive, and federal support to build the most struggling schools’ capacity for improvement faded.”

In the author’s notes, Kristina reveals what being imbedded meant, how she worked and the kind of relationships she developed.

“In 2010 I started sitting in on the classrooms of Robert Roth, the first teacher I picked, observing him and his interactions with students. I spent about two years coming regularly to Roth’s classes, sometimes going to every class for weeks. Then I spent one year, on and off, in Hsu’s class and about six months, on and off, in McKamey’s and Anders’s classes. The classes were so intellectually engaging – more than most of the courses I took as an undergrad at UC Berkeley – that I often had to remind myself that I’m not a student. I also spent a great deal of time in at least thirty other classrooms at Mission and other schools, observing various teachers and different pedagogical approaches.”

Conquest by “Administrative Progressives”

Rizga’s book tells the story of four students, three teachers and the principal, Eric Guthertz. Interspersed within these individual stories are pedagogical analysis, observed outcomes and research citations.

Alfie Kohn quoted the education historian, Ellen Lagemann, in his book The Schools Our Children Deserve, “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes the Edward K. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”

Rizga makes a similar point. She defines two groups of progressive reformers,

“Most historians identify two major strands in the Progressive education movement: ‘Administrative Progressives,’ who focused on the top-down organizational reforms to create ‘efficient’ schools to produce productive workers, and ‘Child-centered Progressives,’ who prioritized transforming learning and teaching at the classroom level to make schools more intellectually and emotionally engaging for students.”

In 1904, the famous “Child-centered Progressive,” John Dewey, left the Chicago Laboratory School. He was replaced by “Administrative Progressive,” Charles Judd. It was symbolic; Dewey was out and “Administrative Progressives” were in.

Today, we might say that educators are out and the Democrats for Education Reform are in. Billionaires’ opinions about how to do school swamp professional research. Community schools are no longer the purview of elected school board. Today’s school boards are being reduced to nothing more than vessels required to carry out federal and state mandates.

Misguided and Racist Reform

Rizga posits that in order to “scientifically” sort students into tracked systems, a reform that is still with us today, was instituted: IQ testing and standardized achievement tests. She shares the dark history of their inception:

“As author Anya Kamenetz eloquently documents, some of the creators of these early tests were racists, driven by ideology about the roots of inequality more than science, and were using these tests as ‘scientific’ tools to argue that intelligence and merit were fixed, genetically inherited qualities. One of the creators of the IQ tests, Lewis Terman, the chair of psychology at Stanford University, argued that the low test scores of ‘negroes,’ ‘Spanish-Indians,’ and Mexicans were racial characteristics, and he was a proponent of forced sterilization.”

Rizga cites the work of, Yong Zhao, now at the University of Kansas and an expert in education of testing, “He observes that despite America’s mediocre performance on international tests since the 1960’s, it still files more patents and wins more Nobel Prizes than any other country in the world.” “Zhao who went to school in China and worked there as a teacher, notes that the problem of ‘high test scores but low ability’ (gaofen dineng) is a widely recognized issue in Chinese society, …” A study, Zhao cites, discovered that the highest scoring students in their province on China’s National Higher Education Entrance Examination do not appear on any other lists of distinction such as prominent scientists, entrepreneurs, scholars, or engineers.

Through her account of students, teachers and administer, Rizga shows the debilitating effect of the top-down approach to education reform based on standardized testing. She describes how teachers and administrators struggled valiantly to mitigate the negative effects of modern “test and punish” school reform and its negative impact on students already burdened by poverty, language issues and other detriments.

Mission High Exists in Every Community

Mission High like all schools is unique. For various reasons many Mission students arrive at the school behind most students at their grade level. Mission has been threatened with closure, but the administration and teachers refuse to narrow the pedagogy. They continue to expose students to rigorous intellectually challenging material. Their students thrive. In fact, Mission teachers will tell you that the rigor and challenge is why students are engaged and growing. Rizga concurs, “Many schools respond by pushing low-income students into remedial classes and away from the intellectually challenging ones that most students I interviewed told me motivate them to come to school more than any other variable.”

While reading Mission High, I couldn’t help but reflect on the Mission Highs in which I have worked. Rizga’s description of Mission paints a picture of talented dedicated educators successfully slaying dragons for the sake of the children they have come to love.

I have worked in two high schools (Mar Vista High School and Southwest High School) that remind me of Mission High. And just like Mission both of these schools have immensely talented people dedicated to education who continue to walk into their buildings and fight every day to be able to give the students they have come to love great education.

Both Mar Vista and Southwest were forced to send letters home informing parents that the federal government had determined that these schools were “failing schools.” Parents were given the option to send their children to a not failing school in a better zip code. Very few parents transferred their children, because they saw what was happening in their community schools and knew these were good schools. However, many parents who had never had an experience with the schools did bus their children to that “good school” in a “good” zip code.

I have also worked in two middle schools in poorer neighborhoods and experienced the same mix of talent and dedication. One of those schools (Mar Vista Middle School) actually had half of the staff fired and the school reconstituted as Mar Vista Academy. A disruption that brought no positive change, but harmed both teachers and students. Disruption as an education policy is an “Alice through the looking glass” reform. It is crazy.

America has never had such a highly trained and effective teaching staff as today. If the “Administrative Progressives” would get out of the rode and the billionaire reformers would give educators the respect they deserve, schools in America would flourish as never before and once again be the bedrocks of American democracy.

Rizga’s Description of the Teachers

In the Epilogue, Rizga describes what she observed about the teachers, a description that completely accords with my own experience and observation of teaching.

“Mission High teachers never complained to me about being overworked, but that toll is obvious to any visitor who spends significant time with them in and out of school. Every teacher I met frequently worked more hours than anyone I have met in the white-collar world – journalism, tech, law, corporate, and nonprofit. For more than a decade, McKamey woke up at 5:00 a.m., got to school by 6:30 a.m., left school at 4:30 p.m. for a dance class, then worked almost every evening and every Sunday. Every teacher I knew often met with his or her colleagues to plan lessons on Saturdays or Sundays, unpaid, because they didn’t always have enough time to do it during the workweek, when they teach five classes, need to read and grade hundreds of assignments each week, and must plan the next lesson. Many teachers met with students after school and on the weekends, unpaid. The most effective educators, like Roth and McKamey, had twenty-five years of teaching under their belts, but how can we expect a new generation of teachers to work such hours and stay in the profession for decades? No wonder close to half of teachers leave the profession before they acquire five years of experience.”

Kristina Rizga’s Mission High makes a positive contribution to understanding what good teaching is and why top-down standardized management is a fatal error.

Education and the Commercial Mindset

21 Oct

Samuel E. Abrams has created a masterpiece of research and reason illuminating the successes and failures of the forces favoring privatization of public education. His new book published by Harvard University Press is Education and the Commercial Mindset.

Starting with Chris Whittle and his infamous Channel One on TV and the ill-fated Edison Education, Abrams documents the triumphs and failures of profit based education. He shares the thinking and biographies of key characters working to privatize education and includes voices warning about the unsavory consequences of this agenda; not only in America, but worldwide.

Evidence of Valuable Education Reform Policies

My big take-away from this book was solidified in the last two chapters that discussed privatization efforts in Europe and South America. It explains why both Chile and Sweden have begun undoing their privatized systems. Abrams wrote:

“Much as many Chileans at the same time were protesting their nation’s long-standing system of for-profit school management, initiated in 1981, Swedish critics started to raise their voices in opposition. The Chilean adversaries would soon prevail, with President Michele Bachelet declaring in January 2015 that her government would phase out for-profit school management.

“Basic to the UR [the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company] series was a crisis of faith in Swedish education known as ‘PISA shock.’ Of all OECD nations, only Sweden had seen scores on the triennial Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) successively drop with each administration of the exam since its introduction in 2000.” (Page 275)

The one country in Scandinavia that plotted its own course, Finland, has a very similar population distribution as its neighbors yet on PISA its scores are significantly better. Finland also achieved about the same result differential when compared to the United States. Here is a chart I reproduced from the book (Page 287):

pisa-results-graphic

To address a chronic teacher shortage – especially in science classes – Norway, Denmark and Sweden have all introduced Teach for America type programs. Now there is a Teach for Norway, a Teach for Denmark and a Teach for Sweden. On the contrary, Finland sets itself ”apart from not only Sweden but also Denmark and Norway as the only Nordic nation requiring all teachers to have a master’s degree before taking over a classroom.” (Page 280) The Finn’s significantly boosted teacher pay to equality with other professions and reduced class sizes. There is no teacher shortage in Finland.

Where Norway, Sweden and Denmark have embraced standardized testing of certain critical classes like language and mathematics, Finland has chosen to monitor its schools using sampling techniques similar to the NEAP testing in the United States. In addition, Finland samples all classes including music and art.

The Finns also have a different attitude toward who should be leading education than their Nordic neighbors or the United States. Abrams reports, “Of the many officials I interviewed at the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, the FNBE, FINEEC, and the Helsinki Department of Education, all had been teachers for at least four years and several had taught more than ten.” (Page 289)

If the intention is great education and not merely profiting from tax payers or creating education on the cheap, then the Finish results indicate three important policy principles to consider:

1) Put highly trained well paid teachers in every classroom.

2) Respect the professional judgment of educators and have them lead education.

3) Significantly reduce class sizes.

For Profit Education and Modern Reform Efforts

In the spring of 1991, George Bush announced his America 2000 education agenda and the New America Schools Development Corporation (NASDC). NASDC was defined as “a private-sector research and development fund of at least $150 million to generate innovation in education.” (Page 20) Alcoa CEO Paul O’Neill was named as its first chairman. The Regan administration published “A Nation at Risk”, which was written by leaders in the business community and NASDC was clearly a business community driven entity charged with fixing America’s “failing” public schools. Abrams described the committee:

“O’Neill was soon after replaced by Thomas Kean, president of Drew University and former Republican governor of New Jersey. Kean’s fifteen fellow board members comprised some of most powerful people in American business, including Louis Gerstner, chairman of RJR Nabisco; Frank Shrontz, chairman of Boeing; Lee Raymond, president of Exxon; James R. Jones, chairman and CEO of the American Stock Exchange; John Ong, chairman of BF Goodrich; and Paul Tagliabue, commissioner of the National Football League. Their mission was to lead the way in breaking the mold of conventional schooling.” (page 21)

America had turned its back on professional educators and put its faith in these powerful CEO’s to remediate all that was believed plaguing public schools. A few years latter Diane Ravitch would derisively label this CEO led reform effort “corporate education reform.”

Concurrent with Bush’s America 2000, Chris Whittle had sold his Channel One and was putting together a for profit education organization called the Edison Project. Whittle was the consummate salesman. “In a coup that made the front page of the New York Times on May 26, 1992, Whittle lured Benno Schmidt from the presidency of Yale University and thereby brought the Edison Project national attention and clout overnight.” (Page 27) As Abrams documents, Whittle and Schmidt made grandiose claims regarding the future of the Edison Project:

“Despite this lack of experience in K-12 education, Schmidt, along Whittle, spoke with conviction about what ailed it and what should be done. They contended that no cause in the United States was as pressing as K-12 education and no remedy as promising as for-profit management. In the front-page article in the New York Times announcing Schmidt’s decision to leave Yale to lead Edison, Schmidt and Whittle forecasted that Edison could have a revolutionary impact. Whittle placed the company’s mission in the context of the Cold War and employed the language of historical inevitability: ‘You have to have a West Berlin for East Berlin to fall, and what we’re really doing here is building West Berlin.’ Schmidt added: ‘The reason this hasn’t been done before is that this thing is a matter of D-Day dimensions. Only someone with a high tolerance for risk would even be willing to contemplate it.’ Schmidt predicted, ‘If this venture succeeds, there’s nothing that could be done, aside from changing human nature that could be more constructive for our society.’” (Page 28)

Toward Edison’s Failure

Abrams obviously spent a lot of time not only researching but visiting various facilities and interviewing key actors in the story of privatized education in America. It is fascinating to learn how many of the leaders in the Edison Project have continued the quest to privatize America’s schools. I think two episodes involving Edison are particularly illustrative of privatized failure; one in Baltimore and the other in Philadelphia.

Citizens in middle and working class neighborhoods were not interested in replacing their public schools with for profit schools. However, blighted neighborhoods like those in Baltimore which became the locations for HBO’s The Wire, were fertile markets for Edison. In March of 2000, the Maryland School Board identified seven Baltimore primary schools that were not performing well and they selected Edison to run four of those elementary schools. The other three schools continued under the supervision of the local school district.

The bottom line was Edison came in with some really good people and made many facilities upgrades, but the three schools that stayed in the public system outperformed the Edison schools on language arts and math testing. When the only metric for good education is testing data, it signaled the eventual end for Edison in Baltimore.

In 2000, Tom Ridge paid Edison $2.7 million dollars to study Philadelphia’s schools and make recommendations. Abrams writes about the reaction to this contract:

“Even Brandon Dobell, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston who was bullish on Edison, expressed disapproval of the arrangement. Along with Howard M. Block, an analyst at Bank of America Securities, Dobell took the consulting contract to mean that Edison would end up running a cluster of the city’s schools and, on that account, forecasted greater earning potential for the company. A report Dobell coauthored termed the contract ‘a strong endorsement for the Edison value proposition – perhaps the strongest we have seen thus far in Edison’s lifetime.’ Indeed, Edison’s stock spiked 6 percent on the day of the announcement of the contract. Yet Dobell saw the conflict of interest inherent in commissioning a study from a company that stood likely to recommend its own services. ‘This contract is a bit strange,’ Dobell said to a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. ‘It is kind of like putting a fox in charge of the henhouse.’” (Page 104)

Eventually, after much political upheaval, Edison was awarded 23 Philadelphia schools. While Abrams details many issues faced by Edison, it was the intractable problems plaguing public schools; poverty, lack of funding and bad education policy dictated from above that were beyond Edison’s ability to conquer.

I am reminded of a story I heard from a New Orleans resident about why parents there initially embraced the charter movement. As a young woman, going to underfunded schools in the black community, she had been in middle school classes with 55 students. Furthermore, the administration would only allow teachers to run the classroom fan for 10 minutes every hour. It was oppressively hot and students would watch the clock like a hawk so they got the fan on immediately when it was time. After Katrina, political leaders said they were going to put money into schools in her neighborhood. That was new and sounded good.

Pennsylvania finances its schools almost exclusively with property taxes. In urban Philadelphia, property values are low and poverty is high. In 2000-2001, Philadelphia spent $7,944 per student on schools. The five school districts along the Main Line of the region’s commuter rail system, which services suburbanites living northwest of Philadelphia spent $11,421 per student. Even though Edison got some extra funding they could not overcome this double whammy that has also vexed the public schools system. Education on the cheap, does not work; especially in blighted neighborhoods.

In 2013, Edison ceased to exist. The bulk of EdisonLearning was sold to a supplementary educational services company in Camden, New Jersey, called Catapult Learning.

Abrams also does a thorough job of documenting the rise of the charter school industry, especially the no-excuses charters. It is fascinating to see how many young executives at Edison became key leaders in the charter school industry or went to work for foundations like the Fisher Foundation which support charter schools.

Both the for profit education initiative and charter school development were led by people with no deep education experience or theoretical knowledge. For example the famous KIPP charter school chain was started by two “Teach for a Minute Boys” with no education background and only two years elementary school teaching experience.

Abrams presents convincing arguments that KIPP and other no-excuses charter systems cannot possibly be scaled up to educate all American children. These systems have a history of burning out teachers and they rely on public schools to take in the children they expel or council out.

For people interested in public education, Education and the Commercial Mindset is an important asset. The privatization movement has been fueled by a misunderstanding of effect and cause. Public schools were struggling, not due to misguided pedagogy or “bad teachers”, but from bad policy and an unwillingness to adequately fund education in poor communities. The top down and misguided federally driven remedies and for profit cannibalism have only made the problem worse.

 

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.

Soka Education and Reform

4 Jul

Soka Education is an education reform movement advanced by the Buddhist lay organization, Soka Gakkai or “Value Creation Society.” For more than a century, reform education advocates such as John Dewey have proposed a humanistic approach to education. Although they have shown considerable success in demonstration classrooms, there has been little general implementation of their ideas.

The Swiss psychologists, Jean Piaget called Dewey’s discovery-based approach to education “constructivism.” Piaget believed that “children play an active role in making sense of things, `constructing’ reality rather than just acquiring knowledge.”1 The philosophy of constructivism” is a move away from the educational philosophies of behaviorism and social conservatism advocated by men like B. F. Skinner and Edward K. Thorndike.

Ellen Lagemann, an education historian, writes, “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes the Edward K. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”2 The same general situation in education appears to exist throughout the world. Behaviorist authoritarian models of education dominate.

It could be that the Soka Education movement is the first large scale, long term and determined effort to utilize reform or humanistic student-centered education in the world.

At the Dawn of the 20th century, the father of Soka Education, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, an elementary school teacher and principal in Tokyo, developed a theory of education that he called “Value Creating Pedagogy.” He also gained a reputation for causing trouble of some sort wherever assigned. Mr. Makiguchi’s problems were rooted in the prevailing educational theories of his day.

The closing decades of the 19th century witnessed Japan going through huge social change. It changed from nearly seven hundred years of military rule by the samurai classes back to Imperial rule and embarked on a mad dash toward industrialization. It changed from four hundred years of self-imposed isolation to a path of international engagement.

Education policy became a debate between the forces that felt the purpose of education was to build citizens who were self-assured and of independent minds and those that advocated the development of obedient and loyal subjects for the Meiji government. Historian Dayle M. Bethel tells us that “the latter group won the debate.”3 Bethel says, “Makiguchi’s entire educational career was a protest against the production of subjects.”4

In 1928, Makiguchi converted to Nichiren Buddhism and was soon convinced that Nichiren Buddhism and his philosophy of “Value Creating Pedagogy” were synergistic. In 1930, he started an organization for educational reform called Soka Kyoiku Gakkai or “Value Creating Educators Society” based not only on his theories of education but also on Nichiren Buddhism. This organization became more and more about religion than educational reform as militarism and state sponsored Shinto enveloped Japan.

Japanese society was completely devastated during World War II. Makiguchi and all of the leaders of the “Value Creating Educators Society” were imprisoned as thought criminals in 1943. Makiguchi died in prison in 1944. After being released from prison in 1945, Makiguchi’s disciple, Josei Toda, rebuilt the organization as a Buddhist laymen’s society and renamed it Soka Gakkai or “Value Creation Society.”

Today, Soka Gakkai is the world’s largest Buddhist sect and the largest religious movement in Japan. In the 1960’s, the Soka Gakkai returned to its roots as an educator’s society and began constructing an education system based on Makiguchi’s “Value Creating Pedagogy.”

Dayle M. Bethel wrote of Makiguchi: “Out of his battles with Japanese educational structures of his time and his association with a few like-minded colleagues there emerged pedagogical views and ideas that are worthy of study by English-speaking scholars, worthy in their own right and also because these views and ideas seem likely to have significant impact on Japanese society during the years ahead.”5

Today, the leader of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and Soka Education is Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. In a 1996 speech at Teachers College, Columbia University, he said, “Greatly influenced by the views of Dewey, Makiguchi asserted that the purpose of education must be the lifelong happiness of learners. He further believed that true happiness is to be found in a life of value creation.”6

Bethel writes, “With reference to Western scholars there is scarcely a single major figure in the fields of education and social science, from the time of Plato to the early decades of the twentieth century, to whose work he did not make some reference.”7 Makiguchi was very aware of and appreciated Western ideas about education, but he did not just accept these ideas. Makiguchi believed in the acid test of experience. Those ideas that proved of merit in actual practice were to be accepted and those that did not were to be discarded.

Although an admirer of Dewey’s ideas on education, Makiguchi perceived a flaw in the formulation of Pragmatism and offered his own refinement based on a corrected philosophy of value.

Makiguchi specified the central importance of value in pedagogy: “The object of ‘The System of Value-creating Pedagogy’ lies in searching for the law of cause and effect in guiding the life of the students. Needless to say, the object of life lies in the pursuit of value.”8

The components of value that Makiguchi postulated were good, gain and beauty as opposed to those of good, beauty and truth postulated by the neo-Kantian Pragmatists of his era. Makiguchi’s formulation replaced the Kant school’s value triad component – truth – with gain. Makiguchi asserted, “Truth is that which is expressed exactly as an object is, through observing it objectively and determining its invariable elements as its intrinsic nature. On the other hand, value is that which is produced by the relationship between object and subject, and if either of the two should change, the value will vary accordingly.”9 He stated that truth was not evaluative in nature because it was either truth or not truth.

From this, he made the point that truth was a cognitive outcome or objective and value was an emotional outcome or subjective. Therefore, a great error in understanding occurs when people mistake cognition for evaluation. Makiguchi declared, “Considering the aspect of the present world, I believe nothing is as evil as the confusion of cognition and evaluation, since the mixing of the two makes it hard for a person to understand and causes him to assume an uncertain attitude toward his choice and decision.”10

Based on his own philosophical view, Makiguchi used his experience as a classroom teacher and elementary school principal to create practical guidance for educators to use in implementing his system of “Value Creating Pedagogy.” He proposed ideas that were congruent with many of Dewey’s:

 “In-school education should be closely connected in practice with actual social life so that it can transform unconscious living into fully conscious participation in the life of society. Education integrated into the life of society will yield benefits of well-planned living, without the undesirable effect of mechanical uniformity an inherent danger in standardized education.”11

 Makiguchi opposed the type of education that emphasized cramming knowledge into the student. He advocated an experiential based learning process. He opposed high stakes testing. He said that students and teachers should be cooperative partners in a community of learners.

Looking at the development of education in the United States through the lens of Makiguchi’s “Value Creating Pedagogy” gives a fresh view of American education.

As an aside, the word soka is a neologism created by Makaguchi’s disciple, Josei Toda. It is a combination of the Japanese words sozo (creation) and kachi (value).12

The most influential figure in the early development of education in the United States was Thomas Jefferson. He viewed education as necessary for personal happiness and the wise selection of governmental leaders in a democracy.

He believed that people in general had the innate wisdom required for a representative democracy to succeed and that education was the means by which to tap that ability. He reasoned that the creator must have endowed us with a “moral sense of conscience” which “is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. In a greater or less degree it may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body.”13

Jefferson believed education was the mechanism by which moral virtue could be made manifest. With his Aristotelian view that happiness was attainable only if the rational part of one’s nature governed the appetites,14 he, like Makiguchi, saw the purpose of education as seeking value.

About the French Revolution, Jefferson wrote, “it has failed in its first effort, because the mobs of the cities, the instrument used for its accomplishment, debased by ignorance, poverty and vice, could not be restrained to rational action.”15

Jefferson saw education as the cause for developing from common farmers the enlightened citizenry that would take the rational action a successful republican democracy requires. Jefferson averred, “The qualifications for self government are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.”16

In Jefferson’s era, the United States was an agrarian society with large estates in the south employing slave labor and small self-sufficient family farms in the north. Farming accounted for 90% of American economic activity.17

Into this environment, Jefferson proposed a four-tiered model of universal public education. Tier one was to be a state supported three-year elementary school for “all free children male and female.” Tier two was to be a grammar school for boys selected by merit from elementary school and kept in boarding school at state expense. These boys were to be the future leaders of society. Jefferson saw them as the “natural aristocracy” based on “virtue and talent.” Tier three was to be the university, which was to focus on liberal arts and develop cognitive skills as opposed to vocational skills. Tier four called for life-long self-education for which Jefferson proposed public libraries.18

If we examine Jefferson’s proposals from the viewpoint of Soka Pedagogy, we find general agreement. For example, Dr. Ikeda recently stated, “I believe that a liberal arts education should be the core element of the first half of every university degree course, as it provides a general understanding of humanity.”19

Certainly Makiguchi would have agreed enthusiastically with universal education. Speaking of his students who were not from upper-class families, Makiguchi protested, “Even though they may be covered with dust or dirt, the brilliant light of life shines from their soiled clothes. Why does no one try to see this?”20

Makiguchi parts ways with the proposal to use school as a sorting device for picking a “natural aristocracy.” Makiguchi was completely egalitarian and he opposed “cutthroat competition” and “examination hell.”21 Today, Makiguchi’s heirs are actively promoting education as a valuable lifelong pursuit.

Jefferson considered his successful campaign against the union of church and state as one of his major victories for intellectual freedom. Ironically, he believed in a very authoritarian form of pedagogy and he left no record of objection to the religious content and authoritarian nature of the instruction practiced in the colonial schools.

Jefferson’s view of pedagogy would later to be known as faculty psychology. It contended that the mind had distinct “faculties” that must be strengthened through exercise. Researchers tell us, “… he conceived the mind as an empty vessel to be ‘filled’ with useful facts.”22 Children of that era were required to memorize religious pieces like the Lord’s Prayer and recite them. They were encouraged to learn numbers because it would help them reference material in the Bible. The messages of their learning materials were both moral and Protestant.23 These views of education are antithetical to Soka Pedagogy.

During Jefferson’s lifetime, few of his proposals for education were actually adopted, but his ideals of universal education, intellectual freedom and the benefit of an enlightened citizenry reverberate into today’s discussions of education. Following in Jefferson’s footsteps, the next great development in American education was the common school movement championed most notably by Horace Mann.

Concurrent with the beginning of the 19th century, four shifts in social structure started to dominate in American society. People began to move from farms to urban centers. Many new immigrants began to arrive from Europe and they were not just coming from England. They were from Ireland, Italy and other places. Many of them were Catholic and many did not speak English. Slaves from the south began to migrate to the northeast.

There was also a general population migration from the Northeast to the Midwest. Most political leaders viewed all these social forces with foreboding. Social reformers advanced the common school as the solution to these strains and claimed that the need for common schools was no less than the very survival of the nation.24

With the challenges of industrialization, immigration and urbanization, public schools became the fabric of social integration. Horace Mann became the spokes-person for schools being the instrument of social integration.25

It was Mann’s point of view that children in the common school were to receive a common moral education based on the general principles of the Bible and on common virtues. The moral values to be taught in public school were Protestant values and the political values were those of republican democracy.

Joel Spring observes, “The combination of moral and political instruction meant that the student leaving the common school would share with fellow students a set of moral and political beliefs; the result would be the creation of a society with a consensus of political and moral values.”26

Common schools were to be supported by state taxes and to be free to all. Rich and poor children would learn to live together. They would learn to see wealth as an outward sign of inner salvation and the rich would learn the value of charity.27

It is this use of education for other purposes than intellectual development that Makiguchi and the heirs to his legacy would object. In an essay Dr. Ikeda wrote:

 “Learning is the very purpose of human life, the primary factor in the development of personality, that which makes human beings truly human. Nevertheless, development of personality has consistently been reduced to a subordinate position and viewed as a means to other ends. This view has prevailed worldwide throughout modern history, particularly in the twentieth century.

The educational system has therefore been reduced to a mere mechanism that serves national objectives, be they political, military, economic or ideological. A certain type of personality, not the full development of personality, has been sought, as if casting individuals from a uniform mold. Treating education as a means rather that an end reinforces a utilitarian view of human life itself.”28

 The most famous text of the common school system was the McGuffey Reader. The goals of the stories in this text were to teach reading and to impart moral lessons. One interesting moral lesson explicitly taught in the McGuffey Readers of 1843 is the spirit of charity. Five of the 29 stories dealing with boys’ character had a theme of charity.29

A researcher, Richard Mosier, summarized the dominant attitude of the McGuffey Readers: “It was argued that the poor would always be with us, that the best for them was charity and benevolence, but that no one need be poor. There are, argued the apostles of acquisition, numerous avenues to success that stand open for the sober, and frugal, the thrifty, and the energetic.”30

Americans heard echoes of those moral messages in President George W. Bush’s call for faith based and private charitable organizations to take a more active role in solving America’s social problems.

As Joel Spring noted, “Catholics objected to the use in school of the King James Version of the Bible and of textbooks that contained anti-Catholic statements.”31 Former slaves were not welcome in most common schools.

In addition, stratified cognitive theory supported stratified schooling. For example, Native Americans were sent to separate boarding schools.32 Ironically, the common school itself became a force for segregation. Social conditions and events undermined the common school principal of a single unifying common education.

Political ideology also had an effect on the common school. Democrats viewed centralized control of the schools as an attempt to promote and protect special privileges for the upper class. They preferred local control of schools to centralized state bureaucracies that characterized common schools.

The McGuffey Readers reflected the political view of the common school proponents who were politically aligned with the Whigs. Whigs believed in government intervention in public affairs and in central control. Spring observes, “To a certain extent, the struggle between Whigs and Democrats was a struggle between incipient bureaucracy and democratic localism.”33 Workingmen’s groups wanted the schools to teach how to exercise political power not just basic principles of government and a common republican creed.34

This type of partisan political struggle over education is strongly opposed by the Soka movement. Dr. Ikeda calls for a paradigm shift in our view of education to rid it of the deleterious effects of political interference.

He quotes Professor Robert Thurman of Columbia University’s answer to the question: How do you view the role of education in society? Professor Thurman replied, “I think the question should rather be: What is the role of society in education? Because in my view education is the purpose of human life.”35

In the 1920’s and 30’s, Makiguchi and his successor Toda both campaigned at the risk of their lives against the nationalistic education that was pushing Japan toward war. Today, Ikeda calls for giving “education a status and independence equal to that accorded the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.”36

At the end of the nineteenth century, America experienced an era of dynamic change. David Tyack reports, “In 1860, the United States lagged behind England, France, and Germany in its industrial output: by 1894 it led the world and produced almost as much in value as those three nations combined.

Schools also expanded in size and complexity in those years to a point where America also surpassed other nations in its educational output.”37 Schools took on a new technical role. They began preparing the new work force and sorting them by ability for the positions in the factories of this new industrial age.

William T. Harris was an intellectual leader in the development of American Education philosophy during the late nineteenth century. He served as the U.S. Commissioner of Education and was for several years the superintendent of schools in Saint Louis. He declared, “The first requisite of the school is Order: each pupil must be taught first and foremost to conform his behavior to a general standard.”

He pointed out that a modern industrial society requires, “conformity to the time of the train, to the starting of work in the manufactory.”38 Researcher David Tyack says, “In the view of most urban school-men of the late nineteenth century, schools should inculcate obedience to bureaucratic norms overtly and with zest.”39

The schools became a “rational sorting device.”40 The rational used for sorting students into positions in the new industrial society was the merit displayed by the student. In the late nineteenth century in Chicago, newspapers referred to the annual examinations to get into high school as the “Olympic Games” and education administrators boasted about how the examinations fostered useful competition.41

From the days of the McGuffey Reader, Americans have been convinced that the way one gets ahead is by applying the good-old Protestant ethic of hard work. Success is seen as being completely up to the individual and it is individual accomplishment that is lionized. This is the “achievement ideology” in America and it is pervasive.42

Princeton Sociologists, Davis and Moore, observed that, “Social inequality is … an unconsciously evolved device by which societies insure that the most important positions are conscientiously filled by the most qualified persons.”43 School has become the implement by which America stratifies itself.

Ralph Turner has defined the system of stratification in America as “contest mobility.” He defines “contest mobility” as “a system in which elite status is the prize in an open contest and is taken by the aspirants’ own efforts.”44

The objective of this system is to give elite status to those who earn it rather than by ascription for some innate trait. This method accords nicely with the American “achievement ideology.” It logically follows that if one failed to reach a desired position, one would blame themselves. Moreover, one would recognize that the position went to the person who earned it.

“Achievement ideology” and “contest mobility” are organizing folk norms in America. Turner explains, “organizing folk norms are reflected in specific value judgements…irrespective of the logic expressed.”45 He also says, “Under contest mobility in the United States, education is valued as a means of getting ahead, but the contents of education are not highly valued in their own right.”46 One reason for textbooks being the central source of information in American Schools is that the system wide exams focus on that material in them.47 This implies that the contest is more important than the content.

Many researchers think the “achievement ideology” in America has undermined intellectual curiosity. For example, Alfie Kohn the noted education authority from Harvard University said, “Surprising as it may seem, the evidence suggests that our long-term goals for children and schools are less likely to be realized when teachers, parents, and the students themselves become preoccupied with standards and achievement.”48

He says a student “may persevere at a task when they’ve been told they have to do well. But a genuine interest in the task – or excitement about the whole idea of learning – often begins to evaporate as soon as achievement becomes the main point.”49 In 1959, Talcott Parsons, one of Kohn’s predecessors at Harvard, made a similar observation: “I think that an important part of the anti-intellectualism in American youth culture stems for the importance of the selective process through the educational system…”50

Makiguchi was very critical of the use of examinations to sort children. Bethel says, “The cramming of useless, soon-to-be-forgotten information in order to pass tests was to him the height of folly and represented in acute form the deeper sickness of the whole educational system.”51

In the foreword to The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy Makiguchi wrote: “I am driven by the intense desire to prevent the present deplorable situation – ten million of our children and students forced to endure the agonies of cutthroat competition, the difficulty of getting into good schools, the examination hell and the struggle for jobs after graduation – from afflicting the next generation.”52

At approximately the same time that Makiguchi was working to reform education in Japan, his contemporary, John Dewey, was fighting a similar battle in the United States. Discovery learning and child-centered learning are themes associated with Dewey’s methods of education. Although Makiguchi found fault with Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy, the two were in deep agreement about the need for humanistic and student-centered education to inform the industrial era.

Unfortunately, neither of these educators’ views prevailed and today we see the same sort of authoritarian factory-modeled education that they were trying to reform in practice virtually everywhere in the world.

In 1982, Kathleen Wilcox did a comparative ethnographic study of a classroom in a lower-middle-class neighborhood and an upper-middle-class neighborhood classroom. The classrooms studied were less than fifteen miles apart, were first-grade level and were in a major metropolitan area in California.

An ethnographic study looks closely at the culture of the subjects being observed on an intimate level. In this case, the expectations and responses of teachers and students in the two different environments were compared in detail. One of Wilcox’s conclusions was: “A vast array of cultural clues cue the teacher as to the child’s likely future position in the work hierarchy, and the teacher in turn behaves in such a way as to socialize the child for and encourage the child toward this position.”53 This view of education is called reproduction theory.

If this is indeed the reality, possibly the root of the problem is that the goal of education is wrong or has been obscured. Makiguchi wrote, “What is the purpose of national education? Rather than devise complex theoretical interpretations, it is better to start by looking to the lovely child who sits on your knee and ask yourself: What can I do to assure that this child will be able to lead the happiest life possible?”54

In the late 1950s, Erich Fromm wrote, “Few parents have the courage and independence to care more for their children’s happiness than for their ‘success.’”55 In the 1990’s, education researcher David Labaree claimed that financial success has become the driving force of American education above happiness, humanistic goals or public rationales.56

In 1983, the Reagan administration sponsored the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which produced a document entitled “A Nation at Risk.” Interestingly, there were few professional educators involved in the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

The opening paragraph of this non-peer reviewed article said in part: “We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”57

This document had a huge political impact and has led to many attempts at education reform throughout America. The main thrust of this document was a call for better teachers and an increased emphasis on the basics. The document called on the students to be given more homework and longer instructional time. Dr. Kohn would characterize this call for education reform as saying, “what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner, and we’ll have a better country.”58

From the viewpoint of Makiguchi or Dewey or Kohn or Fromm or Ikeda or Socrates or Thurman or the great preponderance of education thinkers, the fundamental purpose of education presented by this reform proposal is wrong. The National Commission on Excellence in Education states in “A Nation at Risk:”

 “If only to keep and improve on the slim competitive edge we still retain in world markets, we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our educational system for the benefit of all – old and young alike, affluent and poor, majority and minority. Learning is the indispensable investment required for success in the “information age” we are entering.”59

 In other words, according to The National Commission on Excellence in Education, education is foremost about economics and economic development – education is foremost about the needs of the nation. This is antithetical to the thinking of the world’s great educators.

Teaching processes are cultural products. Stiegler and Hiebert did video studies of classrooms in Germany, the United States and Japan and noticed education practices that were unique to each culture, but did not cross cultures. They wrote, “Teaching, like other cultural activities, is learned through informal participation over long periods of time. It is something one learns to do more by growing up in a culture that by studying it formally.”60

Although, most education philosophers would have significant problems with some of the conclusions of “A Nation at Risk,” they would all agree that teachers are a vital key to accomplishing positive education reform. Improving teaching means changing not only the culture of education but also changing the culture of the society at large.

In 1960, Daisaku Ikeda, was inaugurated as president of Soka Gakkai and under his leadership the organization started expanding its orientation beyond religious propagation to include peace work, cultural advancement and education reform. The organization continued its tremendous growth in Japan and started growing internationally.

On the anniversary of his inauguration, May 3, 1961, Ikeda announced the creation of a new Cultural Bureau with departments of Economics, Politics, Education and Speech. Later an Arts Department was added to the Cultural Bureau. This purposeful entry into secular life sets the Soka Gakkai apart from the other new religious movements that appeared in Japan following World War II. Dr. Bethel speculates:

  “It is my conclusion that much of the philosophical rationale for this secular emphasis, as well as the pedagogical means for implementing it, has grown out of Ikeda’s study of Makiguchi’s work. Study and analysis of Makiguchi’s and Ikeda’s writings reveal in both a central concern for the welfare of the individual in a mass society. Out of this concern for the individual there emerges in both Makiguchi and Ikeda a common model for social reform that sees education as the key factor in the reform process.”61

 In 1968, the Soka Gakkai began the Soka School System by opening a boys’ junior and senior high school in Tokyo. Bethel believes that Makiguchi’s education “proposals are not greatly different than those of Dewey or from a number of today’s educators who are making similar proposals. Makiguchi’s primary claim to uniqueness lies in the fact that Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai are now attempting to implement his proposals, as Murata puts it, ‘on a grand scale.’”62

The table below lists some of the landmark events since the development of the Soka School System started.

Table 1: Soka System Development Dates
1968 Soka Junior/ Senior High Schools open as boys’ school (Tokyo).

1971

Soka University opens.

1973

Kansai Soka Junior and Senior High Schools open as girls’ school.

1976

Sapporo Soka Kindergarten opens.

1978

Tokyo Soka Elementary School opens.

1982

Soka High Schools in Kansai and Tokyo become coeducational.

1982

Kansai Soka Elementary School opens.

1985

Soka Women’s College is established.

1987

Soka University of America – Los Angeles. (Graduate School)

1988

The Study Centers of Wild Birds are established

1992

Hong Kong Soka Kindergarten opens.

1993

Singapore Soka Kindergarten opens.

1995

Malaysia Soka Kindergarten opens.

1997

The Institute of Soka Education opened.

2001

Soka University of America’s (SUA) Aliso Viejo campus opens.

2001

Brazil Soka Kindergarten opens Sao Paulo, Brazil.

2002

Brazil Soka Elementary School opens Sao Paulo Brazil

2005

SUA accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges

2007

Graduate school transferred to SUA campus

2008

Soka Happiness Kindergarten Seoul, Korea

2011

Soka Performing Art Center Opened at SUA

2014

SUA-Education Leadership and Societal Change Masters Program

As Table 1 shows, the Soka School System is continuing to expand. Now, there is a yearly graduation of thousands of students from Soka School facilities. Since opening in 1971, the Kansai Soka High School has graduated more than 20,000 students and now continuously graduates a class of about 500 students. Tokyo Soka High School graduates about 400 students per year.

Soka University Japan has a total enrollment of about 9000 students. The Soka University of America graduate school in Los Angeles, which opened in 1987, offers a Masters of Arts in English as a Second Language Education and has an average graduating class of about thirty students a year. It was moved to the Soka University of America campus in 2007.

The Soka University of America, which opened in 2001, in Orange County California offers a liberal arts undergraduate curriculum. The schools web site reports:

 

“Soka University (SUA), a private, four-year liberal arts college and graduate school located in Aliso Viejo, CA, has been consistently appearing in the top national rankings for Best Value Colleges and Most Diverse Colleges. US News & World Report’s “Best Colleges 2016” ranked SUA in the Top Five in both Best Value and Ethnic Diversity among National Liberal Arts Colleges and #1 in Foreign Student Factor (highest percentage of International Students.)

“Soka offers an 8:1 student/faculty ratio and study abroad for every undergraduate student.  About 60% of Soka University’s students come from the US and 40% have come from more than 40 other countries.  Admitted students whose annual family income is $60,000 or less may be eligible for Soka Opportunity Scholarships which cover full tuition.  Additional scholarship opportunities are available for higher income levels.”63

 

In addition to these institutions there are approximately 1000 elementary and eight hundred junior high students going to Soka schools in Tokyo and Osaka.64 There are also a number of children attending a Soka Elementary school in Brazil and Soka Kindergarten schools in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Brazil.

Interviews with teachers and students who are veterans of the Soka system helped bring the actual functioning of the schools into focus. The big difference that the eight teachers and students interviewed all commented on about the experience in Soka Schools compared with other schools was the family feeling generated. Students see their teachers as friends and the teachers are involved with the lives of each student.

One student told of going from elementary school through Soka Women’s College before coming to the United States to continue her education. She attended Glendale Community College in the Los Angeles area and then completed her degree in microbiology at University of California San Diego. The biggest difference in school for her in the United States was not feeling protected. Unlike at the Soka Schools, in America, she felt completely on her own.

There is a spirit of egalitarianism at the Soka Schools. At the Soka High School in Tokyo, the teachers meet for fifteen minutes every morning to make final communications before the teaching day starts. They meet in the large one room office that all of the teachers and administrators share. The students have free access to the office and to any teacher or administrator in the office.

Soka High Schools employ a version of tracking in which all of the students are put into one of eight academic tracks. The tracks are generally assigned according to the students’ interest, however, tracks 7 and 8 are advanced science and math tracks in which students that want to go to one of the prestigious public universities are groomed. These students get a different type of academic preparation and normally take courses in “cram school” as well.

From elementary school through high school, most classes have about forty students in them. This would conform to the class size of other schools in Japan. Stigler and Hiebert reported that the average eighth grade classroom size was “thirty-seven in Japan.”65

John Koepke, who attended Soka University in Tokyo and then taught for four years at Soka High School believes that Soka High School’s size is being held to 1200 students to ensure good communication between faculty and students. He said the school was smaller than similar schools in the neighborhood.

Alfie Kohn’s writes, “Interestingly, some prominent educators, including Deborah Meier, Thomas Sergiovanni, and the late John Holt have argued that the size of each class is less important that the size of the school.”66 Of course, this was Bill Gates first big reform idea. However, the structure of the classrooms in the Japanese Soka Schools may have more to do with the dictates of the Ministry of Education than it does with reform education.

It is easy for students going through that Soka School system to get into the next level of school. The only requirement is passing the previous grade and going to an interview at the next level of school with their parents. Students from Soka High School are almost automatically accepted at Soka University, but students from outside of the Soka System go through a rigorous exam process to get into the Soka System.

In addition, the incoming student’s grades from high school are heavily factored into the acceptance formulas at Soka University and Soka Women’s College. Therefore, at Soka High School only the track 7 and 8 students who want to go to one of the famous public universities take cram school to prepare for the national exams.

During interviews, the Soka educators pointed out that in Japan the Ministry of Education controls all aspects of education including textbooks. If a school is going to be accredited, it can only use the textbooks that are prescribed. It is a difficult and time consuming process to get a change approved. If a College wants to offer a new field of study, it must get approval from the Ministry of Education.

In the years leading to the opening of Soka University of America (SUA), Dr. Ikeda put special emphasis on the importance of the creation of this institution. As an example he said, “As its founder, I am committed to bold experimentation and full implementation of the ideals of value-creating education.”67 This comment seems to indicate that Dr. Ikeda expects value-creating pedagogy to be advanced to new levels at SUA.

Dr. Alfred Balitzer, the first Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Political Science at SUA, suggested in an interview that there is enhanced political freedom for schools to experiment with education in the United States, but he felt that Dr. Ikeda has more reasons than that for his expectations of SUA. He said that Dr. Ikeda wants an International student body and that the United States is the best location for that purpose. One of the stated purposes of SUA is the development of global citizens.68 He also mentioned that Dr. Ikeda feels in the United States that all issues can be discussed with a kind of openness that does not exist in Japan.

SUA students are required to participate in a study or intern program outside of the United States before they graduate. The SUA classes are small seminar style classes with the teachers taking the role of mentor. Students and teachers are encouraged to develop close relationships in which the students feel free to ask questions.

The leaders of Soka Education are implementing humanistic student-centered education on an unprecedented scale. Alfie Kohn says, “It would seem that traditional education sometimes provides students with basic skills but rarely with a penetrating understanding of what lies behind those skills, how they’re connected, or how they can be thoughtfully applied.”69 Makiguchi and his successor Daisaku Ikeda would agree. Dr. Ikeda defines what it means to be well educated:

 

“Those who may be considered truly well-educated people possess their own clear system of values, their own clear beliefs and opinions, not borrowed from someone else. They base their lives on their own firm convictions, and they do not simply follow convention. They refuse to be led astray by others, and they are armed with broad knowledge and a sharp intelligence with which to penetrate the essence of life and society. These are the qualities of a well-educated person.”70

Soka Education is striving to show a way to create this kind of well-educated person and reform-minded educators should observe this experiment with hope.

 

Notes:

1) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 5.

2) Ibid., Page 7 (Langemann quote in Kohn).

3) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 29.

4) Ibid.

5) Ibid., Page 18.

6) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Education Toward Global Civilization.” speech at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. June 13, 1996 in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 100.

7) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 43.

8) Makiguchi, Tsunesaburo. Philosophy of Value. Trans. Soka Gakkai Overseas Bureau. Tokyo: Seikyo Press. 1964. Page ix. (Originally published in Japanese in 1930).

9) Ibid., Page 24.

10) Ibid., Page 15.

11) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 18.

12) Ibid.

13) Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995. Page 29.

14) Ibid.

15) Ibid., Page 30

16) Ibid., Page 30

17) Mehan, Hugh. “The Democratic Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 4 April, 2002.

18) Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

19) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 90.

20) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 11.

21) Ibid. Page 7.

22) Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995. Page 36.

23) Mehan, Hugh. “The Democratic Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 4 April, 2002.

24) Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 9 April 2002.

25) Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 2.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

26) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 87.

27) Ibid.

28) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 70.

29) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 142.

30) Mossier, Richard. Quoted in Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 144.

31) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 102.

32) Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 9 April 2002.

33) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 100.

34) Ibid.

35) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 70.

36) Ibid., Page 78

37) Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974. Page 29.

38) Haris, William T. quoted in Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974. Page 43.

39) Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974. Page 40.

40) Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

41) Ibid., Page 57.

42) Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 16 April 2002.

43) Davis, Kingsley and Wilbert E. Moore. “Some Principals of Stratification.” American Sociological Review Volume 10, number 2. 1945. Page 243.

44) Turner, Ralph. “Sponsored and Contest Mobility and the School System.” American Sociological Review. 1959. Page 856.

45) Ibid., Page 857.

46) Ibid., Page 863.

47) Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974.

48) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 27.

49) Ibid., Page 28.

50) Parsons, Talcott. “The School Class as a Social System: Some of Its Functions in American Society.” Harvard Education Review – Volume 29 – Number 4. Fall 1959. Page 312.

51) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 75.

52) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 9.

53) Wilcox, Kathleen “Differential Socialization in the Classroom: Implications for Equal Opportunity.” from Spindler, George (ed.). Doing the Ethnography of Schooling: Educational Anthropology in Action. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1982. Page 304.

54) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 10.

55) Fromm, Erich. Foreword to Summerhill by A.S. Neill. New York: Hart. 1960.

56) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 119.

57) National Commission on Excellence in Education. “A Nation at Risk.” Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office. 1983. Page 595.

58) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 16.

59) National Commission on Excellence in Education. “A Nation at Risk.” Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office. 1983. Page 596.

60) Stigler, James W. and James Hiebert. The Teaching Gap. New York: The Free Press. 1999. Page 86.

61) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 98.

62) Ibid., Page 149.

63) Soka University of America. http://www.soka.edu/about_soka/default.aspx, accessed July, 2016.

64) Soka Gakkuen. “History of Soka Schools.”  http://www.kansai.soka.ed.jp/. 2002.

65) Stigler, James W. and James Hiebert. The Teaching Gap. New York: The Free Press. 1999. Page 28.

66) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 156.

67) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 89.

68) Ibid.

69) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 233.

70) Ikeda, Daisaku. Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 187.

 

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Makiguchi, Tsunesaburo. Philosophy of Value. Trans. Soka Gakkai Overseas Bureau. Tokyo: Seikyo Press. 1964.

Mehan, Hugh. “The Democratic Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 4 April, 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 9 April 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 2.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education – Part 2.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 16 April 2002.

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Neil A.S. Summerhill. New York: Hart. 1960.

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