Bernie Sanders: Good for K-12 Education

On February 23rd, I wrote an open letter to the Presidential candidates and asked them their positions on K-12 education. I also asked readers to begin the conversation on this blog about who would be the best choice for our kids and for our country.  I received the following statement in support of Bernie Sanders. It informs us about Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sander’s positions on charter schools and the financing of public education. Note the specific details in the WSJ link. 

What are your thoughts about who would be best for K-12 education? Send your statement to annpcronin@gmail.com or comment below. 

Read on:   

Teachers and Parents Should Endorse Bernie Sanders Over Hillary Clinton. 

One has to wonder whether the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) made a mistake in their early endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the presidency.Thus far, according to a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) story, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has given reassurances to her wealthy campaign financiers that she will not deviate from the education policies of Barack Obama in the support of charter schools and high-stakes standardized testing as a means of measuring schools and teacher effectiveness.

On the other hand, Bernie Sanders in a speech in New Hampshire on January 3, 2016 stated that, “I am not in favor of privately run charter schools…..I went to public schools my whole life, so I think rather than to give tax breaks to billionaires, I think we invest in teachers and we invest in public education.” Needless to say, this statement by Bernie Sanders is “earth-shaking” and is in opposition to what the Clinton campaign is advocating which is the continuation of the billionaires’ and corporate America’s influence on K-12 public education.

Also highly innovative and unique among main-stream politicians are Bernie Sanders’ recent comments on school districts’ dependency on property taxes. He believes this dependency on local property taxes is the cause of inequality among the affluent school districts and school districts which are largely impoverished. He cites the fact that schools in the more affluent suburbs have “great schools” whereas schools in the poorer, inner-cities of the nation are substandard. Moreover, he advocates that the federal government needs to play an active role in order to  “make sure that those schools who need it the most get the funds that they deserve.” Needless to say, this type of forward thinking is unheard of in modern-day politics.

One of the concerns of teachers and parents regarding Hillary Clinton’s K-12 positions is her close affiliation with the “millionaire” donors who are helping to fund her presidential campaign. If elected president, will Clinton continue the education policies of her predecessor, Barack Obama, by espousing the use of standardized tests as a measurement of school and teacher effectiveness? Thus far, Hillary Clinton has said very little on the campaign trail to indicate that she plans to change what Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has supported during his nearly eight years in this cabinet position. Will Hillary follow in the footsteps of Duncan in his support of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), along with its flawed standardized tests created by non-educators which have proven to be developmentally inappropriate for young children?

 If Hillary Clinton should be elected in 2016, it will not take very long for the NEA and UFT to know whether they had made a wise decision in their early endorsement. The appointment of the new Secretary of Education will determine whether it will be “business as usual “ and someone who will adhere to the “testocracy” agenda along with the continued privatization movement. Or will it be someone who will move education in a new direction, an Education Secretary who will restore the dignity of the teaching profession and someone who is a true advocate of public education? Shouldn’t Hillary Clinton be indicating her views concerning K-12 education on the campaign trail in order that teachers and parents can make an informed decision whether to vote for her or Bernie Sanders in the upcoming primaries?

Joseph A. Ricciotti, Ed.D.

For Our Kids: Crucial Questions About Education Each Presidential Candidate Must Answer

Dear Dr. Carson, Secretary Clinton, Senator Cruz, Governor Kasich, Senator Rubio, Senator Sanders, and Mr. Trump:

An issue that you have barely touched on in the televised debates and town hall meetings is K-12 education. Yet the education policies of the next President will affect every child and adolescent in the United States and will determine the future of our nation. Therefore, I am writing to ask you some crucial questions about K-12 education. I will post your responses on my blog, which has more than a quarter of a million readers who are concerned about education in this country.

The questions for you are:

  1. More than 500 experts in early childhood education, including the most respected professionals in the country, issued a public statement opposing the Common Core Standards for Early Childhood Education because those standards are developmentally inappropriate and cause harm to young children. The National Council of Teachers of English, comprised of elementary, middle, and high school teachers as well as college professors, did not endorse the Common Core Standards. In their analysis of the Common Core Standards, they noted that they are not internationally benchmarked and are lacking vital elements of literacy education that countries with which we compete have. No experts in the field of teaching reading and writing and no early childhood professionals were asked to participate in the writing of the  Common Core Standards. The Common Core Standards were not written by educators who know how to teach and how students learn best; they were written by people who produce standardized tests and analyze student data. What do you think the federal government or state governments should do about these standards, which are neither based on a reliable foundation nor have any evidence that they make students “college and career ready”?
  1.  Private foundations have funded and mandated what and how all students in the country will be taught and have been a strong force in determining how teachers and administrators will be trained. The leading funders are Bill and Melinda Gates who have spent billions to create and implement the Common Core. Bill and Melinda Gates also control the discussion of the Common Core in the media and promote the Common Core by giving grants to organizations, ranging from the national teachers unions to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters. Do you think such control over public education by billionaires is true to the nature of a democracy? Or does it make the United States an oligarchy with major decisions made by the wealthy few?
  1. Rupert Murdoch has said that the public education sector in this country is a $500 billion market. We have seen the privatization of public education as charter schools proliferate. Charter schools use public money but are not publicly accountable and operate for the profit of their investors. What is your position on privatizing public education? Do you think it acceptable to provide taxpayer dollars to charter schools that are not accountable to the public for the use of that public money?
  1. States fund charter schools for a relatively small number of students and, thereby, deny those funds to traditional public schools, which have the responsibility to educate all of the students. What is your opinion of that use of public funds?
  1. Charter schools, on the whole, do not perform better than public schools, even though their students are more select due to their family background and come from less impoverished homes than students in traditional public schools. Charter schools also have students with fewer special needs and and fewer students who are English language learners, and charter schools control what students they keep and  what students they dismiss. What, then, is your justification for supporting charter schools if you do and your reasons for not supporting them if you don’t?
  1. According to Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card, only five states, Alabama, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Vermont, earn the mark of A for rejecting  high stakes tests as a way for determining if students are promoted to the next grade and graduate from high school and for evaluating teachers. What is your opinion about the test-and-punish practices of the other states?
  1. Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card also discusses and provides data about racial segregation in our schools. It states:  “To a large extent, residential segregation is responsible for school segregation. However, state policies that promote school choice typically exacerbate segregation and charters often isolate students by race and class. Therefore, even beyond housing policies, the education policies and incentives that states put in place influence the degree of segregation in their public schools. In some schools, segregation is so extreme that the UCLA Civil Rights Project describes them as apartheid schools.” What would you, as President, do to reduce or eliminate the segregation caused by school choice programs and publicly funded but privately managed charter schools?
  1. Affluent students in our country receive a far different education than less privileged students do. School officials in affluent school districts are confident that their students’ standardized test scores will be fine so do not limit education to the totally inadequate Common Core. They provide their students with an education rich in inquiry and independent thinking. However, in poorer school districts officials are concerned with their history of low test scores. Therefore, students in those lower income districts often have their school days filled with test prep instead of authentic learning experiences. How do we, as a nation, make sure that we do not have two separate and unequal educational systems determined by class, one for the haves and one for the have-nots?
  1. Perhaps it is not the curricula or the teachers but rather the poverty of a large portion of our population that creates problems in student achievement.  Depending on how poverty is defined, either  1 in 5 children  or 1 in 3 children are living below the poverty level in the United States. Either statistic is shameful. We, the richest nation in the world, have staggering amounts of child poverty compared with other industrialized nations. How will you address the issue of poverty? Do you have plans for making  resources and opportunities more equitable for students in affluent, middle class, and impoverished school districts?
  1.  It is abundantly clear that standardized tests cannot measure the quality of an educational system or the capabilities students will need for their future. They will need to know how to ask good questions, collaborate with diverse people, be innovative, have strategies for learning how to learn as they solve new problems and address issues that we can’t yet imagine. How will you, as President, ascertain if our educational system is working well so that students are learning what they need to learn in order to live satisfying lives, have productive careers, and be contributing citizens of a democracy? How will you measure the quality of American education?

Dr. Carson, Secretary Clinton, Senator Cruz, Governor Kasich, Senator Rubio, Senator Sanders, and Mr. Trump, thank you for your time. I will post your responses as soon as I receive them. Your answers will be of great interest to the many readers of this blog.

Sincerely,

Ann Policelli Cronin

Note to readers: While we wait for responses from the candidates, let’s start the conversation. I encourage you to write in support of a candidate for President of the United States, based on that candidate’s positions on education.  You may post your comments below, or if you wish to write a longer piece, send it to me at annpcronin@gmail.com. I will post as many statements as feasible. 

 

 

 

The Tide Is Turning: High School Is Coming Back

Sometimes changing one thing in a culture changes everything. That is what more than 50 college and university deans of admission, college presidents, and university chancellors, in addition to representatives from public and independent schools, are hoping for. Their one thing to change is the process of applying to college.

Educators on both the high school and college side of the college admissions process have been looking with dismay at what adolescence has become for many students due to the pressure to succeed in high school in order to gain college acceptance. They are concerned that those pressures have been harmful to the students’ well being and have influenced them to be overly self-absorbed. That group, with representatives from the most prestigious colleges and universities, recently released a report through the Harvard School of Education, entitled Turning the Tide, which details proposed changes in the college application process. All of those deans of admission endorsed the changes and will put them into effect so that high school students will enlarge their view of what success means and make huge changes in how they go through their high school years.

The report points out that the college application process itself sends the message to young people that their individual success, rather than concern for others and the common good, is paramount. The report calls for specific changes that will improve the emotional and psychological health of adolescents, increase opportunities for a broader range of students, and contribute to shaping a national culture different from the one we now have. The new application will redefine the roles of AP courses, extracurricular activities, standardized tests, and community service in admission decisions.

Currently, many students take as many AP courses as possible because they have been told that will impress colleges. The original intent of AP courses was to provide post high school experience for those who benefit from the challenge of college work in a specific area while in high school; now a schedule dominated by four or five AP courses a year has become high school for many students. The report notes that the achievement pressure resulting from that kind of schedule contributes to “high rates of depression, delinquency, substance abuse, and anxiety” in adolescents.

Many years ago, a student came to me, as English curriculum leader, and asked for permission to take a junior English honors course and a senior AP Literature and Composition course at the same time in her junior year because she would be studying abroad for her senior year. I explained to her that it would not be wise because each of those courses had hefty time commitments and required a prodigious amount of reading and writing. As I listed the specific books and writing assignments, she looked me in the eye and said, “ I hear what you’re saying, but for me that’s a party.” I didn’t give that student permission to double-up because of the amount of work and the availability of an AP English course at her international school although it would not have the particular challenge and the particular teacher she wanted. However, after that, when students or their parents asked for my advice about taking an AP course, I would use her word “party” and tell them that if the student thought that the course, in some intellectual way, would be a party, then he or she should take it. It has been my experience that two “parties”, two AP courses a year, is a maximum for high school students.

Turning the Tide doesn’t use the term “party” but endorses that concept. The new application process will state clearly that “a large number of AP or IB courses per year are often not as valuable as sustained achievement in a limited number of areas”. The report recommends that the college application process identify students who are passionate about an area of study, students who find intellectual engagement in that area, not the ones who “game the system” with a long list of AP courses.

According to Turning the Tide, students similarly try to “game the system” with a long list of extra-curricular activities. Admissions officers are dismissive of the “brag lists” of a large number of activities in which they suspect students may have minimal commitment and surface involvement.

Their suspicions are correct. I recall a faculty meeting at which the advisor to the National Honor Society recommended that guidance counselors advise 8th graders about how to plan for their upcoming high school years. They were to be told that in high school they should play at least one sport, join one music group, join one academically oriented club, and do a community service project so that they would qualify for National Honor Society as seniors and get into a good college. I objected, saying that students had a lifetime to become neurotic and questioned why we should make it happen when they are fourteen.

Turning the Tide throws that whole idea of resume building for 14 year olds out the window and encourages meaningful engagement in extracurricular activities. Applications will ask students to report only two or three activities and to explain in narrative form how the activities are meaningful for them.

Turning the Tide just about throws the SAT out the window too. Time has changed the purpose of the SAT. Originally, the SAT was put in place to ascertain a student’s aptitude for college, but, starting in March 2016, the SAT will be used as an achievement test to determine how well students have mastered the Common Core curriculum, how high schools will be ranked, and how teachers will be evaluated. Even when the SAT was considered a test of aptitude, it didn’t function well. The scores always correlated with the income of the students’ parents. The SAT didn’t measure student aptitude as much as it measured student affluence.
The report recommends that colleges and universities make the SAT optional. Already more than 850 colleges and universities do not use the SAT or ACT to admit substantial numbers of bachelor degree students and more than 200 top tier colleges and universities deemphasize the SAT and ACT in making admissions decisions. It may take a while for all colleges and universities to do that. Recently, when commenting on Turning the Tide, the president of a highly regarded university told me that within 10 years, standardized testing for college admission will be gone because all colleges recognize it is high school grades that predict success in college, not standardized tests.

Turning the Tide also addresses the common practice of students listing a number of community service endeavors even if their participation is minimal and does not have a deep impact on their lives. The new college application will ask students only about community service in which they have been involved for at least a year, about which they feel passionate, and from which they have learned and grown. The definition of community service is also expanded to “substantial and sustained contributions to one’s family”, such as working outside the home to provide needed income or caring for siblings or other family members. Doing that honors the service of less affluent students who give time to their families and do not have time for other kinds of service to others.

Big changes.

How will high school students be affected?

  1. It will open up possibilities for higher education for students of poverty and reduced income who have fewer advantages and more responsibilities than their peers.
  1. It will give adolescents a greater chance for emotional and psychological health.
  1. It will allow adolescents to experience high school for its own opportunities for intellectual growth and social development and not only as a pathway to college acceptance.
  1. It will give students more authentic learning experiences as the pressure of the SAT goes away and the incentive to teach the deeply flawed Common Core, which the SAT assesses, is reduced.
  1. It invites students to follow their own intellectual passions and to relate to their community in authentic and caring ways.
  1. It increases the chance that students will live their adult lives in a more compassionate world.

Thank you, Harvard. Thank you, Yale. Thank you, University of North Carolina. Thank you, M.I.T.. Thank you, Holy Cross. Thank you, Connecticut College. Thank you, Trinity. Thanks to all the other 44 colleges and universities who have endorsed these changes in the college application process.