First Responders For The Nation’s Children

I urge you take a very few minutes and read this New Yorker piece by David Denby. I want to second one of Denby’s points and elaborate on another.

I agree with Denby when he writes that what is currently called “reform” in education should be put in quotation marks. There is no reform when those who know nothing about how young children learn write the standards for early childhood education.  There is no reform when one man, David Coleman, single-handedly mandates how all students should be educated as readers and writes when he has zero knowledge of how to best do that. There is no reform when taxpayer money is used to run schools for the few when the many are deprived of the use of those taxes. There is no reform when segregation is increased due to charter schools in both the North and the South. There is no reform when the public schools of a democracy become privatized and run for the profit of the rich. Branding the efforts of entrepreneurs and charlatans as reform in public education is wrong. Nothing has been reformed on their watch. Nothing has been improved.

David Denby writes about the Common Core aligned tests as being harder. But are they? Harder than what? Harder than another standardized test? Any teacher can make a hard test, one that everyone in the class would flunk. Being hard means nothing. It is what is on the test, what is being assessed that matters. It is how the students’ expertise is being assessed that matters. A standardized test may be as hard as nails, but it can never ever assess competence.

Hats off to David Denby who recognizes that teachers are the first responders to what ails our society, not the cause of it, and that those first responders deserve our support.

U.S.Education: Up To Us

Betsy DeVos was blocked by protestors from entering a DC public school. That action could be a symbol of saying NO to a Secretary of Education entering a public school for the first time in her life.  That action could be a symbol of saying NO to a Secretary of Education who does not understand what it means to learn and what it means to teach. That action could be a symbol of saying NO to a Secretary of Education who does not know how to maximize learning and support good teaching.

But physical blocking is not the answer. It doesn’t take us far enough.

We need actions that say NO to whatever Betsy DeVos tells us to do that undermines what we know is in the best interests of students.  We can start right now by:

  As parents, teachers, and school administrators, show up at local school board meetings and legislative hearings on local and state budgets and say NO to public tax money being given to privately managed charter schools which have no accountability to the public about how they spend the taxpayer money taken away from 85% of the nation’s children who are in traditional public schools.

  As parents, opt your children out of standardized tests because they do not assess learning and take valuable learning time away from students as they prepare for those tests, which are roads to nowhere. 

  As school administrators, conduct professional development for teachers about what it means to teach and what it means to learn. Familiarize teachers with the skills that students need to develop as learners and thinkers in order to succeed in the world of work and live productive and fulfilling lives.  

  As school administrators, tell teachers about the research which proves, without a doubt, that standardized tests are unreliable and invalid measures of student learning. 

  As school administrators, tell teachers to ignore the demands of the standardized tests and commission them to work together to create meaningful curriculum, firmly grounded in an understanding of how children and adolescents learn. Throw out the Common Core because it is not based on any understanding of how children and adolescents learn. 

  As teachers, continue to grow in love of your profession and love of your students and ignore what the U.S. Department of Education says and does.

  As citizens, address poverty and racism in your community and state – and see public education as the solution it has always been.

And that’s just for starters. We have the whole enterprise of U.S. education to run.  There’s no one else. Only us. Let’s get busy. 

 

 

 

 

The Times For Which We Were Made

This morning, the morning of the vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, I heard Steve Schmidt, an experienced Republican strategist, say that 48 Republican Senators know that Betsy DeVos is incompetent but do not want to spend their political capital by opposing her with a “No” vote. They would wait, he said, for a more important issue. How sad that at least one of those Senators who knows that she is unfit could not say to himself or herself: This is the place where I put my stake in the ground. This is where I begin to oppose what is ethically and legally and politically wrong with Donald Trump and his administration. Here I stand. And it is only the beginning for me.

But not one of those 48 Republican Senator had the character to vote for what he or she knew was best for the children of this country. We will not forget what they did. We will vote them out.

In the meantime, what shall we do?

The good news is that no one doubts that Betsy DeVos is incompetent so there is room for those of us with real competence about education to speak out, to advocate, to resist, and to educate the country about how children learn, about what good teaching is, about what good curriculum is, about how to best assess students, and about how public education is necessary to keep our democracy.

We must admit that Betsy DeVos is not the first person on the national scene who knew nothing or very little about teaching and learning. Bill Gates paid for the Common Core Standards and knows nothing about teaching and learning. David Coleman wrote the Common Core Standards and knows nothing about teaching and learning. Arne Duncan, who had been a director of an elementary school mentoring program and the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools but had no experience with the teaching and learning of K-12 students, knew little. He privileged charter schools and high stakes standardized testing. John King, who taught only one year in a traditional public school, also knew little about teaching and learning. He continued the anti-public school policies of Arnie Duncan and favored publicly funded, privately managed charter schools.  So we have been going down the wrong road since 2001 due to the enactment of No Child Left Behind with its focus on standardized testing and its refusal to look at the root issues that produce differences in student achievement.

Betsy DeVos is just the end result of an almost 16 year journey. I choose to believe that most of the forerunners of Betsy De Vos were well intentioned but unknowing and misguided. Betsy DeVos, however, is a caricature of a public school educator. Her intention has long been to end public education as an institution of this democracy. She has given her time and her money for that goal, and she now has the power to accomplish it.

We must step in.

I suggest that every educator in Connecticut and every parent in Connecticut pick one of the following issues to give time and energy:

  1. Oppose charter schools which are funded by public taxes but which have no transparency about what they do with taxpayer money and no accountability for the education that they provide with that taxpayer money and no record of being more successful than traditional public schools. Address the General Assembly and local boards of education. Demand transparency and accountability.
  1. Write in print and for online publications and speak to the media about what the data clearly shows are the inadequacies of standardized testing to assess student achievement, teaching expertise, or quality of schools.
  1. Write in print and online publications and speak to the media about the tawdriness of the Common Core Standards and how focusing school curriculum on the Common Core Standards denies students the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.
  1. Be a watchdog regarding the Connecticut State Budget to make sure that there are adequate funds allocated to education and that the distribution of those funds is equitable. Testify to the General Assembly. Contact your elected representatives.
  1. Oversee full and accurate reporting about graduation rates, K-12 student performance, and college retention rates for graduates of all  Connecticut schools funded with taxpayer money.

How will you do this? Where will you get the resources?

We have the force of our passion and our solidarity with one another, and we have two excellent resources:

  • Here in Connecticut, a new group, Connecticut United for Strong Public Schools, is comprised of educators in K-12 schools as well as in colleges and universities, lawyers, and concerned citizens who are knowledgeable about Connecticut legislation, Connecticut schools, and the research about teaching and learning. Members of that group will provide you with information and help you to strategize.

A friend of mine at the Women’s March in Washington DC carried a sign that said:

THESE ARE THE TIMES FOR WHICH WE WERE MADE.

Indeed. Let’s get busy.

Vote No

This is what the editorial board of Betsy DeVos’s home state newspaper, The Detroit Free Press, wrote about her being voted on as Secretary of Education on Tuesday, February 7th:

Make no mistake: A vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education is a vote to end public education in this country as we know it.

This isn’t conspiracy theory, or ideologically driven slander. Look at DeVos’ own words and actions, over her long career advocating against traditional public schools; her funding of an ideologically driven pro-charter lobby; her willingness to spend whatever it takes to ensure her policy preferences become law.

DeVos is unqualified in every respect to serve as head of this critical department, and the U.S. Senate must vote Tuesday to reject her nomination.

So, by the end of the day on February 7th, we will know if the institution so vital to the functioning of a democracy, public education, is in dangerous hands. We will also know if what David Brooks warned us about is coming true. We will know if the Republican Senators have sold their souls.

Calling It As It Is

It is refreshing to see more balanced reporting about education in The New York Times. For years, the paper has portrayed an infatuation with charter schools and has incorporated the rhetoric of misnamed education “reformers” in its reporting. Several recent articles in The New York Times demonstrate a more open approach and a recognition that those “reformers” are actually privatizers and profiteers. An example is this piece by the highly esteemed writer, Gail Collins. In it, she is critical of those privatizers and profiteers as she writes about how unqualified Betsy DeVos is to head the U.S. Department of Education.

The March: Six Days In

The DC Women’s March and the Sister Marches are over.

Some critics, such as David Brooks, tell us that the marches were sweet but will be ineffective. Let’s prove him wrong.

First, let’s get fired up by listening here to Carole King’s “One Small Voice”. Carole King re-recorded the song and made it available to everyone after marching in a Sister March in Stanley, Idaho (population: 63) with 28 other people, half the town. She said she re-recorded the song because she “never stopped believing that one small voice plus millions of other small voices is exactly how we change the world”.

Second, let’s each decide how we will use our voice for political action.

Here’s what I will do:

I will give my voice, my time, and my energy to two projects, one local and one national:

  • I will oppose the Trump intention to destroy public schools by working to save Connecticut’s public schools. The forthcoming Connecticut state budget threatens public education. I will write to inform the 10,000 people who marched in Hartford on January 21st, the thousands of Connecticut residents who marched in Washington that day, and all Connecticut citizens about how funding for education in Connecticut lines up with Donald Trump’s intentions. I will advocate for a state budget that does not embody the Trump agenda.
  •  I will call Democratic Senators and Representatives on a weekly basis to urge them to oppose Donald Trump’s inadequately reasoned, self-aggrandizing, harmful-to-the-republic proposals and his attempts to undermine the democratic process, such as by controlling the press. There is no reasoning with a demagogue. There is no trust to be had in Democrats compromising on what they know is best, such as when Senator Warren and Senator Brown voted to confirm Ben Carson about whom they expressed deep reservations. It is not the time for establishment politics. The threat of fascism is real. I will push all elected Democrats to be radical in opposing that danger.

What will you do?

Demagogue Alert

This is the sign I carried at the Sister March in Hartford, Connecticut on January 21, 2017.

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The events of the first days of the Trump administration reinforced for me that, indeed, we do need to be on alert.

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor and current professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley in this 2 minute 41 second video explains how Donald Trump’s treatment of the media gives us reason to fear for the loss of our democracy.

Everything we deeply care about- equity, civil rights, the environment, health care, education, the economy, national security, and, most of all, our children- depends on us maintaining a democracy.

End the oligarchy we have had. Don’t let a demagogue take hold.

Let’s get busy. Let’s get political.