Have we moved away from the “public” in public education?

I am a staunch supporter of equal access to high quality education for all students. That being said, as I work with schools around the United States, I am gravely concerned that we’ve departed from the notion of free and appropriate public education for all students by tinkering with the system to such an extent that it is now designed to provide advantages to a few while leaving many wanting. The reality is that all schools must consider themselves as market competitors, regardless of where their funding comes from.

For more on this notion, see Nikole Hannah-Jones excellent piece in the NY Times:

We began moving away from the “public” in public education a long time ago. In fact, treating public schools like a business these days is largely a matter of fact in many places. Parents have pushed for school-choice policies that encourage shopping for public schools that they hope will give their children an advantage and for the expansion of charter schools that are run by private organizations with public funds. Large numbers of public schools have selective admissions policies that keep most kids out. And parents pay top dollar to buy into neighborhoods zoned to “good” public schools that can be as exclusive as private ones. The glaring reality is, whether we are talking about schools or other institutions, it seems as if we have forgotten what “public” really means …

Even when they fail, the guiding values of public institutions, of the public good, are equality and justice. The guiding value of the free market is profit

Democracy works only if those who have the money or the power to opt out of public things choose instead to opt in for the common good. It’s called a social contract, and we’ve seen what happens in cities where the social contract is broken: White residents vote against tax hikes to fund schools where they don’t send their children, parks go untended and libraries shutter because affluent people feel no obligation to help pay for things they don’t need.

If there is hope for a renewal of our belief in public institutions and a common good, it may reside in the public schools. Nine of 10 children attend one, a rate of participation that few, if any, other public bodies can claim, and schools, as segregated as many are, remain one of the few institutions where Americans of different classes and races mix …

Testing: Too much, too far, too fast

In the NY Times:

“This is the proverbial perfect storm of testing that has hit not only Florida but all the states,” said Alberto M. Carvalho, the influential superintendent of Miami-Dade County Schools, the fourth-largest district in the country, who was named the 2014 national superintendent of the year. “This is too much, too far, too fast, and it threatens the fabric of real accountability.”

Read States Listen as Parents Give Rampant Testing an F

Ensuring Equitable Access to Effective Educators

The US Department of Education recently released a guidance document in an attempt to influence educator effectiveness reform across the US:

In the NY Times article U.S. to Focus on Equity in Assigning of Teachers:

… states must develop plans by next June that make sure that public schools comply with existing federal law requiring that “poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified or out-of-field teachers.”

…In an increasingly rare show of agreement with the Obama administration, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second largest teachers’ union, welcomed the guidance.

“We’re supporting this process because the rhetoric around this process has changed from ‘Just come up with the data and we will sanction you if the data doesn’t look right,’ ” Ms. Weingarten said in a telephone interview, “to ‘What’s the plan to attract and support and retain qualified and well-prepared teachers for the kids who need it most.’ ”

But other education advocates said they were concerned that the guidance could lack teeth. “The very real risk is that this just becomes a big compliance paperwork exercise,” said Daria Hall, K-12 policy director at the Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for racial minority students and low-income children, “and nothing actually happens on behalf of kids.”

From Edweek‘s States Must Address Teaching Gaps:

 …Key takeaways:

  • At a minimum, state plans have to consider whether low-income and minority kids are being taught by inexperienced, ineffective, or unqualified teachers at a rate that’s higher than other students in the state. That’s not really a new or surprising requirement: It’s something that state were supposed to have been doing the past 12 years under NCLB, which was signed into law in 2002.
  • States aren’t required to use any specific strategies to fix their equity gaps. They can consider things like targeted professional development, giving educators more time for collaboration, revamping teacher preparation at post-secondary institutions, and coming up with new compensation systems.
  • States have to consult broadly with stakeholders to get a sense of the problem and what steps should be taken to address it.
  • States also have to figure out the “root causes” of teacher distribution gaps, and then figure out a way to work with districts to address them. For instance, if a state decides that the “root cause” of inequitable teacher distribution is lack of support and professional development for teachers, it would have to find a way to work with institutions of higher education and other potential partners to get educators the help they need, by hiring mentors or coaches, for example. States can consider the “geographical” context of districts when making these decisions. (In other words, states may want to try a different set of interventions on rural schools as opposed to urban and suburban schools.)

Huffington Post (in What the White House is Doing to Make Sure Low-Income Students Get Good Teachers) adds:

 “The guidance released here — it’s honestly pretty fluffy, it’s just a non-binding plan,” Chad Aldeman, associate partner at the nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners, told The Huffington Post.

And the Washington Post, in  Trying to Get Better Teachers into Nation’s Poor Classrooms, concludes:

Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said the move by the Obama administration is well-intentioned but will have little impact.

“Effective teachers tend to be attracted to districts that pay higher salaries and have what might be referred to as better working conditions,” he said. “This just ignores the whole question of poverty. There seem to be blinders on the part of our policymakers in that they refuse to acknowledge the impact of poverty on our educational system.”

Educating Kids is harder than rocket science

Jack Schneider writes in the Washington Post:

“most of us—reformers, particularly—think we know what’s best for the public schools. But we would never presume to have answers about where to look for sources of Gamma-rays or about the importance of measuring Jupiter’s atmosphere.

Imagine Congress exerting control over NASA through a bill like No Child Left Behind, or coercing policy shifts through a program like Race to the Top. Or well-intended organizations like Teach For America jumping into the fray—recruiting talented college graduates and placing them on the job as rocket scientists. Or philanthropists deciding to apply lessons from their successes in domains like DVD rentals to “disrupt” the NASA “monopoly.”

How long would any of this be taken seriously? …

Schooling … is plagued by a number of challenges. Some are relatively straightforward; schools need adequate funding, for instance. But most of these issues are dilemmas rather than problems. The difference being that whereas problems can be solved, dilemmas can only be managed. What, for instance, do you do about student engagement? That’s a question not easily solved by introducing new gadgets or by paying students to stay focused.

Want to put a rocket into space? No problem. Just get enough brains working on the task.

Want to educate 50 million students in a powerful, relevant, and relatively equal way? Now that’s a challenge.

As it turns out, educating kids isn’t rocket science. It’s harder.”

Read the entire article here.

Speculating on the Secrets of Teaching

Interesting conversation between Amanda Ripley and Elizabeth Green. A few highlights:

… I have close friends and family members who are teachers, but my appreciation for the work was skin deep. I thought about the physical challenge — like, you have to get up so early, and you have to blow kids’ noses. But it’s actually really cognitively challenging …

… Once you believe kids are quite capable and actually more capable than adults when it comes to learning, then that opens up a whole cascading realm of possibilities…

… In the US, partly because of federalism, we have no central government that can really create coherence. The Feds just keep pushing the one button they have—which is accountability. This idea that if we can just put more pressure on schools, they will produce…

… When you have not done the serious work of selecting and training teachers thoughtfully, you end up having to do all the work on the back end—which is unfair to teachers…

… Why not a reality teaching show? The idea of getting people to watch a teacher teach in a really masterful way and then talk about what she did…

Read the entire conversation here.