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 …

Free textbooks?

Emblazoning their social media posts with #GoOpen, teachers, principals, advocacy organizations and trade groups rallied behind what the department described as “high-quality, openly-licensed educational resources” for K-12 schools. Worth noting: These books and materials are free.

“Openly licensed educational resources can increase equity by providing all students, regardless of zip code, access to high quality learning materials that have the most up-to-date and relevant content,” acting U.S. Education Secretary John King said in a statement.

Read the article here.

College degree = higher level skills

According to PIAAC, 3/4 of US unemployed workers had either a high-school diploma or less; roughly 1/2 of those adults placed in the two lowest score levels for numeracy. Among unemployed college-educated adults, 13% scored in the two lowest levels.

The study is one of the first to show that a college degree confers core knowledge that adults without degrees are less likely to possess.

“This allows us for the first time to be able to compare what it is that someone knows with what sort of degree they have,” said Stephen Provasnik, a researcher for NCES and a technical advisor on PIAAC. “That allows us to make distinctions that we haven’t been able to make in the past. Economists have always used level of education as a proxy for the skills that one has. Now what PIAAC does is allows us to measure directly those skills, without having to use the education certification as a proxy.”

Read the article here.

The End of Average

Reading The End of Average by Todd Rose, a fascinating book that argues that standards and standardized assessments are radically outdated.

“Contemporary pundits, politicians, and activists continually suggest that our educational system is broken, when in reality the opposite is true. Over the past century, we have perfected our educational system so that it runs like a well-oiled Taylorist machine, squeezing out every possible drop of efficiency in the service of the goal its architecture was originally designed to fulfill: efficiently ranking students in order to assign them to their proper place in society… (p. 56)

How can a society predicated on the conviction that individuals can only be evaluated in reference to the average ever create the conditions for understanding and harnessing individuality? (p. 58)

… but once you free yourself from averagarian thinking, what previously seemed impossible will start to become intuitive, and then obvious.” (p. 72)