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More About Money and Injustice in Public Schools

February 15, 2013

GFBrandenburg writes a good blog.  He brings up many good points in this post below.  One of the main themes which is recurrent in this post as well as in what I usually post about is the amount of money being wielded to change public education, but as Brandenburg points out, none of these changes has been proven to be effective!  It is interesting that this dichotomy doesn’t resonate more loudly with education reporters around the country.  I mean, if you were proposing to radically change a system that has been in place and shown proven results over decades you would think that the changes you are proposing would be empirically based…right?  Apparently not!

The piece below is absolutely correct!  Art…almost gone in my school, fully gone in others.  Music…forget about it…gone!  Shop classes like we had when I was in school (wood-shop, metal-shop, power-mechanics, mechanical engineering…all gone!)!

One of the unequivocal data points which is consistent over the years has been that smaller class sizes can make a big impact on student learning, and as a teacher, I can attest to this.  But, the reformers are trying to turn classrooms into little business ventures and thus they are trying to maximize productivity, i.e. merit pay, standardized curriculum, assembly line teaching with large class sizes, constant test-prep, etc…

The people proposing the reforms, as Mr. Brandenburg points out have children attending private schools with low class sizes and lots of interesting activities for kids.  But, they are attempting to impose a completely different reality for those ‘other’ students in poor districts, with poor parents who have no political or monetary clout…it is really shameless!  Our own President is one of these forked tongue individuals, at least on the issue of public schooling and it is a huge disappointment!

Cheating, StudentsLast, and Corporate Chieftains

It is clear that a tiny group of the very wealthiest people on the planet is backing Rhee and her plans, and I can name a few of the most important: Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, Bill and Melinda Gates, the Koch Brothers, and a few dozen others.
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All of a sudden they have decided to back her ideas, even though they have not produced ANY of the results that they claimed would happen. NOT ONE.
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Instead, the public education system as we used to know it has become even more segregated and unequal than ever before, with the children of the poor getting an utterly stultifying education based almost 100% on mindless test-prep activities that teach submission to authority, while simultaneously denying teachers any authority whatsoever and removing any and all supports from them while pouring more and more responsibilities for filling out stupid, time-wasting forms that help nobody do anything but generating long streams of nearly-random numbers that are easy to game. On the other hand, the children of the wealthy send their kids to a handful of public, charter or private schools that are somehow exempt from any of those regulations — usually precisely because they have wealthy students, and we know there is a very strong correlation between social class & income on the one hand, and how students do on tests like the ones used in these testing regimes — in DC we call it the DC-CAS, but there are plenty of other sets of letters: RTTT, NCLB, SAT, AP, and so on.
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At the wealthy schools, kids actually get to have field trips, sports, music, crafts, arts, projects, interviews, small classes, and so on. On the other hand, Bloomberg and Rhee fight for the right to make classes in PUBLIC schools 50:1 ratios with utterly-untrained, inexperienced, temporary teachers who are supposed to quit after 2 years so that they can go on to direct educational policy, having failed themselves but pretending not to notice that. The sheer injustice of this system is amazing.
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 It is so bizarre: under the guise of ‘parental choice’, instead of leveling the playing field and devoting the same amount of resources to kids from ALL walks of life, they actually make things WORSE. Because resources at the level of urban public schools are being siphons off to make money for testing contractors, and extremely-highly-paid consultants. Teachers are denied any autonomy, are micro-controlled down to the minute of every work day, and loaded down with mindless data tasks that help no student. (I know, because I’ve done them. And they keep changing! What used to be enough 2 years ago is considered utter rubbish because they’ve gone and changed the system again and you have to spend lots of time learning how to use it … again, for the umpteenth time since you’ve started working….)
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 And the students in the regular public schools get an utterly inferior education — which all of the mandates are making actually WORSE. While the children of Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Barack Obama, and all the children of all the officers and directors of the boards of all of the large corporations and banks in the US (and abroad) are given educations that are designed to turn them into versatile, will=-rounded individuals with lots of powers of self-motivation, personal initiative, and other touchy-feely individualized stuff – so they can become future rulers of the world as well, if they choose, or else become a craftsperson, a writer, or just a housewife or layabout wealthy heir or heiress.

Whereas, the rigorous no-excuses, SLANT, drill-like, almost military schools run by some of the charter-school chains, while they have their fans and wealthy sponsors, have two extreme strikes against them in my book:

(1) I would have hated it, and I know my own children would have hated that, because I would have thought it’s an utterly suffocating environment without any give-and-take.
(2) Many of them also strip the curriculum of anything like gym, art, music, projects, or anything else that makes school really interesting. School becomes test prep.
 
While I admit that there is a lot of pressure on teachers, and I agree that there are lots of things in real life that people will find to be in a gray area, I resent the implication that all teachers are cheaters. The cheating examples at Noyes school, about 10-15 blocks from my school, that Adell Cothorne described in the recent Frontline movie are WAAY out of the realm. It was a highly-organized cheating ring run by someone who knew exactly what he was doing, and earned large amounts of money, power, and fame by doing so. He was a major cheater, his name is Wayne Ryan, you can look him up easily, and once the news of the cheating scandal hit USA Today despite stonewalling by Michelle Rhee and her lackeys, he was quietly allowed to retire for unstated reasons and no penalties.

    • That is quite different from bending over backwards to try to allow someone to pass your course, waiving requirements that everyone else, because you thought it would help them in the long run to pass even though their numerical average was below whatever the cutoff point was…

When does teaching to the test become cheating? That is a question people could debate on nuances for a long time… Kinda like anything else involving interactions between people. What’s fair? Says who?

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