March 10, 2014

The Parent Created Achievement Gap had an article that highlighted a very real consequence of government school policies that do not take into account what parents find important, causing an ever expanding achievement gap in our government schools. Why The Debate Over Cursive Is About More Than Penmanship noted the difficulty that many students faced with the de-emphasis of cursive during a practice SAT when they were asked to sign their names:
“But not all of the kids in my class were lost. There was one who copied the statement in seconds, and then sat up straight, patiently waiting for his classmates to finish. After the test I asked him if he learned to write in cursive in elementary school.
“No,” he said. “My mom taught me because she thought it was important.”
And that is the true issue. The dilemma is not truly whether the “art of cursive” writing is important. The dilemma is the growing chasm between kids whose parents have the money, education, and time to enrich their children’s learning, and those that don’t.” 

Parents who elect to put their financial and personal resources into doing what they feel is right for their children—often, the very things many schools have deemed unnecessary—are the reason why the achievement gap exists and is getting wider. It isn’t the schools or the teachers that shrink or enhance achievement gaps, it is the parents. Parents drive their children to succeed, drive their children off cliffs, or neglect to drive them anywhere. It’s as simple as that.

Parents who think their children should learn cursive will teach their children cursive. Parents who want their children to learn math fundamentals, not fuzzy math, will help at home or put their children in tutoring. Parents who don't like Common Core will homeschool. Parents who think their children should do their homework will ensure that their children do their homework. Parents will homeschool, afterschool, or weekend school.

 What can the government do to correct the fact that some parents will go the extra mile for their kids, while others do not? They’ve been trying for a very long time to help all parents become more active parents with little positive results. Some parents do not put as much effort into their children’s lives as others do even with parent education. If there were a way to prevent the active parents from spending their time and money on helping their children, maybe they’d try it. They are, after all, trying to do what they need to do to reduce or erase the achievement gap.

December 14, 2013

Public Education - Is There a Good or Bad Kind of Profit?

I’m so confused by all this talk about how bad it is that businesses are profiting off of public education. Since Common Core became the lightning rod that it is, the blame has gone squarely onto Bill Gates, his foundation, and private companies in general. I just don’t get it.

Is it this simple?
Schools controlled by government are good; schools that are controlled by private businesses are bad. Charter schools run by corporations are bad; charter schools run by public schools are good. Teachers that are trained by universities -- which make money hand over fist—they’re good; teachers that are trained by, say, Teach for America are bad. Companies like Apple, which have made millions (dare I say billions) over the years selling their usually un-upgradable computers and various computer or tablet related products to public schools are good; companies like Microsoft, owned by Bill Gates, making money by selling their computers and products to public schools are bad. 

I guess it is all in how it’s done and when it’s done. Various private and public entities steering public education policy in the shadows is good; various private and public entities that come right out in the open to steer public education policy are bad. Companies like Pearson making money off designing textbooks, tests, and curriculum pre-Common Core are good; companies like Pearson making money off designing textbooks, tests, and curriculum in the Common Core era are bad.

Ah, and people like Diane Ravitch, someone who has made quite a career out of critiquing others for taking their shot at “reforming” public schools, she can make as much money as she wants. Excuse me, she has never been some blogging mom in her pajamas. 

Obviously, private entities making money off of public education are bad. Public employees and agencies making money off of public education are fine. Ah, and former public employees who become consultants, owners of education reform companies, and hawkers of “new” ways to teach are good too, I guess, because they used to be public employees? The whole system is incestuous, just like many other government monopolies and their employees. The terrible public school teacher who becomes a terrible principal who becomes a terrible school administrator who spends her off time teaching soon-to-be teachers at the nearest college or university her terrible techniques. This is the Peter Principle in action.

Thus, we live in this unreality. It more okay to waste people’s tax dollars because you may not be aiming to make money as your primary goal. Why do we continue accepting certain behaviors from certain people based on the good and bad intentions they may or may not have? Why is wanting to make money an instant bad? Why do we know that city governments, state governments, and the federal government waste money and grease palms better than anyone in private business, but we still think they’ll all do better than private entities at educating our nation’s children?

November 17, 2013

Arne Duncan, Social Planner

Last week, Arne Duncan stepped in very telling territory when he spoke a few truths to a group of state school superintendents as reported in the Washington Post:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan told an audience of state superintendents this afternoon that the Education Department and other Common Core supporters didn’t fully anticipate the effect the standards would have once implemented.
“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary,” Duncan said. “You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut.”

Yes, he spoke the truth. Our public schools, especially the “good” ones, are not really all that good. Our kids are the victims of grade inflation, artificially induced self-esteem, and they can’t think. But, most of us already knew that.

The other truth accidentally spoken was how arrogant social planners like Arne Duncan really are, especially when they get in a group with other social planners, like school superintendents. There are just different levels of arrogance depending on where in the pecking order each social planner resides. 
When Arne is in a group with social planners on his level—other federal social planners—they’ll all be smugly musing about what little the state superintendents know about really important social planning. Needless to say, we minions are the ones looked down upon from very high. We are what their paternalistic and controlling hopes and dreams depend on. 

What can we minions do to help the social planners get over themselves and leave us alone?

November 2, 2013

Tough Teaching, Tough Choices

The Wall Street Journal has a real thought-provoking article from September of this year that is worth reading called, "Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results." The article was like a fresh breeze blowing in reminders of a time when students learned, and respected their teachers. It was a system that worked, mostly. 

In my inner city teaching experience, I taught this way much of the time. Maybe the kids craved order and needed to know where they stood because they didn't have that in their homes or communities. It was a good fit for me because I am this kind of teacher. Not the kind who calls kids names, but the kind who expects a lot. 

The point isn't the pluses and minuses or your particular experiences with this type of teaching. The point is that this way of teaching does work. It has been demonstrated through history. But, this method of teaching isn't the only good one out there either. There isn't just one way to teach everyone. If we trained all teachers and taught all children in the way that some feel is the "best" way, it would have as much success as any other reform we've tried so far. Some would do well with it, others wouldn't.

Every one of these articles related to teaching methods and public education brings me to the same conclusion. If we all aren't meant to learn or teach one way, then why are we trying to do that with public education? If we all need to be taught individually, how can we do that without spending more per student than we do even now? I'll average and say that most states spend about $9k per student per year for a particular type of one-size-fits-all education. Will we have to just double, triple, or quadruple that amount for a more individualized public education? Or can we do something really revolutionary?

We need to get rid of public education, period. I don't know why that is so hard for people to even consider. We'd all end up just about the same (I'm not promising miracles because there will never be any-it's just life).

What we'd have to do first is take the federal government out of it entirely. After that, schools would be state concerns again (as was intended) and each state could deal with education as they wished. Maybe some might go vouchers or tax credits, while others will be able to have the centralized vs local control debate on their own.

June 30, 2013

Using Public Schools to Transmit Government Ideals, So?

There have been gasps all around about how some schools in California will be using high school students to sell Obamacare to parents and community members. Then there is the new report suggesting that librarians will be used to promote Obamacare, as well. This latest news shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone either for or against the use of students (or anyone) to promote government programs. 

If we at once accept the premise that government schools are for the common good, then certainly, we must also accept that anything created by the government is for the common good. Following through, this premise should not only assume that all citizens be the salesmen of another government program, it should be expected. 

These conduits (librarians, public schools, our children, etc.) of government have always been used to promote government programs. Our public libraries provide all sorts of information on government services already. Before the wonderful idea that many high schools began implementing a while back (the public service/community service requirement to graduate), kids have always been, at the very least, the conveyors of information thought important to the government. Advertisements and informational pamphlets for reading programs, parent education programs, anti-drug red ribbon programs, anti-bullying programs, nutritional services, and health care services have always been sent home with students from school. 

We ought to all be accepting of the fact that this is the system we have allowed to be created. The only difference is that now we have a divided national opinion regarding nationalized health care. We've all agreed in the past that drugs are bad, bullying is bad, and that kids should read, so we were all okay with students being used to promote those ideals, right?

Whether city, state, or federal, we should all be feeling a bit creeped out that we now know what it is like to live in a country with an activist government that sees its citizens as mere cogs in the system’s machine.

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