Total Pageviews

Search This Blog

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rick Scott on Education, his mistakes, half truths and out right lies

From Practical State

by Umpire

This week’s announcement of Governor-elect Rick Scott’s education transition team included a virtual who’s who list of today’s education reform movement. The two most noteworthy are former DC Education Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Jeb Bush education foundation head Patricia Levesque. The remaninder are a group of the like-minded. Well meaning to be sure, but narrow-minded ideologues all.

And why?

Simply put, it’s because the school reforms they are championing are proving not to work and in fact, are making matters worse. Their market-based themes and solutions (RE: accountability, merit pay, testing, ending of tenure, charter schools) do not translate to either children or learning. At the core of the movement’s failure is the fact that it disregards and dismisses the role that poverty has in a child’s ability to learn. Worst of all is that the movement – of which Rhee and Levesque are representative- fail to recognize conflicting data based evidence or consider input from stakeholders like principals, school boards, teachers and parents.

Much of the refrom movement’s ammunition comes from George W. Bush’s 2002 No Child Left Behind. Its 2014 mandate that 100 percent of students would be proficient in both reading and math, while well intended, have proved to be a bad idea for all parties concerned. Except for the reform movement that is.

Let’s use an overview of the history of NCLB by education historian and one-time proponent of the law in Diane Ravitch.

Although this target was generally recognized as utopian, schools faced draconian penalties—eventually including closure or privatization—if every group in the school did not make adequate yearly progress. By 2008, 35% of the nation’s public schools were labeled “failing schools,” and that number seems sure to grow each year as the deadline nears.

Since the law permitted every state to define “proficiency” as it chose, many states announced impressive gains. But the states’ claims of startling improvement were contradicted by the federally sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Eighth grade students improved not at all on the federal test of reading even though they had been tested annually by their states in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.

So as “ the law permitted every state to define “proficiency” as it chose, many states announced impressive gains” resulted in no progress on the actual measure of accountability on the national level. So what happened? More from Ravitch.

Meanwhile the states responded to NCLB by dumbing down their standards so that they could claim to be making progress. Some states declared that between 80%-90% of their students were proficient, but on the federal test only a third or less were. Because the law demanded progress only in reading and math, schools were incentivized to show gains only on those subjects. Hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in test-preparation materials. Meanwhile, there was no incentive to teach the arts, science, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages or physical education.

In short, accountability turned into a nightmare for American schools, producing graduates who were drilled regularly on the basic skills but were often ignorant about almost everything else. Colleges continued to complain about the poor preparation of entering students, who not only had meager knowledge of the world but still required remediation in basic skills. This was not my vision of good education

Indeed so. But such measurable outcomes and anecdotal evidence has been rejected by reformers as Rhee and Levesque. A metaphorical double down of such reforms are being imposed in Florida via an emphasis on charter schools. Among the Scott transition team are some connected directly to the charter school industry. Only one – Hillsborough Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia - is representative of public schools, but it is her district that has signed onto the Gates Foundation’s reform efforts.

So what’s so bad about charter schools?

Most studies of charter schools acknowledge that they vary widely in quality. The only major national evaluation of charter schools was carried out by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond and funded by pro-charter foundations. Her group found that compared to regular public schools, 17% of charters got higher test scores, 46% had gains that were no different than their public counterparts, and 37% were significantly worse.

Charter evaluations frequently note that as compared to neighboring public schools, charters enroll smaller proportions of students whose English is limited and students with disabilities. The students who are hardest to educate are left to regular public schools, which makes comparisons between the two sectors unfair. The higher graduation rate posted by charters often reflects the fact that they are able to “counsel out” the lowest performing students; many charters have very high attrition rates (in some, 50%-60% of those who start fall away). Those who survive do well, but this is not a model for public education, which must educate all children.

Charter’s are notorious for fudging the numbers and dumping their worst kids back into the public schools when assessment time comes. Essentially most charter schools choose their students and not vice versa as the philosophy of the current school reform movement contends.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates astonishingly considers Ravitch to be his chief opponent to the clout and money he’s putting behind reform efforts. But Ravitch’s is not a lone voice. Anne Geiger, a self-described recovering school board member, writes frequently on school reform efforts and offers this criticism of those whom she describes as the movement’s “stars”.

Their agenda is getting more and more embedded in our public education system and our national psyche. It’s being driven by an elite sector of our society who ignore peer-reviewed research and thoughtful essays that question the validity or usefulness of some of their reforms. It’s top-down and dismissive of the democratic foundations of public education. It’s disparaging to the teaching profession and disturbingly cynical toward our traditional public schools where 85% of schoolchildren are enrolled. And it’s attempting to squeeze our children, our beautifully diverse children, into small, uniform boxes. Either their agenda must be rejected at a grassroots level or these reformers must reverse the following four negatives (plus other negatives such as the dismissing the effects of poverty on children and their agenda’s role in re-segregating our urban schools.)

Geiger also speaks directly to the current manner that refromers have been advancing their agenda and the flaws in their approach.

Corporate reformers are smart and successful, but they need to be more humble and listen to their critics. They need to understand that their wealth, social prominence and political power do not automatically mean that they know better or make them education experts. They are tone deaf to the fact that their agenda has become, or appears to be, self-serving. Just as they ask for accountability for public schools, they should turn the mirror on themselves. It would go a long way if they acknowledged and addressed, with substance and respect, research and critiques that raise red flags and serious concerns about some of their reforms

Yet it is these same reformers who are here in Florida now. As no ditractors are on the Scott transition team, it’s clear that the Governor-elect dismisses both the history lessons and statistical evidence that Ravitch has been providing. Nor is he anyway persuaded by criticism of the group think he’s promoting as evidenced by the make-up of his transition team.

Geiger’s essay, a clarion call for “their agenda” to be ” rejected at a grassroots level,” might signal what sort of push-back Scott will be in for. It was grassroots opposition to SB6 that defeated it. There was something for everyone not to like about both the content and the manner in which the bill was advanced. Key opposition to the bill came from the state’s association of school superintendents among many others.

The state’s Republican power brokers continue to delude themselves into believing that it was the teacher unions and Charlie Crist’s vanity which defeated the bill. They ignore the role that the powerful Florida Chamber of Commerce played on their behalf as they even resorted to push polling.

The ideological composition Scott’s education transition team combined with even more Republican power in the legislature points to the kind of education reforms Florida will see advanced. The grassroots opposition to them hasn’t gone away. So with it being fair to say that the Obama administration and the Scott’s education reform philosophies are the same, this final word from Ravitch is worth noting.

The current emphasis on accountability has created a punitive atmosphere in the schools. The Obama administration seems to think that schools will improve if we fire teachers and close schools. They do not recognize that schools are often the anchor of their communities, representing values, traditions and ideals that have persevered across decades. They also fail to recognize that the best predictor of low academic performance is poverty—not bad teachers.

What we need is not a marketplace, but a coherent curriculum that prepares all students. And our government should commit to providing a good school in every neighborhood in the nation, just as we strive to provide a good fire company in every community.

On our present course, we are disrupting communities, dumbing down our schools, giving students false reports of their progress, and creating a private sector that will undermine public education without improving it. Most significantly, we are not producing a generation of students who are more knowledgable, and better prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship. That is why I changed my mind about the current direction of school reform.

No comments:

Post a Comment