"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, September 23, 2013

More From Jeremy at ASD Responding to My Education Agenda (Updated)

Jeremy had some responses to my earlier 7 points for improving schools:

1) socioeconomically integrate the schools (biggest bang for the achievement buck ever);
2) return public schools to the public, rather than handing them over to corporations;
3) extend Medicaid to poor students;
4) demand more qualified teachers, rather than replacing teachers with unprepared temps from TFA;
5) base curriculum and instruction decisions with teachers and researchers, rather than contractors from the Gates Foundation or TFA alums who don't even know how ignorant they are;
6) adequately fund TN schools as the courts have demanded, rather than hiding behind another phony brand of accountability;
7) end high stakes standardized testing.

Jeremy says:
As for your 7 points, your action plan perhaps, on how we can turn things around, I really can't disagree with many of them 
1. integrate schools based on economic status - yep! lets do that. im dying to do so and think it would provide a world more opportunity to learn for both our more affluent students and our students growing up in poverty. I was a fan of the Robin Hood bill that leveled property taxes for school financing in TX and think more needs to be done to fund our schools regardless of the property values in the neighborhoods that our schools anchor. would love to hear more of your ideas on how, in practical terms, this can happen. im a fan of this being a part of the solution. it enriches our democracy and makes us a better people. 
The Robin Hood decision and subsequent legislation to move toward equal funding is a good idea, but it has nothing to do with the need to live up to our forgotten commitment to desegregate and integrate schools. Re the practical terms to how this could happen, Memphis just missed a golden opportunity with the phony effort to unify schools.  

When school consolidation was done in Raleigh, NC, serious preparations and planning took place to make sure that no school in the new district would have more than 40 percent free or reduced lunch students.  Also, the school board created almost 70 magnet schools to attract suburban parents back into Raleigh, and bussing was provided to do this so that almost no student traveled more than five miles to his chosen school.  This was public school choice at its best.  The history of this effort is recounted in Gerald Grant's book, Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There are No Bad Schools in Raleigh.  

But Bill Gates and the other oligarchs who put together the Shelby County plan designed a system that would result in fragmentation, rather than unification.  In the inner city, we have the lockdown and abusive corporate charters that no middle class parent would allow their children to attend, along with a few remaining public schools that will be used to dump those students that the charters don't want.  Then we have the majority white Memphis and Shelby County schools that are working class or lower middle class.  Then outside that we have a series of leafy boutique school systems like Germantown and Collierville, which have created their own systems.  Balkanization American style, and all of it planned.
2. return public schools to the public - also, a great idea. i think this is what we are actually doing. there is no school board nonsense in which parent grievances get buried in legislation and shady political affiliations dependent on majority votes, no collective bargaining agreements designed to only protect the adults in the buildings, and no bureaucracy that slows innovation and change in the school building. what we are doing is returning the decision making power to those closest to our students - families and schools. that is about as local as it gets. 

Your description of publicly-elected governing boards as "school board nonsense" speaks for itself.  Democracy is a messy business, but I agree with Churchill, who said that democracy is the worst kind of government except all the rest.  What your corporate goon squads prefer are school CEOs, once known as principals, who can hire and fire based on whim, rather than due process.  No public governance and no reason to listen to parents unless they are telling you what you want to hear.  What choice do they have, the chain gang that you offer or the entirely demoralized failure labeled public schools, where teachers and students are just hanging on.  Is that what you call school choice?  

In terms of protecting the adults in the building, that is a requirement in humane learning environments, and to do so does not take away from the necessity that the children must be protected, too.  What your total compliance hellholes offer is protection for neither, as children are taught that marching against the wall, chanting, and tracking an inexperienced, white teacher are more important than becoming engaged in learning led by experienced and caring professionals, which your chain gangs are rarely interested in hiring.  

And you guys keep talking about innovation--from what I have seen, your pedagogical strategy resembles the 19th Century more than the 21st, with an ultra-traditional approach that John Dewey described as chain gang schools in the 1930s.  The innovation comes into play with your management that has no oversight and no reason not to engage in the kinds of behavioral excesses that have been documented over and over again in your brand of corporate reform schools.  No financial oversight, either, makes for scamming and skimming.
3. not an expert on health care policy, so going to stay away from that one.

If you had any understanding how many of your kids come to school sick, with toothaches, no eye glasses, undernourished and malnourished, and suffering from the psychological trauma of living in upturned and struggling home environments, or living in cars, then you might have an interest in health care policy.  But you don't see those problems because you are focused on your zealous mission to raise test scores and to turn these kids into broken versions of white privileged children who have none of the health issues that you are not an "expert" in.  

Your boss, Governor 1Percent, has yet to accept the federal money that would provide health coverage for 50,000 more Tennessee kids because he doesn't want to give a black president credit for making it happen.  His solution to health coverage is a lottery, where a few people who call in first, get coverage.  You might call this the ultimate market solution to health care.
4. demand more qualified teachers - HELL YES BROTHER! Preach on! I love thinking about how we can redesign our colleges of education to attract our best and brightest out of high school, our current teachers seeking to get even better and those changing careers. For me, it starts with our schools of ed, at which point, have no real incentive to change. secondly, our schools, led by school leaders, need to get serious about teacher development and design systems and structures that push every teacher to get better, get better quickly and if our teachers aren't improving, they should be held accountable. this is the weight that our principals feel daily in the ASD and a responsibility we take seriously. 

The changes that your boss embraces to schools of ed involves making their continued accreditation to be based on test scores that aren't worth the # 2 pencils that are used to mark them.  Yes, we need a professional, well-paid, and highly respected group of professional career teachers, which is what Finland and Korea have done as one strategy to make their schools better.  

Instead, the charter corporations lined up by the ASD to replace Memphis public schools have a teaching model where no experience is required or even desired.  Not even education courses are mandated, with no preparation in child psychology, history or philosophy of ed, teaching special needs children, methods courses, or even student teaching.  The ASD solution, and the one that the former Mr. Michelle Rhee prefers, is a permanent stream of unprepared temps from TFA, who don't require retirement benefits or job security or even due process. Boot them out if they show too much empathy with kids or are too caring--or if the children become more important than your goddamn idiot tests.

5. curriculum and instruction decisions should reside with teachers - also, a resounding hell yes. this is also what we are doing. our teachers in our Frayser schools are designing their own common assessments led by content experts (who teach full time). our curriculum is aligned with common core and incredibly rigorous, but the decisions on how we teach our students is left up to our classroom leaders. 

So curriculum decisions should "reside with teachers," or "classroom leaders" is it--except for the "incredibly rigorous" curriculum that has been aligned by another corporation to reflect the Common Core, which is, yet, another contracted creation by non-educators.

6. funding - that sounds great! also not an expert on school finance law in TN, so can't speak much to this. however, in the ASD, 100% of the per pupil funding goes to the school first instead of routing it through a central office to chop funds off the top to support the bureaucracy. schools have the power to spend resources however they want. 

School finance is one of those old-school subjects that colleges of education (remember them?) offer to prospective school leaders with qualifications that go beyond the absorption of the propaganda feed from the TFA home office.  The power to spend public funds without public oversight is no virtue, and yes, a central business office is required to do just that, and to make sure the money from taxpayers does not end up benefitting the corporate welfare scammers who call themselves "school leaders."  

Without such oversight, we guarantee a continuation of innumerable cases of graft, fraud, stealing, and other miseducative practices by school "leaders" of charters who often see the millions of public dollars they collect as their private piggy banks.  

7. high stakes tests - as an educator myself, i can get on board with this idea. we're putting a lot of undue pressure on our teachers and students. however, we live in a world in which our top careers have high stakes tests as gateways for entry (medicine, law, engineers, architects, pilots, vets, etc etc etc). perhaps a test like TCAP can comprise a portion of a composite score for students, but testing is a reality for our students and as educators, it is our job to prepare them for the real world. perhaps one day, our schools will produce the next president that dismantles NCLB, its testing regulations and holds states accountable for designing systems that assess our students authentically. we're working on this! a future president from our schools would certainly have a perspective more deep and expansive, rooted in an amazingly tough life experience, that few presidents have brought to the office. 

Are you serious, stupid, or joking? Are you so caught up in preparing children "for the real world" that you do not see that their present world is real, too?  Much more real than the illusory futures you project for children who have much more pressing needs now than a "composite score" on another meaningless test.  

Because some adults must take exams, must we force all children to do so years in advance of such unlikely futures??  What about preparation for dangerous occupations like the military?  Should we prepare children by teaching them how to use weapons because they might some day require it?  

Is it your job really to make life tougher for these kids than it already is?  Amazingly tough?  Or don't you know the history of high stakes testing and the principles upon which it is based?  Oh, I forgot, that is something that colleges of education teach.  If you will provide me your address, Jeremy, I will make sure you get a free copy of The Mismeasure of Education.  After you read it, maybe we can sit down for that coffee you would like have with me.

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