So, Diane Ravitch. I appreciate that she is talking, and doing what I'd like to do except I am too emotional to stay on topic for that long. I still have to get up in the morning with emotional energy to love my students, and teach, and not give up. I can't take much more than a few tweets of hers at a time and still walk into work with a sense of hope. This makes me feel a bit of a shirking ostrich, since I do point to her as someone who is saying something about education that I can get behind, something educated and reasonable, and I should actually be able to talk intelligently about what she says, right? So I agreed, with some relief/anticipation to join an online group of my friends reading her newest book, Reign of Error. The camaraderie will keep me from despair, and the reading/discussion will make me smarter.
Within the first few minutes I knew I was in trouble.
Reading this is like reading the legislative news for my monthly union reports. It is like watching the brightest students in my school leave for race-segregated charter schools. Like listening to Adrian Fenty and a room full of season-ticket holding, non-Hyundai driving Ross alums tell me how I suck and am greedy for making $60k/yr. It is all of the worst parts of my job, except it is in my home and I am reading it before bed as I try to calm down or over my dinner I'm eating at 8 pm because that's when I got home from work. It makes me sad, and mad, and I don't know what to do about it.
I'm trying to keep some of David Kennedy's ideas in my head as I read, his insights from Don't shoot, where he is talking about how deeply the two sides of the urban crime debate misunderstand each other, and how if they can set aside their convictions that the other side is a soulless monster and just talk and listen to each other, for real, they find that they have much in common, differing only in procedure, and can find ways to come together to create real change. Not so much by compromise as by looking squarely at what each side is best at, and figuring out ways to use those strengths together instead of against each other.
I'm trying. Trying. It's the only thing getting me through, thinking that there must be some reformers who legitimately believe they are doing good, and not just smashing two hundred years of painstaking incremental work to make a quick profit.
If you can help me in this endeavor, please speak up :)
Some highlights from the book - things that caught my attention or I want to remember:
"In 1994, [Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers and one of the founding fathers of the charter school movement back when it was an innovation of the public school system instead of a competitor], learned that the first charter school in Michigan was Noah Webster Academy, which enrolled seven hundred students, mostly Christian homeschoolers, and that instruction was given mainly through computers. The students continued to stay at home but with a state-funded computer and a curriculum that taught creationism. Shanker was aghast. He was even more disturbed to realize that the academy's founder had discovered a tiny, impoverished school district with only twenty-three students that agreed to sponsor the academy and give it a ninety-nine year contract, in return for 'a kickback of about $40,000.' Meanwhile, the Noah Webster Academy would receive $4 million in state funding for its at-home pupils." From "Reign of Error" by Diane Ravitch, pp.157-8
"Charter schools are deregulated and free from most state laws other than those governing health and safety. This freedom allows charter schools to establish their own disciplinary policies and their own admissions rules. Deregulation also frees charters from the financial oversight that traditional public schools receive. Some states exempt charters from the teacher evaluation schemes that are imposed on public schools. In Louisiana and some other states, charter school teachers do not need to be certified."
"The Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000 included the New Markets Tax Credit, which allowed investors in charter school construction to collect a safe and reliable returns of 39 percent over seven years...Another federal program known as EB-5 enabled foreign investors to get immigration visas (green cards) by investing $500,000 or more to build charter schools."
"Bruce Baker of Rutgers University analyzed the question of whether charter schools are private, public, or some sort of hybrid. He noted that they are similar to voucher-supported private schools in several ways. They have limited public access in that they can cap enrollment and class size according to their individual preferences; they can admit students only in certain grades and at particular times of the year and are not required to admit students midyear or in any grade; they can adopt their own disciplinary procedures, which are sometimes harsher and more restrictive than those typical in public schools; and 'they can set academic, behavioral and cultural standards that promote exclusion of students via attrition.'"
"Even the lottery system, while seemingly fair, is a selection mechanism, since the least functional families seldom take the steps necessary to enter."
"The idea of vouchers has been on the fringes of education debates since 1955. That was when the University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman proposed vouchers as a way to end the squabbling over Catholic schools...His essay appeared as the country was reacting to the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954...States that wanted to preserve racial segregation immediately turned to school choice as their first line of defense, and for many years school choice was widely understood by the courts and the public as a strategy to preserve school segregation."
Chicago's Democratically-led elementary schools far outperform Chicago's 'turnaround schools'
"Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University reminds us that we know full well how to improve schools:
'It's not as though we don't know what works. We could implement the policies that have reduced the achievement gap and transformed learning outcomes for students in high-achieving nations where government policies largely prevent childhood poverty by guaranteeing housing, healthcare and basic income security. These same strategies were substantially successful in our own nation through the programs and policies of the war on poverty and the Great Society, which dramatically reduced poverty, increased employment, rebuilt depressed communities, invested in preschool and K-12 education in cities and poor rural areas, desegregated schools, funded financial aid for college and invested in teacher training programs that ended teacher shortages. In the 1970s teaching in urban communities was made desirable by the higher-than-average salaries, large scholarships and forgivable loans that subsidized teacher preparation, and by the exciting curriculum and program innovations that federal funding supported in many city school districts.'These policies were hugely successful from the 1960s into the 1980s. Darling-Hammond points out that 'the black-white reading gap shrank by two-thirds for 17-year-olds, black high school and college graduation rates more than doubled, and, in 1975, rates of college attendance among whites, blacks and Latinos reached parity for the first and only time before or since.'"
How the High/Scope Perry preschool study has influenced public policy
"...when older people remember the supposedly 'good old days' of forty or more students in a class, they are evoking a different time in American history. They are recalling a time when most schools had classes of homogenous students. They are remembering a time before court decisions and federal legislation ended legal segregation. They are remembering a time before students with disabilities were included in public schools and before all but the most severely disabled were mainstreamed into regular classes. They are remembering a time before massive immigration from non-English speaking nations in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere. Many of those who fondly remember the 'good old days' were in classrooms that included few, if any, students who did not speak English, had disabilities, or were of a race different from their own. Moreover, even in those supposedly good old days, the schools with many poor or immigrant children had low achievement (far lower than now) and high dropout rates (far higher than now), but this wasn't seen as consequential, because there were jobs available for those who did not graduate."
"The Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education has identified class size reduction as one of the few evidence-based reforms that has been proven effective."
"A survey of expulsion rates in the District of Columbia found that the charters -- which enroll nearly half the student population of the district -- expel large numbers of children; the charters' expulsion rate is seventy-two times the expulsion rate in the public schools."
Peer Assistance and Review - look at this!!!! I want this evaluation system! Talk about making all the players work together. This is awesome. And, totally butting heads with RttT. This article
Helping Teachers Help Themselves makes the case about how absolutely ridiculous this is - that you have a system that works, increasing the skills of good teachers, improving or eliminating poor teachers, but it doesn't have high stakes testing in it so Obama and Duncan are like, nah, we'll go with the unproven high-stakes testing models, thanks.
There are about 14,000 school districts in the U.S. today, each with its own local school board. In 1940 there were about 117, 000 local school boards.
"The analysis of...(University of California at Berkeley economist) Rucker Johnson revealed that 'black youths who spent five years in desegregated schools have earned 25 percent more than those who never had that opportunity. Now in their 30s and 40s, they're also healthier -- the equivalent of being seven years younger.' "
David L. Kirp "pointed out that after the federal courts retreated from enforcing desegregation in the 1990s and allowed districts to abandon their desegregation efforts, the black-white gap stalled and, by some measures, widened. He concluded that 'the failure of the No Child Left Behind regimen to narrow the achievement gap offers the sobering lesson that closing underperforming public schools, setting high expectations for students, getting tough with teachers and opening a raft of charter schools isn't the answer. If we're serious about improving educational opportunities, we need to revisit the abandoned policy of school integration.'"
Okay, I finished the book. It is depressing. It could have used a better editor -- got kind of rambly and repetitive. But basically good points. I am not sure how convincing some of her arguments are going to be to those who don't already agree, however - saying kids need stability and that choice and churn and changing schools constantly is chaotic and not good for them makes sense if you are around a lot of messed up kids on a regular basis, but probably sounds namby-pamby if you aren't. I think the point about how high-stakes business competition is effective in some arenas but terrible for others is valid and very important but it needed a better editor or someone to help her think it through so she could deliver it in a way that might resonate with someone who is, say, libertarian.
A lot of the book is like that - I mean, I get what she is saying about prenatal care, but seriously. I can just hear the scorn. If she wants to make arguments like that I feel like she would have been better off making them strictly numerical and economical - this many dollars into prenatal care translates into this many dollars saved on speech therapy in elementary school. Or something. I don't know. Seeing a chapter on prenatal care in a book on school reform makes me want to run out of the room. It just makes the problem SO BIG. I totally want my country to spend more on prenatal care. Totally. But omg please don't bring this up if you are ever talking to a conservative because I will have a hard time coming to your defense.
And yes, I totally believe that every school should have a nurse or doctor and a real clinic where the kids can get regular checkups and screenings. And a psychologist and a social worker that can work with both kids and parents. Do you have any idea how many emotionally disturbed kids are in the public schools? How many kids are dealing with complete chaos in their lives, everyday? Hint: way more than you see at work among adults sifted out for competency. Think more along the lines of what you see on public transportation. Except these are kids who are told where to go & what to do, not adults who can seek out help. But I also do not believe I will ever see that in my lifetime. Because socialism.
Things I did like:
-new ideas in teacher evaluations: unions and administration working together to help struggling teachers get better or move on
-enough already with the frickin' testing. diagnostic only. or teacher-designed, for use in that classroom, non-standardized assessments.
-charter schools playing by the same rules as public schools for the most part, if they want public money (i.e., accountable and transparent, similar student populations, oversight, and no profit-making from taxpayer money).
-aggressive preschool programs, ones that actually do what research has shown is effective (trained teachers, appropriate curriculum, tiny classes)
-all schools should look like what rich schools look like, in terms of curriculum, staffing and class size
-quit lowering standards for teachers and administrators and insist on educational certification and training
-return to federalism, thank you very much
I don't know that anyone will actually hear or read anything in this book, but maybe. maybe. maybe its nearing time for the pendulum shift? i really hope so.