Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Save Our Schools & the Future of Our Democratic Society!

Just as our country is now suffering from the effects of disaster capitalism, our public schools are suffering from the effects of disaster education reform. Although President Obama recently sounded impressive on education policy, his Secretary of Education Duncan continues to plow ahead with anti-democratic, anti-intellectual, and faith-based education reforms, which leads me to believe that Obama's recent comments were merely part of a good cop-bad cop routine. Veteran teacher and Education Week blogger Anthony Cody has a must-read series of blog posts featuring questions about the Obama administration's education policies in the context of the President's recent remarks as well as DOE's responses to the questions.

My state of Virginia did not "compete" for Race to the Top funding and has not signed on to the Commmon Core Curriculum and Standards. (In fact, Governor McDonnell said the standards were why Virginia would not enter the competition.) In theory, I am in favor of a basic national curriculum and standards. We desperately need to establish as Robert Pondiscio of the Core Knowledge Foundation says, "what it means to be a well-educated American and a realistic and nuanced concept of how to achieve it."

But I share California teacher David Cohen's skepticism of the current core curriculum and standards initiative because I believe it will come with all kinds of strings and high-stakes standardized tests attached. In fact it seems that the standards are being developed not to improve the quality of education US students would receive, but to develop corresponding, profit-making tests. Given the poor quality of so much that is coming out of DOE (Race to the Top, anyone?) and given who is behind those initiatives (oligarchs and disaster capitalists, anyone?) I have little trust that the quality of CCSA will be very good. Moreover, why should states sign on to standards before they've been finalized, before they've been shown any evidence that they'd meaningfully improve student learning, or if the national standards are inferior to what a state already has in place? (I'm thinking specifically about the debate over lowering standards in Massachusetts and, if I recall correctly, how NCLB requirements serve to undermine the quality of terrific ESOL programs such as in Fairfax and Arlington, Virginia.)

Virginia adopted their Standards of Learning even before No Child Left Behind was enacted. There are SOLs for English, mathematics, science, history/social science, technology, the fine arts, foreign language, health and physical education, and driver education with corresponding tests in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. On the one hand, this means that topics beyond reading and math skills don't get neglected, just as NCLB assures that demographic sub-groups aren't neglected. Plus, it's good to have a basic curriculum and standards in place, especially for those who need guidance (and see above), but there are two problems with the SOLs.

For one, my experience as a secondary social studies teacher was that the Social Studies Standards of Learning for each class cover so much that the teacher can not stray or go in depth. It's like travelling around the world and visiting one city per day, when it would be a far superior educational experience to spend more time in a few countries, and study them in depth. Also, all tests except for the writing one are multiple choice; there's a lot of valuable content and skills that are not tested, and hence not often taught. Now, this doesn't affect as much those students in higher level classes such as honors, IB, or AP classes since their curricula are often much more rigorous, but students who don't take those classes are getting the shaft. For an elaboration on this, I refer you to this excellent article by Richmond-based education journalist Chris Dovi and to the post I wrote about it.

Although I can't stand the anti-worker, pro-corporate, anti-woman, anti-LGBT, anti-environment mainstream politics in Virginia, this is at least one time I'm glad for pro-local control. For the most part, decisions about human resources, curricula, instruction, assessment, and school reform should be made at the state, district, and school levels, and not at the federal level (again, I am theoretically in favor of basic common core standards). The Department of Education should be there, for example, to ensure equality of funding, to ensure non-discriminatory practices, as well as to conduct research and evaluate the efficacy of federally-funded programs. Although Virginia has made some valiant efforts to shake free of NCLB's and DOE's micro-managing and disastrous policies, NCLB still lowers the quality of education in Virginia that I as a teacher was forced to offer and that now my children's teachers are forced to offer.

I am all in favor of education reform, but I want it to be thoughtfully done with its goal being to address the whole child and to bring more meaningful learning and higher quality teaching to classrooms. And this is what is so wrong with the disaster education reformers: They put ideology and politics before all else--before research-based results, before cost-efficiency, before best practices, before expertise, before communities, and before children's need for a rich and meaningful education. Certainly, we should each be allowed a modicum of ideology, and politics are part of life, but when they undermine all that is reasonable, practical, and meaningful, I say: Enough.

For that reason I am headed to the SOS March & National Call to Action taking place this July. I urge parents, educators, and concerned community members across Virginia, and America, to sign on. It's one thing for lawmakers and the Department of Education and to ruin careers, but when when they start ruining the education and future of my children and of America's children, when the existence of the vital democratic institution of public education is threatened, the line must be drawn.

I'm looking for an ethos and a philosophy of education to stand behind, not an ideology. I think people subscribing to all philosophies of governance can find common cause here. For the future of our children, we demand:

Equitable funding for all public school communities
·        Equitable funding across all public schools and school systems
·        Full public funding of family and community support services
·        Full funding for 21st century school and neighborhood libraries            
·        End to economically and racially re-segregated schools

  End to high stakes testing for student, teacher, and school evaluation
·        Multiple and varied assessments to evaluate students, teachers and schools     
·        No pay per test performance for teachers and administrators
·        End to public school closures based upon test performance

    Curriculum developed for and by local school communities
·       Support teacher and student access to a wide-range of instructional programs and technologies
·       Well-rounded education that develops every students’ intellectual, creative, and physical potential                  
·       Opportunities for multicultural/multilingual curriculum for all students
·       Small class sizes that foster caring, democratic learning communities    
Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies
·       Educator and civic community leadership in drafting of new ESEA legislation
·       Federal support for local school programs free of punitive and competitive funding
·       End political and corporate control of curriculum, instruction and assessment decisions

For More Information, Contact

Save Our Schools March
6470 Freetown Rd. Suite 200, # 72
Columbia, Maryland 21044

Or Visit Us At

1 comment:

  1. Love this blog! Just got started doing my own in Texas. I'm a writer and mother of three sons. Would love to use some of this post on my blog, let me know!

    Holly Korbey