The California State Board of Education has recently decided that all 8th. graders in the state should take Algebra. See prior posts on this topic.
By setting goals and standards and refusing to consider the resources needed to achieve these standards and to improve low performing schools elected officials and other policy makers create an appearance of responding to the school crisis . In reality they refuse to adequately fund the schools and to make real changes in the financing of those schools that systematically fail a substantial portion of our children, particularly poor students and students of color. By passing lists of standards without allocating sufficient resources, elected officials avoid the issues of raising taxes and spending money that any serious effort to provide equal opportunity would require.
Anyone serious about democratic school reform should first address their concerns to teachers. Teachers are the major resource available for improving schools. Unfortunately few legislatures recognize this. Teachers’ salaries are the largest part of any school budget. It is teachers—not administrators—who conduct the basic education process. Most teachers want to do better and would welcome an opportunity to help more students succeed. Reformers interested in improving the education opportunities for students should first look to help teachers perform their jobs better. Nothing in the State Board policy recognizes this reality.
Barbara Ehrenreich has been called a Marxist just for writing that the US is not a classless society. But criticism has never stopped her exposing social injustice before. Emma Brockes talks to her about her new book, Barack Obama and the great wealth divide
Monday July 21, 2008 The Guardian
Twenty years ago, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote an article for the New York Times in which she pointed out the growing inequality of American society and was promptly denounced, by a rival paper, as a Marxist. "The Washington Times is an extreme-rightwing publication," she says, so there was no surprise there. But the paper's reaction underlined a general principle: that while one can say "fairly wild" things about race and gender in the US, there persists a certain coyness about class. "There's this powerful myth that America doesn't have classes; that they're an ancient English or European thing that we abolished. And that if you're not rich, it's your own damn fault."
Now 66, Ehrenreich has devoted most of her career to disproving this maxim. Her 2001 bestseller Nickel and Dimed was an account of the year she spent trying to eke out an existence on the minimum wage, which caused affluent readers everywhere to exclaim guiltily: "We had no idea!" She reported that companies cheat their staff of wages (there are 70 lawsuits pending); limit the number of toilet breaks staff take; forbid them from talking to each other or using "profanity" on the premises, and that the cleaner you hired through a "reputable" firm is probably made to clean your house while sick or injured. The book's success owed much to the personal journey of Ehrenreich herself, who suggested the idea to her editor for a younger journalist to take on. But she fitted the profile of the invisible worker - middle-aged, female and knackered. Once in situ, she was bullied by various bosses and forced to retire each night to a motel because she couldn't afford a flat.
Her latest book, which in the US is called This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation, is the animating force behind all this, a collection of columns that almost amounts to a manifesto. The title comes from a Woody Guthrie song, which Ehrenreich can hardly bear to listen to these days. She writes: "I flinch when I hear Woody Guthrie's line, 'This land belongs to you and me'. Somehow, I don't think it was meant to be sung by a chorus of hedge-fund operators." (The book's UK publisher evidently didn't feel Guthrie's song travelled well, and has opted for the title Going to Extremes instead.)
Ehrenreich's skill, apart from the sheer quality of her writing, is to illustrate her opinions with wave after wave of examples, of unglamorous labour disputes and everyday injustices that don't get much of a look-in elsewhere. Through them she details how wealth in America has transferred from the bottom to the top, thanks to tax cuts for the rich and Bush's reluctance to regulate the markets, and exposes the fallacy that "growth" as measured by GDP is, for the majority of Americans, synonymous with better living.
"It was just so fascinating to me, without being an economist, to see how in the past few years growth has become completely decoupled from wages or the real conditions of what we call working people," she says. "And the reason they were so decoupled is because of the huge inequality. So you could have many [economic] indicators looking very sunny and good, but you're talking about a population that is so divided there's not an average there any more."
A book about the joylessness of the American right must struggle to avoid matching it with a litany of dreary, rival orthodoxies. But Ehrenreich has never been dour, nor for that matter predictable. She lives in the historic town of Alexandria, just south of Washington DC, in a jolly chaos of papers and magazines. On the mantelpiece is a card that reads, "I am not, therefore I buy", but she is as suspicious of self-denial as she is of self-indulgence, both of which she sees as affectations. In one unexpected column, Ehrenreich flies at Jane Brody, the health editor of the New York Times, who throughout the 90s championed with great influence the virtues of a low-fat, high-carb diet. As well as questioning the health benefits of Brody's principles, Ehrenreich calls them a way of enabling the well-off to feel virtuous merely by indulging their own narcissism. "The low-fat diet has been the hair shirt under the fur coat - the daily deprivation that offsets the endless greed."
The "tireless preaching" that bedevils modern life elicits a resounding screw-you from Ehrenreich. Her latest bugbear is "positive thinking", the underlying philosophy of much life coaching and motivational speaking, which she came across during the research for Bait and Switch, the follow-up to Nickel and Dimed. In it, she spent a year trying to expose white-collar office life but was scuppered by not being able to get a job. Instead Ehrenreich fell into the hands of the gannets who feed on the unemployed and sell them reassurances that getting a job is just a question of attitude. This was illustrated by cheerful Kimberly, a "co-active coach" whom Ehrenreich employed and ended up wanting to kill. As the economy recedes, you wonder if Kimberly and her ilk will disappear. "I tend to think that the irrational, delusional approaches will persist," she warns.
Ehrenreich is by training a scientist, with a degree in chemistry and a PhD in cell biology. As a child she saw both sides of the economic divide. Her father was a copper miner from Montana who got an education and eventually qualified as a metallurgist and made it on to the corporate ladder at Gillette. "He was a very exceptional person, as he'd be the first to tell you. But he never - nor did my mother - say about people who didn't do as well, 'Oh we did it, so they can do it.' They recognised that theirs was an unusual trajectory."
Did they identify as working-class?
"No. I think they would have said middle-class. But I think my father always thought that he didn't fit in. He was too rough-edged. And he had a lot of contempt for, say, Ivy League types or MBA types."
What she sees as the stigmatisation of the sick in the US is a reaction in part to a "strange little detail" of her childhood. Her mother, who was politically more radical than her father and whom the young Ehrenreich would look at in alarm sometimes and wonder if she was a communist, had been brought up by her Christian Scientist grandparents. "And in no other way was my mother continuing to be a Christian Scientist, except for one thing: health. It was very bad to get sick. I remember when I had trouble seeing the blackboard in about seventh grade, she said, "People in our family don't wear glasses." Ehrenreich smiles ruefully.
Her son is a writer and her daughter a lawyer, (Ehrenreich is divorced; she moved to Alexandria to be near her two grandchildren) and half of her family still lives on low wages; her sister and her husband have just been forced to cancel their health insurance. I wonder if she had ethical qualms about Nickel and Dimed; isn't there something unsavoury about a comfortable journalist pretending to be poor and then being paid a lot of money to write about it?
"Well you know, that never entered my mind . . . what began to bother me a little bit was that there was a deception involved; that I had to tell people that I was working these jobs because I needed the money, which wasn't true. But I always tried at the end to tell people I had got to know what the truth was. And then you can work off the guilt of any money by giving it away. Easily fixed."
Until the success of that book she had been freelance, and the security, she says, has been wonderful. She hasn't had a staff position since her first job working for the New York City government as a health planner, which she left after seven months when she decided that "the government was selling out to private interests" and went to work for a "radical collective" lobbying for better healthcare in the city. "That's where I started writing, because we had a newsletter and I loved to do investigative pieces."
Nowadays, people write to Ehrenreich with their workplace horror stories. The most shocking in the new book came from an ex-employee of one large retailer, who told Ehrenreich that in 2003 the company held him captive for six hours and interrogated him for giving a colleague a discount on a videogame, before getting him to write a false confession and firing him. A former colleague alleged that such incidents were not unusual.
With Obama ascending there is hope of a sea change, although Ehrenreich remains characteristically cautious. She sees him "tacking to the right" and was disheartened by his choice of economic adviser, Jason Furman, "who was to the far right of the Democratic party and made his reputation as a defender of Wal-Mart [one of her principal targets in Nickel and Dimed]. And so in a way, I thought, OK, I'm not going to pay [Obama] any attention for a while."
I wonder if the huge success of Nickel and Dimed, and the tax bill that presumably came with it, hasn't sent Ehrenreich skidding off a bit in that direction. "Ha! I have to watch that kind of stuff. But no. I always say, if I could pay more taxes and be in turn told for sure that there would be decent schools for my grandchildren, that there would be healthcare for them, that there would be social security, if there was something in return, other than wars, it would be a wonderful thing." She cackles. "As it is, I just get angrier and angrier"
· Going to Extremes: Notes From A Divided Nation is published by Granta (£8.99).To order a copy for £8.99 with free UK p&p go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0870 836 0875
In the U.S. the book is : This Land is Their Land; Notes from a Divided Nation. Barbara Ehrenreich is an Honorary Chair of Democratic Socialists of America
Jack O’Connell: California’s Alarming Dropout Rate and the Support Our Children Need
In this week’s Democratic weekly radio address, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and Executive Director of the P16 Council José Ortega highlight California’s alarming high school dropout rate. They also call for the support needed to ensure our children are well-educated and our economy is competitive.
You may listen in English or Spanish. A full transcript follows.
Hello, this is State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.
This year, for the first time using student level data, California was able to report with much more accuracy information about the number of students who either dropped out or graduated from high school.
Implementing a system that revealed the truth about our dropout problem was a very important first step. Now we must face the alarming news that one in four students is dropping out of our California public high schools.
These high school dropouts will struggle to find employment, let alone find a job in which their true potential flourishes.
What's even more troubling is that the dropout rate is even higher among our African American, Hispanic, and low-income students. This achievement gap is a crisis. The loss of potential for students who do not finish school is simply staggering. And it is a major loss to our state’s economy.
To keep California’s economy competitive, we need the jobs a well-educated workforce attracts.
According to the California Dropout Research Project, each yearly wave of dropouts will cost California $46 billion through increased spending and reduced taxes.
These alarming dropout rate numbers are in part a legacy of our state's embarrassingly low per-pupil funding.
Among the fifty states, we consistently rank among the lowest ten.
So when California's State Board of Education recently mandated Algebra 1 for every single 8th grader, I and educators up and down our state were deeply concerned.
California's educators are rightly working hard toward the day when all of our students in 8th grade are truly prepared to succeed in Algebra 1.
But as of today, less than one in four 8th graders enrolled in General Mathematics is even proficient on standards that are taught in 6th and 7th grades.
Now in light of this fact, and our 24 percent dropout rate, it’s clear that in order to improve our students’ education, we need to increase the support of our schools.
Bringing California's per-pupil funding up to par with the rest of the United States is crucial to achieving our educational goals.
Attracting the 8,000 new algebra teachers we will need is going to require competitive recruiting strategies including increased salaries.
Our schools must be repaired and well-maintained if we're going to help our kids focus on their education.
Textbooks, after-school programs, school counselors: these were the basics previous generations needed to excel in school; our kids deserve no less.
Additionally, harnessing the power of today's information technology for educational purposes is an opportunity we simply can't afford to miss.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that the investments made in education benefit everyone in our society.
To sustain California's business innovation, our arts, culture and scientific achievement there is no substitute.
This has been State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, thank you for listening. From: the California Progress Report.
Do the math: Algebra mandate's a formula for failure
By Jack Stewart and Bob Balgenorth - Special to The Bee
California eighth-graders currently rank 44th among the states in math achievement. But despite this embarrassing showing, California has just become the first state to require every eighth-grader in public school to enroll in Algebra 1. While the goal is admirable, its application is flawed.
Even as middle school math scores plummet, the California state Board of Education, urged on by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, voted 8-1 to require every eighth-grader, ready or not, to take algebra.
Never mind that many sixth- and seventh-graders in California haven't even mastered basic math skills – or that we have a critical shortage of qualified math teachers – or that this mandate will cost billions of dollars.
Worse, we're spending money we don't have on a program that's not even proven to succeed. An investment of this magnitude should be based on data, not blind hope. After all, this money could be used to fund proven programs – such as career technical education – or look to fund promising concepts like preschool for all.
If the logic of teaching algebra to students who cannot do basic math escapes you, you're not alone. "It's going to be a firestorm in our state," says state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, who strongly opposes the plan. "We're setting every school up for failure."
Board member James Aschwanden, the only dissenting vote, agrees: "Not all children are developmentally ready to take algebra in eighth grade." If poor math achievement is the problem, is the new algebra mandate the answer? Let's do the math.
According to figures released this week by the Department of Education, about one in four California students drops out of high school – and the numbers are higher in many schools serving poor and minority students. Forcing students to take algebra in the eighth grade without adequate preparation will likely increase dropouts.
California already has too few qualified math teachers – and the problem is worse in schools serving poor and minority communities. Lacking instructors, students in these schools will be least prepared for the new requirement and will suffer disproportionately as a result.
For years, reform advocates have argued that our education system should be run more like a business – where challenges and solutions are scrutinized, cost-benefit analyses performed and decisions based on facts. We agree. Businesses also tend to invest their precious capital wisely, to ensure the biggest bang for their buck.
Conversely, the state Board of Education is spending billions of dollars on a mandate that is not only unproven but also widely unpopular – even our state schools chief expects it to fail. This is no way to run a business, or a taxpayer-funded education system.
The unintended result? Programs like career technical education – which have proved successful at increasing graduation rates and preparing students for well-paid, highly skilled technical jobs – will lose more funding and curricular space to accommodate the new mandate.
In addition, tens of thousands of students will not be allowed to enroll in CTE or other electives in middle school if they haven't mastered algebra. This lack of student enrollment will kill the remaining CTE programs.
Tragically, even fewer students will graduate with the technical training needed by California businesses – and with fewer CTE options, more students will opt out of school.
Eighth-graders already have the opportunity to take Algebra 1 as an elective. But if all eighth-graders are required to enroll, students who are already struggling will have even less time to master the basic skills they need.
We must set high academic standards for the next generation. But these standards should be well thought out and achievable. The new algebra mandate is neither. The governor and the Board of Education need to revisit this ill-considered decision before they do real harm to our public schools. Bob Balgenorth is president of the California Building and Construction Trades Council. AFL-CIO. The co-chair: Get Real.
High dropout rate puts California's future in peril
By Betty T. Yee - The Bee
California is failing our next generation as the doors shut for our young people to have a shot at a good quality of life.
Few would disagree with the notion that the state's competitive edge depends on a highly educated, highly skilled work force. However, California's investment in public education is woefully inadequate to meet this challenge, failing to provide the necessary support to reduce the high school dropout rate and to fulfill the promise of college for every eligible student.
This week, state educators predicted 24 percent of California students will drop out during high school. The dropout rates are alarming for African American and Latino students – 42 percent and 30 percent, respectively. While these figures are based on the most accurate student attendance data collected by the Department of Education, they certainly are not the first indication that California's public education system is in crisis.
According to the California Dropout Research Project in its August 2007 study, one out of every four adults in 2005 had not graduated from high school. Approximately 120,000 students do not attain a diploma by age 20 each year. And with each annual cohort of dropouts, California taxpayers foot the exorbitant bill for these young people – to the tune of $46 billion, or 2.9 percent of the annual gross state product, over their lifetimes – because they are more likely to be unemployed and pay no taxes, resort to criminal activity and rely on publicly funded programs for basic subsistence and health care.
On average, high school graduates earn more than high school dropouts, about $290,000 more over a lifetime; they also pay $100,000 more in federal, state and local taxes. High school graduation also contributes to a reduction in crime: by 20 percent for violent crimes, 11 percent for property crimes and 12 percent for drug-related crimes. A high school graduate is 68 percent less likely to be on any public assistance program than a high school dropout.
It's a no-brainer – not investing in strategies to reduce the number of high school dropouts does not save us money, but in fact costs California taxpayers exponentially more to address the consequences of low educational attainment.
The picture gets bleaker when one looks at public education in our urban core. In the America's Promise Alliance report released last month, almost half of all public high school students in the United States fail to graduate and are eight times more likely to land in prison. The report cites only 57.1 percent of public high school students in the city of Los Angeles graduate.
Our investment in public education has also failed on the commitment in the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education to provide college access to every eligible student. The race is on: According to the California Business Roundtable and the Campaign for College Opportunity in its April 2006 study, one in three new California jobs by 2022 will require an associate degree, bachelor's degree or higher, up from one in four jobs today. Coupled with the retiring college-educated baby boomers, the number of new jobs that will require college degrees is equal to the population of San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose combined.
California's economy is heavily focused in specialized, knowledge-based occupations and industries, with technical services, education and health care topping the industries in need of the largest number of highly educated workers. Small increases in the number of highly educated workers yield significant economic benefits: a 1 percent increase in the share of population with a bachelor's degree and a 2 percent increase with an associate degree or some college result in the creation of 174,000 new jobs and $1.2 billion more in annual state and local tax revenues.
The data are clear: College access is key to producing the large numbers of engineers, teachers and nurses to meet California's work force demands, generate additional much-needed tax revenue and keep the state's competitive edge. We already have seen the hemorrhaging of manufacturing and information sector jobs to other states and countries, and can ill afford any further high-paying job losses. Additionally, we must not forget the need for vocational educational programs to address the ongoing needs for highly skilled trade and craft workers, technicians and service workers.
The studies cited above should serve as a wake-up call for state policymakers about the critical need to increase our investment in public education in California. Moreover, policymakers should compel every single Californian to shoulder the responsibility for averting this statewide economic crisis by fairly spreading the burden for contributing to the cost of public education and other government services based on income.
Our global economy is changing rapidly. We are running out of time to save our state.
If California is to maintain its place among the world's top 10 economies, we must increase our investment in public education now: Our industries demand it, our tax system depends on it, and our children deserve it.
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California moves toward honest drop out numbers California high school dropout rate near one-quarter, report says
By Deb Kollars - email@example.com Published 12:00 am PDT Thursday, July 17, 2008
A new high school dropout report released Wednesday shows significantly higher rates of students leaving public school in California than reported in previous years.
According to the California Department of Education, one in four high-schoolers – 24.2 percent – failed to graduate or move into another program to continue their education. The estimates were derived from data from the 2006-07 school year.
By contrast, the state claimed a 13.9 percent four-year dropout rate for the prior year.
The difference is due to a more accurate system for keeping track of students, said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. Under the system, students were given a unique identification number that enabled the state to better track their whereabouts in the education system.
It proved an eye-opening effort.
In the past, dropout counts were self-reported by schools and districts. In many places, the figures were considered serious undercounts, especially when compared with the rates of freshmen who actually graduated with their classes four years later.
The Grant Joint Union High School District, for example, reported an 18 percent four-year dropout rate in 2005-06.
Yet, that same year, the district (which recently merged into a new district called Twin Rivers) graduated only 1,232 students – fewer than half of the 2,547 ninth-graders enrolled four years earlier.
For years, such disparities ran up and down the state, leading to calls for reform of the dropout reporting system. Laws passed in 1995 and 2002 paved the way for a more accurate system, but financial and bureaucratic barriers prevented it until this year.
"Thank God we've finally moved in this direction," said Delaine Eastin, who was state superintendent from 1995 until 2003 and advocated for a better tracking system. "It's too little too late, though, for some of these students, these real-life people."
Under the new system, the Grant district showed a 36.2 percent dropout rate – double its prior year's and one of the highest district rates in the Sacramento region.
The Sacramento City Unified and San Juan Unified districts, by contrast, ran just below the Sacramento County rate of 26.5 percent and slightly above the statewide rate.
"We knew it was high, but this is a startling number," said Frank Porter, superintendent of the Twin Rivers Unified School District, which absorbed Grant and three other districts July 1.
Porter said he was grateful for more reliable statistics: "It will give us a more accurate baseline," he said, noting that Twin Rivers is taking steps to keep more students in school.
The announcement Wednesday that a fourth of California high-schoolers – more than 127,000 teenagers – quit school prematurely left many disturbed.
Rates run even higher for African American and Latino students. And although younger students are not accounted for in the four-year rates, the report shows thousands dropping out as early as seventh and eighthgrades.
"It's plain unacceptable," said state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "These are young people who are largely uneducated and unprepared for the high-wage jobs in the new economies of California."
Mary Shelton, associate superintendent at Sacramento City Unified, agreed too many students leave early. She cautioned, though, that the rates listed for individual high schools may overstate dropouts because of mobility factors.
Hiram Johnson High School, for example, had a 35.4 percent dropout rate. But the school also has a huge transfer rate because families move so much.
"It's like a revolving door," Shelton said. "Last year half the kids transferred in or out in the course of the year."
O'Connell said the new system was designed to make better sense of transfers.
In the past, he said, when students left schools saying they were switching to another campus, their schools counted them as transfers, not dropouts, without checking if the students actually re-enrolled elsewhere.
With the new student tracking system, the state was able to determine whether such transfers took place.
If not, such students were deemed "lost transfers" and counted as dropouts. They were a big factor in the uptick in dropout rates.
"Twenty-four percent of students dropping out is not good news," O'Connell said, noting that the more accurate data should lead to greater accountability and more focus on helping students complete school.
Wednesday's report said 8.2 percent of students were considered neither dropouts nor graduates because they moved to a private school, earned a high school equivalency certificate, left the state or died, among other things.
Alan Bonsteel, a Marin physician long critical of the state's dropout counts, said the numbers still are not accurate because they fail to account for middle school dropouts and students who move to other states, countries or private schools or leave school for other reasons.
"We're still undercounting," said Bonsteel, president of California Parents for Educational Choice, a nonprofit that advocates for charters and vouchers.
According to the Department of Education, an even more accurate tally will be available when the state launches a longitudinal data system in 2009-10.
It will enable the tracking of individual students over time, rather than producing derived rates based on a single year's data.
Go to: Sacbee Note. Average numbers are deceptive. Since California schools vary dramatically, you need to look up the scores on the specific schools
McCain Lays Down The Educational Gauntlet Filed under: Education by Leo Casey @ 11:57 pm In his speech last week to the national convention of the American Federation of Teachers, Barack Obama was clear and unequivocal in his opposition to using public money for vouchers for private schools. At that time, Obama made it clear that he supported public school choice — the ability of students and their families to chose which public school they would attend. In taking this stance, Obama reiterated what is a longstanding position of his — he had made the same point to the National Education Association convention earlier in July, and had explicitly disowned attempts by pro-voucher partisans to spin comments he made in a primary campaign interview into support for private school vouchers. Today, John McCain chose the occasion of a speech to the august civil rights organization, the NAACP, to take on Obama — and teacher unions — on this very point. McCain said: In remarks to the American Federation of Teachers last weekend, Senator Obama dismissed public support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans as, “tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice.” All of that went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing schools? Over the years, Americans have heard a lot of “tired rhetoric” about education. We’ve heard it in the endless excuses of people who seem more concerned about their own position than about our children. We’ve heard it from politicians who accept the status quo rather than stand up for real change in our public schools. Parents ask only for schools that are safe, teachers who are competent, and diplomas that open doors of opportunity. When a public system fails, repeatedly, to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children. Some parents may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private school. Many will choose a charter school. No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity. Let us leave to the side McCain’s intellectually dishonest attempt to wrap the issue of private school vouchers in the mantle of public school choice: there are, of course, very sound policy reasons why Obama, the NAACP and teacher unions all draw a vital distinction between private school vouchers and public school choice, opposing the former and supporting the latter. But the real political import of McCain’s statement lies elsewhere — it is an attempt to force a political wedge between Obama and teacher unions, based on the raw power calculus that an Obama campaign without vigorous teacher and union support would be a far more vulnerable opponent. To accomplish this goal, McCain has returned to the old Republican Dole and D’Amato playbook of attacking teacher unions. In an American trade union movement that has been decimated in recent decades, teacher unions stand out as a powerful exception, with most of the K-12 educational sector organized in either the NEA or the AFT. It is teacher unions that stand between the Republican right and the privatization of public education and the further dismantling of American public life. Like his predecessors, McCain understands this political reality. Teachers and unionists need to understand it as well, and organize for this election in a way that send a message every bit as powerful as the crushing defeats of Dole and D’Amato.
Leo Casey. Leo blogs on Edwize. The Blog of the New York AFT.
July 15, 2008 New Vision for Schools Proposes Broad Role
By SAM DILLON Randi Weingarten, the New Yorker who is rising to become president of the American Federation of Teachers, says she wants to replace President Bush’s focus on standardized testing with a vision of public schools as community centers that help poor students succeed by offering not only solid classroom lessons but also medical and other services.
Ms. Weingarten, 50, was elected Monday to the presidency of the national teachers union at the union’s annual convention. In a speech minutes later to the delegates gathered in Chicago, Ms. Weingarten criticized the No Child Left Behind law, President Bush’s signature domestic initiative, as “too badly broken to be fixed,” and outlined “a new vision of schools for the 21st century.”
“Can you imagine a federal law that promoted community schools — schools that serve the neediest children by bringing together under one roof all the services and activities they and their families need?” Ms. Weingarten asked in the speech.
“Imagine schools that are open all day and offer after-school and evening recreational activities and homework assistance,” she said. “And suppose the schools included child care and dental, medical and counseling clinics.”
By laying out that expansive vision of government’s role in the public schools, Ms. Weingarten waded into a fierce debate among Democrats seeking to influence the educational program of Senator Barack Obama, their party’s presumptive presidential nominee. In an interview last week, she said the ideas in the speech amounted to “what I’d like to see in a new federal education law.”
In her 10 years of service as president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City teachers, Ms. Weingarten has defended teachers’ economic interests, raising her members’ salaries by 43 percent in the last five years. But she has also proved willing to accommodate the city’s ideas on improving schools. She has embraced charter schools, and last year — even as teachers unions elsewhere were opposing performance pay plans — negotiated an arrangement in New York that gives bonuses to teachers in schools whose poor children show broad gains in test scores.
With her move to the presidency of the national union, with 1.4 million members, Ms. Weingarten gains a broader platform from which to influence the nation’s education debates. Although the federation is smaller than the country’s other teachers union, the National Education Association, with its 3.2 million members, A.F.T. presidents have had an equal or larger political profile because presidential tenures in the bigger union are restricted by term limits.
Two previous presidents of the United Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker and Sandra Feldman, also rose to lead the A.F.T.
“My sense is that Randi Weingarten is continuing Al Shanker’s tradition, clearly standing up for the interests of teachers but also trying to engage in thoughtful education reform that will be good for students,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation whose biography of Mr. Shanker, “Tough Liberal,” was published this year.
On Sunday, Mr. Obama spoke to the convention by satellite feed from California, and he mixed criticism of the No Child law with praise for teachers’ contributions and an exhortation to Americans to meet the nation’s responsibility to educate all children. He quoted a young Chicago teacher as telling him that she had been annoyed by a tendency “to explain away the shortcomings and failures of our education system by saying, ‘These kids can’t learn.’ ”
“These children are our children,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s time we understood that their education is our responsibility.
“I am running for president to guarantee that all of our children have the best possible chance in life,” he said, “and I am tired of hearing you, the teachers who work so hard, blamed for our problems.”
Convention delegates gave Mr. Obama a standing ovation.
Ms. Weingarten takes national office with robust support of the rank and file. “The last eight years of the Republican presidency have really been a threat to the middle class and to public education,” said William Gallagher, a high school social studies teacher in Philadelphia for 33 years. Ms. Weingarten, he said, would “work hard to make sure the new president, whoever he is, puts education on the forefront of issues in this country.”
In Ms. Weingarten’s speech, she praised the ideas of a group of Democrats led by Tom Payzant, the former schools superintendent in Boston, who have argued that schools alone cannot close achievement gaps rooted in larger economic inequalities, and that “broader, bolder” measures are needed, like publicly financed early childhood education and health services for the poor.
Another group, headed by the Rev. Al Sharpton and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein of New York, issued a manifesto last month urging the nation to redouble its efforts to close the achievement gap separating poor students from affluent ones and blaming “teachers’ contracts” for keeping ineffective teachers in classrooms.
Ms. Weingarten said the nation needs a new vision for schools “that truly commits America to closing the achievement gap once and for all.”
“Imagine if schools had the educational resources we have long advocated, like quality pre-K, smaller classes, up-to-date materials and technology and a nurturing atmosphere, so no child feels anonymous,” she said.
Ms. Weingarten, whose mother was a teacher in Nyack, N.Y., is a lawyer who was union counsel during the 1980s and 1990s. In the last decade, Ms. Weingarten taught high school history for six years in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.
In the interview, she said: “We all have to work tenaciously to eliminate the achievement gap and to turn around low-performing schools. But the folks who believe that this can all be done on teachers’ shoulders, which is what No Child tries to do, are doing a huge disservice to America.”
Phil Gramm, the senator-banker who until recently advised John McCain's campaign, did get it right about a "nation of whiners," but he misidentified the faint- hearted. It's not the people or even the politicians. It is Wall Street--the financial titans and big-money bankers, the most important investors and worldwide creditors who are scared witless by events. These folks are in full-flight panic and screaming for mercy from Washington, Their cries were answered by the massive federal bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, the endangered mortgage companies.
When the monied interests whined, they made themselves heard by dumping the stocks of these two quasi-public private corporations, threatening to collapse the two financial firms like the investor "run" that wiped out Bear Stearns in March. The real distress of the banks and brokerages and major investors is that they cannot unload the rotten mortgage securities packaged by Fannie Mae and banks sold worldwide. Wall Street's preferred solution: dump the bad paper on the rest of us, the unwitting American taxpayers.
The Bush crowd, always so reluctant to support federal aid for mere people, stepped up to the challenge and did as it was told. Treasury Secretary Paulson (ex- Goldman Sachs) and his sidekick, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, announced their bailout plan on Sunday to prevent another disastrous selloff on Monday when markets opened. Like the first-stage rescue of Wall Street's largest investment firms in March, this bold stroke was said to benefit all of us. The whole kingdom of American high finance would tumble down if government failed to act or made the financial guys pay for their own reckless delusions. Instead, dump the losses on the people.
Democrats who imagine they may find some partisan advantage in these events are deeply mistaken. The Democratic party was co-author of the disaster we are experiencing and its leaders fell in line swiftly. House banking chair, Rep. Barney Frank, announced he could have the bailout bill on President Bush's desk next week. No need to confuse citizens by dwelling on the details. Save Wall Street first. Maybe lowbrow citizens won't notice it's their money.
We are witnessing a momentous event--the great deflation of Wall Street--and it is far from over. The crash of IndyMac is just the beginning. More banks will fail, so will many more debtors. The crisis has the potential to transform American politics because, first it destroys a generation of ideological bromides about free markets, and, second, because it makes visible the ugly power realities of our deformed democracy. Democrats and Republicans are bipartisan in this crisis because they have colluded all along over thirty years in creating the unregulated financial system and mammoth mega-banks that produced the phony valuations and deceitful assurances. The federal government protects the most powerful interests from the consequences of their plundering. It prescribes "market justice" for everyone else.
Of course, the federal government has to step up to the crisis, but the crucial question is how government can respond in the broad public interest. Bernanke knows the history of the last great deflation in the 1930s-- better known as the Great Depression--and so he is determined to intervene swiftly, as the Federal Reserve failed to do in that earlier crisis. By pumping generous loans and liquidity into the system, the Fed chairman hopes to calm the market fears and reverse the panic. So far, he has failed. I think he will continue to fail because he has not gone far enough.
If Washington wants real results, it has to abandon the wishful posture that is simply helping the private firms get over their fright. The government must instead act decisively to take charge in more convincing ways. That means acknowledging to the general public the depth of the national crisis and the need for more dramatic interventions.
Instead of propping up Fannie Mae or others, the threatened firm should be formally nationalized as a nonprofit federal agency performing valuable services for the housing market. That is the real consequence anyway if the taxpayers have to buy up $300 billion in stock.
The private shareholders "are walking dead men, muerto," Institutional Risk Analytics, a private banking monitor, observed. Make them eat their losses, the sooner the better. The real national concern should be focused on the major creditors who lend to Fannie Mae and other US agencies as well as private financial firms. They include China, Japan and other foreign central banks. Foreign investors hold about 21 percent of the long-term debt paper issued by US government agencies--$376 billion in China, $229 billion in Japan.
It is not in our national interest to burn these nations with heavy losses. On the contrary, we need to sustain their good regard because they can help us recover by bailing out the US economy with more lending. If these foreign creditors turn away and stop their lending now, the US economy is toast and won't soon recover.
Americans should forget about whining; it's too late for that. People need to get angry--really, really angry--and take it out on both parties. What the country needs right now is a few more politicians in Washington with the guts to stand up and tell us the hard truth about out situation. It will be painful to hear. They will be denounced as "whiners." But truth might be our only way out.
[National affairs correspondent William Greider has been a political journalist for more than thirty-five years. A former Rolling Stone and Washington Post editor, he is the author of the national bestsellers One World, Ready or Not, Secrets of the Temple, Who Will Tell The People and, most recently, The Soul of Capitalism (Simon & Schuster).]
From: The Daily Kos GOP, the Know-Nothing Party by smintheus Mon Jul 14, 2008 at 06:58:54 PM PDT
Republicans have been in a lather since Barack Obama commented that American children should learn a foreign language in school. It demonstrates the extent to which they've become the party of ignorance.
Responding to a voter in GA who'd like more bilingual education, Obama said:
"Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English — they’ll learn English — you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.
You know, it’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say [is], ‘Merci beaucoup.’ Right? You know, no, I’m serious about this. We should understand that our young people, if you have a foreign language, that is a powerful tool to get a job. You are so much more employable. You can be part of international business. So we should be emphasizing foreign languages in our schools from an early age, because children will actually learn a foreign language easier when they’re 5, or 6, or 7 than when they’re 46, like me."
Hard to argue with that. It's obvious too that learning a foreign language helps you to understand your own language better. It also brings perspective on how to think, speak, and write. While thinking critically about ideas you learn to communicate them more precisely.
Predictably, right-wingers flew into a rage at Obama's un-American call for better language skills. For example, John McCormack at the Weakly Standard labeled language education as snobbery and elitism. John Derbyshire called Obama's suggestion "idiotic" because "not many human beings can learn another language", as his own failures prove. He combines that with characteristic condescension:
In fact, below some cutoff point, which I'd guess at around minus one standard deviation in IQ (that would encompass sixteen percent of the population), education beyond the three R's is a waste of time, and foreign-language instruction a total waste of time.
Many right-wingers just skipped what Obama actually said and declared that he wants to forcibly indoctrinate their children in Spanish, or make Spanish the official language of the US. Fox News knew what Republicans wanted to hear. Neil Cavuto brought on the Philly-cheese-steak bigot Joey Vento to denounce Obama: "This man is a sick man. He is a scary man."
Even before it embraced creationism and made attacks on science a guiding principle, the Republican Party had proudly turned itself into the party of ignorance and anti-intellectualism. But Obama's call for children to learn more languages (which he stands by) has given the GOP an opportunity to link two of its favorite cudgels, ignorance and bigotry against immigrants. Truly the modern heir to the Know-Nothing Party.
Poll How un-American are you?
I speak 1 language. I speak 2 languages. I speak 3 languages. I speak 4 languages. I speak 5-7 languages. I speak 8 or more languages.
State Test Scores in Reading and Mathematics Continue To Increase, Achievement Gaps Narrow Positive Trends in State Test Scores Seen Since 2002
WASHINGTON, D.C. – June 24, 2008 – Student scores on state tests of reading and mathematics have risen since 2002, and achievement gaps between various groups of students have narrowed more often than they have widened, according to the most comprehensive and rigorous recent analysis of state test scores. These improvements have occurred during a period when the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), state education reforms, and local school improvement efforts have focused on raising test scores and narrowing achievement gaps.
The report, Has Student Achievement Increased Since 2002?: State Test Score Trends Through 2006-07, was released today by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy (CEP). It analyzes state test data from all 50 states as well as trends through 2007 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the only federally administered assessment of reading and math achievement. While expanding on a similar report from last year, this study continues the focus on two main questions: whether reading and math achievement has increased since 2002 and whether achievement gaps between subgroups of students have narrowed. The number of states included varies depending on the type of trend being reported. CEP excluded state data from years that should not be compared because a state introduced a new test, changed the passing score on its test, or made other major test changes. CEP also looked at two indicators of achievement on state tests – the percentage of students scoring at or above the “proficient” level and a statistic called “effect size,” which avoids some limitations of percentages proficient.
The report includes an analysis of many of the differences between state test scores and NAEP scores.
Reading First program expected to die out of classrooms by Pat Kossan - Jul. 13, 2008 The Arizona Republic The Bush administration's $6 billion Reading First program is expected to die out of American classrooms, including those in Arizona, by the end of the decade. The generous program was born in 2002 and provided $130 million to 136 schools in Arizona's neediest communities. The money helped each school buy a uniform reading program, a reading coach, extensive teacher training and tools for teachers. Those tools allowed teachers to measure a student's reading progress weekly or monthly, but always in time to catch those students who were falling behind. Many state education leaders, including those in Arizona, said Reading First refocused their scattered reading programs and helped their state's poorest kids learn to read more quickly. Detractors called the program too prescribed, with an emphasis on teaching students to decode words at the expense of comprehending sentences. Curriculum director Barbara Wright of the Casa Grande Elementary District is among the mourners. "How sad," she said of Reading First's demise. Wright was a Reading First fan and implemented the program at every school in the district. "This was good, solid, research-based information, and we implemented it in all our schools at the time, even though only two schools were funded," she said. Eventually, seven of the district's nine schools were given Reading First grants. The district's third-grade AIMS reading scores have climbed every year since. Wright said its mandates will continue to guide the district's reading program, even though the massive federal grant program has taken a beating it is not expected to survive. The blows included reports of mismanagement at the highest levels and a pending Department of Justice investigation. That led an angry Congress to cut its funding by 60 percent. In May, a U.S. Department of Education study concluded Reading First - its own program - had little positive impact on reading skills. Arizona schools were not included in the study. In June, the U.S. Senate and House appropriations committees stripped Reading First of its remaining money, which is expected to lead to its death in 2010. Although Reading First is fading, its legacy will live on. Arizona lawmakers were so enamored with the program they created a state law requiring all schools to create reading programs that mimic it. The state law did not provide extra money to implement the reading programs, so its impact is uncertain. "The essence of Reading First is the method of teaching that is independent of appropriation of funds," said Tom Horne, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction. Horne said Reading First combines the best of all reading methods tried before it, emphasizing phonics, as well as comprehension, fluency and vocabulary. "Schools will continue to use it because it has proven itself," he said.
COMMENTS on website as of 4:00 pm CDT 7/14:
rlyon Jul-13 @ 8:40 AM Children are, and will be hurt in the political theater surrounding Reading First. Some facts: First, The Office of the Inspector General found no actual conflicts of interest in the management of Reading First (see OIG Reports) Second, Sen. Ted Kennedy had concerns that directors of Reading First technical assistance centers were receiving royalties from publishers while working for the program. But in most cases, these royalties were for books published before they worked for Reading First, or for books not connected to Reading First. In any case, Reading First technical assistance centers did not recommend specific textbooks or reading materials. Third, a Department of Education study recently published and showing that Reading First funding did not result in significant gains in achievement when compared to schools that did not receive the funding has been widely criticized for not paying attention to a well known fact – Both Reading First and non-Reading First schools within the same district were typically using the same reading programs. Non-Reading First schools did not want their kids to fail so they adopted Reading First programs and paid for them with state or district funds. For example, The Reading First evaluator for Alaska, Arizona, Montana, Washington and Wyoming reported gains in all five states in the percent of students meeting third grade benchmarks. She also reported that 65 percent to 95 percent of non-Reading First schools in districts receiving Reading First funds used the same assessments, purchased the same reading materials, provided similar assistance to struggling students and hired similar reading coaches. Alabama was found by independent evaluations to increase kindergarten reading development such that a remarkable 89 percent of students met literacy benchmarks at the end of kindergarten, with almost no racial gap. State wide evaluations of Reading First programs in California, Ohio, Idaho and many others demonstrated significant improvement in reading capabilities on state reading tests. If Reading First is on the chopping block it is not because it lacks effectiveness and is helping millions of struggling readers. It is because of political malpractice. Reid Lyon Dallas, Texas
SKrashen Jul-14 @ 12:47 AM In response to Reid Lyon: In the Dept of Education study, Reading First children were getting more of the elements of reading that the National Reading Panel considered to be crucial. Thus, as Tim Shanahan pointed out, it was really a comparison of more Reading First versus less. And it wasn't just a little more, it amounted to an extra six weeks per year. Concerning the state data: Alabama looks good in kindergarten but the percent reaches proficiency drops as the children move up the grades. Ohio also drops. Idaho is one of the few that doesn't. See earlier posts on Bush Administration malfeasance with Reading First funds. Particularly the role of Reid Lyons.
Amazing. The Sacramento Bee editorial actually got something right on public schooling. The described the dire straights of California math teaching. http://www.sacbee.com/editorials/story/1075230.html And, they were responsible rather than glib about alternatives they so often suggest. I said that I would offer more on the Algebra decision.
I actually prefer their statement to my own. They start in reality. We should expect the School Board to do what political appointees do- make grand statements. Then someone has to do the work of improving math education, including algebra. If we start with this reality, then we are not disappointed at political grandstanding. They note that California currently ranks 47 out of the 50 states in math achievement. Perhaps that should give the School Board something to do. In addition to their list of ways to begin to address the math/algebra problems, I offer one more. Notice that Math Departments at colleges teach math to all of our teachers. And, you can not major in Education in California. Therefore, almost all of the teachers who are not being successful in teaching math k-8, have taken their math courses from our Math Departments. That is, the Math Departments did not teach the teachers. They failed. They Math Departments need a little more humility. In addition, as the Bee editorial calls for, we need more math majors to teach math and Algebra in grades 8-12. But, why do we not have more math majors. Well, part of the problem is that our Math Departments are not doing a very good job of teaching math to college students. Perhaps we should take their advice on teaching with a few grains of salt. In interesting effort called The Algebra Project has been quite successful in preparing young people in Algebra, African American, Latino and white. They approach Algebra from a hands on- experimental approach. By the way, this is the same approach found to be successful in our best engineering schools such as my alma mater Carnegie-Mellon University. Math Departments have a lot to they could learn from them, if they would be willing to listen and to learn.
As you may have read, the California School Board with one day's notice has decided that all 8th. graders shall take Algebra. This is the application of the non thinking - raise the standards- mantra of the uninformed. In future posts I will go into this more. However, as a start. Did you know that under current conditions only 24 % of California students rank as Proficient of Above in math and the national NAEP exam. ( 2007) O.K. 24% understand well the current grade level work. That means that 76% are not yet proficient. So, rather than improving math teaching by - lowering class size, retraining teachers, assisting teachers, the Board is simply going to pass a mandate. They declare a standard. A more responsible action would be to do what they can do to improve math instruction. They could act on class size, the budget, teacher support, or curriculum. This is their job.
One of the arguments listed is that algebra teaches "critical thinking". Now, I am an advocate of critical thinking. I have written chapters on critical thinking in my book, Choosing Democracy: a practical guide to multicultural education 3rd. ( 2004). There is simply no evidence that Algebra teaches more critical thinking than other math. This claim is an assertion, not a fact. Yet, the School Board acted upon it.
The Collapse of Federal Firefighting in California
By Robert Cruickshank
As my recent articles have shown there is a shortage of firefighters to meet the unprecedented amount of fires burning across our state. As I began digging into this yesterday I came across the same report highlighted in today's Monterey Herald - that US Forest Service firefighting efforts have been cut to the bone and left the nation vulnerable to massive fires. Deliberate staffing shortages have left the USFS unable to do vital off-season brush clearance, and left them without the staffing to get a quick jump on fires in their crucial initial stages.
“The federal firefighting system is "imploding" in California, due to poor spending decisions and high job vacancy rates, as the region struggles to keep pace with what looks to be a historic fire season, a firefighters' advocacy group charges.
“As a result, the firefighters say, small fires have exploded into extended, multimillion-dollar conflagrations because the U.S. Forest Service has been unable to contain them during the early "initial attack" stage...
“As the "sheer number" of California wildfires pushed the nation to its worst measurable level of wildland-fire preparedness last week - Level 5 - a national multiagency coordinating group announced in a memo Monday that firefighter staffing levels in Northern California "cannot be maintained."
The report, by the FWFSA, has been around for a few months now. Wildland firefighters have been screaming about the issue to anyone who would listen, including Dianne Feinstein: Read the rest of the report at California Progress Report.
Accountability The school systems in most of our cities in California are currently at a crisis point. Schools can continue as they are. A segment of society will be well-educated, another segment will continue to fail. The economic crisis for working people and people of color will continue to grow (Mishel, Bernstein, Allegretto, 2007). Alternatively, schools can be transformed into places where education is a rich, compelling, and affirming process that prepares all young people to make thoughtful contributions to their community in economic and civic terms. Reforming the schools requires money. And, the Legislature is currently deadlocked. Their issue is how much to cut this year . Frederick Douglass spoke to this issue in 1849 when he wrote the following: The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all absorbing, and for the time being putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physically one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. (Douglass, 1849/1991, p. vii)
WE need to invest in California schools, provide equal educational opportunities in these schools, and recruit a well prepared teaching force that begins to reflect the student populations in these schools. We must insist on equal opportunity to learn, no compromise. When we do these things, we will begin to protect the freedom to learn for our children and our grandchildren, and to build a more just and democratic society. The struggle for education improvement and education equality is a struggle for or against democratic participation. The struggle for multicultural education, based in democratic theory, is an important part of the general struggle against race, class, and gender oppression. Schools serving urban and impoverished populations need fundamental change. These schools do not open the doors to economic opportunity. They usually do not promote equality. Instead, they recycle inequality. The high school drop out rates alone demonstrate that urban schools prepare less than 50 percent of their students for entrance into the economy and society. A democratic agenda for school reform includes insisting on fair taxation and adequate funding for all children. Political leaders in California have not yet decided to address the real issues of school reform. We cannot build a safe, just, and prosperous society while we leave so many young people behind. The conservative/ media emphasis on accountability is a distortion. We know which schools need improvement, and we know how to improve them.. Teachers and parents together face a political choice. Shall we continue to call for high standards without providing the necessary resources for all schools to have a reasonable chance to attain such standards? Shall we continue to punish schools and their staffs for low test scores, even when we know that the tests are poor instruments for measuring learning and that their construction guarantees the failure of many students? Is increased competition and privatization the answer for schools when it has not been the answer in other sectors of our society, particularly for low income and diverse people? The problem is to provide the resources, including well prepared teachers with adequate support, needed to make the current schools successful. We face a choice between providing high-quality schools only for the middle and upper classes, and underfunded, understaffed schools for the poor. Or, we can also choose to work together to improve schools that are presently failing.
At present there is not a political agreement to make the necessary investments to bring about substantial school reform. The U.S. government and your state government will not make the necessary investments to improve education, nor to improve health care or to rebuild the economic infrastructure until we stop investing over 850 Billion dollars in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and whichever military intervention follows. The conservative/ media emphasis on accountability for schools is a distortion. We know which schools need improvement, and we know how to improve them. Teachers can pursue democratic opportunity with instruction in multicultural education, critical thinking, cooperative learning, improved reading and language skills, and empowerment. Teachers and parents together face a political choice. Shall we continue to call for high standards without providing the necessary resources for all schools to have a reasonable chance to attain such standards? Shall we continue to punish schools and their staffs for low test scores, even when we know that the tests are poor instruments for measuring learning and that their construction guarantees the failure of many students? Is increased competition and privatization the answer for schools when it has not been the answer in other sectors of our society, particularly for low income and diverse people? The problem is to provide the resources, including well prepared teachers with adequate support, needed to make the current schools successful. We face a choice between providing high-quality schools only for the middle and upper classes, and underfunded, understaffed schools for the poor. Or, we can also choose to work together to improve schools that are presently failing. See the prior post.
A CHOICE BETWEEN TWO FUTURES Over half of the schools in California schools are currently at a crisis point. Schools can continue as they are. A segment of society will be well-educated, another segment will continue to fail. The economic crisis for working people and people of color will continue to grow (Mishel, Bernstein, Allegretto, 2007). Alternatively, schools can be transformed into places where education is a rich, compelling, and affirming process that prepares all young people to make thoughtful contributions to their community in economic and civic terms. Strategies for this transformation are found in my book, Choosing Democracy. The possibility for change exists and gives those of us dedicated to democratic schools hope. Current proposals promoted by conservative institutes such as school choice and using public monies to fund private education (Chubb & Moe, 1989) will not lead to democratic reform. Rather than continue these privileges, a reform movement must build on democratic ideals of progress and equality of opportunity. These traditional values can triumph over the hostility and violence produced by racism, sexism, and class bias presently accepted as “normal” and natural in our schools. The growth of the African American, Asian, and Latino middle class—a direct result of the Civil Rights Movement’s use of political power to reduce discrimination based on race—provides powerful evidence that racism can be combated through education and public policy. Frederick Douglass spoke to this issue in 1849 when he wrote the following: The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all absorbing, and for the time being putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physically one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. (Douglass, 1849/1991, p. vii)
We need to invest in our schools, provide equal educational opportunities in these schools, and recruit a well prepared teaching force that begins to reflect the student populations in these schools. We must insist on equal opportunity to learn- no compromise. When we do these things, we will begin to protect the freedom to learn for our children and our grandchildren, and to build a more just and democratic society. Teacher advocates for democratic multicultural education challenge those social forces acting to preserve the present inequalities and injustices in our schools. We consider schools as sites for the struggle for or against more democracy in our society. The struggle for education improvement and education equality is a struggle for or against democratic participation. The struggle for multicultural education, based in democratic theory, is an important part of the general struggle against race, class, and gender oppression. Schools serving urban and impoverished populations need fundamental change. These schools do not open the doors to economic opportunity. They usually do not promote equality. Instead, they recycle inequality. The high school drop out rates alone demonstrate that urban schools prepare less than 50 percent of their students for entrance into the economy and society. A democratic agenda for school reform includes insisting on fair taxation and adequate funding for all children. Political leaders in most states have not yet decided to address the real issues of school reform. We cannot build a safe, just, and prosperous society while we leave so many young people behind. The conservative/ media emphasis on accountability is a distortion. We know which schools need improvement, and we know how to improve them. Teachers can pursue democratic opportunity with instruction in multicultural education, critical thinking, cooperative learning, improved reading and language skills, and empowerment. Teachers and parents together face a political choice. Shall we continue to call for high standards without providing the necessary resources for all schools to have a reasonable chance to attain such standards? Shall we continue to punish schools and their staffs for low test scores, even when we know that the tests are poor instruments for measuring learning and that their construction guarantees the failure of many students? Is increased competition and privatization the answer for schools when it has not been the answer in other sectors of our society, particularly for low income and diverse people? The problem is to provide the resources, including well prepared teachers with adequate support, needed to make the current schools successful. We face a choice between providing high-quality schools only for the middle and upper classes, and underfunded, understaffed schools for the poor. Or, we can also choose to work together to improve schools that are presently failing.