A Confederacy of Reformers

Posted on March 24, 2013

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I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed by all the rapid changes happening in the education sphere. I’m positive I’m not alone in feeling this way – based on the feedback, articles and correspondence I’ve been receiving from local and national groups and individuals. As I struggled to zero in on a topic where I could help or enlighten the most, something else even more screwed up would be sent to me. I’ve started and stopped work on several pieces, which may make their appearances later, but I feel the need to get my bearings again. All this crazy “stuff” (not my first word choice) needs to be sorted out and organized before I can make any more forward progress. I think the mistake I was making, and many others are probably making, is not connecting all the dots and figuring out what kind of picture they reveal.

Right now hundreds (and probably thousands) of disparate groups are polishing their individual pieces of the puzzle and identifying a few corners and straight edges here and there . . . maybe the occasional face piece. All of us are focusing on our own small pieces of what is actually a very complex puzzle. If we could put them all together, it would surely show a grand scheme, but we’re all convinced we’re holding the key. I can’t solve this puzzle on my own, but what I can do is show you the pieces I’ve managed to put together, and what I think I’m starting to see. These are my pieces:

Intentionally Flawed Teacher Evaluation Systems

A scourge of questionable teacher evaluation systems and Value Added programs has surged across Louisiana, but across dozens of other states as well. While all these systems are referenced as “Valued Added” or “Teacher Evaluation” systems, they all have very different methods of operating, and degrees of crappiness. Every one I’ve reviewed or seen reviewed by unaffiliated evaluators all of them have been revealed to be questionable at best, and outright absurd such as in the case of Louisiana’s Value Added system. Despite all these studies and findings, reformers and their allies still tout these kangaroo court evaluation systems as valid and necessary, and tie tenure and continuing employment and compensation to them. When the public starts to recognize just how absurd the metrics are, Reformer headed DOEs change the formulae, either in small ways or even quite dramatically. Sometimes this makes the systems even worse – for teachers and in terms of accuracy, but this change is only meant to fool the masses. Changing these systems gives the appearance of reasonableness, and shifts the conversation to one of getting data from DOE’s to prove their new systems are more accurate. Of course reformers like John White refuse to provide this data except to sympathetic patsies. The clamorings of researchers unable to get data, without lengthy lawsuits, is never covered by the mainstream media. Ultimately what happens is experienced teachers are driven from the profession in droves to make room for poorly trained, easily manipulated, inexpensive temporary recruits, teachers unions are dissolved and public education is diluted and destroyed to make way for privately held charter schools. These systems are a farce and are simply a tool to evict experienced teachers from their schools, so those schools can then be handed over to private companies, who make campaign contributions to anyone who will further their destructive agenda.

Vouchers and Charter Schools are better for “Choice” although not a better choice

John White and his ilk routinely defend unvetted voucher schools and unregulated charter schools in the name of “choice.” John White has claimed he doesn’t need to monitor and evaluate these programs because parents are in the best position to know what is best for their children. He and his allies actively fight any attempts to evaluate these programs, receiving public dollars, by the same standards he evaluates public schools, student performance and teachers. The routine claims that are made is that such evaluations are cumbersome and interfere with learning (which is true and why they are foisted off on public schools). However it is also true that most charter students and voucher students perform worse than their peers, in many cases much worse. Initially reformers encouraged this type of comparison, until the results came back overwhelmingly negative. Since they can no longer claim these schools are “better” by their own standards, they have shifted the argument away from quality to one of “freedom” allowing these schools empowers parents by providing them “choice.” However without any information, or guidance, most children (and probably most adults) would choose chocolate chip cookies over carrots. Without nutritional information, calorie content, and high blood sugar readings which would you choose; a carrot or a cookie?

It’s Okay to segregate our schools by class, race, disability as long as we claim to be doing it “for the children”

Since desegregation didn’t work, it’s okay to re-segregate our schools. It doesn’t matter how this is accomplished. You can create shadow schools (multiple campuses miles apart that are racially or socio-economically segregated and reported as a single school to disguise that fact), you can create charter schools that through sheer coincidence only enroll white students in a majority minority district, you can split your school district into as many different school boards and zones until you get your preferred racial mix, you can refuse to hire Special education teachers to serve disabled students so they are forced to enroll somewhere else, you can banish all your low performing students or discipline problems to alternative schools (ideally done after the funding date but before the testing date.)

As a side note, you can say or do anything to anyone as long as you end your suggestion with “for the children.”

Student data is a commodity that can be handed over to private entities as long as they claim it is for an educational purpose

Several years ago the Federal Department of education secretly made an exception to allow vendors, states and school districts to ignore FERPA and provide as much private student data to whomever they wish and use it for whatever purpose they see fit, regardless of whether parents consent or not. This data will be very valuable to these companies, and potentially very harmful to the children. This data can now be used for non-educational purposes; there is no oversight as to how this data is used or protected, and no way to correct data that may be erroneous. This data will be used by employers, credit agencies, insurance companies, and marketing companies to direct market products to children throughout their lifetime.

 

History and Science are negotiable and can be rewritten to suit conservative agendas

Creationism and biblical teachings are being substituted for true Science curricula. Schools teach children that humans probably herded dinosaurs just a few thousand years ago, and they probably still exist in hidden enclaves such as Loch Ness or off the Japanese coast. Students are taught that evolution is impossible (because it seems complicated) that Climate change is either not happening because God would not allow it, or if it is happening it is part of God’s will and plan and not caused by burning rainforests or manufacturing everything in Chinese coal powered factories. Schools are teaching slavery was just a misunderstood part of our nation’s history, and not a very bad one. They are being taught that hippies and liberals are Satan Worshipping amoral communists trying subvert all that is great and decent in society.

Virtual Schools with virtually no attendance compliance, or any compliance, and universally poor track records for preparing students are exploding in every education market

In every study I’ve seen, Virtual school students do worse than their demographic equivalents in physical settings. Virtual school classes have been reported having in excess of 500 students per teacher. These schools are being offered to students of all grade levels (k thru 12). It is clear that these schools are money makers as in most states they earn a sizeable portion of the funding that goes to a traditional student (in Louisiana it ranges from 90% to 100% of MFP) with less than a tenth of the cost. Often these students withdraw and return to a traditional setting, but the virtual school gets to keep the entire funding for the year, and the traditional school has not only the uncompensated cost of the student to cover, but also takes a hit on their “scores” (in Louisiana it’s called an SPS or School Performance Score) as well as the additional cost of trying to get that student caught up. Many of these students enroll in virtual schools simply to dropout without getting hassled. They get a free computer and internet connection and never have to log into school or complete an assignment. This is especially true in Louisiana where virtual school operators are forbidden by the Louisiana State Department of Education from exiting students that stop logging in, or fail to ever log in.

Teach for America has been converted into a temp teacher displacement and replacement organization

Teach for America originally had a noble purpose but it has been corrupted by billionaires and special interests and serves as little more than a temp agency for school districts and a training ground for new education “leaders.” These leaders are often political science and marketing/media majors that preach the Reform gospel. TFA now even establishes staffing contracts and demands placement fees from states for bringing in a constant pool of new, 5 week trained teachers that rarely stay longer than their 2 year commitment and often leave sooner.

It’s better to close schools and spread the students around to higher performing schools to mask the problem.

Rather than trying to fix the schools which have poor students who are performing poorly, Reformers believe it’s better to close the doors and shove all those kids into higher performing schools, no matter how high the class size gets. Just this past week Rahm Emmanuel closed 54 schools in Chicago and shuffled all those kids to other schools. I have not seen any studies that show this strategy works. I have seen some that show these students are more likely to feel disaffected by school, by the longer bus rides, the cramped classrooms, by the loss of all their friends and teachers, and tend to perform worse the next year and even drop out. You won’t see any studies showing this is effective, because it’s not. What you will see is “school” scores which Reformers point to and say things are going swell. What they don’t tell you is they routinely change these formula from year to year to make them say whatever they want to say. Pre-school closing and privatizing they say how horrible the scores are. After a few years of destructive policies they boost the scores by adding points or changing the test and say all is going well and pat themselves on the back. For the schools that even the most generous boosts are insufficient – they simply exclude them from the rankings. You can’t be disappointed by what you can’t see. To make sure you can’t see it they usually stop providing data to researchers and remove all traces of historical or current school data from their websites, as Louisiana has done.

So what’s my point do you ask?

I could go, and maybe I will later when the fancy strikes me, but I hope this is enough for you to start seeing the picture I am. What I am seeing is a purposeful plot to destroy public schools, and to profit from the destruction. These folks say they are data conscious and want to rely on “data driven decisions” but if that were true the data already readily available shows that everything they are doing is having the opposite effect of what they are purporting to provide. There is too much coordination for this to be accidental, and they are too successful for me to believe they are simply not competent enough to understand the data that disproves everything they claim. These groups have gone out of their way to spin the data, falsify the data, or simply hide or destroy the data to prevent people from seeing what is going on. These groups are fully aware of what they are doing – destroying public education in our country. Some of them are doing it purely for profit driven motives, but there is more going on here. These are some of the puzzle pieces I have and what I see. Now if we allow this to continue, what do you see?

ConfederacyOfReformers

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