Education Reform in Louisiana: A PAC of Lies and Liars.

Education Reform in Louisiana: A PAC of Lies and Liars.

It’s been a few weeks since the final BESE elections wrapped up in Louisiana.

(BESE is Louisiana’s elected state school board. The board as 8 elected positions and 3 appointed by the Governor and is responsible for setting policy for all public schools, private schools, charter schools and homeschool programs in the state as well as defining the MFP, a funding formula for public schools. A BESE position does not come with a salary but does provide a small stipend and a laptop or iPad to communicate with the state e-mail system using the state assigned e-mail address.

BESE meets every other month for 2 days for regularly scheduled meetings and as needed for emergency agenda items. It’s not a glamorous job, no salary, no staff, a lot of filing/qualifying requirements and red tape, and a lot of public scrutiny – but that hasn’t prevented it from becoming the most contentious and expensive position in the state, second only to the Governor’s position in Louisiana.)

The 2015 elections were something of a watershed moment for Louisiana. It was the first year BESE board candidates opposing destructive Education Reform were able to unify across parties, geography (and any other line you can think of) and work to fight against the lies and money of the Ed Reform machine.  Education Reform is sold on the backs of lies about “success”, lies about goals of opponents, and through the perpetuation of firmly discredited myths.

This year, however, the lies and dishonesty were of absurd, even epic proportions; even for politicians; even for politicians from Louisiana!

The Ed Reform movement didn’t just lie, they built a campaign machine that ran on the exact diametric opposite of reality.

I will show several examples of how this looks and what it means in the next few posts on this subject. Fortunately I was able to document some of these lies to call people out over the years that follow, and for you, the public, to hold them to their pledges (or admit they were lying POS.)

Here is a commercial Lane Grigsby’s Empower PAC ran against one of the FlipBESE candidates I supported in the 2015 elections.  This was run against a veteran of the Ascension Parish school system who works with children with disabilities, and their families, named Kathy Edmonston.

When I talked to Kathy about this commercial she was quite upset. The extras they use in this video make her out to be an idiot as did the hundreds of thousands of dollars in mailers sent out by local education reform mobster, Empower PAC founder and LABI chairman, Lane Grigsby.  This was just one piece of a out of state billionaire funded coordinated campaign to take part of statement she said during and interview completely out of context and claim she did not believe children should be taught to read or perform math until the third grade.

I suppose the depression era black and white photo of gloomy kids is supposed to represent outdated thinking?  I’m not really sure that was a belief back then, but they get points for using some ridiculous over-the-top scare tactics.  (FYI, Ascension Parish is one of our top rated school districts in the state by the ed reformers own grading scale, so I’m pretty sure they must be doing something right.)

Kathy provided the video where Empower and Grigsby chose to libel and slander her education stands from a Frances and Friends broadcast.

(Frances and Friends is a Christian television show on the SonLife network.  Bearing false witness against a Christian television show?  It doesn’t get much classier than that.)

If you listen to the clip, Kathy Edmonston actually says the complete opposite of Grigsby and his Empower PAC (funded by Michael Bloomberg, Eli Broad, Jim and Alice Walton) are claiming. She says it essential that kids learn to read and write before third grade and that most of our early efforts should go towards ensuring that goal.  Her observation and critique was that, under Common Core, many kids are getting to third grade unable to read or do simple math.

Selling the exact opposite of the truth: Education Reform’s specialty.

The Education Reform movement is a group of PACs and corporately funded puppet organizations that sell lies to the public.  They lie about their “successes”; they lie about their failures; they lie to create faux failures for others; they lie to support their agenda and attack their detractors to prevent any adult conversations or real critical analysis of their claims from happening.

When I met with Grigsby earlier this year to try and discuss his views and our differences candidly he told me that he doesn’t believe in Democracy because politicians can get entrenched and corrupted as he believes happened in New Orleans.  Lane explained to me that all that really matters these days is who has the most money and who can tell the most convincing lie.

I believe he proved that to be true for the most part in this election cycle.  That may be the most honest thing he’s said to anyone about politics and his worldview in a while. Grigsby and his allies poured more than 4 million dollars worth of lies into this year’s BESE races and won 7 out of the 8 elected seats that prior to the charter school movement were won for less than 10k.

This money is flowing here from supporters, and investors, of/in the charter school industry.  Whether you are a charter supporter or not, it is clear that money from the charter industry has drowned out any voices but their own.  Combine that fact with the compulsive and absurd lying, like that shown here, and you can see why all forms of education (not just public) are really facing a crisis these days. The Education Reform movement has created a real crisis with their policies to replace the faux crisis they sold their new policies on in the first place.

I’m not sure if that is irony, a self-fulfilling prophecy, or maybe just good business?

What I do know is that Education Reform responsible for teaching our kids all the wrong things, both in school, and outside of school by their example.

Unfortunately it’s not just children who are being taught very destructive things.  We are also teaching adults to disrespect Democracy and to defecate on truth as well.

 

 

 

Advertisements

What’s Wrong with Education in Louisiana and Some Ideas On How to Fix it

Louisiana Voters,

 

A few months ago I had a meeting with Lane Grigsby about my candidacy for BESE.

For those of you who don’t know, Grigsby is one of the chief funders of the education reform movement in Louisiana. Investigative journalist Lee Zurik did a multi-segment story on corruption in Louisiana politics called Louisiana Purchased, and he discovered that Grigsby, owner of Cajun Industries and one of the chief supporters of LABI (the pro-privatization business lobby) was one of the most prolific funders of political candidates in Louisiana and was able to bypass many of the individual spending limits by having family members, PACs he formed, and as many as 17 companies he owned or controlled donate the maximum allowable amount to candidates he was supporting.

 

I wasn’t seeking funding. I was seeking some understanding of why he was getting involved in education and why he held the stands and beliefs he did. (Grigsby apparently didn’t know who I was which is why he agreed to meet with me. I knew I was diametrically opposed to him on almost every issue.)

 

While we disagreed on almost everything in our meeting, Lane brought up a very important point that I was overlooking.

“Besides kicking out John White, what are you actually going to do to improve education in Louisiana?”

My focus had been on fighting the BESE board, LDOE, and returning ownership of the public education system to the people of Louisiana.  I hadn’t really considered what I would do if I was placed in a position where I could actually work to improve things!

For the past two months I have been doing much less talking and writing and much more listening and analyzing.  This is probably not going to win me more votes, but getting elected is not really the most important thing, is it?  Improving our education system and the outcomes of our children and thus the future of our people and our state is a much more important long-term goal.

Win or lose the upcoming election, I believe I’ve already accomplished my short-term mission of showing how ordinary people can get involved with their government to try and make things better.

 

But let’s get back to the whole improving education part.

 

Despite all the “reforms” Louisiana has undertaken over the past decade our outcomes really haven’t improved all the much, now have they?

10 years ago Louisiana was in a 5 way tie for 44th place (out of 52 States + DC + territories) on the NAEP exam for 4th grade Mathematics. (NAEP is a long term national test used for comparing states to each other and to themselves longitudinally.

NAEP2004

For a snapshot of what this lack of growth looks like over time, refer to the chart below. Notice how the gap between Louisiana and the rest of the country has only widened under the current administration and their misguided policies.

NAEP2004graph

In 2013, Louisiana was just 2 tenths of one point (out of 500), ahead of Mississippi. We’ve actually lost a lot of ground compared to other states, despite the continuous claims of success issued by Lousiana’s state Education Board, Governor Jindal – now finishing up the 8th year of his term consecutive terms and running for President, and the Louisiana Department of Education – which both implemented the reforms and then internally evaluated itself on them. When the 2015 NAEP scores are released I expect Louisiana will have finally accomplished the unthinkable, allowing Mississippi to pass us up and thereby becoming the lowest academically performing state in the nation. That will be quite a first.

All of this lack of progress was achieved despite numerous reformers we were promised would work, and are continuously told are working – based on internal metrics the LDOE manipulates every year internally to collect kudos for their achievement and to buy more time for their allies in the private sector that many top executives at LDOE have previously worked for, or hope to work for someday.

Over the past decade we were told:

  1. Charter schools will solve everything with market driven incentives! 
    1. Charter have some anecdotal success, but many perform much worse than the public schools the replace.
    2. More than 10% of our students are enrolled in charter schools.
    3. Either the presence of charter schools are driving down the performance of traditional schools
    4. Or charter schools are performing so poorly they are offsetting the gains of traditional schools.
    5. The “best” charter schools by test scores, are usually simply the best at keeping the wealthiest students and most involved families engaged.  This is why Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies build new schools in brand new secluded and pricy subdivisions like and refuse to provide busing.
    6. Lafayette illustrates another facet of charter behavior: the bait and switch. Charters are advertised as a way to help out or replace struggling schools. Lafayette Parish, one of the top school districts in the state, had some schools in poorer areas that were not performing well.
      1. “However, the shiny new schools were built about as far away from the poorest communities as they could be. Charter Schools USA opened up two charters in new housing developments named Sugar Pond Mills and Couret Farms, which sell new shotgun-style houses on small lots of land for as much as half a million dollars each.
      2. These schools are theoretically open to the entire state, but do not provide transportation. They also require many hours of “service” from parents. Service time increases per child enrolled. Charter schools offer enrollment to all children on paper, but in the real world they do whatever they can to keep out the riffraff.”
      3. See more at: http://www.progressive.org/news/2014/12/187950/behind-charter-facade#sthash.NAqRGD4V.dpuf
    7. This results in less diversity in our public schools, fewer schools with motivated or engaged parents and students.  No doubt this will help some, but help all?  Over the long term this has caused our state’s performance to stagnate or even decline. We already have some elite schools like Benjamin Franklin and Baton Rouge High.  This trend is likely to create a few more of those elite schools, and many, many, more subpar schools that are recycled through new charter operators every few years.
  1. Common Core’s high standards will push kids to try harder! “We’ve been too easy on those pipsqueaks up to now, but with more rigor and higher expectations comes unprecedented success!   If we just “believe” in our children, they will do better.
    1. To drive home this message the Louisiana Department of Education even changed its homepage and signature to this motto, “Louisiana Believes.”
    2. Honestly, does anyone really think the only thing that has been holding us back all these years is simply a lack of believing?
    3. We had the second or third highest standards in the nation prior to Common Core was adopted in 2010, and we ranked second from last in achievement.  Massachusetts had the highest standards and they ranked first in achievement.
      1. There is very little correlation between standards and achievement any more than there is a significant correlation between charter schools, vouchers, choice, and achievement.
      2. There is, however, a strong correlation between achievement and poverty.
        1. Our poorest schools have our lowest School Performance Scores and our schools with the fewest poor children have our highest SPS scores.
        2. This is generally the same situation across the nation and as a result the community schools of the poorest children are the ones inordinately impacted by school takeovers and privatization – with no discernable positive impact in performance for the community as a whole.
  1. Unions and their bloodsucking ways are the monkeys on the backs of our children and impediment to performance because they protect so many bad, lazy teachers. 
    1. Having inordinately powerful unions does not appear to be an important factor in terms of student achievement.
    2. However strong unions are a significant impediment to privatization which is why charter groups and their supporters like Stand for Children, and temp teacher providers like Teach For America advocate for policies that weaken unions and grant them greater market access.)
      1. Louisiana has relatively weak unions; Massachusetts has some of the strongest, if not the strongest, and is also one of the highest achieving states.
      2. You might even make the case that stronger unions build better outcomes for students.
        1. I won’t do that because I think it is not the most significant factor, not something Louisiana would accept culturally, and not an outcome one can influence directly very easily or very quickly.
  1. All Louisiana needs is some real “accountability.”  If we hold lazy teachers and crappy schools accountable they will know we mean business and work harder.  If they don’t we’ll take em over and the next guy will work harder. 
    1. We’ve increased testing and “Accountability” impacts for schools and school districts steadily over the last 15 years.
    2. Whether you believe it or not, every Superintendent of Education manipulates the outcomes of these results (although White is the most egregious) to show they are doing a good job.
      1. The scoring should be handled outside of LDOE by an independent auditor no matter who is in charge to prevent political interference on the outcomes –  if we’re serious about these scores being meaningful.
  1. We live in the technology age but somehow we haven’t inserted data ports directly into children’s brains to upload everything they need to succeed.  Before we do that, let’s give them all laptops and see if that does anything. 
    1. Giving laptops to every child helps Apple and Dell meet their sales quotas, but we aren’t boosting our scores or outcomes dramatically with these devices.
    2. Often these devices become a distraction, toy, or massive headache for IT departments to maintain and replace.
    3. Universal laptops or ipads are not a one-time cost, but a massive permanent cost.
  1. Having more recruits from elite universities become teachers will fundamentally transform the teaching profession into a more professional and respected calling.
    1. All too often these temporary teachers from glorified staffing agencies like Teach For America, City Year, and The New Teacher Project are ill prepared with 5 week training courses on how to teach.
    2. Their presence has had the exact opposite effect. Teaching has become less respected because people are led to believe anyone can become a teacher with a 5 week training course.
    3. The vast majority of these recruits are gone in 5 years, most after the first 2 years. This leads to greater instability and turmoil in districts already experiencing turmoil.
    4. The temporary presence of students from elite universities hasn’t really improved teaching overall, but it has led to a dramatic increase in education startups and new crop of education leaders.
      1. TFA Leaders like John White and Kevin Hoffman primarily hire likeminded TFA recruits and drive off local talent and experienced personnel.
      2. While these folks are usually very smart and committed, they are not better than the experienced teachers they displace or drive off
    5. Even if we wanted to replace every teacher with TFA, The New Teacher Project, or City Year recruits the supply cannot outstrip the demand. This is leading us to become dependent on an outside constant influx of new teachers and leading to shortages of experienced teachers and talent within our state.

Will collecting zillions of points of bio-metric data be the silver bullet we were waiting for? 

Will providing data to third party vendors (and hackers) help our children learn faster?

If these ideas were the panacea we were looking for it certainly would be convenient for a lot of folks; primarily the ones selling these ideas or products.

The truth is, to overcome the impacts of our entrenched generational poverty will require a lot of work from a lot of folks and a lot less “believing” and hoping and standard raising.  If a kid can’t reach the monkey bars, moving them two feet higher won’t help.  If kids can’t read, giving them even harder books and more tests to show they can’t read, won’t make them read more proficiently.  What I found helps my kids is when an adult (or child) lifts them up to where they can reach those monkey bars and feel comfortable hanging from them.

Kids want to achieve, but most don’t want to be overly frustrated or reminded of their failures, or how other kids are far ahead of them, constantly. 

Our schools have been plagued for many years by poverty, apathy, and acceptance.   In many parts of the state we have allowed our schools and systems to fall into disarray.

Our more affluent parents have abandoned the schools and they have taken their resources and parental involvement with them.  Out of these ashes we’ve had some outstanding new school districts form with the backing of their communities, like Central and Zachary. (Obviously Baker is still a problem.)

However the solution is not having the state/RSD come in and take control from the locals or chartering the school to a company based out of New York or Michigan.  Rather than simply punishing low performance or problems, and completely pushing the locals out of the way, we need to work with these folks and help guide support them.  This is what the LDOE used to do when our scores were going up – serving in an advisory and support capacity. This is what we need to do resume our climb from the performance dungeon the education reform movement has commissioned us to – while they drained our coffers dry.

In New Orleans we have many local communities seeking to have their schools returned to them, like the perpetual failure John McDonogh.

Rather than ignore and disregard these folks the state needs to embrace them and their efforts.

We won’t have successful community schools without the community.  We have mobilized communities in many parts of the state. This BESE and LDOE ignores them, mocks them and alienates them.

Many public school parents of means are taking their kids out of public schools to homeschool them.

Those are not victories, but tragic losses we must reverse now, before it’s too late!

Some of you folks on BESE and the House and Senate Education Committees might consider the people showing up to BESE meetings and Education hearings and giving you guys a hard time are the problem, but that is exactly backwards! They are exactly the folks you want on your side.  They have energy and passion and care about their school systems, their children, and their neighbors children.  You won’t be able to fix the schools from the outside if you don’t include the parents and community members on the inside. The few token parents Stand For Children busses in for meetings (and buys lunch for) don’t really count.

BESE members Chas Roemer and Jim Garvey doodle on their cell phones when parents are speaking to them about their troubles and problems.  They ignore criticism and different points of view and evidence that is contrary to their pre-determined stands.  BESE members Holly Boffy and Kira Orange Jones rarely speak and represent the CCSSO and TFA respectively as their full time jobs so they owe their allegiance not to our state or people, but to their employers.

Many of the folks driving education reform have serious conflicts of interest or ulterior motives.

  • Charter schools and technology vendors are going to tell you they are the solution.
  • Test vendors are going to tell you the only thing that you need is more tests with more details.
  • John White is going to tell you he needs more of all these folks because they represent future job opportunities for him.

What we really need doesn’t cost a lot of new money, require fancy new technology, more tests, or more vendors of any type.  We simply need to get back to basics and the three Rs as described two hundred years ago by Sir William Curtis.

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Arithmetic (Reckoning)

Most importantly we need students focusing on improving their reading proficiency and composition abilities. We need to redirect funds from programs we don’t need, that haven’t been proven, or that have been proven not to work, to helping students read more, better, and faster.  This takes practice and finding subjects that interest them.  This takes a time commitment.  This does not require every student to proceed/read at the same pace at the same time.  Student’s should be helped to improve without regard to test scores, without practice tests or test prep which is excessively boring and not conducive to long term learning or retention.

Our children need to learn to read and to be engaged by the material in interesting ways.  We need to eliminate teaching to the test and return to teaching and learning for their own sakes.  This will, as a matter of course, improve test scores.

If children can’t read, can they really understand or learn science, history, economics or civics?  Many of our behavior problems at higher-grade levels are because kids are bored or disengaged because they can’t follow along – because they can’t read or haven’t learned the earlier material.  However when kids have real behavior problems, that are disruptive to the class and school, they need to be removed to allow teachers to teach and other students the opportunity to learn.

Common Core introduced a lot of new “reading” in the math portions, but this is what is giving most children the most trouble.  My daughter was required to read and write for her math homework in first grade when she was still just learning to read and write.  Reading and writing about math problems is not very interesting to a 6 year old.  Common Core (specifically the Tier one Eureka Math LDOE has selected) is trying to address the reading/writing problem in the most frustrating and counter-productive way imaginable to improve children’s reading and writing skills.  Changing an existing standard here and there won’t fix that underlying issue. Revising the entire approach to and eliminating unnecessary frustration is a much greater problem than any individual standard.  The current standards revision process  (that only allows for comment on existing standards) is not likely to address this underlying structural problem.

Common Core does not encourage children to learn on their own, it encourages them to learn only the minimum necessary to pass a test.  The PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and ACT exams do not measure the ability to learn, and thus do not measure potential. As a result of the single-minded approach to improving test scores we are depriving students of the ability and joys of learning for its own sake, and our test scores are not improving.

Louisiana, if you really want to fix education, you need to examine the motivations of folks that are pitching their ideas to you and stay focused on your chief goal – fixing education outcomes and preparing children for a lifetime of learning – rather than being tied down by a single solution, candidate, or ally.

There’s not much money to be made with my solution so I doubt many people will want to buy into it.  However if you would like support me and my vision you will have a chance to vote for me on October 24th.

If you would like to help in a more direct way my campaign website is listed below.

Thank you for you time.

Jason France

2015 Candidate for BESE in district 6

www.jasonfrance4la.com

 

Education Reform: Building Houses of Sand in Swamps

Education Reform: Building Houses of Sand in Swamps

One of first sermons I heard when I was younger that really “sunk in”, came from the book of Matthew. The Sermon was based on Matthew 7:26 from a section known as the House on the Rock.

26“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand

27“The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell– and great was its fall.”

Growing up it always seemed like I was seeing people build houses upon sand that would easily be washed away with the first serious flood; people making plans that would be ruined or abandoned at the first sign of trouble. If you think back I’m sure you will think of some situations where you took the quickest, easiest and most available path and found yourself regretting it. I think I ended up with quite a few skinned knees this way myself, both literally and figuratively.

As we grow older we learn to spot these sandy spots for what they are, and avoid them . . . sometimes. Those beaches are really attractive . . . all covered in sun and sand and begging to be built upon. We tell ourselves that this time will be different. We seduce ourselves into thinking we are better, than everyone who has tried to build a castle in the sand before us. In the end, our failure is almost as inevitable as the fact some people will always be waiting and willing to take those chances, those risks, telling ourselves we are the smartest guys in the room.

Enron was a castle in the sand. An empire built by people who thought they were the smartest, most able bodied and courageous people in the room. In the end, their castle collapsed and wiped out the lives of everyone who bought into their fantasy. You see, sometimes you can build such an elaborate and enormous castle, you can draw others in. . . This influx of searching souls often allows you to keep your own dreamy sand castle alive a little longer. But just like all pyramid schemes (or sand-castle schemes?) that are built on the backs of others efforts, they will eventually come crashing down, and the splash and harm is bigger and badder the longer and larger you go before the fall.

Louisiana’s Education Reform movement is Louisiana’s Sand Castle in the Swamp.

  • Common Core festoons the castle walls and flourishes in the gardens ringing the castle. They grew up quick and wild like weeds and are just a swiftly sinking back to the depths from whence it came. (We will need to be ready with the weed-killer next time.)
  • Charter schools and voucher schools make up the anterooms and hallways; empty space that make up most of the castle, filling up with gold and jewels brought by the children of the land.
  • VAM and COMPASS are the parapets, shining arrogantly for all to see the tempestuous failure of Education Reform, taunting the helpless serfs bound to the land by their dreams and ideals.

 

Supporters of Common Core and many of these other undemocratic takeovers will claim that they despite the problems, despite the fraudulent voucher, Course Choice providers, and virtual schools, and the abysmal performance of these schools and programs, they are still a great idea. Reformers will tell you that despite all the problems with charter schools selectively admitting and selectively excluding students, despite the shady way these schools are ripped away from the public and handed over to for profit entities for a little as a penny, despite the vast sums being made by CEOs and hedge fund managers to the detriment of the students they are supposed to be educating and despite the high failure rates of these schools, they still harbor great potential to transform public education. Reformers, corporations, and faux parent’s groups like Stand For Children will claim that despite the great false mythology built up around Common Core, despite the weak foundation that did not include educators, a foundation built on shaky Pearson prepared ground, that Common Core has great potential to fix. . . .everything. If you listen to these folks they will tell you Common Core will eliminate poverty, close the gap between races and all other subgroups and demographics, and educate our populace to where every country on the planet will be clamoring for our students to run their businesses.

Does that sound believable to you?

CCSS supporters will tell us this despite all the massive failings we’ve already seen with the Common Core design, implementation, and parental education that we’re just working out a few “kinks”. Common Core is a lie. Everything about it is a lie. The “rigor” that that makes it “challenging” for students is nothing more than terrible, confusing, mangled material. Making something more complicated and virtually indecipherable does make it harder and more frustrating, but it does not make it more valuable, useful or “rigorous” in a good way.

In addition to the absurd rigor claim almost every initial statement made by Common Core creators and supporters was false.

  • These were not internationally benchmarked standards. There are no international benchmarks, but that sure did sound good, right?
  • These standards were not state led. These are federal standards that Arne Duncan bribed and bullied states into adopting.
  • Educators were not involved in designing, building and reviewing these standards. (Note: Inviting one Math professor James Milgram and one Language arts and literature professor Sanrda Stotsky to review the standards and then ignoring all their input and the fact that they rejected the CCSS standards does not count.)
  • Common Core will not ensure students are STEM ready by excluding Calculus. (Believe me, I did not take Calculus in High School and dropped out of my Chemical Engineering track. Working knowledge of Calculus was required for numerous engineering classes.)
  • Most of the high profile “supporters” of Common Core have been bribed, coerced and fluffed into promoting them or stand to profit from them directly. For instance, Stand for Children in Louisiana is headed by Rayne Martin, a highly compensated reformer, brought o Louisiana by Paul Vallas (a master-fleecer of public funds and trust), heading an organization that receives much of its funding from Bill Gates, the creator and backer of Common Core. Conveniently, Martin has no children so she also doesn’t have to deal with the absurd homework assignments and tantrums, but she has been dressing much snazzier since leaving her 6 figure job at LDOE to run Stand For Children in Louisiana. Common Core pays well for its supporters, while it destroys people that actually have to deal with it.

As we go forward into this legislative session debating the pros and cons of Common Core, I want to you remember that castle in the sand. Common Core and much of the corporate led reform movement, is composed of sandcastles build on disappearing sand banks. Maybe we can build enough castles in the sand and one will finally stand, but if we experiment on our children year after year on these failed policies and curriculum we are not “standing” for them, we are sacrificing them for corporate profits and reformer egos who are only standing for themselves.

And with that, I leave you with this strangely relevant YouTube Monty Python clip.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3YiPC91QUk

I’m late; I’m late, for a very important. . . Review of Diane Ravitch’s new book “Reign of Error”

I’m late; I’m late, for a very important. . . Review of Diane Ravitch’s new book “Reign of Error”

If you’re like me, you’re late to everything. For instance, my mom is fond of telling me I was late to my own birth. In my defense I always remind her that my brother was three weeks lake and I was only about one week, so relatively speaking I was early. No matter what else happens in life, I will always have that to hold over my brother. Perspective is very important.

For instance, if I surrounded myself with skinny fit people I would feel very fat and unhealthy all the time. That’s why I make it a point of distancing myself from anyone who becomes too obsessed with P90X or Cross fit programs. That type of association would not be good for my mental health. I also make it a point of only befriending folks who are larger than me, especially if they with more physical limitations like a hook for a hand, or a patch over one eye. (Yes. I have a lot of pirate friends.) I also really like to befriend really bald people because they are very jealous of my unruly mop of hair – which I find annoying, but they find enviable. Perspective is what Diane’s book, Reign of Error, is all about.

Reformers and privatizers (not to be confused with my pirate compadres) like to frame their pseudo-successes in a context that makes them look good, and the things they are opposing look bad. For instance, they like to point to the performance of the poor and minorities on standardized tests and show the current achievement gap between them and the wealthy is not closing. They characterize this as bad, and evidence that our education system is failing. Diane provides some context for this claim. While it is true that the poor perform poorer on standardized tests than the well off (which is true and has always been true in every nation on earth), it’s also true that over the last 20 years their scores have increased on the NAEP test to where their wealthier counterparts were. The reason the achievement gap is not closing is that all students are doing better, not that the poor and minorities are doing worse. Because poverty is directly intertwined with performance, that’s like saying 20 years later the average height of US citizens is greater, but sadly we have not been able to close the altitude gap. Tall people are still taller than short people.

Reformers point to the results of other nations like China and Sweden to say we are falling behind in the world because they did better on the 2010 PISA (Program for International Assessment) tests than we did. Diane brings perspective there as well showing that the Chinese students have a culture of preparing for the test but not learning the material and that all of China was not tested, only one city, the city of Shanghai which is not representative of all of China, much of which is still very poor and very rural (pg64). Reformers point out that countries like Sweden do better, but they fail to put those results in the proper perspective as well, that most of Sweden is middle class, and the United State has more income inequality and poverty than any other industrialized nation. When students of similar economic backgrounds are compared US students, US students do just as well or better than any other country in the world. The real issue is poverty, which is now the primary determining factor of student performance. It’s no coincidence that wealthy Americans, who are against equitable taxation and income equality, are pretending poverty is not a determining factor and actively funding research and solutions to deny this in much the same way Tobacco companies funded research to say smoking is good for you, and coating your lungs in tar makes your lungs happy and durable like Goodyear tires.

Diane’s perspective setting and record correcting does not stop there. She also points out that Reformers like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee commonly misquote President Barack Obama by saying that teachers are the most important factor for determining the education level and achievement of a child. This is a self-serving mischaracterization to support their misguided agenda of putting a what they say is a highly effective teacher (as determined by standardized tests) in a classroom. Obama stated that a teacher was the most important component of the equation within a school. This does not mean poverty, family, health, mental conditions, disabilities, language difficulties, and school climate are not factors, nor does it mean a teacher is the primary factor. That statement is conveyed by those who want to attribute the “failings” of our public schools (which is untrue) to the ones they say are responsible, the teachers (which is also untrue). This is done in a bid to eliminate teachers, public schools, and unions and replace them with a substandard, poorly trained and compensated, temp teaching force that will help maximize profit for profiteers, while permanently harming our children and shattering the foundation of our democracy, an educated populace.

Just like everything else I suppose, I came later to the battle to fight the privatizing charlatans reaping our children and our tax dollars for their private jets and seedy agendas. This book will very likely become my anti-reform bible. It has allowed me to catch up on a lot of the background I knew only vaguely. If you are coming to suspect something is wrong in the way our education system us being attacked and run into the ground, once you read this book you will have no doubts left. A Nation at Risk did correctly identify a problem that our nation will face in the future, a poorly educated, poorly prepared population. However it was a little ahead of its time. Our nation is at risk for being dumbed-down and privatized into obscurity by the wealthy and greedy forces (from both political parties) lining up at the public trough to gorge themselves on education dollars earmarked for our children. Diane’s book helped me see the bigger picture and larger context for our fight to save our society from those who would rape, pillage and enslave our children as the barbarian tribes ravaged the Roman Empire – when it reigned supreme. I dog-eared many a page while reading this book, for future blog posts and supporting references. If you are looking for a historical perspective on where we have been, how we have come to where we are, and where our education system is going if we fail to intervene, this is the book you need to own.