Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Numbers don't match the Narrative

The narrative is that public schools suck.  Why sugarcoat it with a nicer phrase?  That's the narrative: public schools suck and the public wants out, the public demands accountability, the public demands a voucher in every backpack. 

Here is the latest from the pro-voucher crowd, trying to explain and rationalize how the voucher program is not a subsidy to people who were already attending private schools:  https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=cm#inbox/14953acfb3a78ecf?projector=1

OK.  They might have a small point there, but here are the larger enrollment numbers for the State of Wisconsin.  Public vs private school total enrollment for the last three years:
  • 11-12     871,105 vs 124,668
  • 12-13     872,436 vs 122,949
  • 13-14     874,414 vs 119,801
In spite of the ongoing narrative about how horrible public schools are and the attempts by voucher proponents to make it sound like every public parent is just waiting desperately for action that will allow them to escape their local public school for a voucher school... for the last three years*, the overall number and % of students attending public schools is UP and the overall number and % of students attending private schools is DOWN.

Maybe it's that the economy is bad and people can't afford private school.  Nope, that can't be it, because I am reminded via a constant barrage of commercials that "it's working."  The economic reforms, that is.
So it is easier than ever to attend a private school and the public schools, according to the narrative, are terrible places that expose kids to horrible things.  And yet, public school enrollment is slightly up, and private school enrollment is slightly down.  Maybe public confidence in the public schools is really pretty good, and maybe the reason it's pretty good is because they like what they see in their local schools.
Maybe it's time to stop listening to the professional polemicists.  Methinks they have a purpose other than telling the truth.
*Might be an even longer trend, but I just looked at the last three years for two reasons- time and the recent legislative changes.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Broken Process

The TV was quietly on in the background as I ate some toast this morning.  When the morning news program went to commercial- it was a series of political ads.

Each of the candidates for Attorney General were accusing the other of being soft on crime- especially in cases of children and pornography.  This is always the case- with the ads- that is.  I seriously don't remember any candidate for Attorney General who was not accused by their opponent of being soft on crime and practically best friends with every pervert in the state. 

Those ads are a sign of a process that is seriously broken.

In other races, the minimum wage is getting lots of attention.  Republicans are lined up in opposition, as they have been from the beginning, and Democrats are acting like raising the minimum wage is an example of fighting for the middle class.  Wrong and wrong. 

A slight increase in the minimum wage isn't going to hurt business- that old line just isn't supported by facts.  We've had a minimum wage now for over a generation.  Some of that time period has seen explosive growth, some has been tough economic times.  The minimum wage is a bit player in that grand scheme.  Conversely, the Democrats who act like raising the minimum wage is some ticket to economic prosperity are fools. 

The minimum wage is a "red squirrel."  That is, a distraction.  Nothing we do with the minimum wage is going to have a significant impact on the underlying economic issues facing us in the region, as a nation, or globally.  Both parties are wrong in their approach.  As usual.  Both parties are guilty of "playing politics" with an issue in a way that they believe helps their party- on the perverse notion that the ends justify the means.

Republicans always argue that government doesn't create jobs.  Always, that is, unless Republicans are in control of state government- in which case they take full credit for every job gained and blame forces beyond their control for any job lost.  Democrats want to help small business, they just can't ever seem to find a tax or regulation they want to dump. 

On and on it goes.

I watch the TV ads and candidate interviews.  I listen to the candidates list specific numbers regarding how their programs and policies will make a positive difference.  I don't believe a single word they say.  Not one.  Sadly, not even from a candidate I happen to like or agree with on key positions.  Too many lies and distortions for too long.  Too many ruthless and media savvy PAC's out there deliberately making things up.

American hero, icon, and former Kansas Senator Bob Dole once proclaimed of another candidate (a candidate within his own party)  "Tell him to stop lying about my record."

The process is broken.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Schools today are better than ever. Period.

I went to college in the early 1980's.  I was "trained" to teach 6-12.  The number of classes that I had that prepared me to deal with special education students, struggling students, differentiated instruction or assessments = ZERO.  The same was true for anybody I knew in the 6-12 arena.

This was at a well respected college. I taught for ten years.  I'm not trying to brag, but I was considered to be an excellent teacher.  I accumulated lots of great feedback- formal and informal- from colleagues, evaluators, students, and parents.  Many others who were doing similar things received similar feedback. 

I wouldn't take back everything and look upon those ten years as a failure, but I would say- without question, hesitation, or reservation- that it is a lot harder to be considered an excellent teacher now. 

I didn't have a clue how to deal with a reluctant or struggling reader in a middle or high school core content class- and either did my peers.  Most of us tried some things- but those interventions were based on gut instincts and/or worldviews, not any empirical evidence or actual knowledge of what works. 

Back then, we got accolades just for caring.  That isn't even close to being good enough anymore. 

The same goes for special education students.  I wanted to help them, but didn't have any great plan as to how to do so.  Some special education teachers were amazing and provided ideas, some not so much.  No one ever threw an IEP in my face and told me it would be followed or I could expect disciplinary action or a lawsuit.  Par for the course now.

Differentiated what?  Why?  How?

How did I assess learning?  Grades.  How did I determine grades?  I added up the scores and divided by the number of assignments.  End of story.  Retakes?  Late work?  Nope!  Grading and assessment was the first area where I realized that there had to be a better way.  So, after a few years of very traditional grading practices, I did start experimenting.  As those who've worked with me since can attest, I still think we can improve our assessment practices.

The overall point of this rant is that those who think that education was better in some bygone era are fools.  There, I said it.  Not misguided.  Not mistaken.  Not just wrong.  Fools.  Fools who are foolishly wrong.

I represented a lot of what was supposedly so good in that era and I am the first to admit that it doesn't hold a candle to the best of this era.  Not even close.

Teaching was never easy, but it has become extremely difficult.  Our public schools were never perfect, and they aren't now either- but they are better than ever.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Diane Ravich: What Matters Most

If I could say it any better, I would. 


We have completely lost our minds with standardized testing.  The entire field of education, and educators (ie, me), deserve some blame.  Too many years of opposing too many tests led to an inevitable overcorrection.  So, I'm willing to bear some responsibility for the mess we've got- but enough already. 

We don't need to eliminate all standardized testing.  But we do need to ask serious questions about who the tests are serving, what is truly being measured, where the money is going, and what is the purpose of the test.

Too often, in my opinion, the answers to those questions are: Politicians, Socioeconomic Status, Big Corporations, and Destroying Public Education.  Change those answers to: Students, Stuff that matters, Professional Development, and Honest Accountability- and you've got an assessment I can fully support.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Vote FOR Public Schools

                               A guest post from the Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance

Vote For Your Public Schools

As Election Day approaches, there are a number of vitally important issues facing Wisconsin that have potential long-term consequences for our state.  We encourage all voters to think about the future of public schools in their communities.

Wisconsin has a strong tradition of first class public schools.  We all know that high quality public schools help prepare our children for life, boost home values, and improve our state’s long-term economic growth and quality of life.  We need to continue investing in the strength of our communities.

Today, many candidates for state office are already on the record supporting the expansion of taxpayer subsidies for private school tuition in the form of vouchers.  We believe there are three key questions about public education that citizens should ask of candidates before entering the voting booth on November 4th:

·         In the past several years, Wisconsin school funding has not kept pace with the rising costs of providing quality educational opportunities for children.  Would you support increasing school revenue limits annually by the cost of living?

·         Do you support private school voucher expansion in Wisconsin?

·         If so, how do you propose to pay for these growing taxpayer subsidies for private education?  By raising taxes?  By reducing educational opportunities for public school children throughout Wisconsin?

We believe that public education is, has been, and always will be the most important institution in the development of this great state and this great nation.  What’s more, we believe that our support for our public schools helps define us as a people.  Why?  Not only do we believe we have the responsibility to provide our own children with a quality education; but, more importantly, we believe we have the same responsibility for our neighbor’s children.

Now is not the time to support an expanding entitlement program that provides taxpayer-funded private school tuition for the few at the expense of the more than 850,000 children that attend Wisconsin public schools.  Now is the time to invest in the heart of your community – your public schools – for your children, your neighbor’s children and a brighter future.