When you wonder what you can do to stop a head long rush to school privatization that will tear apart our communities, read this parent and educator’s call for advocacy. It is a reminder that we are not helpless; we are in control if we decide to be.
Are discipline problems in schools getting worse? If so, are they due to school discipline policies, increasing poverty, or something more subtle? We need to think about this issue and understand the different perspectives.
Derek Thomas, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, wrote a book called: Ending Zero Tolerance. He makes the case that harsh discipline strategies hurt all students, not just those who are pulled out for behavioral problems. He also points to the progress in moving away from overly harsh discipline because of federal policies that the court system helps to enforce. Yet, the change of policies in the new federal administration, he argues, threatens that progress.
It is important to understand the differences in approach and the consequences they engender.
Jennifer Berkshire interviewed Professor Thomas, and his perspective gives voice to those that argue that how schools and communities see discipline policies is not only a racial issue, it is a community problem of long standing. Even well intentioned communities that promote school integration may assume that schools need to maintain order for ‘good kids’ because ‘bad kids (mostly black??) are disruptive. Such assumptions may well trigger a culture of ‘us and them’ that creates problems.
The school choice movement exploits these tendencies to label children through their zero tolerance policies implemented in many charter and private schools. Children who have trouble conforming to any set of arbitrary rules are simply dismissed. It is a process that instills not only fear but also results in a punitive environment that sends children back to public schools rather than helping children learn the social skills they need to acquire. Dismissal rates are not publically reported, but public schools feel the impact. They too need to devise better strategies to help students manage their disruptive behavior.
Read the interview here.
The New Yorker tells it like it is. If there is a societal problem, blame teachers. After all, if people do not behave properly, achieve well enough, shift easily from one set of societal expectations to another, then teachers did not prepare students well enough for the future. Not so!
The solution to societal ills for so many educational reformers, Denby reports, is to bash teachers and their unions. The reality is that no one knows how to solve the problems of persistent poverty that create some schools in which all children struggle to learn. Attacking these schools and their teachers, instead of the poverty that creates them, makes things worse.
If teachers are given no respect, and their schools are labeled as failing, then how are students and their families to value schools and the education they offer? Yet, children who see nothing different than the hopelessness people feel, create a survival culture for the world in which they live. Instead, children need to see opportunities for a different life and realize what schools can offer them.
I remember my own children talking about ‘skill sets’ that they needed to carry with them to an uncertain future. They recognized skills in other people and made them their own. The real dilemma is how to help children know what skills they need when no one around them sees a future.
Our schools should mirror a society that offers a future that touches each child. Then teachers can help students achieve what children see is possible because they live in a world where these possibilities exist. Teachers cannot create those schools; communities must. Read Denby’s article.
I was particularly interested in this report about Ohio. For many years the lead author, David Figlio, conducted evaluations of Florida’s tax credit voucher program. Figlio is a strong advocate for competition. In Ohio, he stated that competition helped public school students but hurt students with vouchers who attended private schools.
At the risk of being overly harsh, I have to wonder if the purpose of vouchers is to create ‘sacrificial lambs’ i.e. sending some students off to fail in private schools so those remaining in public schools will do better. Nothing in me wants to believe such an idea, but until the quality of alternative choices is assured, that is the risk parents unknowingly take.
In 2011, the Miami Herald published an expose on the McKay scholarship program that is supposed to benefit students with disabilities. The article was called ‘Rotten to the Core‘. It was followed by a list of private schools that headed its “Fraud Hall of Shame“. In theory, the Florida legislature corrected the accountability problems and the DOE has posted new regulations. Not so.
The first of an expected onslaught of voucher or ‘voucher like’ bills has been filed: HB15, Sullivan. School choice can no longer be ignored. The proponents have gone far beyond the smoke screen of helping poor children. Some would argue that now they are helping themselves to public money. Look at the numbers; you decide. Is the state giving these children the education they deserve?
School reformers want to privatize public education ‘in the name of choice’. Literally, it means parents should expect to find a ’boutique’ school to match their children’s needs or aspirations all for free. If one cannot find just the right school, parents can get together and create their own using public tax dollars. There is something lurking underneath such an idea. It is an expectation that the individual is more important than the common good. The ‘right’ to exclude dominates a need to include.
This line of reasoning has societal consequences. The stronger the pull toward privatization and profit, the greater the strain on a sense of equality and justice. This is one of those perpetual tug of wars that our democracy experiences. The history of this power struggle is summarized in a New York Times article entitled: Have we lost sight of the Promise of Public Schools?
This theme is central in the debate over school choice. A collection of individual choices does not lead to an equitable system. As our recent history has shown, our schools and neighborhoods are segregated in complex ways. Even within a school, students are grouped into academies and academic levels more intensively than those of our youth. Magnet schools, charters and tax supported private schools accentuate the racial, economic and achievement segregation process. Are we simply running away from one another and/or competing for some elusive advantage we are afraid to share?
Communities are beginning to look at how they are structured. Have they become a collection of silos that have no common core? Or, is there a sense of the ‘common good’ that actually reflects the structure of neighborhoods and the student bodies of schools? How far along the continuum of the individual right vs. the public good have our communities moved? It is a worthwhile conversation. Read the NY Times article and ponder.
Gaming the system, no matter which system, is a sport for some. For others, it is a survival mechanism. The Florida school accountability system is high stakes, and accusations of manipulating data occur frequently. If you want a school to receive a high grade, then the easiest approach may be to ensure the school attracts the best students and discourages those who struggle. So, what then happens to struggling students?
ProPublica has one example of what is done in Orlando, Florida. The authors argue, and provide data, that at least one of the district’s public and for profit online alternative charter schools are in cahoots. This may be a little strong, but the mutual advantage is clear. It is also clear that the Florida accountability system is inadequate to track how students are ‘counseled in or out of schools’.
Evidently vouchers are good for some places but not others in Tennessee. Read the latest proposal! No matter how vouchers are justified, they wreck havoc on communities and do not improve academic achievement.
SB 964: Montford, Garcia and Lee, has teeth. This bill would have a significant impact by reducing the number of state required tests as well as reducing the negative impact on instruction because it:
- allows SAT/ACT for 10th grade language arts and deletes the FSA 9th grade language arts, civics, algebra II, geometry and U.S. history exams. The FSA for grades three to eight remain along with Algebra I and biology.
- allows paper and pencil administration of online tests.
- eliminates the Florida DOE supervision of teacher evaluations and rules that tie evaluations to student test score results.
Two other bills would only move testing to the end of the school year instead of beginning state wide testing in February.
- HB 773 Cortes, Donalds, Eagle, Fischer, and Gruthers. The language of this bill is very similar to the language of the SB926 thus is a companion bill.
- SB926 Flores and Bradley moves testing to the end of the year but allows students expected to be proficient based on proficiency measures to take the state assessment once per quarter during the year. It authorizes a comparison of SAT and ACT content with the FSA English Language Arts and Mathematics tests at the high school level.
While moving the exam period to the end of the year has some advantages, it does little to reduce the amount of testing or the time required to conduct testing. Given that requirements to base a large percentage of teacher evaluations on student test results, the focus on drill and practice and test prep rather than on more effective, long range student learning remains.