Education Evolutions #125

Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by shared under
a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

After a week off, it was nice to sit down and collect some of these readings and associated thoughts. Plus, this is another one of those milestone issues, number 125. Every time one of those kinds of numbers appears, I remain mildly surprised to have reached it.

This week, after returning from a week of vacation, I was definitely on the hunt for some less dour material. I succeeded without reaching too far, which was encouraging. There are so many challenges in teaching, technology, and education today. Plus, this is around the time every year when every student and teacher can start to feel a bit sluggish, waiting for the recharge that spring brings with it. Hopefully, some of these items will be restorative and informative.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the first one, for a change. Given just how topsy-turvey things can sometimes seem, I really was hoping to find something more positive and uplifting. For anyone that reads this and benefitted from the public school system as a student, may it serve as a pleasant reminder of all those working in that system who helped along the way.

While I don’t find a video every week, I came across this one and thought it was really lovely. Bloom is also a nice reminder that spring is on its way, literally and figuratively.

Here are three curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Public Education: a Love Story – Teacher in a Strange Land blog – Nancy Flanagan (6-minute read)

I am not sure it has ever happened before but the first item two weeks in a row comes from the same source. I only recently became aware of Nancy Flanagan’s blog, Teacher in a Strange Land, despite her writing a past column of the same name for EdWeek. Also, this is a decidedly upbeat and rather beautiful post about public schools. I love it when I find and read something that I wish I had written myself with the subsequent realization that the one I am reading probably is better than I would have written anyway. This is that kind of piece.

I am continually amazed by just how many people seem to buy all the hype from public school bashing. Living in the state that consistently has produced some of the best public schools by any measure, as well as being in close proximity to a high performing charter school, I continue to be stunned by how many people chomping at the bit waiting for admission into an alternative to the public schools. Of course, I am biased being a public school teacher, working in a strong school. And I understand that there are challenges and things are far from perfect but the system has endured, despite generations of attacks. I work in public schools because I too love them.

I grew up in a place and at a time where anyone that could send their kid to a Catholic school they did to avoid the public schools. My parents did not have the money and I suspect the inclination for a Catholic education. So as I was entering school age, we moved out of the big city. In some ways, I won the lottery when my parents bought a little house in an unincorporated township that allowed me to attend some of the best schools in the state at that time. I was privy to an amazing array of cagey, veteran teachers, as well as no shortage of young, ambitious ones just starting to hit their professional strides. The sheer timing of it all was incredibly lucky. When I finished high school one of the best community colleges in the country was waiting mere miles from my high school. While I eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree from a private university, it was only because I got the most money through grants and scholarships to offset the costs and keep my loan payments down after the two years I attended. I was the first in my immediate family to get a degree. There were so many teachers along the way that helped me find a path and make it all happen, all working at public schools. They are an indispensable reason why I became and remain a teacher. This post was a reminder of all that. Hopefully, it will do that for anyone that takes the time to read it too.

Report: U.S. government wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools and still fails to adequately monitor grants – The Washington Post – Valarie Strauss (5-minute read)

Anyone that may have seen Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at the President’s 2021 Education Budget Request hearing may have wondered about the details of her deplorable performance in front of Congressional representatives. This article details the report that Wisconsin Representative Mark Pocan cited when grilling the secretary about the financial record of charter schools and the federal Department of Education.

The article is pretty direct and straightforward about where the report came from and is transparent about the organization that produced it. However, it is fascinating how quickly DeVos dismissed the findings of the report as “debunked…propaganda,” all the while having absolutely no substantive data to support any claims to the contrary. Of course, any of her pro-charter, pro-voucher, or other anti-public school schemes are not labeled as propaganda, especially the latest edreformy term du jour “government schools.”

The brutal display in front of the representatives saw Connecticut’s Representative Katherine Clark call for DeVos’ resignation, which seems to have become a nearly regular occurrence whenever the secretary makes a public appearance in front of anybody charged with holding her or the department she heads accountable at all. While the Network for Public Education is pretty clear about its advocacy, the report looks pretty well-researched, especially given the dearth of data released by the Department of Education since its last major audit in 2015. The very fact that the current secretary has nothing but empty rhetoric to counter any claims made in this report should be exhibit A in support of the claims by the Network for Public Education, regardless of whether they are an advocacy group or not. Plus, at least they are transparent about their organization, unlike so many of the charlatans supporting and maintaining current zombie-like edreform efforts that continually are exposed as empty and ineffective.

High Stakes Tests Aren’t Better—And They Never Will Be – Boston Review – Lelac Almagor (11-minute read)

This article continues the conversation about the wrong-headed advancement of standardized tests and malignant legacy of No Child Left Behind, not to mention the more recent Common Core. While there is not necessarily a lot that is new, it remains a compelling testimony to the kind of foolishness that is routinely required of teachers, especially as school boards, administrators, and parents chase scores in a profoundly sick system.

What this piece highlights exceptionally well is how there are no private schools putting their students through the crucible of testing subjected to public school students. For all the talk of choices and vouchers, there are no commensurate demands of accountability (see the article above for a more profound example of how selective accountability measures are). Of course, falling test scores usually trip school systems into a kind of learning death spiral, as ever more time will be spent on preparing for tests that are at best hollow measures of any learning that truly matters but serve as extremely worthwhile cudgels to beat students, teachers, and whole systems.

Ultimately, this piece makes a pretty strong case about the paradox of the high-stakes, standardized testing regime. It is profoundly costly in both time and money, yields relatively meaningless or reductive data, and perpetuates a corrosive and regressive impact on public schools. Despite a massive abandonment of the Common Core assessment organizations, its influence lives on in countless insidious ways. The defective system of accountability has damaged schools and students. There are other ways to maintain a level of accountability that is more meaningful and far better for all parties involved in educating young people. However, there are no easy solutions such as the current testing regime falsely promises.

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