The Essential Selfishness of School Choice

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Say your friend Sheila invites you over to her house.

Sheila has just made a fresh pumpkin pie.

She offers you a slice.

You politely refuse, but she insists. She hands you the knife so you can take as big a piece as you like.

You start to cut and then ask, “Does it matter where I cut from?”

Sheila says, “No. Take whatever you want.”

You don’t like crust, so you cut a perfect triangle piece from the middle of the pie.

Sheila’s face reddens.

This wasn’t exactly what she meant, but what is she going to do? You took your slice, and now the rest of the pie is ruined. No one else can take a whole piece. Your choice has limited everyone else’s.

That’s what school choice does to public education.

It privileges the choice of some and limits the choices of others.

Advocates say parents should be able to choose the school their children attend.

And parents today do have many choices. About 90% send their kids to traditional public schools. Others home school, pay for private schools or opt for charter or voucher schools.

The problem comes with these last two options. In both cases, tax money meant to help all children is siphoned off for just one child. In the case of vouchers, tax money goes to pay part of the tuition at a private or parochial school. In the case of charters, we’re diverting tax money to a school that’s public in name but privately run.

That means less money for traditional public schools and more money for privately run institutions. That’s really what school choice is – a way to further privatize public schools.

Why is that bad?

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First, it increases the cost and reduces the services for everyone.

 

Public schools pool all the funding for a given community in one place. By doing so, they can reduce the cost and maximize the services provided. One building costs less than two. The same goes for one staff, one electric bill, one infrastructure, etc.

When you start adding additional layers of parallel schools, you increase the costs even if you somehow divided the children evenly between the two systems (which hardly ever happens). You buy less with the same money. That translates to fewer services for the same kids, larger class sizes, narrowed curriculum, etc. Why? So that parents could choose School A or School B. So that privatizers get a bigger slice of the pie – right from the middle.

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Second, each type of school has different goals.

 

Public schools are designed to educate. Corporate schools are designed to profit. Those are their very reasons for existing. It’s built into their DNA and is reflected in the way they’re administrated.

By law, public schools are not for-profit. They pay for goods and services, but at the end of the day, they aren’t beholden to shareholders or investors. They don’t need to bring in more money than they spend. All they have to do is educate children, and if they somehow end up with extra money at the end of that process, that money is bound by law to be reinvested as savings for next year.

Charter and voucher schools are not so constrained. Their reason for being is not education – it is profit. Where they can, they will cut services for children and reduce quality so that they can increase the bottom line. Even a casual glance at the news will show you a plethora of charter and voucher school scandals where privateers have stolen millions of dollars of taxpayer money instead of educating. To return to the dessert metaphor, they don’t care what their slice does to everyone else – they only care about the size of the slice.

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Third, charter and voucher schools aren’t as accountable as traditional public schools.

 

Each type of school is supported by tax money. Therefore, each school should be held accountable for spending that money wisely. But the rules are radically different for public schools vs. choice schools.

Public schools have elected school boards made up of taxpayers from the community. Choice schools often do not. They are run by appointed boards who are only accountable to investors. Public schools are required to be transparent. Their documentation, budgets and meetings must be available to the media and community for review. This is not true of privatized choice schools.

If taxpayers are unhappy with the way a traditional public school is being run, they have multiple options for changing it. With choice schools, their only option is to withdraw their child. And in the case of taxpayers who do not have children in the system at all, they have no recourse at all. This is fiscally irresponsible and amounts to taxation without representation. This alone should be enough to make any true conservative withdraw support – however ideology has trumped logic and reason. Not only do they ruin the pie, they get to do so in secret.

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Fourth, school vouchers rarely cover the entire cost of attending private schools.

 

They end up subsidizing costs for rich and upper middle class students while keeping away the poor. As such they create a system of cultural and racial education segregation. They create tiers of schools – the public schools being only for the poor, cheaper private schools for the middle class and expensive private schools for the rich.

This is not the best way to educate children. It is not the best way to organize a society. It entrenches social and class differences and builds in entitlements and racism for the wealthy. Surely our public schools have become more segregated even without vouchers, but that is no reason to make the situation exponentially worse. The size and placement of one’s slice shouldn’t depend on the color of your skin or the size of your bank account.

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Fifth, all schools are not equally successful.

 

Though the media would have you believe otherwise, traditional public schools do a much better job of educating children than charter or voucher schools. Some choice schools have better outcomes, but the majority do no better and often much worse than traditional public schools. Moreover, children who continually move from school-to-school regardless of its type almost always suffer academically.

So when parents engage in these choice schemes, they often end up hurting their own children. The chances of children benefiting from charter or voucher schools is minimal. You can cut a slice from the center of the pie, but it’s likely to fall apart before you get it on a plate.

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So in summary, school choice is essentially selfish. Even in cases where kids do benefit from choice, they have weakened the chances of everyone else in the public school system. They have increased the expense and lowered the services of children at both types of school. They have allowed unscrupulous profiteers to make away with taxpayer money while taxpayers and fiscal watchdogs are blindfolded. And when students return to their traditional public school after having lost years of academic progress at a substandard privatized institution, it is up to the taxpayers to pay for remediation to get these kids back up to speed.

Choice advocates talk about children being trapped in failing schools, but they never examine what it is about them that is failing.

Almost all public schools that are struggling serve impoverished students. That’s not a coincidence. It’s the cause. Schools have difficulty educating the poorest children. Impoverished children have greater needs. We should be adding tutoring, counseling and mentor programs. We should be helping their parents find jobs, providing daycare, healthcare and giving these struggling people a helping hand to get them back on their feet.

But instead we’re abandoning them. Most impoverished schools serving poor children receive less funding than those serving middle class or wealthy populations. In other western countries, it’s just the opposite. They provide more funding and resources for poor students to meet their greater needs.

School choice ignores all of this. If I may momentarily switch metaphors, instead of fixing the leak in our public school system, advocates prescribe running for the lifeboats. We could all be sailing on a strong central cruise-liner able to meet the demands of a sometimes harsh and uncaring ocean together. Instead we’re told to get into often leaky escape craft that even under the best of circumstances aren’t as strong as the system we’re abandoning.

And the reason is profits.

Have you ever noticed that the overwhelming majority of school choice proponents are rich white people?

Many of them own charter school companies or otherwise invest in the field. They aren’t advocating a policy to help children learn. They’re enriching themselves at public expense. Sure they point their fingers at union teachers making a middle class wage. Meanwhile these choice advocates rake in public money to buy yachts, condos and jewelry.

Make no mistake – school choice is essentially about selfishness. At every level it’s about securing something for yourself at the expense of others. Advocates call that competition, but it’s really just grift.

Public education is essentially the opposite. It’s about ensuring that every child gets the best education possible. Yes, it’s not perfect, and there are things we could be doing to improve it. But it is inherently an altruistic endeavor coming from the best of what it means to be an American.

We’ve all got choices in life. The question is what kind of person do you want to be? A person who takes only for his or herself? Or someone who tries to find an option that helps everyone?

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MythBuster: Do We Have a “Government-Run Education Monopoly”?

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“There’s no failed policy more in need of change than our government-run education monopoly, and you know that’s exactly what it is.”

With these words, candidate Donald Trump unleashed his K-12 education policy at a campaign stop in September, two months before winning the general election.

In the speech, the former reality TV star and current President-elect vowed to spend $20 billion in federal tax dollars to encourage more charter and voucher schools nationwide.

It remains his most concrete executive policy offering to date. Yet it’s based on this characterization of public schools as a “government-run education monopoly.”

One wonders – is it true? Do we really have such a thing here in the U.S. or is it just propaganda to boost an unpopular education scheme?

The devil, it seems, is in the details.

The answer is both yes and no: Yes, public schools are government-run. No, they’re not a monopoly.

First, let’s consider “government-run.” Everything the government does from paving the roads, to delivering mail, to protecting us from invaders is “government-run.” The military is government-run. Would you rather a foreign power tell our soldiers what to do? Congress is government run. Would you rather big business come in and decide all our laws?

In that same spirit, yes, our public schools are indeed government run. But who else should run them? Russia!? The Mafia!? A media cabal?

In emphasizing the role of government in education, Trump appears to be trying to stoke the fires of anti-government sentiment. There is certainly a lot of that going around, deservedly so given the way the federal government has encroached on the states, the states have encroached on local government, etc.

However, public schools are not essentially federally-run schools, nor are they state-run schools. They are subject to federal and state mandates, but the major decisions about what happens in your neighborhood schools are made by your duly elected school board. They are not controlled by some nameless, faceless government bureaucracy. They’re controlled by you, your friends and neighbors – people you voted for and who are held accountable every few weeks at open meetings.

That, too, is government.

It’s not Big Brother. It’s Howdy Neighbor.

Let’s turn now to the “Monopoly” part.

A monopoly is the complete control of the supply or trade in a commodity or service. To put it in terms of the titular Parker Brothers board game, you have a monopoly when you own both Boardwalk and Park Place – you’re in control of what happens to all the dark blue properties. However, if you don’t have titles to BOTH, you don’t have a monopoly, and therefore can’t buy houses, hotels or charge double the normal rent.

Therefore, there is no education monopoly – no one has complete control of all the various kinds of schools. There are private schools, home schools, magnet schools, charter schools, even voucher schools. No one owns them all, no one tells them all what to do.

Yes, you could say that the overwhelming majority of them are public schools, but so what? That’s not a monopoly. There are far more personal computers out there than Macs. That doesn’t mean PCs have a monopoly on the field.

Once again, the term “monopoly” is meant to stir anti-government sentiment. We are meant to balk at the degree to which government – local government – is in control of our education system.
I’m sorry, but there is nothing objectionable about schools being controlled at the local level.

Are you upset by federal intrusions in school policy? Me, too.

Are you reeling about unfunded federal mandates? Me, too.

Are you angry about states sweeping in and stealing local control from impoverished inner city parents? Me, too.

But I’m just not one bit upset about being allowed a say in how my tax dollars are spent at my community school district. If you ask me, that how things SHOULD BE.

But Trump is proposing we change it. He’s proposing exactly the same kind of federal intrusion that drove many of us up the wall when it was done by President Barack Obama.

Obama used the Department of Education to bribe cash-strapped states into adopting Common Core. And now Trump wants to do the same thing with charters and voucher schools.

Excuse me, but it’s not the federal government’s job to dangle money in front of state legislatures with strings attached. The Department of Education is supposed to ensure all schools have adequate funding. It’s not supposed to tell us how we should be running our schools unless we’re breaking the law or violating students civil rights.

But what about parental rights? Shouldn’t parents be allowed to choose a school for their own children?

Heck no.

Hear me out. When you fall down the steps in your home alone, do you get to choose which governmental service comes to help you, or do you just call 9-1-1? When you need the police, do you get to choose officers from halfway across the state or make do with your local boys in blue? When your house catches on fire, do you shop around or call the nearest fire station?

It’s called a community for a reason. You’re a part of it, for better or for worse.

Our grandparents never thought they were so entitled they could pick and choose what governmental service should meet their needs. They joined the army, not Blackwater. They called the fire department where they volunteered. And they sent their kids to the local public school.

Yes, some public schools are better than others – which is just another way of saying that some are better funded. THAT is a problem we need to fix at the local, state and federal level. That’s something the President and Congress and our Governors and our state legislatures should actually be working on. But instead of meeting the real needs of their constituents, they’re too busy with all this choice nonsense.

Why? It’s a scam.

We’re talking Donald Trump here – founder of Trump University. He just settled out of court for $25 million for a fake business school that defrauded students out of hundreds of millions of dollars. If there’s one thing he knows, it’s a good scam.

Think about it.

Expanding charter and voucher schools, reduces accountability to taxpayers. These “choice” schools rarely are governed by elected school boards. They don’t have to abide by the same kinds of transparency standards as traditional public schools. They can spend our tax dollars in almost anyway they want behind closed doors, and there’s nothing we can do about it. In fact, there have been a rash of high profile scandals where charter and voucher operators have defrauded the public out of millions of dollars.

Who wants to expand that? Criminals!

Not me. I’m a taxpayer. I want a full account of how my money is spent, and most voters are with me.

We didn’t just vote for President a few weeks ago. Many states held referendums on whether to expand charter schools or not. In every case, voters decided against it.

But does Trump care? No way. This proposed school choice policy is yet another example of the federal government ignoring the will of the people in favor of wealthy donors hoping to further enrich themselves at public expense. It opens the door for profiteers to keep stealing our money.

And they justify it by offering a false choice:

Hey parents, they say. Want to enroll your children in a school with little to no accountability, a school you may not be able to afford unless you spend some of your own money in addition to the tuition you get from the state, a school that can turn you down for whatever reason including race, religion or nationality, a school that may very well be no better and often much worse than a traditional public school?

But they spin it, offering slick commercials and preying on the ignorant and hopeless. That weakens the traditional public schools because it means a loss in revenues. Therefore, the public schools get worse, which is a reason for more parents to try the ‘choice’ schools, etc. It’s an endless cycle where students lose but investors in for-profit schools win.

Invariably, it leads to a further social stratification of schools. The rich go to the best schools, the middle class to the middling schools and the poor to the substandard ones. You think we’ve got segregated schools now, wait until Trump’s school choice policies! It’ll benefit the Nazis of the alt-right who want more white flight, but most kids will lose.

Such a policy does not represent the best of America. This country was founded on the principles of working together. We haven’t always lived up to it, but our ideals are ones of shared sacrifice, community and brotherhood. Trump’s education policy is about selfishness and greed.

That’s your real choice. Which will it be?

Democrats Warned Not to Help Trump Enact Their Own Damn School Policies

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It must be hard to be a neoliberal Democrat in Donald Trump’s America.

Almost every policy decision you favor is also on the Republican President-elect’s to-do list. But if you work with him, you’ll ruin the illusion that there’s a difference between the two of you.

Take yesterday’s statement by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) warning any Democrat not to accept Trump’s offer to be U.S. Secretary of Education.

DFER is a hedge fund managers’ pro-charter advocacy group. Despite it’s name, one would think the organization would be a natural ally for pro-school-choice Trump.

But, wait a minute.

I thought one of the first things Trump promised to do once he took the Oval Office was close the Department of Education.

Weeeeeelllllllll…. That’s so November 10th.

He’s already walking back that whooper just like he’ll soon have to admit that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) doesn’t allow him to end Common Core – another one of his campaign promises. Ending the Core is up to the states (has been for months, yet most Republican controlled legislatures just can’t bring themselves to do it for some reason).

It’s easy to see why Trump has had a Come To Jesus moment about the Department of Education. If he really wants to add $20 billion in school-choice programs, as he promised on the campaign trail, a big government office that hands out bundles of cash in return for states enacting his personal policy desires sure would come in handy!

This is where it gets really sticky.

Both Democrats and Republicans love school choice! Typically GOP politicians love all flavors of privatization – charter schools AND giving away vouchers to attend private schools with public tax dollars. Democrats usually are more finicky preferring just charter schools – though you don’t have to search long to find a neoliberal willing to embrace all things school choice. Many of them are members of DFER.

In fact, the leading voices of school privatization for the last 15 years have been Democrats. So it’s no wonder that faux progressives like Michelle Rhee and Eva Moskowitz made Trump’s short list to head the Department of Education.

Moskowitz, who has since turned down the offer, is founder of Success Academy Charter Schools, a chain of privatized institutions emphasizing endless test preparation and systematically weeding out struggling or special-needs students.

Rhee, who is still a contender, was chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools where she was given leeway to do almost whatever she wanted and boasted of high test scores. However, widespread cheating on the tests and public unrest at her tactics shot down her ascending star. She then started StudentsFirst, an organization using rich folks’ money to help elect Tea Party candidates who were in favor of both charter and voucher schools. As the organization faltered, she stepped out of the limelight.

One could think of few people more suited to Trump’s education agenda than Rhee.

But NO! Rhee – or another faux progressive – can’t do that, warns DFER President Shavier Jeffries. That goes against everything Democrats stand for – somehow.

Jeffries writes:

“It is, generally speaking, an honor for any person of any political persuasion to be asked by the President of the United States to consider a Cabinet-level appointment, but in the case of President-elect Trump, DFER encourages no Democrat to accept an appointment to serve as Secretary of Education in this new administration. In so doing, that individual would become an agent for an agenda that both contradicts progressive values and threatens grave harm to our nation’s most vulnerable kids.

“Foundational education reform principles – from raising standards and strengthening accountability, to expanding public-school choice, to furthering innovations in teacher preparation and support, and advancing resource equity – all find their roots in a progressive commitment to ensuring that all children, particularly our most vulnerable, have access to schools that enable them to fulfill their potential.”

Jeffries is worried about “raising standards?” Am I the only person here who read the ESSA? Common Core and academic standards aren’t the federal government’s business.

He’s worried about “strengthening accountability?” The ESSA already requires annual standardized testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school – same as it has since the George W. Bush administration.

“Expanding school choice?” You guys love school choice.

“Further innovations in teacher preparation and support?” That sounds like code for Teach for America and Value Added Measures – policies that Republicans love as much as you so-called Democrats.

“Advancing resource equity?” Now who are you kidding? DFER hasn’t done a thing to help poor schools get equitable resources. In fact, you’ve supported pulling the rug out from under poor schools based on those same standardized test scores you love so much.

So when it comes to policy, Jeffries and DFER are almost completely in synch with Trump. What’s the problem?

He goes on:

“This progressive commitment to equitable education policy also goes hand-in-hand with intersectional issues that affect our kids. While effective school policies are vitally important, so too are the environmental conditions affecting children and families.”

This is a shock to me. Jeffries and DFER support “no excuses” charter schools like Moskowitz’s. These are privately run schools that don’t accept a student’s poverty or abuse or health or anything to be used as an excuse not to get high scores on standardized tests. In fact, if any impoverished, underprivileged child can’t somehow pull himself up by his bootstraps, he’s often kicked out of these “no excuses” charter schools and sent back to a traditional public school.

But NOW Jeffries is complaining about “vitally important” “environmental conditions”!? You’ve got to be kidding me! That sounds like something under any other circumstances you’d call an excuse.

On any other day, DFER does nothing to help kids overcome their environmental factors. Jeffries claims we should ignore environmental factors, that focusing on them is the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” But NOW he’s suddenly seen the light!?

Sorry. I’m not buying it.

He goes on:

“A child who is homeless; a child without access to food or healthcare; a child whose parent cannot find steady work; a child whose dad is locked up for years on low-level drug offenses—each of these situations dramatically compromise the life chances of our children.”

Well, Hallelujah! Jeffries has seen the mountain top! Paying attention to the out of school factors is exactly what teachers, parents and students have been crying out for he and his neoliberal buddies to do for 15 years! Of course, doing so would invalidate the same policies he and Trump propose, but you can’t ask a neoliberal to be consistent. Baby steps.

He goes on:

“The policies and rhetoric of President-elect Trump run contrary to the most fundamental values of what it means to be a progressive committed to educating our kids and strengthening our families and communities. He proposes to eliminate accountability standards, cut Title I funding, and to gut support for vital social services that maximize our students’ ability to reach their potential. And, most pernicious, Trump gives both tacit and express endorsement to a dangerous set of racial, ethnic, religious, and gender stereotypes that assault the basic dignity of our children, causing incalculable harm not only to their sense of self, but also to their sense of belonging as accepted members of school communities and neighborhoods.

“For these reasons, no Democrat should accept appointment as Secretary of Education, unless and until President-elect Trump disavows his prior statements and commits to educating the whole child and supporting the communities and families they depend on.”

So what Jeffries really takes exception to here is Trump’s rhetoric.

Trump and DFER don’t have many policy differences. It’s just how they’re packaged.

Both Trump and Jeffries wants to give poor black and brown kids a substandard education. They both want to destroy the public school system and replace it with a privatized one. Both want to give endless standardized tests. But the real difference is that Jeffries wants to do this for the expressed purpose of protecting kids’ civil rights. Trump, apparently, wants to do it to violate them, or at least he’s indifferent to the civil rights implications.

Does that really constitute a significant difference between DFER and Trump?

No. It’s just branding.

Jeffries doesn’t want someone like Moskawitz or Rhee to be the face of Trump’s corporate education reform policies because he’s betting Trump will fail. And when that happens, he wants to be there when the next Democratic administration takes over – so he can enact the same damn policies all over again!

The Real Power Behind Trump is White Fear

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White people are terrified.

Shaken, panicked, scared beyond our capacity for logical thinking.

We’re so apprehensive, we elected Donald Trump, a reality show clown, to the White House.

Yeah, I know. Hillary Clinton wasn’t exactly inspiring. And the Democrats dropped the ball ignoring the populist mood of the country and the needs of middle class workers.

But 58% of white folks supported Trump. He only got 21% of nonwhite voters. In fact, Whites is the only major group he won – not black people, not Hispanics, not any other race or nationality.

Just white folks.

Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women – and yet 53% of white females voted for him.

Trump is an admitted serial monogamist who cheated on various ex-wives – and yet 65% of white Christians voted for him.

Trump promised to bring back outsourced manufacturing jobs while his own clothing line is foreign made – and yet 67% of white laborers voted for him.

That’s how panic-stricken we, Caucasians, are.

We held our hands over our eyes and ears and loudly proclaimed our loyalty to a charlatan.

Oh, we’ll pay for it. He’ll break campaign promises, disappoint us with retrograde policies and perhaps even hurt the people we love.

But in the meantime, many of us are in denial.

“Let’s give him a chance,” white folks say.

Yet Trump has already appointed a wife-beating, Jew-hating, white supremacist, Stephen Bannon, to be his chief White House strategist.

Just stop, white people. You’re embarrassing yourselves.

So why are we so damn scared?

Answer: we’ve been pricks throughout American history.

Yeah, I know. None of us were around for slavery. Many of us weren’t even on the scene for Jim Crow. But all of us have benefited from the society these institutions built up.

The 13th Amendment ended forced bondage except as a punishment for crime. And ever since then our justice system has found ways to unfairly accuse, sentence and enslave black people into the prison industrial complex. We live in the wealthiest country in the world, and much of that wealth is a direct result of laws that raise up white folks and crush black and brown people under our heels.

And we know it.

Don’t give me some story about how you never asked for it. You’ve got it. If you do nothing to fight it, you’re a member in good standing of the white supremacy board of directors.

White folks don’t talk about this stuff. We ignore and deny and whistle past the graves of millions of lynched and murdered people of color. What do you think the fascination is with zombie movies? It’s just another manifestation of white fear – fear that we’ll be overrun by the countless have-nots and devoured.

Few of us have articulated it, but we know our time is running out. The black and brown population is increasing faster than ours. We’re letting in too many dark skinned immigrants and too few light skinned ones. In three short decades, we won’t even be the numerical majority anymore.

Every year we find it increasingly more difficult to enforce this racial caste system. Our police gun down more unarmed black folks in the street. Our prisons can’t swallow them all.

Even now our majority is so slim that if just a few of us side with the dark underclass, we can elect a black President – well multiracial but who’s counting?

That infuriated a lot of us. How dare they pretend like THEY can run the country? After Obama, we were rushing to the gun store in our soiled pants afraid that the time for justice had finally come. Black folks were finally going to come for us because of the centuries of oppression.

That’s really the fear. Black people will seek justice.

At best we’ll lose our exalted positions in society. At worst, WE’LL be the ones crushed under the boot. And turnabout will be fair play.

That’s why we elected such an obviously unqualified blowhard as Donald Trump.

We want him to make America great again – and by “great” we know exactly what we mean.

It’s a sad reflection on white society.

We could admit the truth. We could take a deep breath and help our oppressed brothers and sisters take their places as equals among us.

After more than two centuries, we could throw off our denial.

But that’s not what most of us did.

History will judge us harshly for this election. We did nothing to turn back time. We’ve only engaged in a tantrum – this, the last gasp of white supremacy.

My Election Day Heart Attack: Lessons for Moving Forward

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I had a heart attack on Election Day.

This is not hyperbole.

I literally went to the polls, went to my doctor and then went to the hospital.

I didn’t know Donald Trump would win. Like most of us, I thought the nation would heave a big sigh, eat its vegetables and vote for Hillary Clinton.

But the election had been weighing on my mind (and apparently my body) for a long time.

How can we have narrowed it down to these two candidates nobody wants? How can these really be the only choices we get here in America? If either one of them wins, we all lose just in different ways.

So as I write this from my hospital bed, I’m left pondering lifestyle changes. I’ve got to start eating healthy. I need to exercise. I need to start taking care of myself.

But this kind of introspection is also what we need as a nation. After a disastrous election like the one we just had, the country is at least as sick as my ailing heart. We need to sit down with each other and decide how we’re going to move forward, how we’re going to prevent a national disaster like this from ever happening again.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1) Admit Who’s to Blame

Donald Trump was just elected President of the United States. That is unbelievable! This clown, this buffoon is now the “leader of the free world.” How did this happen?

There are many factors leading up to this, but politically the blame must be placed with the Democratic Party.

They put up a candidate – Hillary Clinton – who could not beat someone as odious as Trump. The people made it clear during the primary that they wanted a populous candidate, someone who wasn’t part of the establishment, yet the DNC ignored them. In fact, party elites did everything they could to tip the scales in Clinton’s favor.

We must always remember this lesson: when you rig the primary, you lose the general.

Bernie Sanders packed stadiums while Clinton could barely pull together rallies. He polled double digits ahead of Trump while Clinton was much less competitive. He would have beaten Trump in a landslide.

So if you want someone to blame, blame the DNC. Every party leader should immediately be fired. We must regain control of the party. If the Democrats refuse to be a real progressive institution, they will continue to lose and we will have to look elsewhere for political affiliation.

So admit the truth, it wasn’t third party voters with 3-4% of the vote, it wasn’t 45% of registered voters who didn’t show up at the polls because we gave them no one to vote for. It was the DNC. Period.

2) Understand the relationship between Race and Class

There are lots of folks out there blaming the election results on the racism of Trump voters. There are lots of folks blaming it on working class people choosing Trump over Hillary.

They’re both right.

Racism has always been a tool of the rich in this country. It’s a way of throwing a bone to poor whites so they will support the 1%.

Don’t go after us as we cheat you out of a living wage, they say. We’ll give you whole swaths of people you can lord it over.

White privilege is the grease that keeps our economy running. Without it, poor whites might look to the rich and see how much they’re being swindled.

Heck yeah Trump ran as a racist. Heck yeah he ran as a populist. But the only thing poor whites will get from him is a license to be racist.  No jobs. No better wages. No better education. Just go ahead and subjugate brown people.

We must understand this relationship. As anti-racists we must also fight for the middle class. As activists for the middle class we must also fight racism. These are two sides of the same coin, and we must address both if we are ever to achieve real positive change.

3) Acknowledge Sexism

That a nation of grown adults would pick a boorish misogynist against an educated, intelligent woman speaks wonders. Hillary Clinton was far from my first choice,  but compared to Trump she was obviously less odious.

There is no doubt that sexism played a part in this. Even white women chose Trump over Clinton. So many of Trump’s policies were anti-woman. He was an admitted serial groper. He’s on trial for child rape!

And if that’s not enough, I can’t even recall how many times I heard women tell me that a person of their gender doesn’t belong in the Oval Office.

This is something we have to overcome, and frankly I think we are. Millennials are not nearly as sexist as the rest of us. As the population ages and today’s kids become tomorrow’s adults, I think sexism will be left behind. Trump’s election is the last gasp of this antiquated prejudice. But we must recognize it for what it is.

4) Unions need to represent the rank and file

I’m a big supporter of labor unions, but in many cases they let us down in this election. Trump was no champion of the working stiff, but he got an awful lot of union votes. Why?

Many of our unions prematurely endorsed Clinton even though she has a spotty relationship with them and didn’t support many natural union initiatives like the fight for 15.

On the other hand, Sanders was the union candidate. He was the natural fit, yet union leadership like the American Federation of Teacher’s Randi Weingarten offered to attack other unions that didn’t fall in line behind Clinton. Both big teachers unions, the AFT and the National Education Association endorsed Clinton early in the primary without truly democratically polling membership. It doesn’t matter if they broke by-laws or not. If unions really represent the rank and file, these leaders should be held responsible.

In short, we should fire leaders like Weingarten and the NEA’s Lily Eskelsen Garcia immediately. Our union leaders must show a healthier respect for the rank and file or else they jeopardize the entire enterprise of workers’ rights.

 

These are just some of the ways we can move forward in the days and weeks ahead. It will be a rough road  but I’m sure we can come out of it together.

Just like my aging body, our nation is ill. For me, the result was a heart attack. For us, the result is President Trump.

Will we turn it around?

I’m sure going to try.

*****************

FULL DISCLOSURE: I didn’t vote for either Clinton or Trump. I happily voted for Jill Stein.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voting Third Party is Not a Wasted Vote – Voting First Party Is

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For the first time in American history, the two least popular candidates have been nominated by the two major parties for President.

Think about that for a moment.

Voters don’t want Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Yet somehow the Democrats and Republicans put them both up, anyway.

How is that possible? Don’t people have to vote for these candidates in the primaries? If they’re so unpopular, how did enough people choose them over other more popular politicians?

The answer is simple: the system has failed.

On the Democratic side, the process has been co-opted by party elites. When a populous wave lifts a candidate like Bernie Sanders, the people at the top crush him with media collusion, voter suppression and other tactics of dubious legality. On the Republican side, the primaries draw such a disproportionate number of radicalized voters that only the furthest right demagogues have a chance. Moderates become radicals just to stay competitive, and with each cycle they move further right until they’ve morphed into outright fascists.

To cope, voters have begun internalizing the dysfunction as if they could somehow fix it through the sheer power of their own conformity. Republican moderates go along with the most radical candidate because he’s leading in the polls. Democrats, likewise, go along with the party’s favorite daughter for the same reason. It has little to do with either candidates’ merits, it’s just that no one wants to back a loser.

The result is an entrenched status quo. Democratic party leaders aren’t reprimanded or replaced for coopting the primary – they’re empowered. Republican extremists aren’t shunned or ostracized – they’re legitimized.

And all of this is because of the tendency of voters on both sides of the aisle to shut their eyes and go along with the perceived majority like lemmings running at full speed toward a cliff.

It’s football mentality as democracy. It’s pragmatism as suicide pact.

When we were children, our parents told us not to blindly follow the crowd. “I want a lollipop because Billy has a lollipop!” we wailed. And our folks said something like this: “Would you jump off a bridge if Billy was doing it?”

As adults that’s exactly what we’re doing – jumping off a bridge, arm-in-arm, congratulating ourselves for being so politically savvy.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are other candidates running. We don’t have to vote for Clinton or Trump. The only reason more people don’t take advantage of this option is their perceived notion that few people will take advantage of it.

As a Republican, you really don’t have a lot of options. Gary Johnson has some things to recommend him, especially when compared to a demagogue like Trump, but he isn’t really a serious candidate. He doesn’t have the knowledge needed to actually do the job.

However, as a Democrat, you have quite an excellent alternative to accepting four more years of neoliberal rule. Jill Stein is running for President under the Green Party banner. Her policies are light years ahead of Clinton’s – maybe even better than Sanders’. In our schools, she promises to stop endless high stakes standardized testing, end school privatization and fairly fund all public schools. She’s vows to provide free college and end all student debt. She’s in favor of single payer healthcare paid for by cutting our bloated military budget with no raise in taxes. She wants to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, stop giving weapons to Israel, freeze terrorist-funder’s bank accounts, end the War on Terror and engage in a policy of peace. Moreover, Stein plans to use the savings from slashing our biggest federal expenditure to fund a New Green Deal, creating full employment and a living wage all while transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2030!

Regardless of your personal politics, enacting this platform would be incredibly positive for the nation. It would give us a new lease on life. But we’re afraid to vote for it in case it hurts Clinton and boosts Trump.

It’s ridiculous.

Imagine if the two major parties nominated wolves one of which claimed “I’m going to eat you now,” and the other claimed, “I’m going to eat you later.” Would it be crazy to vote for the candidate who said, “I’m not going to eat you – ever”?

Yet so-called progressives will foam and rave at me because I’m promoting a “spoiler candidate.”

If people do as I suggest, they say, it will steal votes from Clinton thereby possibly giving Trump the lead.

Wait a moment. Why are those votes assumed to belong to Clinton? If the Democrats don’t put up a real progressive candidate, why are you assuming progressives will vote for her? Because of the brand underwhich she’s running?

This may be hard to understand, but take a deep breath and consider it. I know you’ve been told it’s impossible, but a third party candidate can actually win a Presidential election.

I know. It’s inconceivable, but close your eyes for a minute and let’s conduct a thought experiment.

Let’s say Jill Stein gets a majority of the vote. She’ll win, right?

No, she has to get a clear majority of electoral votes. She needs 270 out of 538 electoral votes to win. And, yes, there are a handful of states where she’s not even on the ballot. Is it then impossible for her to achieve the requisite 270?

No, it’s not. We’re told it’s unlikely, but it’s not impossible. So if enough people in the right states vote for Stein, she’ll win. It’s a statistical possibility.

You say my vote for Stein spoils Clinton’s chances. But who’s really the spoiler here? From my point of view, when you vote for Clinton, you’re spoiling the chances of MY candidate winning.

Why should I give up my vote to increase the chances of your candidate winning – especially when so few of you would choose her if she wasn’t running against Trump? If you’re honest and you knew who Stein was and what she stands for, you’d rather have her win and her platform enacted!

But you refuse to even consider there is any choice except dumb and dumber.

It’s a media-fostered mental illness. We’ve been told this spoiler propaganda story for so long, we’ve internalized it, and the result is this nasty, demoralizing election that everyone just wants to end. We just want to vote for a person we don’t really want and then go take a shower.

We have painted ourselves into a corner. If we keep voting for the lesser evil, the choices will only continue to get worse. The Democrats will pick further right neoliberals. The Republicans will pick further right neofascists. And there will be no stopping it because if you don’t vote against the one that is slightly less nauseating, you’ll be empowering the truly execrable one – as they each get worse and worse every devolving election cycle.

As a nation, we need benevolent aliens to descend on us in their flying saucers and give us all a strong dose of psychoanalysis. We need a way out of the mental mouse trap.

Hear me: as a single voter, you are not responsible for the entire election. You are responsible for your own vote. Don’t give it away because of a perceived notion of what others are going to do. Have the courage of your convictions. Vote for the best candidate.

And if in the end that means Trump gets into office, rise up and overthrow him. Because otherwise the course you’re running will eventually and inevitably lead to fascism. We can fight a weak petty fascist like Trump today or a strong dictator in the Nazi mold somewhere down the line.

However, why dwell on the worst case scenario? Just imagine if everyone threw off the shackles of the two-party system! Imagine if the best candidate actually won! Imagine voting and not feeling dirty afterwards! Imagine living in a functioning democracy again!

As John Lennon might say:

You may say I’m a spoiler.
But I’m not the only one.
Why don’t you come and join me
And we can live together as one.

Why Teaching to the Test is Educational Malpractice

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Malpractice is defined as “careless, wrong, or illegal actions by someone (such as a doctor) who is performing a professional duty.”

In some fields it can get you arrested. In most it’s at least frowned upon.
In education, however, it’s encouraged.

In fact, as a teacher, you can be singled out, written up or even fired for refusing to engage in malpractice. You are bullied, cajoled and threatened into going along with practices that have been debunked by decades of research and innumerable case studies.

Take the all-too-common practice of teaching to the test.

Not only do students and teachers hate it, but the practice has been shown to actually harm student learning. Yet it is the number one prescription handed down from administrators and policymakers to bring up failing scores on high stakes standardized tests.

Never mind that those same test scores have likewise been proven to be invalid, racially and culturally biased and inextricably linked with parental income. When the only goal is raising student test scores, what’s a little malpractice between friends?

In this article, I will explain the top five reasons why this policy is harmful. But first, we need to define our terms. There is a multitude of practices that are sometimes called teaching to the test. What exactly are we talking about here?

Assessment expert W. James Popham provides a helpful distinction: “curriculum teaching” vs. “item teaching.” Curriculum teachers focus on the full body of knowledge and skills represented by test questions. For instance, if the test is expected to include questions about decimals, the teacher will cover the full range of knowledge and skills related to decimals so students understand what they are, know how to manipulate them, understand how to use them to solve more complex problems, and are able to communicate about them.

By contrast, item teaching involves narrowing instruction, organizing lessons around look-a-like questions that are taken directly from the test or represent the kinds of questions most likely to be found on the test. In this way, the teacher only provides the chunks of knowledge students are most likely to encounter on exams. For instance, item teachers might drill students on a certain set of vocabulary words that are expected to be assessed rather than employing instructional strategies that help students build a rich vocabulary that best contributes to strong reading comprehension.

To be clear, when we talk about teaching to the test, we’re talking about item teaching. I maintain that there is nothing wrong with curriculum teaching. In fact, that is the preferred method of educating. It is a best practice. The problem is when we resort to endless drills and give students innumerable questions of the exact type we expect to be on the test.

Here’s why item teaching is to be avoided:

1) It Makes the Tests Even More Invalid

As noted, standardized tests are terrible assessments. They do not properly or fairly assess intelligence or academics. However, whatever validity they have is further eroded when schools teach to the test.

The problem is this: if all you want to do is artificially raise test scores, teaching to the test is effective. It works. This is why middle class or wealthier families often pay to enroll their children in a test-prep course before their kids take or retake the SAT exam. It most likely will boost their children’s scores. However, it defeats the purpose of the test, which is to predict academic success in college. All it shows definitively is that these children come from families wealthy enough to provide private tutoring.

I say it “artificially” raises test scores because it is not connected with a similar increase in learning. Students don’t learn more about reading or math from test prep. They learn how to take the standardized math and/or reading tests.

There is even evidence suggesting that real, authentic learning may suffer under these circumstances. But more on that later.

2) It Steals Instruction Time

There are only so many days in the school year. Taking away class time to focus on test prep reduces the amount of time where students are authentically learning. We already take away weeks of class time for the actual assessments. Then many schools take additional time for practice tests. Now we’re losing even more time to teach students how to take the tests.

How much time is lost? According to a report by the American Federation of Teachers, public schools spend an average of 19 days to a month and a half on testing and test prep combined. However, some districts spend much more time on teaching to the test than the average. One school included in the study spent an average of 20 to 40 minutes a day on testing. Moreover, this time increases dramatically in the most highly tested grades and poorest schools.

Taxpayers compensate teachers to teach – not game the system. Students want to learn real skills, not advanced ways to jump through hoops. It can be argued that teaching to the test robs everyone of time that can be better spent.

3) It Dumbs Down the Curriculum

Teaching to the test is not real teaching. Students are not being taught authentic skills. Researchers Lauren Resnick and Chris Zurawsky call it a recipe for bad teaching. “When teachers match their teaching to what they expect to appear on state tests of this sort,” they write, “students are likely to experience far more facts and routines than conceptual understanding and problem-solving in their curriculum…. Narrow tests…can become the de facto curriculum.”

The modern economy is not crying out for the next generation of test-takers. Economists Frank Levy and Richard Murnane warn that all kinds of jobs, but particularly higher paying jobs, increasingly require more complex critical thinking skills and much fewer rote and routine skills. Their 30-year analysis shows a steadily declining demand for workers who are able to do rote tasks and a skyrocketing demand for “expert thinking” skills. Employers want prospective employees with the ability to solve problems that require more than simply following rules or applying old knowledge to new situations. They need workers with complex thinking and communication skills.

In short, teaching to the test greatly reduces the depth of study and turns it into the same kind of mechanical process employers aren’t looking for at the expense of the kinds of skills they demand.

But that’s not all. An over-emphasis on the subjects tested, inevitably narrows the curriculum. Non-tested disciplines receive less attention during the school day. Time is diverted from subjects like physical education, music, and drama so that teachers can provide more instructional time on commonly tested areas like reading, writing and math.

The result is far less well-rounded students who are instilled with the false assumption that certain vital endeavors are meaningless or certainly subordinate to basic skills.

4) It Actually Hurts Learning

Not only does item teaching dumb down what’s being taught, it actually erodes basic skill development even in tested subjects. Explicit instruction in test taking strategies is not educationally neutral. It’s harmful.

For instance, researcher Monty Neill explained how test-taking strategies can erode authentic reading comprehension skills. Standardized reading tests often present students with a long passage followed by several multiple choice questions. One of the most common strategies is for students to read the questions first before reading the passage. In many cases you don’t have to read the passage to answer the question. Even if you do need to read it, the question provides students with a clue that they can look for when skimming the passage for the right answer. However, independent evaluators found that over-reliance on this strategy can lead to children who can find the correct answer on the test but cannot explain what the passage is about. The implication is that there may be a significant number of test wise students who lack the basic skills needed to be successful in higher education.

Additionally, even where tested subjects like reading and math are emphasized, the non-tested areas of these disciplines are underutilized. Reading, for example, isn’t just about passage comprehension. It includes listening and speaking skills that are not assessed on high stakes tests. So students can get advanced scores without having the requisite skills for mastery of the subject.

This is especially important for students going on to college. They will be expected to do many things they were not tested on such as making an oral presentation, conducting a science experiment, or writing a research report. For all the talk of Common Core aligned tests making students “college and career ready,” teaching to the test undermines this goal.

5) It Hurts Morale of Students and Teachers

And then we come to perhaps the worst part: motivation. Young children don’t need a reason to learn. They’re naturally curious and soak up knowledge like a sponge. However, as children mature and enter the higher grades, that natural curiosity can be damaged, dampened and even destroyed with long-lasting effects.

Teaching to the test turns school into a completely extrinsic exercise. It’s a game. Learn how to take the test so you can get a good score – don’t work hard to learn things you really care about. It should come as no surprise then that such emphasis has a negative impact on intrinsic motivation according to Edward Miller and Roberta Tovey’s Motivation, Achievement and Testing. In fact, though test prep gives students the tools to artificially raise their scores, it also can remove the motivation to get good scores in the first place. In short, it undermines the reason kids come to school at all: to learn and self-actualize.

And the damage isn’t limited to students. Item teaching also removes the joy of teaching for the teacher. It exacerbates feelings of frustration and disillusionment with the entire testing process. Wayne E. Wright (2002) documented the effects of high-stakes testing and the increased prevalence of teaching to the test in an inner-city California school. One teacher summarized her frustration with the schools test driven agenda by commenting:

“The most pathetic thing is that up until two years ago, I counseled young people, “Come into teaching. It is a wonderful profession.” Now I counsel them to find something else because this is not the profession I would choose for myself.”

(Wright, 2002, p. 28).

Recommendations and Conclusions

We’ve seen how damaging test prep can be. But does that mean it should never be utilized?

I don’t think there is definitive evidence to make that conclusion. Item teaching is not necessarily bad if done to best effect, under strict control and as minimally as possible. Doing this once or twice probably won’t poison the entire act of teaching, but it also won’t have a dramatic effect on the scores. Perhaps we should adopt a policy of cautious moderation and tread carefully.

However, it is clear that teachers should emphasize curriculum teaching over teaching to the test. Focus on student development of real critical thinking skills and the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. In this way students will be more likely to apply their new cognitive abilities and content knowledge in areas that extend beyond the confines of a particular test. In short, they’ll actually learn stuff – the important stuff – not just how to take a standardized test.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Administrators and policymakers often direct teachers to spend increasing amounts of class time doing item teaching. Almost every state includes hundreds of released test questions for just this purpose. An entire publishing industry exists to create and distribute item teaching materials. This is, in fact, one of the major ways the test companies make their money – make tests so hard kids fail and then sell schools the test prep materials to get students to pass.

What’s needed more than anything is to educate the educators – or at least their bosses. Teachers need to understand how harmful the policies are they’re being directed to undertake. Administrators need to understand that teaching to the test has diminishing returns in the long run. And our policymakers need to wake up and smell the coffee.

Test scores are neither adequate nor sufficient indicators of school success. Students cannot be reduced to numbers and evaluated as if they were produce.

Until we realize that as a bone-deep truth, we will continue to fail students as they continue to fail us. And our teachers will be continually forced to violate their deepest principles in order to stay in the classroom.


ENDNOTES:

Levy, F., & Murnane, R. J. (2004). The new division of labor: How computers are creating the next job market. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Miller, E., & Tovey, R. (Eds.). (1996). Motivation, achievement, and testing. Boston: Harvard Education Press.
Neil, M. (2003b). The dangers of testing. Educational Leadership, 60(5), 43-46.
Popham, W. J. (2001, March). Teaching to the test? Educational Leadership, 58(6), 16’20.

Resnick, L., & Zurawsky, C. (2005, spring). Getting back on course: Standards-based reform and accountability. American Educator. Retrieved June 30, 2006, from http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/american_educator/issues/spring05/resnick.htm

Wright, W. E. (2002). The effects of high stakes testing in an inner city elementary school: The curriculum, the teachers, and the English language learners. Current Issues in Education, 5(5). Online at http://cie.ed.asu.edu/volume5/number5.