Saturday Post – Ever wonder how we got here?

If you went to school in the 1960’s & 70’s, have you ever looked at our education system today with some bewilderment?  We have.

Back then, teachers were highly thought of, parents were focused on making sure that the next school bond issue passed, communities were proud of  their local high school for more than it’s football team.

Today, teachers are vilified, parents complain about school fees but vote down school taxes, and communities see kids being outsourced to schools in other localities.

It used to be we had the general public school system, a few specialty schools, and then some private schools which were primarily religious ones.  You went to private school if you were from a wealthy family or very religious one with some money.  The vast majority of us, however, went to public schools.  Most were good.  Some were not.  Public debate went back and forth over the obligations of parents, Districts, teachers, society, and government.  But on the whole, we all agreed – a strong public education system, was a national asset and national priority.  It unified us, and gave us a common link.  Public schools were the gateways through which the children of immigrants began their quest for their version of the American Dream.

Today, we still have the regular public schools, but we have some how added “Charter” schools and Option Schools, home-schooling and virtual schools.  Private schools still exist, but a lot of them are looking for ways to get public funding without having any public accountability.  And a large number of corporations now see the ‘Education Industry’ as having enormous ‘growth potential’.

How did we end up here?

Last week “Yes!” magazine published the article, “The Myth Behind Public School Failure“.  It offers a different view of what happened that you will hear from Fox News or the read in the Colorado Observer.

We encourage you to read it and the comment on it here.  Let’s get a good discussion going!

13 thoughts on “Saturday Post – Ever wonder how we got here?

  1. Fascinating article – thanks for sharing. Just goes to show that you can find statistics to back up almost anything if you don’t look very deeply.

  2. I am reading REIGN OF ERROR by Diane Ravitch right now. The subtitle is “the hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to America’s public schools” The documentation in the appendix is loaded with test and achievement levels and charts–that look different than some of the stuff we are hearing now. This is a must read. Marian Katz

  3. wow – thanks for posting this!

  4. I’ve been a teacher in Jeffco for 21years, always in1st or 2nd grades. In that time, I’ve had students come to my class from private schools, Montessori Schools, or home schooled. I assess them in reading, writing, and math and see that 99 percent of the time, they are below standards across the board.

  5. In the article mentioned, it is worth noting that former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott recognized a powerful group of moms (known as “Mothers Against Drunk Testing” ) as the driving force in pressuring the Texas legislature to overhaul mandated assessments. At the time, 15 tests were required to graduate high school. Pearson had a huge lobbying presence and managed to garner multimillion dollar contracts while school budgets were being cut. Mothers decided to revolt. We can see that movement building in Colorado now. Parents and teachers must unite, be vocal and hammer that message home to reverse this trend. It is not just end-of-year T-Caps (and upcoming PARCC) that eat away instructional time. The number of district mandated tests (trickled down from fed and state accountability requirements) is burdensome and further erodes instructional time. Let the teachers use their professional judgment to administer formative assessments and guide instruction. Let’s work collaboratively to make this happen!

  6. Yes to all of the article and all above comments; I believe they are right. But to me the greatest problem is the loss of teacher freedom. The best classes that I remember being deeply engaged in were the ones where my teacher could share their passion for a subject. Turns out it didn’t even have to be my favorite subject or presentation or learning style. It was their energy and creativity that sucked me in and stuck in my memory bank forever. Teachers who gave us the gift of their own curiosity and joy of becoming a subject matter expert. Long and meandering discussions where any question was worth considering and we all let our minds roam.

    But today it is too much lock-step structured and only what’s on the test focused. Even great teachers worry they need to keep moving on to the next thing even though they’d love to let an excited kid keep asking bigger questions. Other kids start glaring at the kid who wants to know more than they have to memorize for the test, it might make them late to their tiny sliver of recess if they don’t finish the prescribed material in the prescribed block of time.

    And I am afraid with common core it will only get worse if teachers are dictated to about what to teach on each subject on each day no matter what teachable moment might come up. Love of learning is largely out the window. And then the homework comes to reinforce the cookie cutter material in school thus eating up the tiny sliver of home time to pursue a kids interests and hobbies and free play. We have tried our local school, a charter, and GT. It is the same in all three as far as I can tell. It is still all about the test. And it is not the teachers fault!

    • I could not agree more, Amber. Standards should be guideposts and curricula should be a map, but teachers’ passion, knowledge of subject matter, and teaching craft should have myriad forms of expression. The joy of teaching and learning is being asphyxiated out of the classroom by this lock-step notion you mention above.

      • I’d love to see more freedom for teachers as an “option” not only in charter and private.

  7. I have another idea of how we got here which you won’t likely find on Fox News or the Colorado Observer (whatever that’s supposed to mean!). How about that our current education system is based on an outdated industrial model. Our current method came about because we needed educated factory workers. True story. Read about Horace Mann and the Prussian education model. This was all fine and good in the 19th and even early 20th century. But public education hasn’t changed much since then, except to get worse. We now live in a world in which everything is customizable. That makes one-size-fits-all education look like a bad deal.

    Allow me to quote from Glenn Reynolds: “Does this mean the end of public education? No. But it means the old model–which dates to the 19th century, when schools were explicitly compared to factories–is at risk. Smarter educators will start thinking about how to update a 19th century product to suit 21st century realities. Less-smart educators will hunker down and fight change tooth and nail.

    “Who will win out in the end? Well, how many 19th century business models do you see flourishing, here in the 21st?”

    • An excellent post and point!

      Actually, we did know about the origins of the American Education system. Your first paragraph is greatly simplified it and skips over some key differences between the Prussian and the American systems, but is essentially true. We even agree with your comment about “one-size-fits-all education look(s) like a bad deal”.

      Where we disagree is in the core or underlying assumption of Glenn Reynolds. His quote makes plain his assumption that education is a business model, and therefore subject to the same kind of motivations, goals, and role in society that any for-profit company has. There is a beguiling attraction to this concept. It seems to make everything look simple and straightforward. But, in reality, it is even more flawed than the rational consumer model of free-market economists.

      Fundamentally, mass education is not only different from the for-profit business model, we desperately need it to be different!

      An open-fair market economy relies on competition and the desire for profit to drive improvement. The ‘creative destruction’ that is the key idea of economist Joseph Schumpter is supposed to weed out the inefficient and non-productive, leaving only the strong, innovative companies.

      This does work, sort of, in our economic system. All small start-up companies love the idea of ‘creative destruction’…until they become successful big companies!

      But let’s go back to the education system. Does that model actually reflect what really happens and what we want to happen in public education?

      Let’s look at what an unfettered Schumpter approach would mean.

      The first thing any manufacturer does to improve their product is control the quality of material that they have to work with. Henry Ford was famous for insisting on extremely precise contracts with his suppliers, down to the types of wooden boxes that parts were to be shipped in (he used those to make the floor boards in the Model T!). If a supplier violated those tight specifications, they would lose Ford’s business. Can we do that with education?

      Well, private schools do. Private schools can be pretty selective about their student material, and generally are. Of course, the most important criteria is money. Can the student’s parents afford the school? Do not ignore this factor! There was, is, and probably will always be a strong correlation between the relative income level of the parents and the school performance of the children. In New York City right now, this difference is being seen in the private tutors the wealthy are hiring to help their kids with their school work. Some tutoring agencies are able to charge as much as $400/hr! Is it any surprise their kids do better than a two-income family where both parents are exhausted at the end of the day?

      Do we really want a public school system where schools can pick and choose their students? We are close to getting it. As it stands right now, many charter schools will not accept children who need a lot of Special Education help. It is clear in their plans. The latest applicant, Cornerstone Academy, explicitly states it will rely on the District to provide any Special Education needs (i.e., not out of their budget!).

      But regular public schools do not have that luxury. They have to take the kids as they come. And if you have ever been in a Kindergarten or 1st grade classroom in the first few months of school, the range of preparation the kids come with is staggering. Some come already able to print their name and short sentences, do simple addition, and read beginning books. Others come in not knowing how to hold a pencil or even know if a book is right-side up. And one teacher is supposed teach all 20-25 of them. And get them to the same level.

      Should we have public schools reject the kids with less preparation? That is what the business approach would demand.

      Another difference is in motivation. In most ‘successful’ companies, the big driver for management and sales is to make money. Do you want that to be the motivation for the principals, administrators, and top District Executives? Or should the District focus on saving money, as they are in Douglas County?

      We do not know about you, but we would prefer our principals and Superintendents to have a passion about educating kids, instead of how much they make or how much the District has saved!

      We could go on, but you probably catch our argument.

      Education is not and cannot be run ‘like a business’. It is not an economic activity. It is where we make the future of our children, our state, our country, and our very world. If a company goes out of business, Schumpter would say that it was simply making room for a more successful company. If a school in a poor area loses funding because another school which attracts high-income students got better TCAP scores, it is not the school that is punished, it is the students of that school.

      Do we need changes in education? Absolutely. We do not think you would find a parent or educator who would seriously disagree. Do we need to make education more like the business world? Not if you value each and every child.

      • Thanks for allowing my comment to leave moderation. And glad we could agree on something. (I posit that we have more in common than we do different, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

        You’re mistaken when you assume Reynolds wants a business model for schools. He doesn’t, as his book “The New School” makes clear. He was merely stating that just like Ford had to evolve from Model T’s “in any color as long as it’s black” to the hugely varied offerings they have today, so to the schools will have to change to survive. He never directly says how they should change.

        His larger point is that money is drying up for education, taxpayers will not continue to vote more money for poor results (see what happened to Amendment 66), and the entire establishment will implode on itself (the bubble will burst much like it did in tech and housing). Reynolds wants control to be on a very local level and suggests that the internet will save us because there are so many resources available there.

        My point is that change will come, whether we want it to or not. So we work towards smart reforms now (again on a local level) or we kick and scream against any intrusion in what we already have to our peril.

        • Thank you for clarifying Reynolds position. The idea that schools or governments should be run like a businesses is one of the most atrocious and destructive memes in the last thirty plus years. It has done uncounted damage to our society.

          We agree that the public willingness to fund schools and government is not great. We might disagree as to why that is the case, but that issue should have its own blog site! So we propose not to go into that area, instead let us focus on the process of education.

          We agree that change is coming, in fact, we think it would be hard to find someone who does not think change is needed. What we are very concerned about is the form and manner of the change.

          Most of us at JeffCo School Board Watch are of a scientific bent. For us, simple answers to complex problems are simply wrong. Our experience teaches us that the more complex and nuanced the issue, the more subtle the correct solution will be. For the most part, we felt that JeffCo was going about change in the right way. Rather than adopt en toto the education fad du jour, Jeffco seemed to have adopted a more methodical approach. After after careful review of the proposed change, it would be tried out for a few years in certain schools, with careful monitoring and measurements continually be taken. When the review period was up, a full analysis would be done: did the change actually improve things? By how much? Are there modifications or ‘tweaks’ that could make it better. What are its limitations? Only after careful review, the change would (assuming it had proven itself) then be adopted throughout the District in a controlled, deliberate fashion.

          Going at change this way ensures the continuity of the education system, and brings the changes into system in less disruptive fashion.

          It is this careful, thoughtful approach we see being overturned by WNW. An example can be found in the difference between the evaluation the District did of Performance Pay and Mr. Witt’s pronouncement. The District has been running a controlled Performance Pay program in select schools for the past few years. In the presentation last month, the conclusion of the team running it was that Performance Pay did not seem to make a difference in the actual test results. This is significant. Yet, Witt openly stated at the next meeting that the negotiations with JCEA would have to include a Performance Pay contingent.

          Did he not hear the report? Or has he dismissed it’s conclusions because it conflicts with his pre-determined view? The first is bothersome, the second truly terrifying. The second would mean we have people on the Board whose attitude is “don’t bother me with the facts, my mind is made up.”

  8. jcsbw I think you hit the crux of the issue exactly – careful evidence-based approach (hypothesis testing) that Jeffco was doing rather than ideological-driven reckless change. Facts and evidence mean nothing to WNW. I didn’t like everything in Jeffco but I have seem many improvements over the last 15 years.

    In addition the impact of WNW financial irresponsibility will likely have a negative impact on all schools in the district, neighborhood, options and charters. If they go the voucher route there will be even less money for public schools. I don’t see how less and less money will support evidence-based smart change. We will need to clean up this mess in 4 years I think.

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