Thursday, August 14, 2014

John Oliver on the Wealth Gap and Inequality



Here are a couple key points on inequality and education from my article Telling Time with a Broken Clock: the trouble with standardized testing:
  • The strongest predictor of student performance on achievement tests is socio-economic status, which is why it is a mistake to believe that the scores tell us about school quality when really they are reflecting affluence or poverty.
  • No school or school system has ever become great without great teachers, but what can an excellent teacher do about a child who needs glasses or is hungry? To say that teacher or school quality is the most important variable in education is at best naive. Education historian Diane Ravitch writes, “Reformers tell us that teachers are the most important influence within the school on student scores, and that is right. But the teacher contribution to scores is dwarfed by the influence of family and other out-of-school factors.”
  • Ultimately, great teachers make great schools, but great teachers can’t do it alone – they require the support of an equitable society. If we are not careful, we risk misinterpreting the scores, and instead of waging war on poverty and inequity, we end up waging war on teachers and schools.
Here are a couple posts I've written on inequality and education:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Province shouldn't pay for Private Schools

This was written by Kent Hehr who is MLA for Calgary-Buffalo and Liberal education critic in the Alberta Legislature.

by Kent Hehr

The public school system takes all types: it does not exclude on the basis of race, creed, background, language, origin or religion. No one is turned away. No one has to take an intelligence test. No one is refused admittance if they have a disability — unlike what happens in too many private schools.

The public school system is not exclusionary like Strathcona Tweedsmuir, charging their students $20,000 a year to attend high school. Of all the private schools funded in Alberta, roughly 39 per cent are based on elitism (i.e., they charge tuition), while 43 per cent are religious. This supports my position that, in the main, private schools separate children on the basis of wealth and the religion of their parents.

Furthermore, the stats used to support private school choice are questionable at best. If anyone bothered to do their research, they would know there are a wide variety of studies that show public education leads to both better outcomes for individuals and societies.

It is also ludicrous to cite Finland’s education system in support of the position that funding private schools is a good thing. Faith-based schools outside of the public system in Finland are extremely limited, because every school is required to be approved by a vote in their national assembly. Finnish schools cannot charge tuition, and they must accept everyone regardless of ability or faith. Let’s also remember that 97 per cent of the Finnish population are either Lutheran or have no religious affiliation at all — which is quite different compared to the multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious makeup of Alberta.

The Finland voucher system is based upon parents’ ability to select any public school that they want their children to attend in that country. We have the same thing here in Alberta. Parents are allowed to send their children to any public school that they would like (space permitting).

Government resources should be spent on services that move a society forward. A fully funded and properly managed public education system can, does and will provide Albertans with ample amounts of choice to accomplish this goal. Accordingly, there is no need to subsidize elitist education for the wealthy, religious schooling for myriad different belief systems, or any other reason individuals may feel that the public system is not for them.

It is time Albertans decide whether we want to separate our children on the basis of wealth and religion by subsidizing private schools or commit ourselves to the principle of equality of opportunity, which recognizes that whether you were born of a rich family or one that struggles, whether you are Christian or Muslim, whether your child has a physical or learning disability or is the next Albert Einstein, your child is going to get a fair chance to succeed in this province through government-funded world-class public education.

If parents do not feel that the public system is good enough for their children, well, that is in fact their choice — but let them pay for their choice at a private school. Don’t ask other Albertans to fund it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Without Tenure...

This was written by Peter Greene who is a long time high school English teacher from New Hampshire. Greene tweets here and blogs here. This post was originally found here.

by Peter Greene

Yesterday, twitter blew up with responses to Whoopi Goldberg and the View having one more uninformed discussion of tenure (and, really, we need to talk about why education discussions keep being driven by the work of comedians).

"#WithoutTenure I can be fired for...." was the tweet template of the day, and even though I rode that bus for a bit, it occurs to me this morning that it misses the point.

It's true that in the absence of tenure, teachers can (and are) fired for all manner of ridiculous things. That's unjust and unfair. As some folks never tire of pointing out, that kind of injustice is endemic in many jobs (Why people would think that the response to injustice is to demand more injustice for more people is a whole conversation of its own). That doesn't change a thing. Firing a teacher for standing up for a student or attending the wrong church or being too far up the pay scale-- those would all be injustices. But as bad as that would be, it's not the feature of a tenureless world that would most damage education.

It's not the firing. It's the threat of firing.

Firing ends a teacher's career. The threat of firing allows other people to control every day of that teacher's career.

The threat of firing is the great "Do this or else..." It takes all the powerful people a teacher must deal with and arms each one with a nuclear device.

Give my child the lead in the school play, or else. Stop assigning homework to those kids, or else. Implement these bad practices, or else. Keep quiet about how we are going to spend the taxpayers' money, or else. Forget about the bullying you saw, or else. Don't speak up about administration conduct, or else. Teach these materials even though you know they're wrong, or else. Stop advocating for your students, or else.

Firing simply stops a teacher from doing her job.

The threat of firing coerces her into doing the job poorly.

The lack of tenure, of due process, of any requirement that a school district only fire teachers for some actual legitimate reason-- it interferes with teachers' ability to do the job they were hired to do. It forces teachers to work under a chilling cloud where their best professional judgment, their desire to advocate for and help students, their ability to speak out and stand up are all smothered by people with the power to say, "Do as I tell you, or else."

Civilians need to understand-- the biggest problem with the destruction of tenure is not that a handful of teachers will lose their jobs, but that entire buildings full of teachers will lose the freedom to do their jobs well.

We spent a lot of time in this country straightening out malpractice law issues, because we recognized that a doctor can't do his job well if his one concern is not getting sued into oblivion for a mistake. We created Good Samaritan laws because we don't want someone who could help in an emergency stand back and let The Worst happen because he doesn't want to get in trouble.

As a country, we understand that certain kinds of jobs can't be done well unless we give the people who do those jobs the protections they need in order to do their jobs without fear of being ruined for using their best professional judgment. Not all jobs have those protections, because not all workers face those issues.

Teachers, who answer to a hundred different bosses, need their own special set of protections. Not to help them keep the job, but to help them do it. The public needs the assurance that teachers will not be protected from the consequences of incompetence (and administrators really need to step up-- behind every teacher who shouldn't have a job are administrators who aren't doing theirs). But the public also needs the assurance that some administrator or school board member or powerful citizen will not interfere with the work the public hired the teacher to do.

Tenure is that assurance. Without tenure, every teacher is the pawn and puppet of whoever happens to be the most powerful person in the building today. Without tenure, anybody can shoulder his way into the classroom and declare, "You're going to do things my way, or else."

Tenure is not a crown and scepter for every teacher, to make them powerful and untouchable. Tenure is a bodyguard who stands at the classroom door and says, "You go ahead and teach, buddy. I'll make sure nobody interrupts just to mess with you." Taxpayers are paying us for our best professional judgment; the least they deserve is a system that allows us to give them what they're paying us for.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I will be speaking at the University of Alberta on August 20

Join me and other Alberta teachers at the University of Alberta's Teacher Leadership in Curriculum Redesign: A Working Conference on August 19-21, 2014.

I will be addressing the entire group on Wednesday, August 20 at 12:45. My talk is titled What Change Denies: degrading loves of learning.

Registration for this event closes at noon on Tuesday, August 12.

For more information and registration, click here.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Shameful blog from Teach for America

As I came out of my summer social media hibernation, I came across a Teach for America blog post titled Changing Conversations For Unhoused Students. Actually, it wasn't the title that got my attention. It was this excerpt from a tweet:
What if our schools could see the trying time of homelessness as an asset of experience and knowledge that a child brings to school?
Here are 3 thoughts:

1. This attitude can only come from a position of privilege. If being homeless is such an asset, then Teach For America will waste no time making homelessness a part of their 5 week training program. Of course this is almost as absurd as spinning homelessness as an asset.

People who like to say "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" need to remember that lemonade requires a lot of sugar and sugar is expensive. They also need to remember that it's easier to pull up your socks when you own socks.

Homeless people don't sit around talking about how being homeless is an asset. The only people who can afford to to talk like this are those who have a home with a twisted view of the world.

2. Words reveal agendas. Used cars are also pre-owned but they are only called pre-owned by those who have an agenda -- people who have a car that they don't want anymore have a used car -- those who want to sell you that car, call it pre-owned. Only those with an agenda re-label used to pre-owned, homeless to unhoused and hungry to food insecure.

3. When bad things happen to children, they are not assets to be romanticized -- they are problems to be solved. I'm all for rethinking problems and changing the conversation when that means we solve old problems with new solutions, but we should all object when rethinking problems and changing the conversation become code for seeing problems as assets that we don't need to fix.

Here's what I mean:

I taught four years in a children's inpatient psychiatric assessment unit where students were admitted by a psychiatrist for many unfortunate reasons.Too many of these children had very bad things happen to them -- some had no parents, some were sexually abused and some were psychotic (these are just three examples).

Can you imagine changing the conversation and asking how being sexually abused or psychotic could be seen as an asset for a child?

Neither can I.

Being sexually abused, psychotic or homeless are problems to be solved. Spinning these awful things as assets is an abdication of our responsibility to make things more equitable for children. These children don't need spin (and they don't need grit) -- they need their basic needs met.

New York principal Carol Burris gets the last word on all this:
Shameful. Work to fight homelessness, not celebrate it.
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