Sunday, August 21, 2011

News Stories: Census Still Counting and Fix Schools, Fix the Economy

In the first story, I didn't know this but the U.S. Census counts U.S. school children and activities associated with back to school.  From the NY Times article:

The bureau estimated that 55 million students would be enrolled in pre-kindergarten through high school this fall, and that 11 percent would be in private schools. That total is up by about 16 percent from 20 years ago. 

Also, in an alert from reader Steve, a NY Times editorial about our nation's crumbling infrastructure (including school buildings) and job creation.  


Take, for example, Fix America’s Schools Today, or FAST, an idea that has been incorporated into a House proposal to be introduced this fall by Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois. Public school buildings in the United States are on average over 40 years old and in need of an estimated $500 billion in repairs and upgrades. A $50 billion school renovation program would employ 500,000 workers (1.5 million construction workers are currently unemployed) and could be easily scaled up. The money could be disbursed through existing federal formulas to all 16,000 public school districts. The initial cost could be largely offset over 10 years by ending tax breaks for fossil fuels, as called for in Mr. Obama’s 2012 budget.

Now that last line makes me laugh because Republicans would rather cut off a thumb than take away tax breaks (even though we've had them for the last 6+ years and I don't see any job creation coming from them).    We have roads, bridges, etc. in this country that desperately need fixing.  People need jobs.  Seems like a good fit and didn't we do this with the WPA?  That gave work to millions of workers AND we still are reaping some of the benefits today.  (Roosevelt High's entrance has a mural done by a WPA artist.)

Appealing to public education needs and rundown schools should, in theory, appeal to lawmakers. 

I took a quick look at Congresswoman Schakowsky's FAST idea and it looks good.  It's certainly true that many districts have cut back on maintenance AND that we have a lot of old buildings in the system.  (This is truly a reflection of SPS's state of our schools.)

This is NOT to rebuild but to modernization existing systems in the buildings which is better than doing nothing at all.  The funds would go in the form of competitive grants based on percentage of poor children, need for repairs/renovation, energy savings, etc.

13 comments:

seattle citizen said...

(I posted this in Open Thread Friday a few minutes ago, but Melissa has started this thread on "news stories" and this IS about something in today's newspaper!)
In today's (Sunday) New York Times Book Review, Sara Mosle (an ex-TFAer turned critic) reviews Steve Brill's book extolling capital-R Reform, "Class Warfare"
Brill interviews the usual Reform suspects, and evidently believes their rhetoric, though Mosle concludes that Brill's argument for Reform is rendered ineffective by the concluding chapters:
"By book’s end, even Brill begins to feel the cognitive dissonance. He quotes a KIPP founder who concedes that the program relies on superhuman talent that can never be duplicated in large numbers. And sure enough, an educator whom Brill has held up the entire book as a model of reform unexpectedly quits, citing burnout and an unsustainable workload at her Harlem charter. Then another reform-­minded teacher at the same school confesses she can’t possibly keep up the pace. “This model just cannot scale,” she declares flatly. After relentlessly criticizing Weingarten, Brill suddenly suggests, in a “Nixon-to-China” move, that she become New York’s next schools chancellor. “The lesson,” Brill belatedly discovers, is that reformers need to collaborate with unions, if only because they are “the organizational link to enable school improvement to expand beyond the ability of the extraordinary people to work extraordinary hours.” But isn’t this merely what the reform movement’s more thoughtful critics have been saying all along?"

Mosle also writes that "Brill adeptly shows how ideas can become a movement. Many of his subjects met in Teach for America, went on to promote one another’s hiring or research and are now being financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But what Brill regards as the groundswell of a welcome revolution begins to sound worryingly like an echo chamber, with everyone talking to the same few people and reading the same e-mail blasts."
This "echo chamber" is what I most dislike about the Reform movement: The same tired (and often empty) slogans and pitches are recycled endlessly, unsubstantive, often easily countered with research yet evidently believed by those in the echo chamber who have used each other as stepping stones to climb up the Reform ladder. This self-serving aspect of Reform, this use of empty rhetoric to climb to positions of "power" and high pay, are what disgust me most about the Reform movement. Education IS about the students, not about the sound bites that take serious issues subject to nuanced debate and simplify them into simplistic jargon.
I'm glad Mosle has written this review. Increasingly, we are seeing critical discourse about the Reform movement, we are seeing people question the Reform drive to "promote the same small set of reforms: increasing the number of charter schools and evaluating and improving teacher quality through merit pay and other measures that rely heavily on student test scores"

Bravo to Mosle, she advances the anti-Reform cause and exposes the Reformers for the shallow, incestuous bunch they have become. The nation is awakening to their crap, and asking for more nuanced and complex answers to some of the problems students face.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks SC.

The scalable part is a huge issue. Harlem Children's Zone spends about $23k per student. That's not sustainable for one school.

KIPP teachers have to be accessible nearly all the time and work longer days and more days a week. This is fine when you are young and may not have a husband/wife or children. It is not realistic or sustainable unless we just have a constant revolving door of teachers. Not good if you want a solid teaching team at a school or want to give consistency to kids who may need it most.

I also agree with the "echo chamber" notion and it's what I worry the most about with Gates. I'm not sure he has a real soundboard of people who will push back with hard questions. I'm not sure they bring in anyone outside their organization with other ideas.

seattle citizen said...

It's the "same small set of reforms: increasing the number of charter schools and evaluating and improving teacher quality through merit pay and other measures that rely heavily on student test scores" that concerns me. It makes it appear that the purpose of Reform is NOT to help students with the resources they need, such as Canada's Children's Zone, but merely to break unions and privatize public education.

That Gates, Broad and others appear deaf to the wide range of innovative (and yes, sometimes expensive) ideas other then these two metrics (charters and "merit" pay)tells me that the purpose isn't better education but rather a free market system. The "free market" model offers two "benefits": One, the profit motive, which MIGHT inspire innovation but also is rife with the possibility of cheapening a rich endeavor; and two, a commodifying, a production-line model that serves the purposes of training workers, standardizing production and other work-related tasks, and allowing the Reformers to claim a false credit: "We have been successful in educating!" when really all they have done is to increase test scores on two simplistic measures.
The linked NYT Book Review is an "education issue." In the "Upfront" section, which introduces the issue and cites Shel Silverstein, The Editors write that "Silverstein knew what parents also know deep down: school is about far more than A B C’s and 1 2 3’s. It is also, crucially, about how children figure out who they are and where they fit into the world — or don’t. Experts usually refer to this as social and emotional development."

One of the Silverstein poems published in the issue that speaks to the demeaning of education by making it merely "yes/no" answers on standardized tests:

YESEES AND NOEES

The Yesees said yes to anything
That anyone suggested.
The Noees said no to everything
Unless it was proven and tested.
So the Yesees all died of much too much
And the Noees all died of fright,
But somehow I think the Thinkforyourselfees
All came out all right.

seattle citizen said...

This column in today's ST, features George Will continuing his crusade against public employees (including teachers) as he celebrates NJ Governor Christie. Of course he mis-represents health care benefits to slime teachers, but hey, those public teachers should sicken and die with the rest of us, right?

Will also makes what I believe to be a devisive and probably untrue statement, that private employee unions are somehow jealous of their public brethren and sis...tren. I doubt it because the union idea, the idea of solidarity as bargaining unit, rises above the details of who gets what at each different union. Anyway, here's how Will implies there is a division betwixt public and private unions and slimes teachers:

"The Democratic leader of the state Senate has been an ally. Head of the local ironworkers union, he understands how much private-sector union members resent paying the taxes that fund the perquisites of public-sector unions.

As U.S. attorney, a federal employee, Christie paid 34 percent of his health-care premiums, while state and local employees were paying 1.5 percent of their salaries. A $60,000 teacher would pay $900 for a $19,000 policy, with taxpayers picking up the other $18,100."

Teachers pay $900 for $19,000 health policies, George? Really? And which health policies would those be? "The average cost of a family policy offered by employers was $13,375 this year, up 5% from 2008, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust survey found. By comparison, wages rose 3% over that period, the study said."

And as we note above, health care has risen five percent, while wages only rose three percent, a result, no doubt, of the very unions Will decries.

Public sector employees are the target du jour of free marketers like Will and, by extension, the Reform crowd. Before we starve educators, take away their health care, and make them light the chop wood and light the stoves in the classrooms each morning, we might ask why health care costs 14k (not 19, Mr Will) and why doing away with unions, benefits and pensions will make this better.

seattle citizen said...

Here's another story illustrating how dumb Reformers think we are. There is a new "data" tool made available via our UW's Gates-funded (also funded by "several anonymous foundations") CEDR, Center for Education Data and Research.
This Times article, Education portal helps decipher school info, tells us that CEDR's new Washington Achievement Data Explorer or WADE allows us, according to the Times, to "decipher" data, but in reality WADE does no such thing.

The only data it uses are state test scores, and this is merely another tool, like the interactive chart the district published a year or so ago, that uses ONLY state test scores to influence people into believing that schools are either bad or good (the intent is, of course, to highlight the bad) based ONLY on these test scores. The tool doesn't decipher WHY schools have these test scores, it merely allows what CEDR thinks is a gullible public to tut-tut the purportedly "bad" schools and thereby pave the way for Reform. CEDR consistently links "bad" schools to purportedly "bad" teachers - CEDR is nothing if not Reform-oriented (there list of projects are listed as: Teacher Training, Teacher Compensation, Teacher Assessment (Pro-Teach), Seniority-based Layoffs, Collective Bargaining Agreements, Teacher Pensions, Post-secondary Schooling, Value-added Performance - a list that encompassess everything Reform and nothing about helping individual students)

More echo chamber, but the sad reality that this echo chamber of reform, when combined with eager politicians and minority groups anxious for power and connection, results in massive upheaval in urban public schools, none of which is good for students. The sad reality is that poor students are suffering because all Reform can hear is echoes of itself and policy makers are listening to the echoes as if they were gospel.

Sahila said...

Its all crap, built on a myth...

Fixing eduction will fix poverty? That's the biggest piece of BS out there... inequity in education is caused by inequity in resources and power...

I dont believe the ed deformers and oligarchs have any intention of dealing with poverty cos the current economic system NEEDS there to be poverty to survive....

capitalism is a pyramid.... the base is made up of the poor...the middle of the (dwindling) middle class... there is no room on the capstone for most of us.... and to believe that we will all benefit from the "trickle down effect' is self-delusion and denial - havent seen any of the rich making a move to step down a rung or two to let more of us sit at the top lately, have you?...

basic law of physics/biology on this planet - the planet is a closed loop; it is illogical in the extreme to think/act as though it is possible to have infinite growth in a finite system.... at some point in time, resources die out and the planet is poisoned, strangled, suffocated.... and the capitalists either are in denial about this, or are choosing to ignore this truth and to milk the planet and people dry for as long as they can....


there will be no "trickle down effect" so chaining people into an ever more expensive education system is a con too... everyone is signing away their souls hoping they too will share in the (false) promise that is the American Dream; instead there aren't the jobs the graduates need to pay off their debts and live better than at subsistence level...

Sahila said...

you might like to read this piece...

Instituting a Hierarchy of Human Worth: Eugenic Ideology And the Anatomy of Who Gets What

‎"The current assault on public education is a push towards a larger ideological agenda that will serve to substantially deepen the degree to which capital gain outweighs human solidarity. The assumption that some are more worthy than others, or that access to wealth and privilege is indicative of moral stature, is a premise that needs to be immediate exposed and resoundingly rejected.

Let us begin, on behalf of our children, to stand for all humanity and to reject any further perpetuation of the oppression, segregation, experimentation, denigration, and disregard we have silently lived with for too long."

Sahila said...

the previous link I posted is a must read, if you really want to make sense of what is going on in public education; and this is not new.... most of america's founding fathers of education held these views.... go to the youtube video on my post below to listen to extracts of their writings/views....

rage against the machine

Sahila said...

Not trickling down...

american poverty levels equal those in china

Anonymous said...

In a new twist to the proposed NCLB waiver, Duncan has announced that states don't have to adopt the Commmon Core standards.

don't need to adopt Common Core for waivers

RosieReader said...

Seattle Citizen - The PI story makes it sound as if the WADE tool, when fully Developed, will have the ability to sort by FRL, by ethnicity, etc. And to review that over time. Is that different than you understanding? This was precisely the data that was so hard to access during the "Floe Matter.". Remember, the District first attributed the decision to Ingraham's test scores, but backed away when, after much work, the parents were able to demonstrate that they were well-within the norm. Personally, I would love a website that would allow us to compare schools by these criteria side by side.

No, it's not the only way to judge a school, but it is an important way to judge one.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Rosie Reader, I think there is something like that. I'll post on that soon.

seattle citizen said...

RosieReader,
Yes, the WADE tool does allow sorting by race, F/RL, etc. My concern is that this really does nothing for parents: It tells them nothing about individual successes and failures in a school, of teachers, students, parents....in other words, it shows nothing about what is being DONE by individual students, teachers, et al, or the individual results of those actions. It's only apparent purpose (including the categories) is to provide fodder for Reform-ish discussion: Entire schools, entire districts, entire races and ethnicities, are reduced to percentages on graphs (and if you look at some of those graphs you see how arbitrary the scores appear to be: One year up, another down, because...because...we don't know.)
My position is that the information based on these grand graphs of "school achievement"re useless for parent/guardians (particularly as school choice is limited: You look at the graph and say, oh my! my student's schools is just HORRIBLE! but what can you do? The school, of course ISN'T horrrible, but even if your perception as a parent is that it is, there is little to do but take a chance on a lottery or go private.) The only purpose for WADE, for state tests, and for racial groupings is increasingly apparent: Present a "crisis" of the "achievement gap" and profit from it (or at least radically resturcture public education because of it.)
The tests tell us little, but allow media sound bites to convince us that schools fail, teachers fail, and all should be replaced with an education geared towards more test-prep (the tests are, in this view, the ONLY guiding devices) and thereby simplify and, frankly render into pap public education for the masses. It's so much easier, you know, to look at graphs about people than actually interact with individuals. Use the graphs: It's good enough for the common folk, who merely need a STEM education (Read about Math; show test scores that reflect that0 to fill the middle-level jobs, anyway. The high-level jobs will continue to go to those who get deep and meaningful educations in schools that address individuals instead of demographic groupings that are based on race.