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Dear Governor Branstad, we need both

1100Iowateachers

Governor Terry Branstad, from the Des Moines Register:

“We gave all this across-the-board money with no accountability and Iowa kind of stagnated while other states put a focus on things that increase their standards that improve their student achievement.” [Governor Branstad] has defended his veto of $55.7 million in one-time funds by saying the solution to improving student performance is not to simply throw money at the problem. He doubled down on that Monday, saying he prefers the state make more targeted investments in high-priority education programs rather than making a blanket allocation of dollars.

This is like telling a poor, unemployed person:

Hey, I know you’re barely getting by and don’t have enough money to live or eat but you’ve been living and eating for years with no appreciable improvement in your life situation. What you really need is some job training. So we’re going to cut back even further on your food and housing assistance in favor of some targeted funding for job training.

Governor Branstad is asking Iowa schools to choose between subsistence or improvement investments when, of course, they need both. Easily understood, but apparently not easily enacted.

How does losing 1,100 teaching positions make Iowa schools ‘best in America’ again? And when did basic, essential funding of schools become ’throwing money’ at them?

Image credit: ISEA

It’s not that you don’t have enough money, it’s that you don’t spend it wisely

Man with empty pockets

Like Kansas with its poor, Governor Terry Branstad wants Iowa schools to be more accountable for their spending of state dollars. Citing years of ‘across-the-board money with no accountability [while] Iowa kind of stagnated,’ he decided to teach our schools a lesson and took some of their money away so that they will learn how to operate more efficiently under austerity conditions, much like Greece and its European Union creditors. His theory of action is that by reducing school funding, Iowa ‘will become best in America again.’

It’s not that you don’t have enough money due to four historic years of inadequate education funding, it’s that you don’t spend it wisely…

I completely agree. I think we should start cutting the wasteful fat from our incredibly-bloated school budgets immediately. We’re already below the national average when it comes to per pupil funding but that is still too high. We can do better!

Let’s start with those useless administrators and their fat cat salaries. And of course those teachers that 1) hardly do anything, 2) join those damned unions, and 3) have huge salaries and summers off. Your district already is sharing a superintendent with two or three others? You’re already whole grade and/or teacher sharing? Your class sizes already are bulging at the seams? Keep trimming the fat… We can do better!

Next up: art, music… heck, any and all electives. Gone! Don’t you know how poorly Iowa is doing on NAEP reading and math scores? We need to focus, people! Along with our recess cuts, that’s more time that we can allocate toward scripted reading and math lessons and additional drill-and-kill activities. We can do better!

Let’s cut extracurriculars while we’re at it. All sports, all clubs, all leadership opportunities… Why are you angry? Have you already forgotten our quest to be ‘world class?’ Look, Asian students don’t have extracurriculars. After their school day they go to even MORE school, every afternoon, evening, and weekend. That’s whom we’re competing with these days. We can do better!

Now we’re getting closer to some real efficiency. But let’s don’t stop there! Let’s cut Social Studies. What? You think we want an active, engaged citizenry? NO!!! We want sheep who will passively believe whatever we tell them! And of course we’ll cut science classes. We have extracurricular STEM programs that will make up the difference. Plus we don’t really believe in science anyway…

Look, I know this upsets some of you. But it’s a tough road to becoming America’s best again, particularly since we have to face up to Iowa’s dire budget situation. We simply cannot be irresponsible with our taxpayers’ money. Plus we need hundreds of millions of dollars to give to companies so that they can create a dozen or so jobs. The solution to improving school outcomes is not to ‘throw money’ at schools. It’s to grade and rank them! Can we find ways to get rid of those pesky students with special needs? They’re expensive!!!!

[Or we could point the accountability arrow the other direction and hold our elected representatives ‘accountable’ for meeting the clear desires of Iowans for a strong education system and a solid future for our state. What will we choose?]

Image credit: Empty Pockets, Dan Moyle

The P in public education

Sign: Welcome to our ool. Notice there is no P in it. Let's keep it that way.

Policymakers are fond of noting that teachers are the number one school-level influence on student learning outcomes (note: non-school influences are far more significant). Despite politicians’ claims that they value and appreciate teachers, however, we are seeing the following from legislatures all across the country:

  • rhetorical attacks on teacher unions
  • rollbacks of educators’ collective bargaining rights
  • elimination of teacher tenure
  • public disparagement of educators, teacher preparation programs, and colleges of education
  • scripted lessons, lockstep behavior management techniques, and other attempts to ‘teacher-proof’ the education of children
  • underfunding of public schools
  • underfunding of public universities
  • legislation favoring of – and spending of public monies on – alternative teacher preparation programs, charters, vouchers, homeschooling, and other non-public school options
  • mass firings in so-called ‘failing schools’
  • enactment of ‘parent trigger’ laws
  • teacher evaluations based on statistically-volatile (and thus unfair) ‘value-added’ assessment systems
  • public shaming through publication of teacher evaluations
  • school evaluations based primarily on bubble test scores
  • public shaming through publication of school ‘letter grades’
  • repeated attempts to institute ‘merit pay’ systems (despite decades of research-proven failure)
  • double-standard school and educator ‘accountability’ provisions that apply to public schools but not charter or private schools
  • acceptance of policy proposals, money, and political influence from seemingly anyone other than actual educators
  • public disparagement of parents, researchers, and others who speak out against harmful ‘reforms’
  • and so on…

As a result, states now are seeing big drops in teacher morale, teacher turnover that’s even greater than historically-horrible rates, and often-severe teacher shortages. 

All of this is simple, really. If we keep pissing in the public education pool, don’t be surprised when no one wants to swim in it.

Image credit: Welcome to our ‘ool, Delwin Steven Campbell

Summer school for kindergarteners

Kindergarten

Valerie Strauss said:

curriculum has been pushed down so much that kindergarten is no longer a time for kids to learn and socialize through play but rather for a lot of desk time with academic assignments. Sure, some schools break up the time so kids don’t sit there hour after hour, but the pressure on young children to learn to read and do math – even if they aren’t developmentally ready – and on teachers to ensure that they do learn – has become extraordinary.

Providing quality summer programs for young children is a laudable goal – and something school systems and city governments should offer. But requiring 5- and 6-year-olds to go to summer school so they can labor over academics is something else entirely.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/07/13/and-now-mandatory-summer-school-for-some-kindergartners

Image credit: Kindergarten, Here We Come, Howard County Library System

That bonus you didn’t get at work (aka Iowa education reform in 2015)

State Flag of Iowa

Imagine that your bosses come up to you one day and say something like this…

Hey, I know that we’re a year and a half late on this but we’re trying to take care of you. It looks like the company’s profits are solid but we’re just not sure right now. At this point all we can offer is a 1.25% raise for you and your co-workers. I know that’s below inflation and you’re going to have cut back at home but that’s all we’re comfortable with given our uncertainty about the financial projections. We have to keep this company in the black. We can’t revert back to past years when we operated at a loss, particularly given our new employee compensation system in which a few high fliers get a little extra in their paycheck.

At this point you’re thinking…

Okay, this isn’t great but at least they’re being up front with me. Next year is going to be a really tough year, particularly since I’m already behind given less-than-inflation-rate raises in past years. My peers and I will try to tough it out and hope for better years ahead. [sigh]

Later you hear that the company’s profits are estimated to be 6% this year. You wonder a little bit about where that money is going but your bosses come back to you and say…

Hey, remember that 1.25% raise? We’ve got good news! We know that it’s taken us months to decide but we think we also might be able to squeeze a one-time bonus for you and your fellow employees. It won’t be much but we only have so much money. I know you’re hearing about some profit projections but they’re just estimates, not just actual numbers. Given our need to be fiscally accountable to our stakeholders, we can’t engage in deficit spending.

You’re a little more skeptical this time around but you’re grateful that some additional monies seem to be available. You’re thinking about those college tuition expenses for your kid, the increased gas tax that your state just passed, that old clunker that you’ve been driving around on your barely middle class salary, your ever-growing utility bills…

Not great news but a little better than before. I understand our need to stay out of the red, even though it’s getting harder and harder to take good care of our customers. My co-workers and I will keep on keeping on. Hopefully next year will be more positive. [ugh]

Your bosses come back to you one last time…

Fantastic news! We figured out both the 1.25% raise and the additional one-time bonus for everyone. We greatly appreciate all that you and your colleagues do for us. Your work is SO important to our success and to our customers. All we have to do is run this by the CEO for his approval. Shouldn’t be a problem.

You sit back and wait, fingers and toes crossed, week after week. The bills keep mounting and you’re waiting to decide whether to make some key spending decisions at home for next year. You’ve already been putting them off for months. The longer the CEO takes to decide, the more nervous you get. You’re still hopeful but you can’t make any firm resolutions until you hear for sure.

The 6% profit projections get confirmed so you figure that’s good news, particularly since you know that the company’s rainy day fund also is flush. But then you hear that one of the reasons that there isn’t enough money for you and your fellow employees this year is that your bosses have been giving away huge chunks of the company’s profits to folks who don’t really need it, including other companies and a billionaire businessman who is the richest man in Egypt. And your bosses plan to continue to do so for the next decade with the hope that those folks will keep investing in the company. Now you’re angry but you’re also still a wee bit hopeful…

This stinks. Those funds could have helped me and my family. And my co-workers’ families. And our customers. Instead, we’re being sold a line about fiscal austerity when profits are high. But I really need the money, so I’m not going to make too big a fuss. Hopefully the CEO will come through. [please, oh please, oh please]

Finally, the day arrives. The CEO makes a major announcement moments before everyone heads out for a long vacation weekend. Unfortunately for you and your colleagues, the company is NOT going to pay for the one-time bonuses, leaving you with measly 1.25% raises. Speaking with great conviction, he offers numerous reasons for his decision, including finger-wagging dissatisfaction with your bosses’ budget negotiations, past accounting practices, the company’s investments in other areas, the economic crisis in Greece, and avian flu, even as the profit projections for next year roll in at an additional 6%. Of course the negative impacts of the decision are borne by you, your co-workers, and your customers, not your bosses or the CEO. As you walk away, head in hands and tears of disbelief streaming down your face, you think to yourself…

I hate this. My colleagues and I are going to have to cut back at home yet again, simply because of our company’s unwillingness to invest in us and our customers. They say that they want a world class workplace but they’re not willing to pay for it. No wonder we’re 34th compared to our competitors. I love the people that we serve but I’m underpaid, underappreciated, and the people in charge don’t seem to care one whit. Maybe it’s time to take this job and shove it.

What are you thinking right now? Got a little glimpse of how Iowa schools and area education agencies felt last week after Governor Branstad’s veto?

Hey, quit your whining.

7 questions after Governor Branstad’s school funding veto

A few folks know that I was one of the three finalists to be the next Director of the Iowa Department of Education. It was an interesting process (e.g., just two 30-minute interviews is apparently all that it takes) but I did feel that I was able to present my best self. I discussed how we won’t see desired changes in student learning outcomes until we change what students experience in their schools on a day-to-day basis. I talked about how investment in deeper learning also is workforce development. I shared some big ideas about where I thought Iowa education could / should go. I highlighted my work with 130+ Iowa schools and other organizations and my strong networks across the state and planet. And so on. Ultimately they decided on the in-house candidate, former Deputy Director Ryan Wise, who is sharp, talented, and knows how both the Department and the politics work. I think Ryan was an excellent choice and wish him all the best in his new role.

One of the obligatory questions in the interview process is What will you do if you disagree with the Governor? After last week’s veto of school funding by Governor Terry Branstad, I’m really happy that I’m not the one who has to stand in front of educators over the next few months and defend that decision. I blogged in March that it was really tough to feel positive about education politics in Iowa this year and I was proven right. The Governor waited until just before the July 4 vacation weekend to make the announcement that 1) he was willing to increase school funding next year at only 1.25%, a rate that comes nowhere near inflation, and 2) he wasn’t willing to sign off on $55+ million in one-time funding that at least would have stemmed some of the losses that schools will face next year. School districts estimate that this fall they will have over 1,000 teaching positions unfilled or terminated across the state as they struggle to pay the bills. Every major newspaper and educational organization has come out in opposition to the underfunding of schools by the legislature and Governor, noting also that our policymakers were a year and a half overdue with their legal obligation to set school funding. Adding potential insult to injury, the Governor’s first press conference after his school funding veto began with a 5-minute shout-out to the tourism industry and a claim that the school start date ‘compromise’ legislation that was opposed by essentially every school district in Iowa was a ‘win-win.’

I think that there are some big questions that we have to ask as a state after the Governor’s school funding veto. Here are a few that currently are on my mind…

1. Budgets reflect policy priorities. How big a priority are our public schools?

School funding tweet 02

Belying the rhetoric about wanting ‘world class schools,’ over the past few years we have witnessed Iowa policymakers’ willingness to decrease the money allocated to our schools and universities, despite a strong state economy and full reserves. Iowa’s spending per pupil is well below the national average and the percentage of the overall state budget allocated to education is several percentage points lower than it was just a few years ago, causing the Iowa State Education Association to say, “We haven’t seen this dramatic a lack of funding ever.” This year we were willing to fund only a 1.25% increase for schools, despite net tax receipts this year that were 6% higher than last and projected 6% growth in revenue for next year. Yes, some of our districts have teacher leadership monies in addition to the 1.25% allowable growth funding. But those teacher leadership funds were supposed to supplement, not supplant, the dollars needed to keep school buildings running and only a few teachers are benefiting from them. So while education continues to be the biggest part of the state budget, it seems that all of the funding trends are negative, not positive. We are falling further behind rather than catching up. Are we only willing to fund schools’ basic operations at below inflationary rates, even when our revenues and economy are strong?

2. Are we willing to trade tax cuts for education (and other) funding?

Iowa tax cuts

Some of the monies that could go to schools instead seem to be going to tax cuts. For instance, next year our recently-passed commercial property tax cuts will remove an estimated $278 million from the state budget. Tens of millions of dollars are going to companies like Iowa Fertilizer (a subsidiary of Orascom, the CEO of which is billionaire Nassef Sawiris, the wealthiest man in Egypt), which just requested additional tax breaks despite already receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from local, state, and other sources. The Iowa legislature is talking about trying to reduce income tax revenue too. In response to schools’ requests for more funds, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said, “This is a mathematical problem: The state only has so much money.” But we’re giving away revenue and then saying that we don’t have the funds for our schoolchildren. It seems that the tax cut monies alone would have funded increases in education and other basic services several times over. I’m not anti-business by any means and am in full support of job creation initiatives but our overall business tax levels already are below the national average. Maybe we could do less of this? Or is Iowa trying to become a low tax, low revenue, low education state like Kansas or Louisiana?

3. Do we have any other options besides trying to cover?

Iowa has the top high school graduation rate in the country. We have the third-highest average ACT score of states that test at least half of their graduates. These, personnel sharing arrangements, and other successes are a testament to the efforts of our educators, school systems, and communities to somehow make it all work. But our ability to make do with less makes it easier for Iowa policymakers to continue to starve our schools. At some point the stresses on the system will cause it to break but for now they can continue to push on the edges, knowing that our schools’ eventual failure will occur during someone else’s political cycle. I don’t know what the answer is, particularly since educators in Iowa can’t strike and don’t want to put policy interests above the day-to-day needs of their students. What options do we have besides trying to continue to cover?

4. Are our representatives actually representing our wishes?

One option we all have in our democracy, of course, is voting and participating in the political process. Although social media was a big part of this year’s school funding dialogue, slacktivism can be a fairly easy trap to fall into. Tweets and pins and blog posts and Facebook ‘likes’ are fairly easy to ignore, particularly by policymakers whom are less technology-knowledgeable. We will never know how much pressure to adequately fund schools the Iowa legislators and Governor received from parents, community members, and educators via phone calls, letters, in-person visits, etc. We do know that those requests were unsuccessful.

This year I’ve wondered about the involvement (or lack thereof) of the educators and communities represented by those policymakers who voted against more than minimal school funding. It’s difficult to believe that those families and teachers weren’t concerned about the lack of funds that would be going to their local schools and the impacts on their classrooms and educators. Regardless, their concerns (if any) weren’t powerful enough to dissuade their local representatives from the course that they took.

Battles over school funding will continue. If we like the current path that we’re on, so be it, but if we want different decision-making by those whom we elect to represent us, we must make our voices louder and our votes count. Midwest educators are doubly nice, both because of the culture of where we live and because of our profession. We trust our representatives to represent us and then ever-so-quietly express our concerns when they don’t. We rely on the small handful of statewide organizations to speak for us rather than recognizing that our own individual voices are important (other than Patrick Kearney from Johnston, how many educators were writing regularly and publicly, expressing their concerns in formats longer than 140 characters?). Roark Horn, Executive Director of the School Administrators of Iowa, reminded us this week of the difference between reacting and responding, noting that “it is natural to want to react with the anger and frustration that we feel” as classroom teachers and school leaders. Roark is correct about our tone but I will also note that educators’ current policy advocacy is not working. Politics often requires a bolder voice than we educators are accustomed to exercising. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” At the recent ISTE conference, Pernille Ripp reminded us that we can’t stop fighting for what is right for kids. Will Iowa educators shrug their shoulders and roll over (yet again) or will they do what’s necessary to effectuate the changes that they’d like to see? Maybe it’s time to ask every educator in Iowa to pledge to vote in the next election? Will Iowans hold their representatives accountable next election year for their school funding decisions over the past few years?

5. What behavioral expectations should we have for our representatives?

It was a frustrating year on all sides of the school funding debate. But that doesn’t mean that we get a free pass on how we treat each other, even in the often rough-and-tumble, bare knuckles environment that is politics. Should we expect rooms for public hearings to actually be big enough to hold the public? Should we expect our legislators to actually listen (and maybe respond) to the concerns that we express? Should we expect better than this from our representatives? Or this? Or this?

6. What messages are we sending our young people?

Earlier this week Governor Branstad said, “The only way that we’re going to be able to keep our smaller school districts alive and successful is if we’re able to attract young families that have children.” and “Every child in Iowa [should] have the opportunity to get a quality education.” It’s hard to see how our recent educational funding decisions accomplish this as schools across the state now have to fire teachers or leave positions unfulfilled.

College graduates continue to leave our state, contributing to Iowa’s ‘brain drain’ (which was noted at least ten years ago). The Governor rightfully notes that we need to attract young families to our small towns. What messages do our disinvestments in schools send them as they consider where they want to live and raise their children?

7. What does our new Director think?

School funding tweet 01

The Director of the Iowa Department of Education is a political appointee who serves at the discretion of the Governor. But hopefully he or she also is an advocate for children and teachers and schools, not just a puppet or mouthpiece. Hopefully he or she is a fierce proponent of schools getting the resources and autonomy that they need to be successful. So with that in mind, does Ryan Wise agree with the veto? (will Mackenzie Ryan or someone else ask him on record?)

Patrick Kearney rightfully asked, “How does losing 1,000+ teaching positions make Iowa schools better?” I think that’s a good question for Ryan too…

As always, feedback and pushback are welcome. Your thoughts?

Dreaming bigger for Iowa education

RETHINK

Lately I’ve been trying to dream a little bigger about Iowa schools. Feel free to map this onto your own state or province…

Background

Bottom line

What if…

  1. every Urban Education Network of Iowa district had an ‘alternative’ high school for low-achieving students that focused on creative inquiry, collaborative problem-solving, and community contribution instead of worksheet packets and self-paced online courses? (some may already)
  2. each regional Area Education Agency had the capacity to help its districts create project-based learning ‘incubators?’ (kind of like Iowa BIG in Cedar Rapids)
  3. the Iowa Department of Education worked with the School Administrators of Iowa, the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Iowa State Education Association, the Iowa Business Council, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the Iowa Chambers of Commerce, the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and others to help superintendents, school boards, communities, and postsecondary institutions envision a more transformative learning future for students?
  4. given our tremendous grassroots movement toward 1:1 computing environments – 200+ out of 331 districts (and counting!) – Iowa was the first state in the country (other than maybe Maine) to place its instructional technology emphasis on enhanced learning and teaching, not just access?
  5. like in many private schools and Rhode Island, high school seniors had to complete a deep, complex, multidisciplinary capstone requirement in order to graduate?
  6. every high school student in Iowa had the opportunity to do a credit-earning, community-based internship before graduation?
  7. there was statewide pressure from school districts on educator preparation programs to be more relevant?
  8. one or more Iowa universities worked with external partners to design and deliver a ‘Future Ready’ leadership graduate certificate that would give teacher leaders and administrators the skills necessary to foster 21st century learning environments?
  9. we utilized hands-on, engaging STEM activities more often in core math and science courses, not just in electives or extracurricular programs?
  10. Iowa Learning Online dramatically expanded its offerings to include electives such as Agricultural Engineering, Design Thinking, Sustainable Development, Digital Marketing, or Computer Programming and students not only could get high school or university course credit but also microcredentials that could be used for employment?
  11. our various statewide education summits were targeted, focused opportunities for us to work together and craft solutions, not just sit and listen?
  12. we trained district curriculum leaders in various blended learning models?
  13. we had regional exemplar schools across the state like Waukee APEX, the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, or the urban National Academy Foundation schools, with an emphasis on intentional dissemination partnerships to spread best practices to other schools?
  14. we scaled competency-based education to the next level (like in some other states) rather than it idling in the pilot stage?
  15. like some states and districts, we created open access textbooks and taught teachers how to curate open educational resources (OER), thus freeing up textbook monies for other purposes?
  16. we did a much better job of raising the (inter)national visibility of Iowa’s amazing educational initiatives through better utilization of social media channels, online communities, and digital branding and marketing strategies?
  17. the Governor’s Office, the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa Business Council, the Iowa Farm Bureau, and other partners collaboratively approached a major education foundation, corporation, or government grant program and said, “We’re deadly serious about thinking REALLY big here. Help us make it happen?”

Each of these would be big. Many of these together would be amazing… What do you think? What would you add to (or remove from) this list?

The core of education needs to take into account the people that are in it

Sir Ken Robinson said:

[The standards movement is] well intentioned to raise standards, but the mistake it makes is that it fails to recognize that education is not a mechanical impersonal process that can improved by tweaking standards and regularly testing. . . . It’s a human process. It’s real people going through the system and whether the system takes into account who they are, what engages them, isn’t incidental. It is the core of what education is.

By the time [kids] are educated I want them to come out knowing what they are personally good at and interested in, what their strengths are and where they might like to go after school. I want them to feel confident that they can face the challenges that life will throw at them and they can begin to make their way to become productive members of the community.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/21/sir-ken-robinson-has-a-lot-to-say-about-u-s-school-reform-it-isnt-good

Notes from the UNI Education Summit

Notes from the UNI Education Summit in Cedar Falls, Iowa a couple of weeks ago…

Jonathan Kozol

Jonathan Kozol (wow, was he wonderful to listen to…)

  • I try to be bipartisan but former Iowa U.S. Senator Tom Harkin has talked with me for years about the damage that testing is doing to children.
  • I’m glad there are so many educators here; I always feel safer in a room of teachers!
  • Teachers have been taking quite a beating lately. In many states they’ve become a scapegoat for all of the evils and injustices of society. But teachers are my heroes.
  • Teachers, particularly those who teach in our most disadvantaged communities, need to be protected.
  • I said to an African-American Boston minister after the Philadelphia disappearances, “How can I be of use?” He said, “You’ve had a wonderful education. I’d like you to put it to use for our children.”
  • The city department of education sent me out as a substitute. My first day was in kindergarten. I was absolutely terrified! Ultimately I survived. I’ve been working with low-income children, mostly Black and Hispanic, ever since. I’m currently working with children, families, and schools in the South Bronx in New York City.
  • I’ve written several books about those children. The sum of it all is that, almost everywhere I go, those funding inequalities are still with us. It’s sad that there is such thing as a ‘poor school’ in America, the wealthiest nation on Earth.
  • The rich districts can go way above foundational funding. In wealthy neighborhoods in cities, parents are holding fundraisers that earn as much as $1 million in a single night to add to their school’s budget.
  • Poverty is poverty, whether in cities or rural areas. The traumatic effects apply to children everywhere. But for minority children in concentrated neighborhoods of poverty, it goes to new levels. 
  • We see hyper-segregation of Black and Hispanic children in every city, large or small. Textbooks sugar coat realities a bit. The media does this too. They indicate that racial isolation is primarily a thing of the past. In reality the very opposite is true. These children are more isolated intellectually and separated physically than any time since 1968.
  • Every year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, white politicians who have never lifted a finger to solve inequity and segregation visit some urban school and give their version of the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. I still believe that Brown v. Bd. of Education was essentially correct. Isolation sends terrible messages to our youth.
  • Langston Hughes’ poem, What happens to a dream deferred? I was in Baltimore 8 days ago. 
  • There’s another kind of inequality: rich preschool education. I ask kindergarten teachers in impoverished neighborhoods how many of their children have had real, developmental pre-K for a couple of years beforehand (the kind that wealthy or middle class kids get). They say maybe 40%. The most exclusive pre-Ks in New York City cost $35,000 per child. They’re known as the ‘Baby Ivys.’ There’s not even a pretense at meritocracy.
  • When test scores come out, guess who does well and guess who gets blamed?
  • Could we take the billions of dollars that are going to testing companies and put it into rich, developmental pre-K? This should be a rich entitlement of childhood here in America, along with necessary wrap-around services. Instead of castigating poor parents, help them get the skills they need.
  • Virtually every sector of the population has to take standardized exams. Like in other states, here in Iowa high stakes exams start in 3rd grade. In wealthy neighborhoods in New York, there are strong parent movements to opt out their kids from the exams. The wealthy parents aren’t scared, but the poor people are.
  • In affluent communities, standardized testing takes a lesser toll. The kids easily score fairly well. Parents aren’t frightened of the test. Their concern is whether their children get into their first choice of college.
  • Principals of poor schools are the ones that are running scared. Teachers are obliged to write on the board the specific skill (and number) that they’re teaching. In New York City, it’s very prescriptive. Poor schools are told not to wander too far from the standards, there’s little time for student questions and critical thinking. “Curiosity is nice, but it’s not going to be tested.” Neither will delighted learning, which may indeed be a distraction. Delight and curiosity can get you way off track from the standards.
  • Endless, run-on sentences full of ‘ands’ and ‘buts’ – second graders are almost as good as William Faulkner – at the end, there’s usually hidden treasure and good teachers know how to unlock that. Test-driven teachers usually cut them off and they never reach the hidden treasure.
  • Once we lock a child's spirit into sileng stone, he may never dare again to speak with authenticity - Jonathan KozolOnce we lock a child’s spirit into silent stone, he may never dare again to speak with authenticity.
  • Teachers in these schools are usually told they have to teach reading from standardized materials. Not all of these books are bad. I’m not a fanatic hippie type who thinks that phonics are a form of oppression. Neither are phonics the cure to all of the ills of society (e.g., the lady I met that I now call the Phonics Fanatic of Phoenix!). I hate the emphasis that many urban teachers have to place on decoding, not on the content of what they’re reading (e.g., scripted teaching methods). What happens to many of these children is that they lose the beauty of reading real books, books that are a joy to read. The only reason to read is for the joy it gives you, not to get a number plastered on your forehead. I majored in Elizabethan poetry. Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse is right up there with Hamlet!
  • Learning for its own sake, immersing oneself into the joy and beauty of learning… in many inner-city and/or test-driven schools, this is being lost. There’s no time for orchestra or school plays (but there is in suburban schools). For poor kids who have less aesthetic beauty in their physical neighborhood, we owe it to them to have art and music in school.
  • Many teachers in poor schools are warriors for justice. They represent the best of America.
  • If you do teach in those neighborhoods, don’t assume that children are empty vessels waiting to be filled. Bring out the beauty that’s in their souls. Let their dreams and longings be the starting point for lesson plans, not something that’s cordoned off or relegated to 20-minute enrichment.
  • There’s usually a reason that parents can’t come to school, they’re dealing with their own chaos. Instead of demonizing them, find a way to reach them.
  • Children need beauty in their lives. Other than their family, the teacher is the only adult in their lives that’s around regularly. If you don’t give them happiness, who will?
  • “Mr. Kozol, the whole schools is talking about how quietly your children file down the hallways.” – our way of subverting the system so they would leave us alone and we could have fun without being bothered
  • Teachers often are afraid in poor neighborhoods. In 25 years, I’ve never been touched. I think it’s more psychological than physical. I think it’s the fear of those communities’ suffering and the challenge to their conscience.
  • Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) may have been the biggest hero that kids have ever had. He was a wonderful listener to children. He went with me to the South Bronx. On the #6 train in NYC, it’s only about seven stops from the richest to the poorest neighborhood in the city. Sanitation workers embraced him. Children said ‘welcome to my neighborhood, Mr. Rogers.’
  • The dreams and innocence of children will outlive us all. Life goes fast, my friends, use it well.
How do you measure 'richness' in education? Not with bubbles...

Dr. Mark Grey, Iowa’s (Rapidly) Changing Populations

  • Anthropology professor at UNI, directs the New Iowans Center
  • The context in Iowa is changing rapidly
  • Global events are having local consequences
  • Issues we used to consider secondary or tertiary (religion, language, ethnicity) have become primary
  • Two fundamental shifts
    • The Latino Boom, 1993-2008 (plus smaller populations of Bosnians and other refugees)
    • Today = Microplurality
      • many smaller, ethnically and linguistically distinct populations
      • e.g., 50 langages at Marshalltown HS, 100+ languages in Des Moines Public Schools
      • 180 estimated languages in Iowa now
  • 1990 = only a few Latinos; in 25-30 years, maybe over 400,000 (~12% of total)
  • One-third of Iowa counties reached their peak population in 1900; another one-third in 1950 or so
  • Iowa overall v. Latino median age difference = 15.4 years
  • Brain drain – we lose about half of our college graduates to other states
  • Birth rates in Iowa are less than 2.0; need 2.1 to replace the existing population
  • Four impacts on population = birth rates, death rates, length of life, migration (we have no idea what this will look like)
  • African-American population (including African refugees)
    • 2020 = 125,000; 2040 = 185,000+
  • Asian / Pacific Islander population
    • 2020 = 75,000; 2040 = 110,000+
  • Native-American population will stay fairly stable (but they’re incredibly diverse; numerous tribal affiliations)
    • 2020 = 11,000; 2040 = 13,000
  • Microplurality
    • Growing non-Latino populations in the Heartland
      • Southeast Asia (Hmong, Vietnamese, Burmese, etc.), East Asia (Chinese), former Soviet Union, ultra-Orthodox Jewish (Israel and East Coast), African (Sudan, Somalia), Central Pacific (Marshall Islands, Paulau), Ukrainian Pentecostals, Bhutanese from Nepali refugee camps, African-Americans from Chicago and Detroit, Iraqi refugees, and many more…
    • Iowans take pride in their acceptance of refugees – we have the only state-level office dedicated to refugee resettlement?
    • Sponsorship of refugees dropped to an absolute trickle after 9/11
    • African refugees are pouring into our state – usually they are secondary migrants (first stop was another U.S. location)
    • This is a legal workforce
    • In many districts, multiple languages but they only have a small handful of children that speak each language
  • We have labor vacuums – most local kids aren’t going to pack meat or eggs
  • University research and policy in an era of advocacy philanthropists and agenda-setting organizations
  • Foundations such as Gates and Lumina are bigger, more influential, more strategic, and directly involved in shaping federal and state education policy (K-16)
    • They spawn dozens of smaller groups, which then unapologetically stake out their spots at the capitol building (e.g., Complete College America)
    • Not a great concern for change supported by research – more concerned with ideology – simple slogans, with recipes for implementation
    • Quick to claim causation, but they ignore competing evidence
  • We have to face up to this brave new world
    • Recognize the role of these philanthropies and organization
    • Embrace methods that advocate and direct
    • Debate and criticize these approaches in public forums
    • Find ways to communicate complex information in simple ways
    • Can’t shy away from work with policymakers, have to co-opt their methods (e.g., social media)
  • See Rick Hess’ public presence list

 David Drew, Reforming STEM Education in America

  • What’s driving the emphasis on STEM? 
    • Shift to high-tech and service economy – what’s required for jobs has changed
    • Our nation doesn’t seem to be doing well on international measures of STEM achievement
  • False myths that undermine education reform
    • Restoring American K-12 education in its previous glory
    • the aptitude excuse (e.g., girls, poor kids, students of color can’t do math & science)
    • curriculum reform – the teacher is more important the curriculum – curriculum is important but it isn’t going to save us
    • finding new teachers – we need to do a better job of preparing AND retaining classroom educators
  • Compared to students in high-achieving countries, American students believe strongly that mathematical talent is innate and believe less strongly that effort makes much difference – Anne C. Lewis

There is no shortcut

Andreas Schleicher said:

there is no shortcut to improved learning outcomes in a post-2015 world economy where knowledge and skills have become the global currency, the key to better jobs and better lives. And there is no central bank that prints this currency. We cannot inherit this currency, and we cannot produce it through speculation; we can only develop it through sustained effort and investment in people. 

via http://oecdeducationtoday.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/education-post-2015.html

Simply throwing kids into adaptive drill-and-kill software is NOT sustained effort and investment in people (i.e., human capital development)…

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