Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Obama's faulty education logic

Obama’s faulty education logic: What he said and failed to say
By Valerie Strauss 

Someone should have told President Obama that there were important contradictions in the education portion of his State of the Union address before he delivered it to Congress.
First, Obama rightly said that a child’s education starts at home:
“It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.”
Then why is his administration insisting in pushing policies that evaluate and pay teachers based solely on how well they raise the test scores of their children? How can teachers be solely responsible for what happens to a child outside of school?
Obama spoke about the $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition launched by his Education Department. 
“Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than one percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning.“
Well, not actually.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Responding to the State of the Union

In Writings of Obama, a Philosophy Is Unearthed
When the Harvard historian James T. Kloppenberg decided to write about the influences that shaped President Obama’s view of the world, he interviewed the president’s former professors and classmates, combed through his books, essays, and speeches, and even read every article published during the three years Mr. Obama was involved with the Harvard Law Review (“a superb cure for insomnia,” Mr. Kloppenberg said). What he did not do was speak to President Obama.
“He would have had to deny every word,” Mr. Kloppenberg said with a smile. The reason, he explained, is his conclusion that President Obama is a true intellectual — a word that is frequently considered an epithet among populists with a robust suspicion of Ivy League elites.
Duane Campbell
         The book Reading Obama may well offer some significant insights into the political viewpoints of President Obama.   In addition, it is a prolonged essay concerning how the author sees the political philosophy of pragmatism and a history of how pragmatism has served in the U.S.
         There are several interesting issues.  Can a scholar describe well the political philosophy of an important leader by reading books by the President and reading the transcripts of his speeches?   Is it far too early to be describing the philosophy of Barack Obama after only two years in office?

In New York City last week to give a standing-room-only lecture about his forthcoming intellectual biography, “Reading Obama: Dreams, Hopes, and the American Political Tradition,” Mr. Kloppenberg explained that he sees Mr. Obama as a kind of philosopher president, a rare breed that can be found only a handful of times in American history.
“There’s John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Quincy Adams, then Abraham Lincoln and in the 20th century just Woodrow Wilson,” he said.
To Mr. Kloppenberg the philosophy that has guided President Obama most consistently is pragmatism, a uniquely American system of thought developed at the end of the 19th century by William James, John Dewey and Charles Sanders Peirce. It is a philosophy that grew up after Darwin published his theory of evolution and the Civil War reached its bloody end. More and more people were coming to believe that chance rather than providence guided human affairs, and that dogged certainty led to violence.
Pragmatism maintains that people are constantly devising and updating ideas to navigate the world in which they live; it embraces open-minded experimentation and continuing debate. “It is a philosophy for skeptics, not true believers,” Mr. Kloppenberg said.
Those who heard Mr. Kloppenberg present his argument at a conference on intellectual history at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center responded with prolonged applause. “The way he traced Obama’s intellectual influences was fascinating for us, given that Obama’s academic background seems so similar to ours,” said Andrew Hartman, a historian at Illinois State University who helped organize the conference.
Mr. Kloppenberg’s interest in the education of Barack Obama began from a distance. He spent 2008, the election year, at the University of Cambridge in England and found himself in lecture halls and at dinner tables trying to explain who this man was.
Race, temperament and family history are all crucial to understanding the White House’s current occupant, but Mr. Kloppenberg said he chose to focus on one slice of the president’s makeup: his ideas.
In the professor’s analysis the president’s worldview is the product of the country’s long history of extending democracy to disenfranchised groups, as well as the specific ideological upheavals that struck campuses in the 1980s and 1990s. He mentions, for example, that Mr. Obama was at Harvard during “the greatest intellectual ferment in law schools in the 20th century,” when competing theories about race, feminism, realism and constitutional original intent were all battling for ground.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Rhee opens office in Sacramento- a response

Press advisory.
Note: Michele Rhee opens a lobby operation and gets a front page coverage in the Bee and a photo.  She certainly is effective at getting free media for her positions and her new agency.
We  too have opened an educational advocacy organization with essentially the opposing views.  The Democracy and Education Institute;  link.
Starting from over 40 years of working in schools, preparing teachers and teaching, we advocate for a democratic approach to education.   Our  primary researchers have already  prepared  over 700 teachers in the Sacramento region, most of them Chicano, and over 100 educational administrators and leaders throughout the state. 
There are many  available advocacy  strategies.  However, the most important is to share and magnify teacher voices.  Politicians make bad decisions – such as the current budget cuts, or an over reliance on testing- because they are not listening to teachers voices.  Instead they are listening to paid consultants, and “experts” from the corporate establishment.
Newspaper writers and other media writers make the same mistake.  They call their favorite “source” which just happens to be a corporate promoter like Arne Duncan, Michele Rhee,  or one  of the “experts” at elite universities.  Note:  few professors in the elite universities work with  teachers.  They are several steps removed from the classroom.  You can read more about this on the blog Choosing Democracy  
The most basic  strategy is to insist on teacher participation in the development of policies.  Get the politicians and the corporate shills out of the classroom. – they have failed our children.
                       A major problem with  campaigns for a democratic approach to schooling is that most of the media and the politicians  has been sold a mindset or framework of accountability by advocates such as Michele Rhee.    Corporate sponsored  networks and “ think tanks” such as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Bradley Foundation,  the Olin Foundation, and now Rhee’s  StudentsFirst  and their access to the media is not likely to change.  The domination  of the accountability frame within the media and political circles  must be opposed.  The appointment of Arne Duncan was symptomatic of the problems.   He represents the kind of corporate/media approach to reform. Certainly  in the current battle with Arne Duncan over the "Race to the Top Funds,"  he has ceased the high ground with a claim of accountability – it’s a false claim- but it works. Education and explaining will be a constant struggle.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Michele Rhee and "school reform"

Sam Chaltain. Huffington Post.
I just watched Christopher Nolan’s remarkable new movie Inception, a futuristic film about a group of people who, through a variety of means, plant a thought so deeply in the mind of one man that it grows naturally and becomes seen as his own. In the opening scene of the movie, protagonist Peter Cobb rhetorically asks the audience: “What’s the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? No. An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea’s taken hold in the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. A person can cover it up, or ignore it – but it stays there.”
Cobb’s movie-based challenge is not unlike the reality-based one being faced by today’s advocates for public education reform – how to seed an idea so simple and powerful that it can mobilize public opinion, inspire policymakers, and improve the overall learning conditions for children. And yet after reading Michelle Rhee’s two newest efforts to launch her own form of “inception” – an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal and her organization’s inaugural policy agenda – I see further evidence of both her well-intentioned vision for massive educational reform, and her fundamental misunderstanding about the power of ideas.
Repeatedly, Ms. Rhee has shown she believes that the best way to mobilize people is through conflict, oppositional language and negative emotion. In theJournal, she speaks encouragingly about the fact that “public support is building for a frontal attack on the educational status quo.” And in the introductory paragraph of her policy agenda, she seems encouraged by the fact that her actions will “trigger controversy.” This sort of language extends the tenor of her brief tenure as DC Schools Chancellor, when Rhee made enough inflammatory statements to become the single most polarizing education figure in country. Love me or hate me, she seemed to be telling us – but pick one you must.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Brown's budget and the budget crisis

 At the national level almost all of the projected deficit through 2020 will be the result of three factors: the Great recession, the tax cuts of the early 2000s under George W. Bush, and the hundreds of billions of dollars of war spending.
            The just published report on Western State budgets () from the Brookings Institute shows that western states, where the housing bubble was the worst, also have the largest deficits now.  The economic crisis produced at least half of the current crisis.
            And, the national government will not be bailing us out.  Almost all of the projected national  deficit through 2020 will be the result of three factors: the Great recession, the tax cuts of the early 2000s under George W. Bush, and the hundreds of billions of dollars of war spending.

  In California we need to spend more state money to improve schools, to develop roads and infrastructure, and to create jobs.  Those who are well educated are more employed and paying taxes while those with less education, those who leave school, are in a prolonged economic crisis.  It is well documented that our schools and our universities are in a finance crisis.  We need to be preparing young people for new jobs and to create new industries.  The success of students in higher education will significantly determine California’s future competitiveness and prosperity.   Improving education, including both k-12 and higher education, makes California more likely to attract investment and the creation of new jobs and new industries.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Jerry Brown appoints Honig to State Board

Honig Appointed to State Board of Education: More Support for Excessive Phonics Teaching?  by Stephen Krashen 

Reports of Governor Brown's appointment of Bill Honig to the State Board of Education have focused on Honig's previous legal problems.  More serious is Honig's stance on educational issues  ("Brown names top advisers," 1/6). 

After resigning as state superintendent, Honig became a dedicated supporter of intensive systematic phonics, the view that all children need phonics instruction that includes all major rules of phonics, presented in a strict order. 

Some basic phonics instruction is helpful, but evidence refutes the extremist intensive systematic position: Studies show that intensive phonics makes no significant contribution to performance on tests in which children have to understand what they read. 

Monday, January 03, 2011

New Governor- same old budget crisis

New Governor; same old speeches.
Well, we have a new governor. His  inaugural speech did not say much.  Yes, there will be draconian budget cuts.  At least half of the current budget crisis was caused by the national economic crisis.  This crisis was created by finance capital and banking, mostly on Wall Street ,ie. Chase Banks, Bank of America,  Washington Mutual, AIG, and others.   Finance capital produced a $ 2 trillion bailout of the financial industry, the doubling of America’s unemployment rate and the loss of 2 million manufacturing jobs in 2008.  Millions are out of work.  You and I, and college students did not create this crisis.  Finance capital stole the future of many young people.
Budget cutting to balance the budget will not get us out of this hole.  Look at Ireland, Greece, or Spain.  Budget cuts only start a downward spiral of pain. We can not simply cut our way out of the crisis, budget cuts and lay offs make the recession worse.
School funding reveals the nature of crisis.  In the last two years the k-12 budget “solutions” have cut 4.6 billion dollars from the schools. We have larger classes and fewer teachers.  School reform has stopped- except for the politicians’ hot air.  School funding makes up a total of 30% of the state budget.  Any crisis in the state budget and any cuts in the state budget will make school budgets worse.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

How the media distorts issues in public school reform

Blogging as if public education mattered.  by Duane Campbell
Jan. 1, 2011.
How the media distorts the issues in the public school debates.
This post is based upon an interview with veteran reporter and author William Greider. Social Security in Perspective, Part III A conversation with William Greider by Trudy Lieberman in the Columbia Journalism review  posted on Dec.21,3010.   The interview with Grieder is about how the press miss report the condition and the so called “crisis” of social security.   For this post I have taken Greider’s points and applied some of them to reporting on school reform.  I am relying upon Greider’s extensive knowledge of the press and  economics reporting and applying some of  the ideas to reporting on school reform where I see a parallel problem

Why do many reporters not report on the realities of school change?
  They too often  rely upon the wisdom of selected “spokespersons” and other elites. 
They have been sold a framework of  a corporate view of accountability. Corporate sponsored networks and think tanks such as the the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Broad Foundation,  the Bradley Foundation, the Pacific Research Institute,  and the Olin Foundation provide “experts” prepared to give an opinion on short notice to meet a reporters deadline.  Most reporters assume that these notables are telling the truth when in fact they are promoting a particular propaganda such as in the film “Waiting for Superman”.  Who do they not talk with?  They fail to interview experienced teachers and professionals who have worked for decades to improve the quality of inner city schools.

The Obama Administration’s appointment of Arne Duncan was symptomatic of the problem.  He represents the  kind of corporate/media approach to reform.   So, reporters can go to the corporate funded foundations and provide “balance” by asking the appointees of the government- they get the same story.  In particular recently they have been turning to the Gates and Broad Foundations  or the conservative Democrats for Education Reform.