Friday, July 23, 2010

Worthwhile education - Part 2

The program description from the RTTT includes four goals, one of which references competing in a "global economy" (see 4 goals below).  I commend Secretary Duncan and his OESE team for crafting an educational plan that includes an orientation to economy - we all need to eat and we all need energy:

  • "Through Race to the Top, we are asking States to advance reforms around four specific areas: 
    • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy ;[emphasis added]
    • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
    • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
    • Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.
I have to ask if the first goal is worthwhile.  Is this really what we want for our children?

There is nothing in the program description about a "sustainable" economy, which is much more egalitarian.  In fact, I would prefer "...participate in a global democracy" rather than "...complete in the global economy."  After all, the purpose of public education is to cultivate an engaged democracy that can make critical and creative decisions about the economy --- not the other way around.

I bring it up because I think the emphasis on economy (rather than democracy) reflects 1) an interest in privatizing public education, and/or 2) a technocratic mindset where education has a utilitarian, measurable function.  The assumptions of RTTT (and  Nation at Risk before it) have permeated our social discourse to the point where we are deliberating obediency & compliance (re.: accountability) and how and where to build prisons -- rather than liberty, equality and creativity.

As Chris Lehmann says in Practical Theory, we've got to dream about and create what we want for public education.  Worthwhile education is built on those dreams.

What are your dreams?  What has to be in place for the dreams to be realized?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Worthwhile education..."

With all of recent emphasis on standardized tests as a means to identify ineffective teachers, I realized that this is really a distraction form the real challenges we face. Of course there are bad teachers, but what percentage of our profession qualifies?

I think the real challenge is looking at the context of education; students come to school un-rested, under-fed and under-stimulated (with regard to measuring and reading). The onus is on families to take care of their children. This is not to suggest that we can simply blame families; it's hard being poor in America.

I think we have to look even broader. What are the conditions that are creating and maintaining a class of poor people in the first place? And who benefits? (It's like a blame game re: the Deep Horizon oil leak; everyone---including the media---is pointing fingers without asking the important question of energy sustainability).

Having teachers focus on managing ineffective teachers is a distraction. I'd rather work closely with faculty/admin/students & community to cultivate the characteristics of worthwhile public education*:
  • Well-rested, well-nourished and engaged students
    • alongside a political economy that provides meaningful & flexible employment, access to healthcare, safe neighborhoods
  • Equitable building resources (playing fields, books, science equipment, travel/experience budget)
  • 2 year-long co-teaching/internships for new teachers (at a respectable salary)
  • Teacher-led professional development
  • Democratic distributed leadership
  • curricular and instructional flexibility in alignment with content area concepts/principles and developmentally-appropriate learning
  • site-based budgeting & site-based hiring
What do you think are the characteristics of worthwhile public education?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What are liberal values?

Although I cannot speak for all liberals, there are several values that we often share.  For example, liberals value universal healthcare.  All Americans should be able to afford medical and dental regardless of income.  Right now, over 40 million Americans do not have healthcare.  And roughly 18,000 Americans die every year because of lack of health insurance (Institute for Medicine; Jan 14, 2004;  And how many of our neighbors, whether liberal or conservative, think that getting a routine check-up should be easy and affordable? 

Another liberal value is energy conservation.  You can be certain that liberals appreciate our high standard of living.  Many Americans have warm, comfortable homes that use natural gas, oil, and/or electricity to cook food, clean clothes and run lamps.  Liberals also understand that there is a finite amount of energy available to support our way of life.  In order to sustain our fortunate wealth in the long-term, we will have to be a lot smarter about how we use energy.  At the very least, the words “reduce,” “re-use” and “recycle” have an important place in our lives---as liberals and as Americans.

The value of efficient transportation is closely linked with energy conservation.  We need local, regional, state and federal transportation planning that makes it easier to get around.   Are daily traffic jams on I-95 good for our economy?  Liberals also understand that communities should be walkable and bikeable.  Right now, there are a smattering of disconnected sidewalks near schools---and no bike lanes.  How many of our neighbors, whether conservative or liberal, would like their children to be able to walk or bike more safely to school?

Liberals value public education.  Public education exists to cultivate individual freedoms that are attuned to social responsibility.  A rich civic life is possible through direct experience with arts, athletics, humanities, math, sciences and vocations.  The possibility of a rich civic life may be compromised when you have disparate funding of public education.  In the 2006-2007 school year, Radnor, PA spent $17,105 per student while Upper Darby,PA spent $9,727 (Report Card on the School-2007; Philadelphia Inquirer:  What can we do, as a society, to maintain Radnor’s excellent educational programming while providing comparable funding to less wealthy districts?

America is a rich and beautiful country because of the myriad of people who have been coming here over the last 500 years.  Although parts of our history are not pretty, we’ve had so many wonderful accomplishments because of religious and cultural exchange.  The Constitution of the United States was designed to foster this exchange in that the majority is expected to act to protect the minority.  Anytime a person or group acts to oppress another individual or group, the majority has the responsibility to act judiciously to protect the rights of the minority.   Liberals seek to hear and understand differences so that we may be better informed and thereby make better decisions in the common good.  Liberals value diversity

These are five values that liberals often agree on.  Sometimes, conservatives may agree with the value but not on liberal policies that support the value---and that’s okay.  It is rich and informed discussion about these values that will help America to be a tremendous place to live, work and raise families.  Interestingly, some of these secular values have their roots in Jewish, Christian, Islamic or other religious texts that emphasize compassion, caring, and civic engagement.  America’s great tradition of secular values will ensure that we will continue to grow and prosper as a vibrant, diverse, and healthy democracy.