Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Setting Up Public Schools for Failure

Were you encouraged by this year's significant improvement in school performance scores? Very few Louisiana public schools are rated “F” and many schools have moved up to “B” or “A”. The new SPS system combined with a huge push by local school administrators and teachers to improve student performance seems to have finally paid off. Educators should enjoy it while they can. They certainly have worked very hard and deserve the better ratings.

Unfortunately that will all change very soon with the implementation of the PARCC testing for the Common Core. Our state superintendent knows very well that Louisiana has been set up for failure. Soon we will experience a huge unfair blow to the image of our public schools and to the teaching profession in Louisiana. How will this happen? Please read on. . . .

The proponents of school privatization and the standardized testing craze have perfected the art of telling politically correct lies about our public education system as a way of promoting their schemes. These changes in public education, particularly in Louisiana are expected to produce enormous profits for the reformers at the expense of children and educators. Almost none of this "reform" is based on scientific fact. Here are the assumptions driving the destruction of our public education system:

  • American students are far behind students in other industrialized nations in academic achievement.
  • All children can and should perform at least at grade level in certain basic skills.
  • All children have the same potential for learning math and language skills.
  • Artistic talent, vocational-technical skills, and service skills are not important enough to be encouraged and developed in our public schools.
  • The mandating of rigorous standards for our schools by politicians will result in higher student achievement.
  • Government can set a goal for achievement for all students and expect educators to produce it.
  • Louisiana students should do just as well as students in other states.
  • Poor teaching is the primary reason for low student performance.
  • Poverty is not important in determining student performance.
  • Annual standardized testing of all students is necessary to insure quality education.
  • All schools should be expected to produce the same average level of student achievement.
  • All employment decisions for teachers and administrators should be made based on student test scores.
  • Teacher credentials and professional training are not important for producing the best teachers.
  • Free enterprise and the profit motive are the best ways to improve school performance.

Most of these seemingly politically correct myths have been thoroughly discredited by Diane Ravitch's new book titled: Reign of Error; The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools. I believe every professional educator and all parents of public school children should read this book to get the facts about how our educational system is being undermined for profit by mostly non-educators. Unfortunately Louisiana is right at the leading edge of this destructive movement. (My readers can be assured that I receive no benefit or profit of any kind for recommending this book. I only recommend it to my readers because it is the most authoritative and factual explanation of a movement which represents a huge danger to public education.)

On the issue of American student performance compared to other nations: Ravitch shows in her book that America is doing better than ever, not worse than ever. She explains that the US average student achievement has never ranked near the top of International testing. However, if our students attending comparable poverty level schools were compared to all other industrialized countries, they would score tied with Singapore, and above Finland. Also, our students and our school systems produce the most successful workers in the world, probably because our education system has always encouraged more innovation and creativity. Other so called “high achieving” countries are now trying to emulate our creative system just at the time that the US is putting emphasis on imitating their outdated standardized education systems! Our greatest problem, particularly in Louisiana, is low performance by our high poverty students. We should put maximum effort into improving high poverty schools, not closing them down, taking them over by the state, or criticizing their teachers.

All children should perform on grade level: One of the most misleading assumptions of our education reformers is that they want us to believe that all children have identical brains and that they are all ready to learn the same material at the same rate. Professional educators know that this seemingly politically correct assumption is absolutely false. Students' academic abilities and motivation vary as much as their physical abilities. To try to force all children to learn exactly the same material at exactly the same rate is pedagogically incorrect. Grade level performance just happens to be the average performance of a standardized sampling of children nationwide. There are huge numbers of students who naturally perform both above and below grade level. No amount of standardizing of education will ever make all students learn at the same rate and at the same level of proficiency. Requiring that they all learn at the same rate is setting our educational system up for failure.

Only academic skills are important: Putting all the emphasis of our educational system on only language skills and math guarantees that our educational system will ignore other important training goals that are very important to our children and our economy. In Louisiana there is a huge demand for vocational-technical and even artistic skills that are now being ignored by our so called “reformed” educational standards. The Common Core standards do not include training in many of these vital skills.

Adoption of rigorous standards results in higher student achievement: Our politicians have been led to believe that by just setting rigorous academic standards for all students, they are improving education. This is the theory behind the Common Core State Standards. Standards do not educate children. Good teachers with a varied curriculum using different methods for different children are the most effective ways of educating children. It is stupid to use the same standards to educate autistic children (I have an autistic grandchild so I know what I am talking about) as for all others. I also have two grandchildren who are very precocious at math and science and I appreciate that their public school system allows and encourages them to progress at a faster rate than their grade level.
 
Louisiana students should do just as well on Common Core as students in other states: John White loves to say: “Our students in Louisiana are just as smart as kids in other states.” With this statement he is knowingly setting up our Louisiana teachers for a monumental failure in the eyes of the public. John White knows very well that the results of the PARCC testing will rank our Louisiana public school student performance pretty much where we are ranked according to the NAEP testing. That is about two or three places from the bottom of the rankings of the states. White also knows (by now) that this is not because of inferior teaching but because of the demographics of our student population. Louisiana public schools have one of the poorest, most at risk, student populations in the country, which is exacerbated by the fact that we have the largest proportion of our students attending private and parochial schools. Because of a historically strong parochial school system, our state diverts many of our wealthiest and most motivated students out of our public schools thereby reducing the average performance of those remaining. White recently assured the local superintendents in a conference call that he will soften the blow of the PARCC testing and protect our teachers and students from being denigrated by using a lower scale for student proficiency than was used recently in New York state. (Over 70% of New York students were rated as non-proficient in the first round of Common Core testing) But he knows that the newspapers will still compare Louisiana public school student performance with students in other states, and our state will look very bad because of the factors I mentioned above. This very unfair comparison of our public schools and our public school teachers to other states will be just what the privatizers want to see: another seemingly good reason to turn our public school students over to the for-profit charter and voucher market.

Only educators should be held accountable: One of the greatest injustices of the accountability movement is that all the accountability has been placed on the shoulders of teachers and school administrators and none on parents, students, or state departments of education. There is absolutely no way that educators can guarantee that all students will perform at grade level. All children nationwide were required to perform at grade level by the year 2014 by the federal No Child Left Behind law. This was completely unattainable because it violated the rules of statistics, so now all states are being given waivers from the requirement. All legitimate studies show that the level of poverty of students in a school is the dominant determiner of student performance. Consensus by credible researchers is that teacher influence on student achievement is at most 20%. By far, out-of-school factors are more important in determining student performance. So to expect teachers and schools to produce the same result with all students is insanity that leads to all sorts of damaging attacks on good educators and does not benefit children. So called failing schools have been closed and children sent to other schools where their performance has not improved. But their lives are often disrupted with negative results. Educators, particularly in Louisiana, are being demoralized by the unfair attacks on them resulting from such policies.

Over emphasis on standardized testing: Finland, one of the most successful countries at educating its children, does very little standardized testing. Teachers have great freedom on what and how to teach. They are not expected to teach all students the same standards and their lives are not dominated by the results of student testing. Yet in Louisiana and in many other states, constant standardized testing is now being used to drive instruction. This is exactly the practice being discredited by the Asian countries that have used them for so long. Common Core testing will only get worse.

Basing all educator employment decisions on student performance is a recipe for disaster: Good teachers are already shunning high poverty schools because they do not want to have their careers destroyed by the relatively low performance. This policy will inevitably result in the students who most need stability and the strongest teachers and administrators getting only neophyte educators.

Teacher credentials are not important: When teacher credentials are ignored and when educators are hired and promoted using only student test scores, we will see more regimented teaching to the test, cheating by some educators, and a general deterioration of teaching as a profession. Those who want to eliminate education credentials mainly want only the flexibility to hire the cheapest teachers. The administrators who run these schools usually make extremely high salaries. The leading countries in education are doing exactly the opposite of what Louisiana and the US is doing to the teaching profession.

Free enterprise and privatization will produce better education results: Educational free enterprise based on test scores is a sure way of encouraging cheating by greedy individuals and by companies who will manipulate the educational system for profit. If we substitute the profit motive for the desire to educate the whole student many charter and voucher school operators will learn to beat the system for profit. We are seeing much of this in Louisiana. Every way possible of manipulating and falsifying records of schools for profit are being used. In addition, students who are potentially low performers and who need the most attention are being shunned by those operating on the profit motive. It is ironic that thousands of the neediest students are being left behind by No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, privatization. and Common Core.

According to Diane Ravitch, the status quo in American education has now become the incessant push for privatization, standardization and the resulting destruction of one of the most successful educational systems in the world.

Educators and parents who care can simply not allow this trend to continue. We must unite and insist that reason and compassion for children and the need to address diversity rather than standardization must once again guide public education policy. We can only do this by getting involved politically where we will demand support of our legislators for true public schools.

Please participate in our Defenders of Public Education! Just send me you name, your email and your zip code to louisianaeducator@gmail.com so you too can help us fight the important battles for public education. I promise your information will be kept confidential and our purposes will be only the proper education of children and support of the teaching profession.

Thanks,
Michael Deshotels






1 comment:

lbarrios said...

Good points countering White's lies but we can't take the most recently published a School Performance Scores as anything more than rubbish. http://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/school-performance-scores-finally-out-methodical-musical-mathematicians-musings/