By Thomas Ultican / Tultican
The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board deserves the bunkum efficiency award for packing so much baloney into a scant five paragraphs. The first sentence of the editorial headlined “Still more bad faith from state ED board” says:
“The State Board of Education’s defining characteristic is its ardent defense of an education establishment more worried about the interests of teachers than students.”
It’s true that the education establishment in California does listen to input from teachers and their unions, however, today the establishment is dominated by billionaires like Reed Hasting and Carrie Walton Penner. There are many other establishment powerhouses like the California Charter School Association (CCSA), representatives of the education testing industry and education technology profiteers.
As the UT reported, by May 2016, the CCSA was spending heavily to win seats on the San Diego County Board of Education:
“The political arm of the California Charter Schools Association has spent $220,000 so far on the San Diego County Board of Education election this year, following a difficult period for the independently operated campuses in the region — one that’s been marked by unsuccessful appeals and a string of legal challenges.”
After the recent LA school board election, the LA Times wrote in an article titled “How L.A.’s school board election became the most expensive in U.S. history:”
“It’s an oversimplification to say the outcome was all about money, but charters spent more ($9.7 million compared with $5.2 million), and their candidates finished first in both races on Tuesday’s ballot.”
Clearly these forces for privatizing public schools in California are a significant part of the education establishment. They are against teachers’ unions, for testing and have huge political clout. Governor Jerry Brown, who started two charter schools himself, has vetoed every piece of legislation proposing any increased accountability on charter schools.
To say the establishment is “more worried about the interests of teachers than students” is wrong. Or is it just a purposeful lie?
The interests of teachers and students are very similar and neither is getting a fair deal.
The interests of teachers and students are very similar and neither is getting a fair deal. Teachers and students are in the same overcrowded rooms, using the same facilities and have the same half-hour lunches. No one cares more for the welfare of students and understands more about good teaching than California’s professional educators.
The first paragraph concludes:
“This is once again on display with the state board’s response to the Every Student Succeeds Act, the 2015 federal law that replaced the 2002 No Child Left Behind measure and governs how school systems that receive federal funds must operate.
It then goes on to say:
While the new law is much less strict than the old one, it still mandates that schools must be taken over by state governments if they are at the bottom 5 percent of statewide assessments, graduate less than two-thirds of students or have ethnic groups with consistently weak test results.” (Bolding added)
Here, I am ready to join with my conservative friends and call for the abolition of the United States Department of Education. Schools should be in the control of parents, teachers, and students in the local community. The federal government has no business dictating school policy and especially dictating policy that is a known failure.
In 2009, the Obama administration announced plans to rapidly turn around 5,000 of the nation’s lowest performing schools. It was called the Scholastic School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. Today, there is a consensus among researchers that SIG was a complete failure. A study by Tina Trujillo, University of California, Berkeley and Michelle Renée, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University stated one its conclusions:
“Conceptually, one of the most frequent critiques of these studies was that they relied on a single measure of effectiveness standardized test scores. While relying on standardized test scores was methodologically problematic because it falsely assumed that the assessments were valid and reliable, doing so as the sole measure of effectiveness also led to narrow conceptions of student success and the purposes of education ignoring the social, civic, and broader academic aspects of schooling. … Student scores on standardized tests are far too narrow to be the sole indicators of school success in the democratic model of schooling.”
For three decades, states have been taking over local schools. Unfortunately, we have a three-decade record of failure. Dale Russakoff’s book “The Prize” tells the story of Newark New Jersey’s thirty years with state run schools including how they squandered a $100 million gift from Mark Zuckerberg.
In Newark, the teachers were never the problem and neither was tenure or the union. It was always corrupt politicians and grinding poverty creating traumatized children. The state only made it worse when it disenfranchised local citizens.
Detroit is another horrifying example of the complete failure of a state-led turnaround. A Michigan state official, Barbra Byrd Bennett, is now serving time for taking kickbacks and the schools are worse off. After two decades of state control, we read in the New York Times:
“Michigan leapt at the promise of charter schools 23 years ago, betting big that choice and competition would improve public schools. It got competition, and chaos.
“Detroit schools have long been in decline academically and financially. But over the past five years, divisive politics and educational ideology and a scramble for money have combined to produce a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States.”
The editors at the UT should be praising not denigrating the State Board of Education for trying to do the right thing in a tough spot. You should be pointing out how the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is terrible legislation that is more about selling technology, mandating testing and privatizing schools than it is about improving education.
As I wrote to Diane Feinstein, ESSA continues the testing mandate and spends large amounts of money promoting dubious technology initiatives such as “personalized learning” and “blended learning.” If these are truly good ideas they will be adopted without federal coercion. Every student in America is required to take a big standardized test in grades 3 through 8, and grade 11.
The big standardized test is useless. It tells us nothing about the quality of teachers or schools. Peter Greene, known for his wonderful education blog, “Curmudgucation,” responded to an essay by Morgan Polikoff (USC Rossier), a long-time Big Standardized Test supporter:
“Polikoff’s problem remains– the BS Tests are junk that provide junk data and damage schools in the process. Accountability is a good idea, but the standards-based high-stakes tests that we’ve been subjected to for the past more-than-ten years are junk, and they do not provide a useful, reliable, or valid measure of school quality– not even sort of. Nor have they helped– not even incrementally.”
Like the way that ESSA supports social impact bonds which profit bankers and 1:1 initiatives which profit the technology industry; mandated testing is fueling the testing industry. These bad ideas are being used to transform tax money meant to benefit students into revenue streams for corporations.
These are the kind of corrupt purposes you should denounce instead of school leaders who are trying to finesse this horrible federal law and our thoroughly unqualified Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
Instead, you tacitly support high stakes testing as a way of evaluating schools. You legitimize the federal government and the state of California taking over San Diego’s schools. How big government of you.
The editorial continues:
“But the State Board of Education is instead on track to approve vague, mushy Every Student Succeeds standards by the U.S. Education Department’s September deadline that appear designed to impede accountability, not guarantee it.”
In May, the paper editorialized the following: “Board of Education is missing mark on college readiness.” The lead paragraph said:
“An unsatisfactory process is expected to come to a disappointing conclusion Wednesday when the State Board of Education grudgingly adopts measures to gauge student progress — forced to do so to ensure California receives federal education aid.”
That editorial also emphasized:
“But it still requires that schools be taken over by state governments if they graduate less than two-thirds of their students, are at the bottom 5 percent of statewide assessments or have ethnic groups that have consistently weak test results. Under the proposal before the State Board of Education, beginning in fall 2017, schools will be evaluated on high school graduation rates; student results in English and math Common Core tests; gains made by English-language learners; and student suspension rates. Test scores in third-grade reading and eighth-grade math would be given additional emphasis.” (Bolding added)
In fact, California’s previous standards are widely viewed as better standards than common core.
When coercing states to accept Common Core, Arne Duncan said state standards had to prepare students for “college and career readiness.” It was completely up to the states, but the department of education told them that Bill Gates’ Common Core satisfied “college and career ready.” It was a statement based on nothing; no research or historical evidence. In fact, California’s previous standards are widely viewed as better standards than common core.
A core problem is that standards based education is bad education. Along with the common core, the NGSS science standards are bad standards. Most states are moving away from them. So, I am ready to join you in beating up California’s education leaders for adopting bad education policies like NGSS and Common Core. They richly deserve the flogging.
However, it looks like you advocate these education standards and are for standardized testing as the only criteria for measuring schools and holding them accountable. That is just ignorance.
We have a wonderful method for holding schools accountable and giving them a constant path of improvement. In California, it is the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accrediting process.
I have been through several WASC reviews and they are thorough and rigorous. A team of professional educators comes to the school and spends a week looking at everything and interviews as many stake holders as possible. Their report comes back with expectations to be met. This is real accountability performed by professionals that know education and can help. Testing is expensive and worse than useless; it is misleading and destructive.
The editorial’s third paragraph says,
“Now The New York Times reports Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has rejected such attempts to game the federal law by other states, upending expectations that she would defer to local control.”
In an interview by EdWeek, the Senator who led the writing of ESSA and is also a former US Secretary of Education, Lamar Alexander, was not impressed. The interviewer writes,
“‘I think we have a case of an assistant secretary who hasn’t read the law carefully,’ Alexander, chairman of the Senate education committee, said in an interview. ‘The heart of the entire law … was that it’s the state’s decision to set goals, to decide what ‘ambitious’ means, to make decisions to help schools that aren’t performing well.’
“The technical, but important back story: Alexander was referring to a feedback letter Botel sent to Delaware on its ESSA plan, telling the state that it hadn’t been ‘ambitious’ enough in setting long-term goals for student achievement, sparking wonky outrage inside the Beltway and beyond.
“The education chairman noted in an interview that ESSA includes language specifically prohibiting the U.S. secretary of education from telling states what their goals can or can’t be—and that 85 senators voted to approve the new law.”
And the editorial ends with:
“Will this lead to the board to do the right thing and adopt meaningful standards? There is no reason for optimism — because the board has a very different definition of what is the right thing to do than Californians who care about public schools.”
Common Core and NGSS standards and standardized testing are about monetizing schools and privatizing them. It appears that promoting that path is what you mean by “Californians who care about public schools.” Please realize that you and your fellow travelers are working to destroy a great public trust and the main pillar of democratic freedoms for “a few pieces of silver.”
Thomas Ultican taught high school physics and mathematics in a school with more the 50 percent English Language and 75 percent Title 1 students. He said, “In 1999, I got tired of doing research in Silicon Valley and decided to teach. It is the hardest job I ever had and I liked it!”