ALEC And Jeb Bush Are Conspiring To Kill Off Public Schools For Good

ALEC And Jeb Bush Are Conspiring To Kill Off Public Schools For Good

By Dennis S

Even the most successful of power-mad schemers need reliable co-conspirators to accomplish their nefarious ends. The most power-mad of the power-mad, the American Legislative Exchange Council, relies on easily compromised spear-carriers to dominate state legislatures and push through model-legislation designed to benefit ALEC’s multi-national, special interest corporate donor base.

It was by pure happenstance I chanced upon such a co-conspirator the other day. It actually turned out to be three co-conspirators. I was digging through the South Carolina Ethics Commission’s statements of economic interests required of state and legislative office holders and their challengers. These interests include name, address, filing date, business and property interest, creditors, government contracts, lobbyist contacts and, most importantly, who is buying legislator’s votes through the section marked “gifts.”

I concentrated on my local delegation of seated representatives. On my first search, an initialism (thus termed when an acronym is unpronounceable) popped up that I’d never seen or heard of before. It appeared as SLLF. Whatever it was had gifted one of my local state delegations with a total of nearly $3,100 for the gift of a single trip. Not bad. There are some economy overseas jaunts you can take for three grand. The stipend covered ‘tuition,’ lodging and meals. As I looked at the economic interests of my other local representatives, SLLF appeared over and over. Four of my six house members accepted SLLF’s largess. This definitely called for further study.

It took but seconds to find the expanded version of SLLF. It stood for State Legislative Leaders Foundation. Here’s their charge “The State Legislative Leaders Foundation was established in 1972 as a nonprofit corporation dedicated to working with state legislative leaders in their efforts to reform the institution of the state legislature.” Reform is an interesting choice of words considering their Board Chairman is Eric Turner, Indiana House Speaker Pro Tem, who most recently attracted the attention of the legislative Ethics Commission for secretly attempting to kill a bill that would hurt his family business. Might we continue?

The Board of Directors of SLLF is split equally between Republicans and Democrats. The South Carolina member is Bobby Harrell, Republican Speaker of the House and ALEC member, who has so many ethics problems that he might as well rent office space from the state Attorney General. Another legislator lives in the stone age of insisting that the president was not born in the U.S. Yet another guy wants to teach bible studies in public schools. A board member, and Michigan Senate President Pro Tem, is a public chairperson for ALEC. All board members hold some kind of leadership position in their respective General Assemblies.

There were five meetings listed on the SLLF 2014 itinerary: The National Speakers Conference, the Ethics Leadership Summit, the Emerging Leaders Program and something called the “2nd Annual Meeting” held at the super fancy schmancy Greenbrier, replete with horse-drawn carriages. Greenbrier is a favorite snooty getaway for DC’s congressional glitterati. The fifth meeting of 2014 was jointly held in Zagreb and Dubrovnik, Croatia. That’s got to cost a few Kunas. Dubrovnik is essentially a resort city. I’d loved to know where SLLF folks stayed. It’s expensive! The Villa Orsula by the Adriatic perchance? I’d vote for anything for a few days of Orsula by the sea luxury.

The SLLF Advisory Council is made up of corporate members and Trade Associations. Over half are past or present ALEC members. I think it’s more than fair to ask what so many Democrats, including a sprinkling of real progressives, are doing in this den of political iniquity.

While NSA’ing my way through various SLLF sites, I ran into the name, Rob Scheberle. Turns out the current head of ALEC was once an Assistant VP for SLLF. That led me to another pursuit of Scheberle’s. He’s on the Digital Learning Council Leadership team as a member or adviser, along with several radical right-wing outfits like ALEC climate change denier and vehemently anti-public school, the “Heartland Institute.” One of the founders of DLC was ALEC member and former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, very possibly our next president. The co-founder was another ex-governor, West Virginia’s Bob Wise. The date of DLC’s birth was 2010.

The primary emphasis of DLC is online and virtual learning, a back door wrecking ball of public schools. In addition to Heartland, The Charter growth fund is on board as well as the extremist organization, the American Enterprise Institute.

K12 is skulking around the halls of DLC as well. K12 is a private, for profit virtual school corporation (NYSE: LRN) that has a highly misleading website in South Carolina making it appear as a public, state agency. Various sources have written that their “virtual schools” are a disaster with deep-seated attendance and graduation problems and scores in reading and math falling well short of public school averages.

An interesting minority “adviser” is Gerard Robinson. He was lured from his post as Virginia’s head of the Department of Education by Florida Governor, Rick Scott, to take the same position in the Sunshine state. What followed was a chaotic year of turmoil as Robinson turned the state’s education system on its head with a series of “reforms.” He abruptly resigned. His cred for the Florida post included his position as president of the pro-choice Black Alliance for Educational Options.

Let’s complete the circle with a closing visit to the granddad of public school dismantling, the Jeb Bush “Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE)” The title should have added “as long as that education squeezes a corporate profit out of every kid.” Or, as his Website readily attest in a listing of goals; School Choice: The foundation for excellence in education

“Families need the financial freedom to attend schools that meet their needs. The Foundation supports policies that empower families to choose a public, charter, private, virtual or home school.”

FEE commands giant donations; some in excess of a million dollars. Bill and Melinda Gates anted up a mil or so. News Corp was right up there. The DeVos Foundation (Amway) was highly generous as well. Mr. and Mrs. are huge school choice advocates. Betsy DeVos has headed the Michigan State Republican Party four different times. Charter Schools USA threw a couple of bucks Jeb’s way and the other donors knew what they were buying: a giant can of public school “Whoop A**.”

That’s the agenda. And it’s being carried out by a deceitful amalgam of corporations, foundations, politicians and extremists. Now you know of at least one of the ‘kill off public schools’ conga lines; headed by ALEC, abetted by Jeb Bush and held together with high-sounding right-wing foundations and organizations.

Your move!

Academia and the people without jobs

Academia and the people without jobs

by Ryan Anderson

The 1960s are over. When are we going to wake up and realize that it’s 2014 and our academic paradise is a smoldering ash heap, a sad leftover from thirty something years of complete and utter demolition? We no longer have a booming economy and tons of federal money going into the university system. The days of cheap, accessible higher ed are done and gone. And yet, we keep churning out graduate students as if they, too, are going to end up as university professors. As if each and every one of them will soon have their own hip little office full of books, dedicated students, and bright, starry-eyed careers ahead of them. It’s not happening. Paradise. In. Ashes.

In other words: there are no jobs in academia.

I’m a graduate student in anthropology. Ya, the discipline that Forbes rated as the “least valued” in all of the land. Lucky me. Over the years, people have often asked me: “Anthropology eh? So what are you going to do with that?” My response was invariably a version of something like “Well, there’s a LOT I can do with anthropology.” That usually followed with me thinking—hoping—that there actually was something on the other side.

There may not be anything on the other side.

Me, and thousands of others learned that lesson the hard way. We spent about a decade learning how to become academics, only to realize the dream has already passed. We’re all trained for positions that don’t exist. We’ve been prepared for a way of life that is rapidly vanishing before our eyes (the secure, tenured academic). We go into debt because of a strange “loyalty oath to an imagined employer” (as Sarah Kendzior recently put it) that certainly doesn’t come knocking the day you graduate.

We’ve been had. And we walked right into it.

I realized how bad things were when I was about half way through my PhD program—and it didn’t help that the global economy was literally crashing right when I started. You know, the whole “Great Recession” thing. After one year, I nearly dropped out. Looking back, maybe that would have been the better decision. But, for some reason, I kept going…in part because of a vague hope that things would somehow “work out.” I too pinned my hopes on that imagined employer.

No prospects yet. But I persist. I keep pushing forward, telling myself that it will be better if I just finish this damn degree. So many of us keep going. Why?

Maybe we’re all in denial. Or perhaps we believe so strongly in the potential of higher education that we choose to look the other way when we start hearing all those rumors about the dreaded, desperate job market. We believe in some idealistic, romantic version of higher education so deeply that we ignore the hard truths that stare us right in the face. Maybe our faith in the idea that learning is about more than just “getting a job” has blinded us to the fact that deeply indebted graduates with few job prospects are hardly going to be able to be those “few caring people” who can change the world.

We have to open our eyes. Because it’s pretty much impossible to change the world when you have the weight of compound interest grinding into your soul. When the debt collection letters flood you mailbox. When the phone calls won’t stop.

The reality is this: maybe we don’t want to accept reality. Maybe we simply don’t want to admit how bad things are. We don’t want to acknowledge that our prized possession—higher education—has run off the rails. We tell ourselves that the institution of higher ed is still doing fine, thank you very much. But it’s not. Imagine applying for graduate school and getting an acceptance letter that actually told you how it is in grad school:

Dear Esteemed Applicant,

We, the faculty at the University of the Real World, want to formally congratulate you and inform you that you have been accepted into our doctoral program. You will be provided funding, but unless you have a lot of financial resources, you’re more than likely going to end up with debilitating debt. Your living costs and other expenses may be overwhelming, so you’ll need credit cards and student loans to shore up your finances. We cannot guarantee any sort of employment after you spend 5-10 years of your life working your ass off in our program. In fact, getting a job in academia is beyond a long shot for most people. But hey, you could get lucky. Regardless, we’re still training students as if it’s still the 1960s. But don’t despair—you might be able to land an adjunct gig. Welcome aboard. Please pay your tuition promptly or you will not be able to register for classes. We accept Visa, Mastercard, and American Express.


Faculty of URW

What would you do if you got a letter like that? Would you accept? Hell no you wouldn’t. Yes, of course the above letter is satirical and stupid and ridiculous—but it’s not far from the truth for many students currently trying to plow through graduate school before they reach the point of complete economic and emotional devastation. Things are that bad. But you’re not going to see universities and academic departments speaking to the situation. They keep reeling those students in with stories about “career opportunities” and other good PR. Ya, right.

The job market in academia isn’t just lukewarm. It’s not “Well, it could be better.” It is, as Karen Kelsky once said, imploding. Meanwhile, many tenured faculty members continue to stand on the sidelines, safe in their own positions, as the collapse ensues:

today’s tenured professors indeed accrued privilege by virtue of birth: they were born early enough to enter the job market and rise through its ranks before the total implosion of the university hiring economy. Yes, the academic job market was tight in the 1980s and 1990s. Sure it was; I was there! But tight is not the same thing as decimated. The tenured may have struggled mightily to find work, but there was still work to find, when universities had not yet begun the aggressive process of downsizing, shrinking the faculty, and eradicating lines.

Megan McArdle’s piece on Bloomberg builds off Kelsky’s
argument, and puts the brutality of the situation into sharp relief:

academia is now one of the most exploitative labor markets in the world. It’s not quite up there with Hollywood and Broadway in taking kids with a dream and encouraging them to waste the formative decade(s) of their work life chasing after a brass ring that they’re vanishingly unlikely to get, then dumping them on the job market with fewer employment prospects than they had at 22. But it certainly seems to be trying to catch up.

Ok, sure, there are some jobs in academia. But the chance of getting one of them is so infinitesimally small that grad students might be better off buying quick-picks at the local 7-11 than spending 6-10 years of their lives slogging away at a PhD that doesn’t even lead to anything remotely worth the time and effort. It seems that everyone knows about the bad job market. We all know. But for some reason the grad students keep trudging forward. Behind them, legions of new graduate students send in applications and willingly join the whole fiasco. It all begins to look like The Grapes of Wrath, when thousands and thousands of people made their way to the golden hills of California…only to find out that all of the promised jobs didn’t exist and people were so desperate they were willing to work for almost anything. We all know how that turned out. Can anyone say “cheap labor source”? Yet we keep going. Hoping.

This isn’t a new story. Early in 2013, Sarah Kendzior highlighted the role that faith—or hope—plays in maintaining the current status quo:

The most unnerving thing I see in the job market nowadays—academic or otherwise—is people working in terrible conditions in the hope of a future that never comes. Hope is something you should have for other people, not for yourself. Hope holds you down and blinds you to possibilities.

The future that never comes. That’s what keeps us all going. So we work harder, hoping to be the one who makes it through. Hoping that just one more grant, paper, or presentation will be the magic bullet that leads to success. Despite all the evidence, despite the odds, we push forward. We all push—and we end up crushing ourselves like a frenzied crowd.

The numbers are not on our side. If you don’t believe me, have a look at this chart. Do you see? That’s approximately 36,000 new PhDs each year, and only around 3,000 new positions created.

Do the math.

Specifically relating to anthropology (my discipline), check out some of the stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the BLS, there were approximately 6,060 anthropologists and archaeologists at the time of the survey. A paltry one percent of them worked at universities, colleges, and professional schools—and those who did made less, on average, than all the rest.

Back in February 2013 Matthew Wolf-Meyer wrote this post about job prospects in anthropology. He mentions the BLS claim that there would be 21% growth in anthropology-related jobs. On the surface, that looks promising. But he takes a closer look at the numbers. First, he points out, the number of PhDs granted in anthropology has greatly increased over the past two decades (up from 341 in 1991 to 555 in 2011). Second, the actual number of jobs is still pretty low. With a 21% increase, the approximately 6100 jobs in 2011 would translate to about 7400 jobs by 2020. By his calculation, this would lead to about 300 new PhDs out of work each year “for the foreseeable future.” The final issue Wolf-Meyer highlights is the fact that most of the actual growth will be in contract archaeology (CRM) and consulting work. The numbers—just like the rumors we all hear—are telling us that academia is not going to be an option for many—if not most—new graduates. And yet, we persist. The applications keep getting sent.

When will it stop?

The title of this essay is a play on the title of Eric Wolf’s 1982 Europe and the People Without History. That title, as Wolf explained in his introduction, was meant to be ironic. His book wasn’t written to imply that there really were people out there who had no history before the Europeans arrived. His whole book is about the fact that all those “others” are clearly and undeniably a part of the human story. They have always had history, and been a part of history. His point was that there are no people without history—but there are people who are actively left out of history. Wolf’s project was meant to address that very problem, to make explicit those other histories that are often cast aside, forgotten, and marginalized. Because those histories matter. Especially if history is supposed to be something more than just the propaganda of the victorious.

There are histories and stories missing from the narrative we tell ourselves about academia and higher education. We tell stories of success. These are the stories that drive the whole system. This is what pulls in thousands of undergraduates, and what motivates others to continue on into graduate school. Everyone loves a success story. Besides, success sells. But what of academia’s others? Who are academia’s people without history?

They are ones who didn’t make it. The ones who went through the system, but whose careers didn’t pan out well enough to end up on department home pages or university press releases. They are the people who can’t be used to recruit new students, whose stories don’t give us a wondrous picture of higher education.

My title is also written with more than a little irony. The “people without jobs” aren’t all simply jobless. They just don’t have the right jobs to be included in academia’s big self-promotional story. They are academia’s others. The ones who aren’t working as deans, provosts, and department chairs. They are the adjuncts, the lecturers, the people who work at Home Depot or spend their nights as waiters and waitresses. They ended up switching careers, starting all over, or worse. Their stories give us another view of academia. Another version of events. Their histories—contrary to the shiny pages of university websites—tell us what higher education isn’t doing. Their voices can tell us what went wrong, and what needs to change.

Our paradise burns. We stand by watching. We burn with it. We have to change the narrative. We need to listen to those other voices.

The First College in the U.S. to Open Without Any Books in its Library

The First College in the U.S. to Open Without Any Books in its LibraryFlorida Polytechnic University
by Letitia Stein

TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) – The library opening with the first day of classes on Monday at Florida’s newest college features a sunlit arched roof and cozy reading chairs – but not a single book.

A fully digital library is among the futuristic features of Florida Polytechnic University’s striking dome-shaped building, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

“It’s a boldly relevant decision to go forward without books,” said Kathryn Miller, the university’s director of libraries.

The inaugural class of 550 students, offered scholarships covering tuition to attend a public university so new it’s not yet accredited, can access more than 135,000 ebooks on their choice of reader, tablet or laptop.

A bookless library is a rarity among U.S. colleges but reflects the high-tech ambitions of the university in Lakeland, Florida. Rising along a drab stretch of highway between Tampa and Orlando, Florida Polytechnic envisions building a technology corridor in the image of Silicon Valley.

Florida Polytechnic University
Florida Polytechnic University

Without stacks to organize, librarians staffing the main reference desk, which is called a success desk, will steer students to tutoring resources and train them in managing digital materials.

While the library is not paperless, students are discouraged from using its printers too much, Miller said. They can buy traditional textbooks in the bookstore, or digital texts when available.

Old-fashioned books can be requested on loan from libraries at Florida’s 11 other public universities.

Florida Polytechnic budgeted $60,000 to buy titles through software allowing students one free browse. With the second click, the university purchases the digital book.

“Instead of the librarian putting books on the shelf that I think would be relevant, the students are choosing,” Miller said.

Florida Polytechnic University
Florida Polytechnic University

Robust digital resources in an academic library are not unusual, she said, but most also have traditional books. The college consulted with similar libraries run by NASA and a mostly digital medical school library at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

“Digital in some ways is better. People can find things easier, and they can discover more things by accident,” said Carrie Russell, a policy analyst for the American Library Association.

The downsides include the difficulty of preserving information when technology changes, she noted, and licensing agreements that can require paying annually rather than owning outright.

“In the past, you could buy a reference book and it could sit on your shelf for 120 years,” Russell said.

Several thousand such traditional books were inherited by Florida Polytechnic and are gathering dust in an off-campus library shared with a nearby community-based college.

The titles can be browsed digitally and requested online from the new, bookless library.

How to educate Americans for jobs? Ask the Germans, employers urge

How to educate Americans for jobs?
Ask the Germans, employers urge

By Jon Marcus

INDIANAPOLIS — Two years. That’s how long it takes William Lankin’s fast-growing electrical contracting company to teach new hires with four-year university degrees the tricks of the trade.

These college grads “have learned the book stuff, but they don’t have real-world experience,” said Lankin, vice president of Industrial Electric. “They don’t know how to work with other people, or subcontractors — how to actually do business.”

Bringing them up to speed while paying them a salary is time-consuming and expensive, and even then there’s no guarantee that they’ll be good enough to keep. Which only complicates the original predicament: In spite of the still-soft job market, companies like Lankin’s can’t find enough qualified workers.

Now some hiring managers, a few policymakers, and a handful of community colleges are accepting help to solve this problem from an unexpected source: the Germans.

Students at Ivy Tech Community College. (Photo: Ivy Tech Community College)

Through an initiative being quietly promoted by the German embassy, U.S. colleges that consider themselves part of the greatest higher-education system in the world are importing the German model of career and technical education to keep up with a demand they can’t fill: for Americans with the right skills to work in mid-level fields.

“We said, ‘What is the best model?’” said Sue Smith, vice president for technology and applied sciences at Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College, which has teamed up with Lankin’s company to create a program for prospective employees based on what the Germans do. “And, quite honestly, the German model is the best model.”

It consists of a so-called dual system of education and training that combines a few days a week of classroom instruction at vocational schools with on-the-job apprenticeships that are designed to lead to full-time jobs for which graduates are ready straight out of school. The German students also receive a form of credential called a certification qualification.

This simple setup keeps German industry humming, and youth unemployment down to about 8 percent — less than half of what it is in the United States — according to the German embassy.

By comparison, routes to similar careers in the United States are convoluted and confusing, even as the need for workers to fill them escalates, a study by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development found.

The kinds of education required for these mid-level jobs — many of them in manufacturing industries that are expanding quickly in states including Indiana — are also getting more sophisticated. By 2018, two-thirds of all jobs in the United States will require more than high school degrees, the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce estimates.

And while colleges and universities are scrambling to keep up, business doesn’t think they have.

Ninety-six percent of chief academic officers from colleges and universities say their institutions are preparing college graduates for work, but only 11 percent of business leaders say they’re getting what they need, the Gallup polling organization found in a survey for the Lumina Foundation. (Lumina is among the funders of The Hechinger Report, which produced this story.)

About 30 companies and 30 community and private colleges are turning to the Germans, embassy spokesman Markus Knauf said. Most of the programs are still in the planning stages, though a few are under way. In addition to Indiana, they’re in California, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. “Why not? Different methods of education can be very effective,” said Debra Kerrigan, dean of workforce training and continuing education at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, which has teamed up with a local plant of the Swiss equipment manufacturing company Bühler to deliver the classroom portion of the German-style apprenticeship-and-classroom combination.

Students at Ivy Tech Community College. (Photo: Ivy Tech Community College)

Many of the companies that are participating in these pilot programs are German owned, mainly because they’re already familiar with the system. About 3,400 German companies operate in the United States, the embassy says, though Ivy Tech is also launching collaborations with Cummins Engines and Chrysler.

“German companies get it right away,” Smith said. “You don’t have to explain it to them like you have to with the American companies.”

And there are a number of them in Indiana, whose history of German immigration continues to connect it with German culture, officials there say.

“There’s a lot of similarity between the way Hoosiers do things and the way Germans do,” said Sven Schumacher, honorary German consul to Indianapolis, who wears a lapel pin with the German and American flags and speaks of holding meetings about the education initiative at German companies based in Indiana over sausage and sauerkraut. “I think that’s helpful in understanding this, and I think it’s why German companies come to this state.”

Starting in the fall, Ivy Tech students will spend three days a week in class and two at companies like Lankin’s, where they will be paid for their apprenticeships. The college plans similar programs in advanced automation and robotics at the request of employers that run large assembly plants. Participants are expected to include traditional-age students and also people who want to change jobs or find new careers.

The Obama administration also likes the idea. It has announced a consortium of community colleges and industry to create an even broader system under which students would get academic credit for apprenticeships that Vice President Joe Biden said offer “a pathway to the middle class” and “a pipeline of skilled workers for employers.” Still, to catch up with Germany on a per-capita basis, the United States would have to add 2.5 million apprenticeships. About 358,000 exist today, according to the Center for American Progress, many of them organized not by companies but by unions.

Only about 10 percent of American 18- to 22-year-olds get on-the-job training, the OECD reports.

One reason is that it’s expensive. Ivy Tech has persuaded some of its corporate partners to reimburse the tuition of students who successfully complete their apprenticeships and stick around to work, for instance.

In Germany, employers pay 75 percent of the $19,850 annual cost of each trainee, and the government covers the rest.

“I don’t think there are a going to be a lot of companies that are going to be able to invest this kind of money,” Kerrigan said.

For students, on the other hand, it could be a good deal. Getting an academic degree before going into a mid-level profession adds an average of up to 18 percent to average salaries for men and 23 percent for women, the OECD estimates.

Lankin thinks it’s worth the investment — and that the long-established German system could help solve his staffing problem.

“They’ve been doing this for years,” he said. “That’s been the German philosophy for a long time: to train you for a job.”

Michael Brown’s High School Is An Example Of The Major Inequalities In Education

Michael Brown’s High School Is An Example
Of The Major Inequalities In Education

by Rebecca Klein

Before Michael Brown became a symbol of racially charged unrest, he was a recent high school graduate days away from starting college.

That high school diploma was hard-earned, his mourning mother has said. “Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate?” she told news station KMOV. “You know how many black men graduate? Not many.”

For 12 days now, protesters in Ferguson and across the country have been chanting Brown’s name as they rail against racial profiling and unequal treatment at the hands of law enforcement. It has meant a jolting start to the fall semester this week for students at Normandy High, a school of about 1,000 in Wellston, St. Louis county.

Everyone is going to be talking about Mike. What’s going to happen to the one who shot him? Why did they shoot him?” one student, Zaria Trotter, told NBC about the new school year.

Brown intended to attend Vatterott College, a trade school, where he would learn how to become a heating and air conditioner technician. But a deeper look at his alma mater, where about 83 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunchand dropout and suspension rates are well above state averages, highlights the inequities he faced while growing up, what he overcame to graduate, the uneven playing field his peers are left to navigate — and how the school is emblematic of a system that’s failing low-income kids.

1. Graduation Rates At Normandy Are Low

According to Missouri data from 2013, the four-year graduation rate for Normandy High School was 53 percent, compared to 86 percent in the state as a whole. For context, the national high school graduation rate reached a historic high of 80 percent in 2012.

4-Year And 5-Year High School Graduation Rates
2013 data is from the Missouri Department of Education.

2. Suspension Rates Are Soaring

About 60 percent of students in the mostly black school had at least one in-school or out-of-school suspension in 2011, according to data collected by the Office of Civil Rights. This is far greater than average nationwide rates of suspension. What’s more, there’s a clear racial element to who is being punished and who isn’t: A nationwide OCR report found that black students were suspended around the country at a rate of 16 percent during the 2011-2012 school year, while white students were suspended at a rate of just 5 percent.

Civil rights advocates often advertise the negative impact of suspensions on students,saying they have a “push out” effect and make students more likely to drop out before attaining a high school degree — a factor that could contribute to Normandy’s low graduation rates.

Daphne Dorsey, spokeswoman for Normandy School District, said the numbers listed in the Office of Civil Rights report weren’t accurate, even though they were provided by the district. “The people who were here when that report was done –- they’re no longer here,” she said. Dorsey also noted that the district has made an effort to offer students more support and curb suspensions.

“The administration in place at the high school and middle school really didn’t address what resulted in those suspensions [in 2011],” she said. “If a student was out of uniform, they were suspended instead of finding out why they were out of uniform.”

3. Normandy High School Has Been Noted For High Rates Of Violence

In 2013, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote an article dubbing Normandy “the most dangerous school in the area.” According to the article, in 2012 the school reported 285 discipline incidents that resulted in suspensions of 10 days or more. Only one other high school in the state had a higher rate of incidents that year, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Dorsey said a zero-tolerance policy in place that year inflated the numbers, misrepresenting the school.

In a newsletter to parents that October, the school explained the situation. “Infractions such as insubordination, uniform violation, horseplay, truancy, and tardiness would have warranted a one-, two-, three-day suspension in many school districts; however, in Normandy, those students were given an automatic 10-day suspension,” Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Dr. Trish Adkins said in the newsletter.

Indeed, the number of 10-day suspensions significantly decreased in 2013, according to state data.

4. The State Has Labeled Normandy A “Failed District”

normandy high school missouri
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Normandy School District lost accreditation in 2012 after it was labeled a “failed district” due to low standardized test scores. Out of over 500 school districts in Missouri, only three are without accreditation, according to Sarah Potter, the communications coordinator for the Missouri Department of Education. Since then, the district has been renamed the Normandy Schools Collaborative and was taken over by the state.

After Normandy’s district lost its accreditation, students there were allowed to transfer to better districts under Missouri state law. But the transfers stirred up controversy. MSNBC reported in 2013 that nearly 25 percent of students in the district opted to leave for better options.

Additionally, parents at the high-performing schools that Normandy students were to attend were not thrilled about the arrival of the new teens:

“I deserve to not have to worry about my children getting stabbed, or taking a drug, or getting robbed,” one mother said at a school board meeting at the time in response to the pending arrival of Normandy students, according to MSNBC.

Chris Krehmayer, president and CEO of Beyond Housing, a St. Louis organization that works to improve the communities surrounding Normandy schools, said he attributes Normandy’s poor test scores to the tough circumstances faced by the district’s children, rather than poor classroom instruction.

“Right now the schools have lost their accreditation, which clearly is not a good thing,” Krehmayer told The Huffington Post. “The dynamics of the population is not unlike many places across the country. Over 90 percent of children receive free and reduced lunch, and the school has an annual mobility rate of over 50 percent. [Academic] challenges are not always about teaching and learning in the classroom, but about what’s happening in the life of the child.”

5. It Is Located In A State Where Poor Schools Often Get The Least Funding

Missouri received a D on a 2014 school funding report card that measures how states distribute funds to low- and high-poverty schools in the state. School funding in Missouri is slightly regressive, so that the poorest schools often receive the least funding, even though those students may need the most support. Overall, the report found that only 14 other states had school funding distribution systems that were more unfair than Missouri’s.

A 2012 report from the Center for American Progress reiterates this point. According to the report, Missouri is a state where “children attending school in higher-poverty districts still have substantially less access to state and local revenue than children attending school in lower-poverty districts.”

Unfortunately, Missouri is not alone. Across the country, places like Pennsylvania and Illinois also have unequal school funding systems that often leave the poorest students with the least resources.

6. Few Students Participate In Competitive Classes

According to 2011 data from the Office of Civil Rights, of the 1,064 students attending Normandy High School at the time, only 4 students were enrolled in a calculus class — less than 1 percent of the school — and 33 students were enrolled in physics class — about 3 percent of the school. By comparison, according to 2009 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 16 percent of graduates nationwide had taken calculus in high school and 36 percent of graduates had taken physics.

Standardized test scores at Normandy High are also low. About 50 percent of the graduating 2013 class from Normandy took the ACT, with an average score of 16.8, according to data from the Missouri Department of Education. By comparison,students in the state received an average score of 21.6.

Finally, significantly fewer Normandy students went on to attend four-year universities than in the rest of the state in 2013. While nearly 37 percent of Missouri high school graduates went to a four-year school, about 20 percent of Normandy graduates did, according to state data.

…But Things Could Get Better

Dorsey told HuffPost that students were greeted at school on Monday by clergy members and parents holding supportive signs. Even though she said there was a “sense of loss” in the school community, students came ready to learn. The school made counselors available to students if they wanted to chat, although Dorsey said that by Tuesday she did not think counselors had been utilized much so far.

“We have great students in our district. We emphasize learning, academics; our students are caring. They’re involved. … They do a lot of different things,” said Dorsey. “There is a negative perception … but … the students who came to school today, they were upbeat, they were enthusiastic, and they were excited to be back at school.”

Krehmayer of Beyond Housing was one of said supporters who came to Normandy to cheer kids on during their first day.

“It was full of enthusiasm and excitement,” said Krehmayer. “There was no sense of ‘wow this is a bad place to be.’”

Michelle Rhee’s real legacy: Here’s what’s most shameful about her reign

Michelle Rhee’s real legacy: Here’s
what’s most shameful about her reign

by Matt Bruenig

The “education reform” leader who just stepped
down gets plenty of criticism. But people overlook this

In the last week or so, Michelle Rhee stepped down from StudentsFirst, an education reform organization that she founded four years ago. During her tenure at StudentsFirst, and before then, Rhee meticulously crafted her image as a firebrand who intended to shake up education in the country. Although most of the coverage of Rhee and her departure has focused on her education theatrics, her remarks on the issue of child poverty have been far more troubling.

In debates about education reform, one very common pattern of arguments has emerged. Education reformers like Rhee jump into the forum and confidently proclaim that poor students are failing to acquire good educations because of bad schools and bad teachers. Then, those who actually know things about child poverty respond that poverty, by itself, is a massive impediment to educational attainment because of its damaging effects on human functioning.

On its face, this response should pose no particular problem for education reformers. If they want, they can synthesize these two points by saying that both poverty and bad schools drag down educational attainment, and that we should therefore target both. Under such a synthesis, the reformers would come out in favor of very simple and empirically proven ways (they love data!) to dramatically reduce child poverty, and also make the case for their specific education reforms. But, with few exceptions, they don’t do that.

Instead, would-be reformers like Michelle Rhee totally abandon advocating for poverty reduction in favor of flavorless, politically neutral policies that don’t offend big donors. Generally, the refusal to recognize the role poverty plays in diminishing educational attainment forms three themes. In the first, reformers claim that people who chalk up low educational attainment to poverty are just excuse-making. This is, of course, manifestly absurd: Someone who says educational outcomes are harmed by poverty is not making an excuse out of poverty; they are identifying it as the (or a) cause. To argue such explanations are really excuses is as absurd as saying that Michelle Rhee is using “bad schools” as an excuse for low educational attainment. In other words, the “excuse” gambit is both false and nonsensical.

The second theme is a kind of slick resignation that morphs back into support for old policies that are unrelated to poverty reduction itself. The reformers accept finally that, yes, poverty is an independent problem. They accept that, all else equal, child poverty will absolutely drag down educational attainment. Yet the rhetoric associated with this kind of acknowledgment of poverty doesn’t stick, and reformers are always quick to follow up the concession with the same old solutions they’ve always hawked, which comprises the final theme.

This third theme usually features reformers like Rhee simultaneously admitting what is obvious — child poverty is an independent drag on educational attainment — without having to endorse doing anything about it. Instead, they insist that reforming education is the only way to do anything about poverty to begin with, so the acknowledgment that poverty is an independent harm in terms of education never inspires any direct action to repair it. Instead, only indirect action through education reform is ever advocated. This is convenient for their cause – and their fundraising campaigns — but it’s totally dishonest and harmful to poor kids.

At the very least, education is not the only way to solve child poverty. (In fact, it’s not even clear that it is a way to solve child poverty.) And to determine that, we don’t have to go with gut feelings.

What we know of all the empirical data recording child poverty rates and their changes is that the best, easiest and most efficient way to cut child poverty is through transfer programs. We could cut child poverty in half tomorrow – that’s a 50 percent reduction in poor children — if we wanted to, for little more than 1 percent of the GDP. All it would take is a child allowance, similar to many programs already extant in a slew of countries. Better yet for all the ed-reforming data lovers, we can actually track the rate at which transfers reduce child poverty – and they do so very, very well.

Yet from Michelle Rhee and her celebrated class of reformer compatriots, there’s no word on reducing child poverty head-on. The failure to endorse direct child poverty reduction, even after recognizing it as a serious contributor to educational problems, is either a function of Rhee’s own conservative politics or her abject pandering to her rich, corporate donor base. It’s popular to mock those who remark that education reform is “corporate,” but the organizations emblematic of ed reform are, in fact, funded by extremely wealthy people and corporations – like Wal-Mart. With backers like that in her corner, Rhee can’t ever push child poverty reduction sincerely because it generally means policies that make such donors less rich in order to make poor students less poor.

And this is the ultimate failing of this whole education reform business, really. Through extraordinary amounts of money and carefully collected social, political and cultural capital, they are the most preeminent movement for helping poor children in this country. All national conversations about child poverty happen fully within their court, according to their terms.

Yet, because they are led by people who are either ideologically, or out of convenience due to donors’ preferences, against policies that would dramatically cut child poverty, they are limited in what they can actually accomplish. Despite their rhetoric, (poor) students are never actually placed first, but always second behind the distributive political preferences of the rich. Rhee and those who follow in her wake will drill on trying to squeeze out some marginal gains here and there through school reform, all while ignoring and minimizing powerful, tested solutions so as to make sure people don’t aim at child poverty itself. When you absolutely dominate the national discourse on how best to help poor children, as Rhee and her cohorts have for so long, such a posture is extremely shameful and damaging.



This is educational ‘innovation’?

This is educational ‘innovation’?

By Valerie Strauss

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, which brings the world the international testing program of 15-year old students known as PISA, just issued a new report called “Measuring Innovation in Education: A New Perspective, Educational Research and Innovation.”

Yes, the OECD is measuring innovation in education. There are, of course, innovation metrics for evaluating businesses, but schools aren’t businesses and shouldn’t be operated as if they were. So what exactly constitutes “innovation” in the educational world as viewed by the OECD?

Here’s how the OECD introduces the report on its website here:

Do teachers innovate? Do they try different pedagogical approaches? Are practices within classrooms and educational organisations changing? And to what extent can change be linked to improvements? A measurement agenda is essential to an innovation and improvement strategy in education. Measuring Innovation in Education offers new perspectives on addressing the need for such measurement.

The executive summary of the report starts like this:

The ability to measure innovation is essential to an improvement strategy in education. Knowing whether, and how much, practices are changing within classrooms and educational organisations, how teachers develop and use their pedagogical resources, and to what extent change can be linked to improvements would provide a substantial increase in the international education knowledge base.

Measuring Innovation in Education offers new perspectives to address this need for measurement in educational innovation through a comparison of innovation in education to innovation in other sectors, identification of specific innovations across educational systems, and construction of metrics to examine the relationship between educational innovation and changes in educational

To the OECD then, at least as far as this report, what it determines to be “innovations” are part of educational improvement strategies. So what does the section say is the biggest organizational educational innovation “in policy and practice” in the standardized test-obsessed United States that is supposedly improving school systems? I gave it away: the use of standardized tests to monitor progress, as if standardized tests really do measure student progress. Assessment experts always note that standardized tests measure only a narrow band of a student’s knowledge and skills.

The report says in the section about the United States:

The United States’ top organisational innovation was the use of student assessments for monitoring progress over time. Between 2000 and 2009, the United States saw a 24% point difference in the percentage of 15-year-old students in schools where assessments are used for monitoring progress from year-to-year; as of 2009, over 97% of all American secondary students were enrolled in schools using this practice.

Here are the top five U.S. “innovations in organizational practice and policy”:

1) More use of student assessments for monitoring school progress
2) More use of assessments for national or district benchmarking
3) More use of assessment data to inform parents of student progress
4) More external evaluation of secondary school classrooms
5) More parental service on secondary school committees

And here are the top five U.S. “innovations in pedagogic practice”:

1) More observation and description in secondary school science lessons
2) More individualized reading instruction in primary school classrooms
3) More use of answer explanation in primary mathematics
4) More relating of primary school lessons to everyday life
5) More text interpretation in primary lessons

(Is more of something genuinely innovative?)

Note that none of these mention the use of technology or computers.

How do the U.S. “innovations” compare to other countries and school systems included in the report? You can see for yourself here, but as an example, the top innovation in organizational practice and policy in Hong Kong was “more peer evaluation of teachers in primary and secondary education.” In Korea, the innovation in organizational practice and policy was “more peer evaluation of teachers in secondary education.” In Singapore, it was “more use of incentives for secondary teachers.”

The United States at this point appears to be standing alone in its obsessive use of standardized tests as important measures of accountability in education.

Incidentally, the school system that has come out on top in the last two administrations of the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment  (PISA) is Shanghai, and Shanghai is considered dropping out of PISA. Why? Shanghai officials want to de-emphasize standardized test scores.

Building, Not Rebuilding, Public Education

Building, Not Rebuilding, Public Education
(Katrina Ohstrom / Jacobin)
by Lois Weiner

Fighting corporate education reform is less about restoring the
old system to its former glory than building a just one for the first time.

In 1954, I was in the first grade at David W. Harlan Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware. I could buy a hot lunch prepared by cafeteria workers who were employed by the Wilmington Public Schools. I took music lessons for free, using a violin the city schools lent me. We had a school library, chorus, and band. We had art classes three times a week.

Yet schools on Wilmington’s east side got the leftover musical instruments and much less money for books, supplies, and maintaining school facilities like the playground. Harlan was all white, intentionally segregated. Real estate developers and brokers in its attendance zone had homeowners sign racial covenants that prohibited the sale of homes to blacks.

When decrying today’s corporate reform, too many gloss over the second experience and universalize my own, appealing to a past that was always deeply unequal.

Across the United States, there is a great struggle over the nation’s education system. But many working class parents of color see the current battle differently than do those from the white middle class. To be credible to the poor and working-class parents and community members who should be natural allies, labor must acknowledge its complicity in allowing the gross inequality in American education to persist.

The fight against corporate education reform must be less about restoring a system to its former glory than building a just one for the first time.

Unions did not create residential and school segregation, but accepting it was an unarticulated assumption in its post-World War II pact with capital. Those practices and assumptions must no longer be accepted by parents, teachers, and our unions.

Schools in the United States have been affected by inequality outside their walls, while also functioning in ways that both challenge and reproduce it. We have a remarkable body of high-quality empirical scholarship describing “schools as places where social reproduction occurs but also where human agency matters and makes a difference in students’ lives.”

Social movements effectively challenged the inequality of outcomes in education, but in the end were unable to sufficiently disrupt social processes in schools. In good part this occurred because schooling was made to carry a weight that it cannot by itself bear and because education is enmeshed in social, political, and economic conditions that support or undercut what can be accomplished in classrooms.

Probably the most important liberal defender of public education today is Diane Ravitch. In battling her former co-thinkers with the personal resources and connections she acquired in supporting neoconservative policies, Ravitch has contributed mightily to public awareness of the threat to democracy and to children in the current drive to create a privatized school system funded by public money but without collective, public oversight.

Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, her newest book, is an authoritative compendium of why these reforms are so dangerous. Ravitch has almost singlehandedly developed and publicized a liberal rebuttal to corporate reforms.

Still, while she has repudiated the policies she helped craft and promote under the George H. W. Bush administration, she has not yet distanced herself from assumptions that led to her support for the initial iteration of the current reforms. The central political flaw in her analysis is seen when she argues about education’s purposes, past and present. Public education was established in the nineteenth century, she explains:

… to educate future citizens and to sustain our democracy. The essential purpose of the public schools, the reason they receive public funding, is to teach young people the rights and responsibilities of citizens … A secondary purpose was to strengthen our economy and our culture by raising the intelligence of our people and preparing them to lead independent lives as managers, workers, producers, consumers, and creators of ideas, products, and services.

A third purpose, she writes, was “to endow every individual with the intellectual and ethical power to pursue his or her own interests and to develop the judgment and character to survive life’s vicissitudes.”

Ravitch explains that education’s purpose was — and is — to strengthen the economy and prepare people for work. Yet the book does not acknowledge that schools have educated most working-class students for working-class jobs, and most children of professionals for similar careers and social status of their parents. She challenges the claim that education is the “one true path” out of poverty by making poverty exclusively to blame for inequality in education.

Previously Ravitch contended that her own education was ideal, and it is to her credit that in Reign of Error she steps back from that assertion and argues that residential and school segregation do harm. Her shift in thinking shows a new willingness to address racial segregation, an unpopular but necessary step in equalizing school outcomes. However, the overarching argument that U.S. public education was doing as well as could be expected given the effects of poverty is a serious flaw in her analysis and opens up her — and the movement — to the charge that we want to defend an unequal status quo.

Ravitch does not address the contradiction between schooling’s non-economic purposes — its role in educating the next generation of citizens and nurturing each individual’s potential — and its use as a sorting mechanism to allocate a diminishing number of well-paying jobs. Unfortunately, neoliberal reforms resonate with many poor, minority parents precisely because they want the same opportunity for their children to compete for good jobs as middle-class children have.

Calls for schools that make children happy and develop creativity will not assuage parents’ fears that their children will not be strong competitors in an increasingly punishing labor market. Arne Duncan’s contemptuous dismissal of opponents of high-stakes testing and the new Common Core standards as “suburban moms” who can’t face their children’s limitations demonstrates that our opponents will fully exploit the utterly hypocritical and inaccurate claim that they protect poor, minority children against white liberals who want to maintain the status quo, to advantage their own children.

Ravitch marshals evidence that bipartisan reforms aim to destroy the template for mass public education in the United States that was created in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately the artificial national border she draws in telling the story of U.S. education reform obscures the global dimension of the project and the relationship of the changes being made to American schools to demands of capitalism globally and its transformation of schooling throughout the world.

In effect, she proposes a return to the post-World War II social democratic compact, inflected by a commitment to the Civil Rights Movement’s campaign for school integration. One insurmountable problem with this strategy is that capitalism rejects the compact. But even if we could win back the compact, it was a Faustian deal. Teachers unions, like the rest of labor, were bureaucratized and greatly weakened by the quid pro quo that gave them collective bargaining but took away the capacity to intervene directly on issues that go to the heart of teachers’ work, especially school organization and curriculum. This is not a past to which we should want to return.

Ravitch’s electoral strategy also reflects a desire to return to the (idealized) past. She recognizes that big money and corporations control the Democratic Party, and her solution is to push Democrats to be the defenders of public education she says they once were. She therefore encourages opponents of corporate school reform to embrace Democrats willing to criticize (however vaguely) privatization, testing, and charter schools and defend (however meekly) teachers unions.

However, she — and those who agree with this political strategy — do not explain how we will hold candidates responsible to the activists who have worked on their behalf and avoid betrayals. Yet this issue is more pressing with each election cycle and each desertion of Democrats whom progressives have supported.

Al Franken, liberal sweetheart, has endorsed Teach for America and charter schools, as has Howard Dean. Ras Baraka, campaigning for mayor of Newark, easily won the support of activists, including Ravitch, based on his harsh criticisms of Newark’s school closings and proliferating charter schools. Yet Baraka has allied himself with the mayor of Jersey City, who was elected on a program to bring to the Jersey City schools precisely the reforms that Baraka criticizes in Newark — reforms that Democrats for Education Reform and New Jersey’s newest Democratic senator and Newark’s former mayor, Cory Booker, embrace wholeheartedly.

Pressed by activists to criticize teacher union leaders, in particular her longtime friend, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, for endorsing the Common Core and commending legislation that links teacher evaluation to students’ standardized test scores, Ravitch has declined, arguing this creates divisions.

But the divisions already exist because union reformers are challenging the local and national leadership in both of the national teachers unions. The question is whether we will encourage activists to democratize their unions, to make them social movements, or whether we think the model of “service” or “business unionism” should remain the norm. The Chicago Teachers Union is just one part of a growing movement for a better education system. But much hinges on other radical activists in the United States understanding that we cannot repeat the mistakes teachers unions made during their birth in the 1960s.

Teaching Is Not a Business

Teaching Is Not a Business

By David L. Kirp

TODAY’S education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy. Some place their faith in the idea of competition. Others embrace disruptive innovation, mainly through online learning. Both camps share the belief that the solution resides in the impersonal, whether it’s the invisible hand of the market or the transformative power of technology.

Neither strategy has lived up to its hype, and with good reason. It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.

Marketplace mantras dominate policy discussions. High-stakes reading and math tests are treated as the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line. Teachers whose students do poorly on those tests get pink slips, while those whose students excel receive merit pay, much as businesses pay bonuses to their star performers and fire the laggards. Just as companies shut stores that aren’t meeting their sales quotas, opening new ones in more promising territory, failing schools are closed and so-called turnaround model schools, with new teachers and administrators, take their place.

This approach might sound plausible in a think tank, but in practice it has been a flop. Firing teachers, rather than giving them the coaching they need, undermines morale. In some cases it may well discourage undergraduates from pursuing careers in teaching, and with a looming teacher shortage as baby boomers retire, that’s a recipe for disaster. Merit pay invites rivalries among teachers, when what’s needed is collaboration. Closing schools treats everyone there as guilty of causing low test scores, ignoring the difficult lives of the children in these schools — “no excuses,” say the reformers, as if poverty were an excuse.

Charter schools have been promoted as improving education by creating competition. But charter students do about the same, over all, as their public school counterparts, and the worst charters, like the online K-12 schools that have proliferated in several states, don’t deserve to be called schools. Vouchers are also supposed to increase competition by giving parents direct say over the schools their children attend, but the students haven’t benefited. For the past generation, Milwaukee has run a voucher experiment, with much-debated outcomes that to me show no real academic improvement.

While these reformers talk a lot about markets and competition, the essence of a good education — bringing together talented teachers, engaged students and a challenging curriculum — goes undiscussed.

Business does have something to teach educators, but it’s neither the saving power of competition nor flashy ideas like disruptive innovation. Instead, what works are time-tested strategies.

“Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service”: That’s the gospel the management guru W. Edwards Deming preached for half a century. After World War II, Japanese firms embraced the “plan, do, check, act” approach, and many Fortune 500 companies profited from paying attention. Meanwhile, the Harvard Business School historian and Pulitzer Prize-winner Alfred D. Chandler Jr. demonstrated that firms prospered by developing “organizational capabilities,” putting effective systems in place and encouraging learning inside the organization. Building such a culture took time, Chandler emphasized, and could be derailed by executives seduced by faddishness.

Every successful educational initiative of which I’m aware aims at strengthening personal bonds by building strong systems of support in the schools. The best preschools create intimate worlds where students become explorers and attentive adults are close at hand.

In the Success for All model — a reading and math program that, for a quarter-century, has been used to good effect in 48 states and in some of the nation’s toughest schools — students learn from a team of teachers, bringing more adults into their lives. Diplomas Now love-bombs middle school students who are prime candidates for dropping out. They receive one-on-one mentoring, while those who have deeper problems are matched with professionals.

An extensive study of Chicago’s public schools, Organizing Schools for Improvement, identified 100 elementary schools that had substantially improved and 100 that had not. The presence or absence of social trust among students, teachers, parents and school leaders was a key explanation.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the nationwide mentoring organization, has had a substantial impact on millions of adolescents. The explanation isn’t what adolescents and their “big sibling” mentors do together, whether it’s mountaineering or museum-going. What counts, the research shows, is the forging of a relationship based on mutual respect and caring.

Over the past 25 years, YouthBuild has given solid work experience and classroom tutoring to hundreds of thousands of high school dropouts. Seventy-one percent of those youngsters, on whom the schools have given up, earn a G.E.D. — close to the national high school graduation rate. The YouthBuild students say they’re motivated to get an education because their teachers “have our backs.”

The same message — that the personal touch is crucial — comes from community college students who have participated in the City University of New York’s anti-dropout initiative, which has doubled graduation rates.

Even as these programs, and many others with a similar philosophy, have proven their worth, public schools have been spending billions of dollars on technology which they envision as the wave of the future. Despite the hyped claims, the results have been disappointing. “The data is pretty weak,” said Tom Vander Ark, the former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an investor in educational technology companies. “When it comes to showing results, we better put up or shut up.”

While technology can be put to good use by talented teachers, they, and not the futurists, must take the lead. The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate. Small wonder, then, that the business model hasn’t worked in reforming the schools — there is simply no substitute for the personal element.

Removing The Gamification In Your Classroom

Removing The Gamification In Your Classroom

by Terry Heick

Leaving the classroom and becoming whatever it is that I am now has been a humbling experience.

I never grew up wanting to be a teacher, and didn’t even consider the possibility until I was almost 30 years old—and only then because I loved literature and writing and literacy and digital media and the increasingly tenuous but critical relationship between them.

So I was never pulled to teach through any sort of a calling or legacy. My parents were photographers, and my grandfather (law school) was the only person in my family to ever graduate from college. School was always an awkward kind of place for me. I did well academically, but socially it was rough. I was introverted and sensitive and had trouble seeing myself in relation to others (still do), and the dissonance there gouged all kinds of fun insecurities for me.

And let’s be clear: school is first and foremost a social experience—and a thoroughly gamified one at that. Points for this, rules for this, letter for this, awards for that, motivation for this and this and demotivators for that. And when it’s all over, line them all up in descending order from valedictorian backwards and tell them that’s the way the real world is.

Only, of course it isn’t. Resiliency factors and ethics and charisma and a sense of self and purpose—and a dozen other factors–all matter a lot more than academic proficiency in terms of “college and career readiness.” And somehow, reductively, that’s the postmodern vision for school—college and “career” prep, which is horrific when you consider the growing popularity of competency-based education in the post-secondary world where the companies actually work with the colleges to tell them exactly what students should be learning in order to get a job at their corporation and no-one-seems-bothered-by-this-like-it’s-all-part-of-the-game.

Corporations handcrafting the education of human beings. 

So, back to the social and gamified experiment that is school. Academic success and failure are hugely visible to everyone no matter who has access to the gradebook. By the first week of school, it’s apparent to everyone where they stand in the classroom, first with one another, then with the teacher. I’m good at this, not good at this; willing to try this, but probably not going to reveal too much of myself here and here. I need to know the points so I can learn the bare minimum I need to do to survive while maintaining my self-image (or what’s left of it).

So most students know—or are learning–their lane and how to stay in it. You’ll be able to shift the habits and self-confidence and skill levels of the students, but a few days in, the game is set and the rest of the year is a matter of playing that game.

While you can’t remove the social part–nor would you want to–you can do something about the gamification part. Some of these elements may be less accessible to you than others. This is the game–and there are rules to that game that are deeply entrenched in the permafrost. These parts will stay downright untouchable until other competing systems of learning make them obsolete. But at least we can stare at them through the ice and wish they weren’t there.

7 Ways To Remove The Gamification In Your Classroom

1. Have students create own rules/terms

For an assessment, a project, an assignment, or even whether they pass or fail. If they make the rules, while there is still a game, they’ve had a hand in creating it.

2. Remove terms of failure or success

No minimum numerical value to pass–focus instead on quality, iteration, and action.

3. Remove letter grades altogether

We have them because they’re iconic symbols that express academic success in a language everyone understands–but because of this universal-language-ness, they’re reductive, hurtful, and artificial. There are alternatives to letter grades, after all.

4. Remove artificial start and stop times

Instead, strive for always-on learning–like intellectual start-ups that are open 24/7. Chain units together beneath one comprehensive question or challenge. Only give “points” for improvements to existing work, and constantly raise the quality bar so it’s more difficult each time to get the same “credit.”

5. Allow students to “start over”

If you’re not keeping score, every day is new. No such thing as a summative assessment. It’s all formative. And informative. Give them the space or flexibility to work from a clean slate whenever possible, even if they keep “failing.” Instead, change the terms of failure.

6. Don’t rank or compare student performance

Yes, I know norm-reference assessments rank students, as can criterion-based assessments. And yes, I know “the real world” will rank them. And so will colleges. Why are we in such a rush to introduce the heartbreakingly-broken “real world” to precocious young minds that are trying to find their rhythm?

7. Remove points

No numbers or points–these are just symbols. Find a more personal way to give learning feedback.

Image attribution flickr nwabr; Removing Gamification In Your Classroom