Saturday, September 22, 2012

Guilt-Free Schooling

by Steve Buel

I stopped at New Seasons for a turkey burger (really good, but get the Kaiser roll for the bun) on my way home from the school rally tonight. I was wearing my Oregon Save Our Schools t-shirt and a very nice young woman asked me about it.

I told her about SOS and we chatted a little about the state of Oregon education. She said she had a couple of children and I asked her where they went to school. She said they went to the creative science school which is in the Southeast. She said it was a pretty good school, but then, a little guiltily, she said she would have liked to have them go to their neighborhood school.

I see this so often. A parent who really is concerned about the world feeling a little bad about the fact that her children are a little better off because she has taken the time to make sure she did the best by them she could.

I told her, “You have to do the best you can for your children, but you need to fight for everyone else’s children.” I kind of smiled to myself because I thought, “Hey that is pretty good.”

And it is so true. What often happens is that people make sure their children get the best possible but then don’t fight for other people’s children. Haven’t you heard school board members talk about them becoming interested in the school board because their children are now school age? Or the saga of West Hills Portland parents, often Stand for Children types, who fight for their kid’s school while the poorer schools are decimated.

Well, just remember. No need to feel guilty for getting the best you can for your own children. Just remember to fight for everyone else’s children too.

Hey, that is pretty good.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Insanity of Oregon Education Reforms

by Kris Alman

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, Chief Education Officer Rudy Crew does so when he tells Oregon schools to aim higher while we disinvest in education.

Few would quibble about the insanity of the unfunded “No Child Left Behind” mandate. The urgency to do something different about “failing” schools leveraged states across the nation to follow a new mandate. NCLB “flexibility” comes from US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan—a basketball player and businessman whose world-view is shaped by winning and losing.

Duncan’s legacy is Chicago Schools, the epicenter of market-driven reforms, and where community outrage still kindles.  Striking teachers fought for support services and small class sizes, eroded while he headed the Chicago Public Schools from 2001 to 2009.

Insanity is following Duncan’s lead. Oregon’s state waiver and “Next Generation of Accountability demand efficiencies and equity. Unfortunately, when austerity leverages return on education investments, accountability can only be a “proxy for just moving numbers.”

Insanity is when we measure kids’ progress with the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, a test that is not aligned with adopted standards. OAKS tests measure old state standards—ones that are not “college and career-ready” like the new Common Core State Standards envisioned in President Obama’s blueprint for education reforms and adopted by 3 territories, the District of Columbia and 44 other states.

How can any district develop improvement plans when current tests don’t measure the adopted education standards? In two years, the OAKS test will be supplanted by a new standardized test, crafted by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Until then, the Oregon Department of Education justifies higher “cut scores”to prepare students for the increased rigors” of the new standards. This does nothing to better align the old test to the new standards; but it does make the test harder to pass!

The Oregon Department of Education has also devised “crosswalks” to transition from OAKS to the yet-to-be-created or field-tested Smarter Balanced assessments. In truth, the teacher is walking a tightrope that dangerously sways in a typhoon of chaos and above a minefield of distrust. 

A look at how the two sets of standards overlap (or don’t) would make parents’ heads spin. Spin is why we we've bought into insane education reforms. 

C.E.O. Rudy Crew ensures "greater fear to teaching and learning" when he attaches high stakes to these tests. Our child might have to take tests over and over again—even if they are developmentally inappropriate. Our child might become discouraged and drop out. Our child might not graduate with a diploma because he hasn’t passed a test. Our child’s favorite teacher might lose her job because the measures of achievement and growth are rigged against her. Our child's school might close for the same reason.

Austerity’s message is “Blame yourself.” Market-driven education policies leverage the wrong people and short-shrift public education. If we hope for a future of democracy and middle class prosperity, we should not wage class warfare in public schools.

Oregon must immediately eliminate all high-stakes testing.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Oregon Education’s Collapse

by Steve Buel

Over 40 years of teaching has taught me that kids are all different. Their abilities are different, their families are different, their attitudes are different, and the way they learn is different. So how should we be approaching education in Oregon based on these realizations?

First of all we should take a look at those things which are important to all kids. Obviously all kids need to learn to read well, write well and do basic math through algebra. Beyond that we need to educate all kids as future citizens. They need to understand how democracy works, including our form of government. They need a basic understanding of history and geography. This includes having a historical timeline in their head for both U.S. history and world history, and a sense of where major countries and geographical features are located. They need a basic understanding of science and health. What is the structure of the earth, the atmosphere and the universe? They need a background in basic biology, chemistry, and physics. They need an understanding of how their body works and how to keep it healthy including taking part in physical education.

All kids need to understand how to get along in the world as adults including such things as personal finance, job interviewing, and public speaking. They need to know how to take care of their everyday lives and the lives of their children.

Each child should have a background in those cultural activities which permit a person to appreciate American culture as well as culture itself. This includes the arts, music, and literature. And it includes taking part in such things as athletics and other types of group activities.

Each child needs to have a basic understanding of technology and how to use it.

And each child needs to have the opportunity to think critically and make judgments based on reason and knowledge. They also need to have experience working with things in the physical world.

Now, you are welcome to suggest I missed things which you deem as important. But you can’t disagree with the things I have listed as being important. Yet, everyday in our schools, and recently most pronounced in our state government, these things are seen as being expendable. But they are not.

These things should be taught continuously through our school system in every one of our schools – primary grades through high school. And we are not doing this. In fact, every day we seem to move farther and farther away from offering a decent education.

For instance, instead of focusing on making sure all kids can read decently well we are focused on testing all kids in reading, spending millions and millions on making sure all kids can pass the reading tests we have designed. This goal, not the goal of all kids being able to read, becomes most important. So, we close libraries and hire academic coaches and spend millions on testing instead of making sure those kids who genuinely can’t read get the help they need – very small classes with trained reading teachers.

While Governor Kitzhaber’s Oregon Education Investment Board and such powerful groups as the Portland All Hands Raised coalition centers on educational benchmarks (such as testing results at a certain grade level), while districts work on achievement compacts, and while teachers unions try to stave off unreasonable attacks and demands, the real work of real education often goes unheeded. Even large districts such as Portland and Beaverton seem to have no idea of what their educational programs should really contain. And the state department of education, which used to monitor education in general, no longer does.

The results are that Oregon’s education in K-12 is in disarray. We are using educational reform ideas which are gleaned from large corporations which are interested foremost in making money and secondarily creating an educational atmosphere which is good for them – to hell with the kids. Of course, like people who watch television and internet commercials these motives are masked behind their public relations activities and fool millions of people.

And even educators, both many administrators and teachers, as well as most politicians, buy into their propaganda and go along because it has become the accepted norm. Hence, we get accountability when we should get support. We get testing where we should get curriculum. We get general supposed cures, where we should get pressure to improve at the school and district levels. We forget that the status quo, which we so decry, is the result of many years of the reform movement’s mistakes.

And in so doing, we condemn huge numbers of our children not only to poverty and an inability to truly take care of themselves in this world, but to unhappiness and a sense of self-defeat.

Shame on us.