Sunday, February 12, 2012

SQUINTS 2/13/2012: K-12 – WOULD YOU KNOW IT IF…?

Two offbeat press posts this week on K-12 education prompted the reflection producing today’s SQUINTS.

Adult ADHD?

The first was a belated report of a survey by a nationally recognized survey organization, posing to a sample of Americans the question whether they approved of NCLB.  Of those with an opinion, over half approved, but saw a need for changes.  Had the question been better structured, it might have sought to discriminate among approvals of its goals, versus approval of its punitive approach, versus approval of how it was being implemented via monolithic standardized testing. 

A second bit was from an opinion piece in a major press.  More than a trifle surly, but revealing, its essence was:  Most Americans wouldn’t recognize a good education because they’ve never seen one.  Ouch and overreach, but it is arguable that a large fraction of present US adults isn't exercising the awareness to see the implications of NCLB’s double-digit billions of dollars creating bizarre K-12 practices and the decline of K-12 ethics, or summoning the outrage to protest that Federal imposition and usurping state and local control.


What eventually boils up into a mass of contradictions is the capacity of US and state public policy makers, and almost universally public K-12 administrators and teachers, to simply look the other way, zombie-like, pretending that public education isn't being emasculated, or that they have no stake in or control over the looming perversion of K-12 learning.

As the chasm is widening between our new dictators of K-12, versus resources who actually understand the role and acquisition of knowledge, the language of both sides is becoming increasingly clipped and more intolerant, the origins of a now blossoming war – hence maybe some clues to sustainable solutions – reside in how we got here.

The increasing tempo of the Administration’s assaults on public schools and teachers has focused all on the latest targeting, but how we got here is critical.  Examining the history, not with the detail of the historian, but looking for the large movements and their motivations, starts with a long sweep of public K-12 education tranquility and growth.

Long Trail A-Winding

Beginning post WWII, education became the discriminating feature of upward class mobility.  US parents trusted K-12 public education (and reveled in its sports offerings), and the public education establishment though not financially rewarded was preening itself and leaning on its unions to extract some rewards, using the “love” to ramp up school levies.  That funding ultimately became almost frenetic and corrupted as states under fiscal duress started to shift K-12 education’s cost to local communities.  Local public schools became feudal cultures, with only lame oversight by boards frequently clueless about either their responsibilities or learning processes.  “Power corrupts” and it did.

Quietly, in the background, K-12 education of a different kind grew; church-sponsored and private K-12 schools and even campuses.  In the former, dedication to beliefs justified the cost of that education tacked on top of public school taxes, and achievement both then and now has continued to exceed US public system performance.  The latter schools, usually powered by affluence, higher levels of parental education, and parental professional careers, produced even higher levels of learning, further displaying contrast with public education. This wasn't easily seen or critiqued by a majority of our population, but most assuredly was noticed by those ideologically preferring a society scripted to manufacture greater social and cultural equality.

Bypassing most of the social implications of the above, a key scenario in public education was also nearly total passivity to what was emerging in other disciplines and places:  Explosive growth of information; digital technology; the emergence of science-based concepts of learning from neural science to replace education’s baseline deductions; and the US had its exceptionalism humbled.  The overwhelming dependence of public K-12 education – for putting the sage on the stage, classroom processes, learning materials, mechanizing and subduing classrooms – on so-called “methods” that dominated US schools of education evolved into growing public K-12 obsolescence.  It started to show up in negative comparisons with other nations’ elementary and secondary successes and international test results.  US public education bureaucracy became so self-centric or self-righteous it didn’t notice; but its lifelong ideological critics and US policy wonks did.

The end of the beginning was enactment of ESEA (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) in 1965, known now as NCLB.  The act may have been properly intentioned to reduce differences in K-12 education in black and Hispanic versus white students, and between the affluent and poor, but there is room for speculation that it opened the door to other, even simultaneously juggled motivations in the G. W. Bush administration:  A chance to kill two birds with one stone, or a double-barreled Cheney, undermining both the teachers’ unions and an assumed liberal K-12 establishment perceived as socialism by more extreme conservatives.  NCLB in its current colors was launched.

The more opportunistic and nihilistic side of corporate America pounced on an ideological and market opportunity.  What could be more enticing, in one swoop getting that good old 1900's Carnegie Foundation production model back into the K-12 schools, installing discipline punishing those student laggards and their desultory teachers, destroying the teachers' unions, letting the market work, getting hard numbers on that alleged learning – hey, we do it with widgets, bills of material, flow charts and automation, and hard-nosed quality control in our plants.  Along the way, “public K-12 reform” became a business model and profit opportunity to oligopolistically take over design and scoring of now mandated standardized tests, also privatize schools scoring public tax dollars, with a lobbying infrastructure in place, approved and protected by Congressional conservatives.  Throw in a little prayer and vouchers for those who believe in magic  --  reform nirvana. 

Public K-12 education still didn’t take much notice, especially in America's heartland and parochial rural enclaves.  Too infrequently acknowledged in the race to standardize US K-12, on the premise that is the most effective way to reduce learning performance variance, are the individual system cultures that root how systems think and execute.  The challenge is to maintain that diversity, and its related commitment, while adjusting cultures to shed dogmatism blocking acceptance of protocols that do improve learning.  The process can work, but can also be short-circuited or even destroyed by top-down simplistic thinking, forcing change, and by equivalent dogmatism and reactionary attitudes and beliefs of local educators and school oversight living in a bubble.

A California school system is now being sued to force it to employ the so-called "VAM" model, using change in standardized test results to evaluate and potentially terminate teachers.

Education metaphorical "SS" squads, euphemistically called "walkthrough-teams," are now being employed to intimidate teachers and enforce scripted K-12 classrooms, scripted curricula, scripted lesson plans, scripted "what a teacher may even put on their walls or how they may arrange their furniture."

Oops.   The issue with hiding one's K-12 head in the sand is that the rest of the anatomy is unprotected.

Unfolding and Deepening

Despite public education's continuing adoption cycle status as laggard in using emerging tools to reduce the variance of K-12 learning achievement, and close a world gap, a continuing mystery is why the Obama administration chose to get into bed with both sworn enemies of public education, a retro corporate army, and simple-minded advocates of learning by counting bubbles, to chase change?  Chasing a liberal dream of equality of K-12 learning performance with a twisted and dishonest concept of reform, destroying infrastructure that still worked and even committed professionals, are not acts signifying leadership or even reason? 

As education's doublespeak champion Mr. Duncan increasingly channels Darth Vader, two contrasting explanations surface:  One, Mr. Obama has lost control of his own policies, USDOE, and rooted liberal and confused extremes, and can only mouth what is put on the teleprompter; or two, that Mr. Obama's messianic drive to change K-12 education within an assumed two terms (that could be one term) has ignited autocracy and left critical thinking, realism, and common sense in the dust, just as NCLB’s original mythical goal was created then fumbled by his predecessor.

Up-to-date, expanding K-12 national insanity is USDOE’s NCLB "Waivers" by Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan, that aren't gifts at all but the deepening of the hypocrisy and increasingly suspect control values reflected there.  A state’s NCLB waiver is bought with the payoff of throttling local control of education to impose still suspect common core curricula, and even more standardized testing and protocols, that do not create effective learning and further spear or hamstring local schools and their teachers as professionals.  This now fully mocks state and local control of US K-12.

Has the corporate/Federal/Obama game plan worked?  The gap between black and white K-12 test achievements has allegedly narrowed significantly, but that achievement gap between rich and poor has allegedly grown and is now double the racial gap.  Lacking competent measures of real K-12 learning, that neither public K-12 education, nor our universities, nor the USDOE have bothered to research and develop, it is impossible to know how much damage has been inflicted on present and future US K-12 products by the biases and cheating introduced and reinforced by present standardized testing.

Repeating a last puzzle; why a small army of states’ officials who have some intellect, and an even larger army of K-12 administrators, many of whom still share that property, have simply stuck their respective heads in that same sand pile, pretending that there are no barbarians at the public K-12 gates?

Out of a Crater

If any change in the present crooked course of US K-12 change and cultures is to occur it may have to emerge from a popular uprising of America’s silent and gobsmacked majority and parents, outshining the dismal Tea Party, by launching an attack of awareness and protest that finally takes back US public education.  A key to that may be creatively and entrepreneurially practicing what the Obama/Duncan, corporate, and simple-minded testing cabal are trying to accomplish by brute force – reading, learning, integrating, and knowing.   Change the game; let your fingers and synapses do the walking.

Linked here is just a sample of very recent posts that offer intelligent and, amazingly, even an occasional humorous assessment of our US public K-12 Hydra.  Read one or two.  You may find that one solution to present US K-12 education challenges starts very close to home.

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