On Education

I have always recalled the wise words of my mother telling me “If everyone jumped off the bridge, would you?” It has resonated throughout my life and has probably sits at the foundation of my thought process. Just because nearly everyone is convinced that the Common Core is the future, there must be those out there to question it.

I must admit that I was serving on the Warren School Committee when the movement began, largely sparked by the infamous report, A Nation At Risk. At the time, I found the need to be somewhat persuasive in that who doesn’t want performing schools?

Not being involved with the education field directly for years since engaging in the practice of law after my dissertation adviser died during my PhD program in Comparative Education at Columbia, and without having children, I was astonished by where education has gone when I sat down to review the current trend in education, Common Core and corresponding State Standards.

My approach was from the standpoint of a consumer. Who wouldn’t want the best in terms of education delivery? Who wouldn’t want students prepared to be “world class”?

As I grew more and more investigative, however, I have grown skeptical of the process. Of course, like everyone, I still would want a world class student for my tax dollars, but I am clearly not in favor of doing this at all costs.

Additionally, more than the education components, I am fearful of the corporate take-over of public education.

As many know, I am not a big fan of public labor unions in that I have long argued that they have exerted far too much influence over legislation and have created situations that do not foster a level bargaining field. Still, with that said, I have never faulted the rank and file teacher, having been one and understanding that teaching is a noble profession.

All that said, I am beside myself to think that the current trend has so influenced the profession, at the behest of the public and politicians and at the expense of the trained professional teacher and the students, all under the eye of the labor unions. I oddly find myself in a place where I must cast my lot with those in opposition of Common Core.

When involved in education, I was a strong supporter of getting the best for the tax dollar, and I still stand committed to this position. I was an early crusader for greater responsibility in education. I now feel that this effort that I worked to spearhead, has been hijacked by corporate interests and taken in an unexpected direction.

While at Columbia I became aware of some of the work of Diane Ravitch, and, quite frankly, at that time was unimpressed. After reading parts of her recent work, especially Reign of Error, I, like her, feel that this movement which she helped initiate, was carried beyond its objective. In short, I find myself in agreement with her that education is on a runaway train and it will take a voice of reason to stop it short of the cliff.

What is most troubling to me is the corporate role in education. I still believe that a teacher instills knowledge and is not on an assembly line creating robots. Education is far more complex than a mere teaching of testing skills. I can say that I have never waived from this position.

It has long been said that the road to hell is paved with good intention. Such is the case here.

The setting of standards and enforcing them in a draconian fashion has no real place in education. There should be testing to ensure that knowledge has been transferred, but it should not be seen as a game where the results tell the story.

I believe in individualism in education. I feel that this concept is at the basis of American society. We are quite productive as a nation related to conceptual thinking and invention. We are a nation of innovators, not because we all live up to standards, but that we have been taught skills that enable us to envision what is possible.

There is surely an argument that having a panoply of tools and knowing how to utilize them is at the core, to which I agree, but I do not see this focus on standards as being of any use to a student who is not given the full array of opportunity.

This, coupled with the corporate culture’s viewing of education as a cash cow, has propelled me into my position that the reform movement has gone awry. I am, much like Ravitch, worried that we have moved in the wrong direction set by noble objectives. We must stop and gauge where we stand.

Having been both a teacher and an attorney, I have been able to see an interesting point of view. Law exists in a staid state, rarely being moved away from its core. Decisions are made to be final and there is very little alteration possible. Education, however, is always changing. Unlike law, its theory appears constantly in flux.

This may serve to explain much. Teachers, having to tailor learning to the individual, are constantly seeking a method that can be applied to meet the needs. It is most difficult to find a universal approach to serve this discipline. After all, how can a teacher be expected to service the needs of each individual learner with a standardized system. It just doesn’t make sense.

It is my opinion that the need to educate individuals is lost in the need for accountability. I do not take the position that a child should not get a basic education. We all agree that a student needs to read, write and perform mathematical functions. We see the need for an understanding of history and science. But to emphasize these functions to an abnormal degree is an education nightmare.

In this scenario, I see the federal government and corporate interests as being the villains, the students being the victims, the taxpayers as being the dupes, and the educators as being cast as the scapegoat. The play is a tragedy.

The federal government, in taking a state function and creating a federal agency, has, in typical federal style, made a bad situation worse. In offering federal dollars in large amounts to solve “the problem”, corporate mouths began to salivate. Where there are large sums to be spent, there will always be corporate solutions.

Much like an encyclopedia salesperson, the first rule in selling them is to instill fear and guilt. How can your child be able to compete in the world without it? This unscrupulous method, in a modernized format, is exactly what the purveyors of corporate education are doing. They are playing on public fears and its ignorance of education and the role of educators to reap profit.

Although I am a strong advocate of supply and demand capitalism that does not translate into a free for all in the marketplace. I do not advocate the sale of tainted meat or unsafe drugs. Similarly, I cannot advocate for the privatization of public schools, a position I see as the ultimate goal of the Common Core movement.

Those who are advocates of running a government role like a business should be reminded of the words of Vincent Cianci who countered this position with a pithy and wise question in response to this situation being posed to him. Paraphrasing him, when asked why he didn’t run government like a business, the Mayor asked, “When was the last time a private business bought an elephant?” His point, that government, while appearing as a business, required modification if it were to be so accountable.

Similarly, public schools are charged with a mission to educate an increasingly diverse population. To run it like a business is ludicrous. Therein lies the conflict with the federal and state government intervention.

Since the federal government is prohibited by the US Constitution from interference in state roles, in this case, education, it needed to bribe its way in. Rhode Island, as per its state constitution, specifically gives the state the duty to educate. The ninth, tenth, and eleventh amendments prohibit the federal government from taking a role.

Unfortunately, with the power to tax, specifically the income tax, the federal government has grown more and more encroaching in areas to which the founders had forbidden its entrance. By taking in more income tax than necessary to operate the federal government, it is then enabled to offer “grant” money to the states, obviously conditioned on federal compliance. In short, they have provided funds conditioned on the state’s relinquishing control.

In doing that, it has then proclaimed its role in education. As the leading force, it then could offer funds to corporate America to promote programs that may not be in the best interest of education, but certainly in the best interests of corporations.

The hidden agenda is truly troubling. The Common Core is not a movement to improve education. It is an opportunity to sell compliance at the expense of a child’s education, and therefore, it is deplorable.

There is a need for teacher accountability, without a doubt, but unreasonable standards make this more of a game than an attempt to rectify the situation.

Without a doubt, there are situations that make correcting teachers and holding them accountable a near impossibility. I recall being on the School Committee and being confronted with a situation that clearly demonstrates this point.

Confronted with a teacher on the secondary level who was clearly underperforming, and with an administrator who failed to attempt to document the incompetence, there was no way of disciplining the teacher. The solution was to move the teacher to another school since she also had an elementary school certification.

To this day, I shudder at the thought that I had placed second grade students at such risk to relieve a problem on the secondary level. A greater level of cooperation between the unions and the administration would have been a far better option, but the growing contempt over wage negotiations made such impossible.

The teacher was certified, but it was evident that the teacher was not effective. There was no reasonable alternative other than to make the transfer and hope for the best. Is this any way to run a system?

But, like every occupation, there are good and bad. Some carpenters are artists while others are hacks. How many people have their roofs replaced only to find a leak in the next storm? Teaching is no different. The difference is that they are being paid in part by several entities, all with a differing opinion as to how satisfactory is the job being done.

Standardized teaching and results based play to this audience. Performance based on student testing seems to be the obvious, albeit wrong, measure of achievement. This is where my earlier example of purchasing an elephant is applicable.

Teachers are trained professionals and are entrusted with our youth. As professionals, they are trained in their field. They are prepared to educate. With the deterioration of family in our society, the teacher has not only been charged with education, it must now serve as social worker, suicide counselor, and many other roles that do not necessarily relate to education. Couple this with an increase in litigation and there is a recipe for disaster.

It is for these and other reasons which cannot be articulated here based on time limitations, I stand against Common Core.

SUMMARY

Asked whether I support Common Core, the answer is “No, I do not”. My opponents Fung and Raimondo both have expressed publicly their support. We are day and night on this issue.

I will work to limit its implementation, reworking it based on input from professional educators (especially those in the trenches at all levels), and would even consider scrapping it entirely based on the findings.

There are solid arguments against the continued use of Common Core, especially in light of the corporate interests who have manipulated the process.

As to its replacement, I leave that to a determination after a complete review. I do not believe that I alone have the answer, but I vow to create one with the cooperation of the education community.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s