Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Federal School Officials Persist in Meddling

The Obama administration is quietly abandoning No Child Left Behind by granting states waivers from numerous aspects of the law. For example, six additional states—Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon, and South Carolina and the District of Columbia, were approved for waivers, bringing the approved total of applicants to 33. And still more are in the works.

Those who abhor NCLB may view its death by waiver as grounds for celebration. But that is overly optimistic. While Arne Duncan and company are quietly dumping some of NCLB's more preposterous requirements well before the law's 2014 drop-dead-date, they are not backing off from their more general stance of officiously telling state and local school people what to do.

Therein lies the problem. Federal school officials are neither wise enough, nor well-informed enough to take this stance. Confined to the Olympian heights of our nation's capital, these politicians and bureaucrats are so far removed from local realities that their persistent meddling provides little but comic relief. Nevertheless, like the party apparatchiks who crafted the former Soviet Union's ridiculously optimistic Five Year Plans, they persist in imposing still more "reforms."

Most of these new impositions will disintegrate into farce in the face of day-to-day realities. But before they do they will distract and dismay thousands of competent educators. The only good this federal tinkering is really likely to accomplish is keeping state school officials too busy to develop "reforms" of their own.

Meanwhile the best government money can buy will persist in allowing, even creating, the social and economic conditions that breed school failure like garbage breeds rats.

For a complimentary copy of a new hard-hitting education journal click here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Home Foreclosures and Failure in School

A study by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, using data submitted from 38 medical centers around the country, found that Rising home foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies have contributed to an increase in child abuse.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, "Every 1 percent increase in 90-day mortgage delinquencies over a one-year period was associated with a 3 percent increase in children’s hospital admissions for physical abuse and a 5 percent increase in children’s hospital admissions for traumatic brain injuries suspected to be caused by child abuse."

No doubt these same rising home foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies are also linked to an increased number of kids failing to learn in school. But who in power is interested in researching such questions? Instead of facts, educational policy is based on political feel-good fantasies like No Child Left Behind.

Check out http://www.newfoundations.com/PolEdReform/PolEdRef.html for a complimentary copy of a new, hard-hitting education journal.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why Public Schools Can't Teach Critical Thinking

Google "mission statement" plus "critical thinking" and you get thousands of hits. That's because most school districts claim that teaching kids to think critically is one of their key missions.

Is it really? I don't think so. The prime, if unacknowledged, directive for any school district is to reflect the beliefs and commitments of the preponderance of the community. How can it be otherwise when our public schools are run by locally elected boards? So whatever else a school superintendent might chose to do, he or she had better not countenance the teaching of anything that critically examines broadly accepted community values.

Let's take religious values, for example. Public schools aren't supposed to favor any religion — although many of them quietly do. But the Supreme Court certainly did not ban public schools from critically, but neutrally, examining religious issues.

Now imagine a public school curriculum which includes a consideration of whether we can reconcile the co-existence of evil - particularly the physical suffering of innocents - with that of a deity who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. Such a consideration would certainly count as critical thinking. But the school superintendent who countenances it had better have other career options.

Patriotism provides a second example. Suppose we invite high schoolers to think critically about the nation's "fallen warriors." They might be asked, for example, were those men and women killed in the second Iraq war really authentic heroes or just tragic victims of a colossal blunder? Considering this question would certainly involve critical thinking. But imagine the white hot reaction of local "patriots." With a little luck an inquiry such as this might even get "fair and balanced" coverage on Fox News.

The bottom line is that no locally elected board of education is going to countenance a seriously critical examination of any values that are cherished by significantly vocal elements within the community. And that, my friend, is that.

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Charter School Gravy Train

As the November elections approach, both President Obama and Mitt Romney have jumped aboard the charter school train. They both promise ever more of them. 
Charter schools are already a very big business. More than $12  billion is spent on them annually.  The trouble is a lot of larcenous people are wetting their  beaks in this vast lake of public money. Consider that  there are   about six thousand charter schools in the  United States. Yet a Googlsearch for charter school fraudyieldan astonishing  2,890,000 hitsCharteschool corruptiontriggers another 1,850,000, and charter  school  scandals results in 1,060,000 more.
Maybe it will be worth the inevitable increase in fraud and corruption to gain the advantages charter schools offer. But research reveals that consistently superior academic results will not be one of them. Sure,  some  charters get  better results than  some  traditional public schoolsat  least  as measured by standardized tests.  But some  tradtional  public  schools  test  better than  some charter schools  too.  And when we compare overall test  results for both  type  schools, there is no clear-cut winner.10 So whatever advantages the increase in charter schools  offers,  do not count on improved learning being one of them.
What, then, can we count on as charter schools proliferate? Well, if the past is prologue (and in this case it almost certainly is) we can count on a proportional increase in public corruption and cronyism and a brighter future for unemployed relatives of wellpositioned politicians, assorted bunko artists, flim-flam men, confidence tricksters, and  defrocked storefront preachers. 

For more on this in a free download of the New Foundations of Education Journal click here


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

No Child Left Behind: solemn but never serious

No Child Left Behind seems to be quietly fading away. Since Congress cannot, or will not, reform this reform, President Obama is killing it off with waivers. Do this and that and we'll let you sidetrack NCLB.

I, for one, am not surprised. I never took NCLB seriously. The very name of the act indicates a preposterous goal. Given the resources available to schools and all the non-school factors that impact educational success, achieving this goal would require altering the whole of American society.

No Child Left Behind indeed. Such a goal is plainly preposterous. How, then, was it arrived at? The late Paul Goodman noted that Americans are solemn about schooling but seldom serious. And there isn't a better example of that than this preposterously ambitious "reform."

Imagine applying a similarly ridiculous goal to something we take seriously — let's say professional baseball. No Team Left Behind. We all know that to be successful in baseball requires a delicate balance of defensive and offensive capabilities. We also know that putting such a balance together requires resources. To get a first-rate pitcher you either need a ton of money or you have to trade a first-rate something else. Trying to get a twenty game winner by trading your utility infielder would get you laughed out of the game. Baseball is serious business.

Politicians dabbling in school reform, on the other hand, settle for merely being solemn. They hatch plans so simplistic it is embarrassing to rebut them. Let's remember some previous solemn "educational reform"goals. For example, that the United States must lead the world in science and mathematics education by the turn of the century? Well here we are twelve years after that due date and nothing of that sort has happened. Instead, the whole imperative was quietly shelved in favor of leaving not one single child behind. Why? Because no one was seriously committed to gaining this preeminence to begin with. It was just political theater.

No Child Left Behind is like that. The enormously complex tasks required to even approach this ridiculously ambitious goal were never even laid out. Worse, the prodigious resources required were not even been brought up for serious discussion.

Is this an exaggeration? Consider that NCLB requires that all teachers be "highly qualified." But actually achieving that goal required major, and expensive, changes that none of these solemn politicians were prepared to back. So, by time of the Obama administration, this solemn goal had turned into a laughable farce as thousands of teacher interns, rank beginners mind you, were placed in that category. Beginners as "highly qualified." What could be less serious?

In the fulness of time NCLB will be gathering dust with all the many other solemn, but not serious, reforms of yesteryear. But because of the disruption it has spawned, this particular bit of political theater will have so disassembled public schooling that, like Humpty Dumpty, we will never be able to put it together again.

For a more detailed consideration see www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/Serious.html

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Nieto's Affirming Diversity is Nonsense

Affirming Diversity, Sonia Nieto's 1992 celebration of multicultural education, has become an educational classic. Yet her prescription for public education is based on a false assumption. Namely, that cultural values are mutually inclusive and will support the tolerance required for Nieto's prescription to work.

What, specifically, is Professor Nieto prescribing for our schools? She advocates "Affirming Diversity." What does that imply? She says it, "... implies that cultural, linguistic, and other differences can and should be accepted, respected, and used as a basis for learning and teaching."

But the values of other cultures can be completely at odds with the very tolerance Nieto's prescription requires. Consider, for example, the dogmatism of the Wahhabi Islamic sect that dominates Saudi Arabia. These chaps divide the world into good guy true believers — those who subscribe to their version of the Sunni school of Islam, of course — and bad guy unbelievers whose beliefs must be suppressed or, preferably, eliminated.

Think this is an exaggeration? Well the Saudi's themselves don't think so. In 2004 a Saudi royal study group found that the kingdom's religious studies curriculum "encourages violence toward others, and misguides the pupils into believing that in order to safeguard their own religion, they must violently repress and even physically eliminate the 'other.' Embarrassed when in enlightened company, Saudi education authorities promised to extirpate this intolerant dogmatism from their curriculum. But when the Washington Post analyzed recent Saudi religion texts they found them to be as hate filled and intolerant as ever.

How is this pertinent to Professor Nieto's recommendation that we affirm diversity? Well let's consider how enthusiastically she wants to affirm it by imagining her teaching in Saudi Arabia. And lets further imagine that as she does so she not only accepts and respects other religious points of view, but makes them a basis for learning and teaching. What do you think her fate would be? But before answering consider that in 2005, a Saudi teacher who merely suggested Jews and the New Testament could be viewed positively was fired, sentenced to 750 lashes and given a prison term. (He was eventually pardoned, but only following international protests.)

Since Professor Nieto doubled down on this Saudi teacher's minor league tolerance, it seems reasonable to conclude that she would suffer a worse fate. How enthusiastically would she accept and respect Saudi culture then?

There is also the matter of gender. Even though Professor Nieto is a woman, her prescription for America's schools blithely ignores the fact that many cultures are profoundly misogynistic. The consequences are female infanticide, genital mutilation, selling daughters into prostitution, wife beating, honor killings, leaving widows out of wills, excluding girls from school, counting a woman's court testimony as having half the value of a man's, and so forth. These and similar unenlightened behaviors, such as stoning homosexuals or hating whomever is on your tribe's shit list, all are rooted in culture. Yet Professor Nieto recommends that we not only unselectively accept and respect cultural differences, but use them as a basis for learning and teaching.

One can imagine the ludicrous consequences of such a policy. "Look class, Conner is spitting on Maureen and trying to kill her! That's because he is a Catholic from Ulster and Maureen's parents are Ulster Protestants. This must be unpleasant for Maureen, but she and the rest of us must accept and respect the fact that in Conner's culture she needs killing."

That this dreamy nonsense is considered an educational classic offers sad commentary on the state of the art.

For more on the limits of multiculturalism see: www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/Multiculturalism.html