by Peter Dreier.
America's education system is unequal and unfair. Students who live in wealthy communities have huge advantages that rig the system in their favor. They have more experienced teachers and a much lower student-teacher ratio. They have more modern facilities, more up-to-date computer and science equipment, and more up-to-date textbooks. They have more elective courses, more music and art offerings, and more extracurricular programs. They have better libraries, more guidance counselors and superior athletic facilities.
Not surprisingly, affluent students in well-off school districts have higher rates of high school graduation, college attendance and entry to the more selective colleges. This has little to do with intelligence or ability. For example, 82 percent of affluent students who had SAT scores over 1200 graduate from college. In contrast, only 44 percent of low-income students with the same high SAT scores graduate from college. This wide gap can't be explained by differences in motivation or smarts. It can, however, be explained by differences in money.
California education policy makers have once again written
and published a nice looking report on school curriculum – this one on the need
for improved civic education. As is the
norm for these tasks, a group of “well respected” civic leaders have participated.
They call for a major revision of civic education.That is fine. They also call for discussion of their proposals on social media.( p 42) Well, here is some of the needed discussion.
They even recognize the diversity of California students.They say,
learning is also vital for our increasingly diverse California society. In
our 6.2 million K-12 students were 53 percent Latino, 26 percent white,
percent Asian and 6 percent African American, with the remaining 6 percent
of other ethnicities. In addition, an increasing number of our students
not native speakers of English. Almost 4 in 10 kindergarteners are English
learners. This diversity, and the attention it requires, is now acknowledged
our school funding model. The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) recognizes
necessity of investing in the reduction and ultimate removal of inequitable
in California public schools. Revitalizing civic learning opportunities, in
an equitable manner, can contribute to
meeting these goals.”
While it is accurate that we
have a general problem of civic engagement of the young, it is also true that we have a very specific
problem with the rate of Latino and Asian voter participation andcivic engagement. Rates of voting and voter registration provide
a window into civic engagement.The
proportion of state voter registration
that is Latino and Asian has remained far below the proportions of these groups
in the state’s overall population. In 2010, Latinos in the state made up 37.6%
of the general population while they were on 21.2 % of the registered voters. The
Asian population was 13.1 % of the state but only 8.1 % of the registered voters.
From the very beginnings of No Child Left Behind, the strongest argument for attaching stakes to tests has been Civil Rights. This phrase is shorthand for equity in education, an end to the systemic neglect of children of color. And proponents of corporate reform have become adept at wrapping themselves in these concerns, while promoting policies that have devastating effects on students and their communities. Common Core is no exception to this.
We’re so good at all our statistics and data and rational arguments . [but] emotion is what gets people feeling passionate,” Oldham said. “It may not be the most comfortable place for the business community . [but] we need to get better at doing it.
This message seems to connect with Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which has received Gates Foundation funding to evaluate the Common Core, as well as general operating grants. Petrilli said:
“We’ve been fighting emotion with talking points, and it doesn’t work,” said Mike Petrilli, executive vice president of the Fordham Institute, a leading supporter of the standards. “There’s got to be a way to get more emotional with our arguments if we want to win this thing. That means we have a lot more work to do.”
Step one: Get Americans angry about the current state of public education.
To that end, expect to start hearing from frustrated college students who ended up in remedial classes even though they passed all their state tests and earned good grades in high school. “These kids should be as mad as hell” that the system failed them, Petrilli said.
A common admonition progressives have gotten used to hearing over the years is to support more conservative Democratic candidates because “Republicans are worse.”
This admonition makes some sense in electoral politics, when, in most cases, progressives face a ballot box decision where they have to choose the “lesser evil” instead of someone who wants to do something really horrible like roll back government policies to what was in favor a hundred years ago. Elections, after all, are societal constructions where you’re forced to make a choice between only two candidates, usually. To not vote at all forfeits your right to have a say-so in the matter. And few Americans get the opportunity to vote for third party candidates who have viable shots at winning.
But “better than the other side” loses any legitimacy in the policy arena, or at least it should. For sure, there are often trade-offs between adversaries in the legislative process. But when there’s not an actual bill facing an up-or-down vote, there’s simply no reason for progressives to accept policy positions from office holders on the basis of those positions being better than what the other side wants.
Yet progressives who push for polices reflecting their values are constantly scolded for exhibiting a “have it all fantasy.” They’re told to give centrist Democrats “credit” for positions where there is some agreement – such as marriage equality or climate change – and understand when those officials have to make deals with the other side. “That’s how the game is played,” goes the refrain.
When it comes to the education policy arena, “the game” has played into a disaster for the nation’s schoolteachers, parents, and students.
In the stories of exorbitant costs and incompetence, teacher tenure laws have achieved mythic proportions. Judge Rolf Treu’s tentative decision in Vergara v. California may be the death knell for teacher tenure. But what will change as a result? A look to the past reveals that teacher tenure never really protected teachers and nor was it supposed to. Using history as a lens, this commentary explores the origination of tenure policies and the debates that surrounded them. This commentary argues that embedded in the tenure debates is a much larger problem that should concern us all.
In 1917, the president of New York City’s Board of Education told a reporter that the schools are “burdened and clogged with many teachers who are unfit” because of their “permanent tenure.”1 For nearly a century, critics have blasted tenure for putting the needs of adults above those of children. In the stories of exorbitant costs and incompetence, teacher tenure laws have achieved mythic proportions. Judge Rolf Treu’s tentative decision in Vergara v. Californiamay be the death knell for teacher tenure. But what will change as a result? A look to the past reveals that teacher tenure never really protected teachers and nor was it supposed to.