Thursday, April 26, 2012

Professor Thomas writes for The Atlantic

Professor Thomas writes for The Atlantic

Politics and Education Don't Mix (The Atlantic)

Politics and Education Don't Mix

Part of America the Fixable series at The Atlantic

[original submission with hyperlinks below]

From Franz Kafka’s nightmare of human existence in The Metamorphosis and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle to Scott Adams’ Dilbert and TV’s The Office, a central flaw of corporate paradigms is the mind-numbing and dehumanizing effects of bureaucracy. Sometimes we are horrified and sometimes we laugh, but arguments for or against the free market may be misguided if we fail to address bureaucracy’s corrosive role in the business model.

In the education reform movement, stretching back into the mid-nineteenth century, claims about private, public, or charter schools may also be masking a much more important call to confront and even dismantle the bureaucracy that currently cripples universal public education in the U.S.: “Successful teaching and good school cultures don't have a formula, but they have a necessary condition: teachers and principals must feel free to act on their best instincts….This is why we must bulldoze school bureaucracy,” argues Philip K. Howard.

Bureaucracy, however, remains an abstraction and serves as little more than a convenient and popular target for ridicule—unless we unpack what actions within bureaucracy are the sources for many of the persistent failures we associate erroneously with public education as an institution. Bureaucracy fails, in part, due to honoring leadership as a primary quality over expertise, committing to ideological solutions without identifying and clarifying problems first, and failing to challenge repeating the same reforms over and over while expecting different results (our standards/testing model is more than a century old).

Public education is by necessity an extension of our political system, resulting in schools being reduced to vehicles for implementing political mandates. For example, during the past thirty years, education has become federalized through indirect (“A Nation at Risk” spurring state-based accountability systems) and direct (No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top) dynamics.

As government policy and practice, bureaucracy is unavoidable, but the central flaw with the need for structure and hierarchy is that politics prefers leadership characteristics above expertise. No politician can possibly have the expertise and experience needed in all the many areas a leader must address (notably in roles such as governor and president). But during the accountability era in education over the past three decade, the direct role of governors and presidents related to education has increased dramatically—often with education as a central plank in the campaigns and administrations of governors and presidents.

One distinct flaw in that development has been a trickle-down effect reaching from presidents and governors to state superintendents of education as well as school board chairs and members: People attaining leadership positions that form and implement education policy have no or very little experience or expertise as educators or scholars.

The faces and voices currently leading the education reform movement in the U.S. are appointees and self-proclaimed reformers without expertise or experience in education: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, billionaire Bill GatesMichelle Rhee (whose entrance to education includes the alternative route of Teach for America and only a few years in the classroom), and Sal Khan, for example.

Bureaucracy bestows authority and a hierarchy on education that allows and perpetuates leadership without expertise or experience, and the consequences include the two most vivid examples of why education reform has failed and will continue to fail: (1) Inexpert leadership is ideologically committed to solutions and thus implements solutions without identifying and clarifying the problems first, and (2) inexpert leadership that is in constant flux, with the perpetual changes in administrations, are apt to implement the same solutions over and over with different outcomes expected.

Inexpert and political leaders, then believe in and act upon a faith in the effectiveness of their cult of personality. They say by their actions, “I can do this where others have not”—triggering the American cultural faith in rugged individualism.

Instead, education needs a new wall, paralleling the wall of separation between church and state, but for universal public education we need a wall between education and both government and corporate America.

Once we have that wall, education reform needs to be driven by educators and researchers who have lived, practiced, and considered carefully what the goals of education should be for a free people, what the hurdles are for improving educational outcomes for all children, and how to foster a culture that supports and embraces that system.

Instead of calls for new standards and tests, greater competition through school choice and charter schools, and contradictory claims that teachers are both complete failures and the most important element in student outcomes (all solutions that do not match identified problems), education reform must start with the dominant burden on our children and schools, as Stephen Krashen, researcher and educator, explains:

“Poverty is, in fact, the issue. While American students' scores on international tests are not as bad as critics say they are, they are even better when we control for the effects of poverty: Middle-class students in well-funded schools, in fact, score at or near the top of world. Our average scores are respectable but unspectacular because, as Farhi notes, we have such a high percentage of children living in poverty, the highest of all industrialized countries. Only four percent of children in high-scoring Finland, for example, live in poverty. Our rate of poverty is over 21%.”

Bureaucracy is failing education reform because it doesn’t acknowledge or address two central realities: (1) The U.S. remains corrosively inequitable, especially in terms of race, class, and gender, and (2) education tends to perpetuate those inequities through commitments to tracking, testing, and ranking.

As Howard notes, “Bureaucracy can't teach,” but educators and researchers can lead schools if we will commit ourselves to genuine social reform that addresses poverty and education reform that builds a wall between bureaucratic failures and allows teachers to do that which they know how to do.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Who Controls the Table Wins | National Education Policy Center

Who Controls the Table Wins | National Education Policy Center

The Bully Politics of Education Reform

The Bully Politics of Education Reform

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Thursday 19 April 2012
Bipartisan Political Elite Implicated in For-Profit Education Fraud 
Danny Weil, Truthout: "The only way to describe $89,000 for a four-year degree with non-transferable credits from a non-academic college is as a fraud and a swindle, and that characterization possibly fails to convey the frustration and downright victimization students like Washington must feel. Like subprime mortgages, for-profit colleges are a scam driven by payment of commissions to sales staff known as recruiters. The payment of commissions to high-pressure salespeople is so central to the scam that the umbrella trade group for for-profits, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), has sued the federal government to overturn its ban on incentive pay." 

Dozens Killed in Wave of Attacks Across Iraq
Tim Arango, The New York Times News Service: "A string of deadly explosions and other attacks shook Iraq on Thursday, with bombings in Baghdad and the northern city of Kirkuk resulting in the most fatalities. Over all, nearly three dozen people were killed and more than 100 wounded, according to security officials. By the standards of Iraq - where attacks occur daily, although at a much diminished rate compared with the height of the war - the wave of violence on Thursday was not extraordinary, although it was a reminder, after weeks of relative calm, that an organized insurgency remained active." 

Michael Winship and Bill Moyers | I'm Big Bird and I Don't Approve This Message
Michael Winship and Bill Moyers, Moyers & Co.: "Imagine if you turned on your TV set someday soon and were greeted by Sesame Street, brought to you by the letter C, for 'creeping campaign cash corruption'.... On April 12, by a vote of 2-1, two of three judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of KMTP, a small public station in San Francisco, and struck down the federal ban against political and issue advertising on public TV and radio. For decades there's been a rule against turning those airwaves over to ads for political campaigns and causes. Now the court has ruled that the free speech rights of political advertisers take precedence." 

Gulf Seafood Deformities Alarm Scientists
Dahr Jamail, Al Jazeera English: "Gulf of Mexico fishermen, scientists and seafood processors have told Al Jazeera they are finding disturbing numbers of mutated shrimp, crab and fish that they believe are deformed by chemicals released during BP's 2010 oil disaster. Along with collapsing fisheries, signs of malignant impact on the regional ecosystem are ominous: horribly mutated shrimp, fish with oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws, eyeless crabs and shrimp - and interviewees' fingers point towards BP's oil pollution disaster as being the cause." 

Some Relationship Counseling for Feminism and the Left
Harriet Fraad, Truthout: "Marriage is the only form of deep connection our society enthusiastically endorses. People seek marriages for the same reason they are so hard to sustain. People need marriage to do the impossible job of compensating for social loneliness and collective disconnection. When marriages work, they can be a basis of deep, lasting and productive partnership in which people connect around collective actions, deeply held beliefs, shared trusted friends and family members, and intimate relational bonds. Although some marriage partnerships help people profoundly, most fail. Marriage was never, nor could it ever be, a substitute for a wider relational circle or social collectivity." 

Self-Dealing and the War Service Industry, Part III: The Payoff
Dina Rasor, Truthout: "In this third installment of our series, we will go back and find out where their fellow government protagonists went after shamelessly helping KBR to the detriment of the government. It is a tale of government employees like Smith and Greenhouse trying to do the right thing but not being able to follow it through because of the brazen behavior of their bosses and fellow workers. Many of the people who were responsible for the lack of oversight and the acquiescence to KBR's demands flagrantly used their cozy relationships with KBR and other companies to land great post-retirement jobs. Their self-dealing shows a corrupted system that eats up honest government workers while rewarding those who don't rock the boat for contractors." 

Paul Krugman | The Transformation of Ben Bernanke
Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co.: "I've been rereading Larry Ball's impressive and disturbing what-happened-to-Ben-Bernanke analysis - an analysis that, I happen to know, has caused much consternation in some circles. ('Surely it can't be just groupthink! There must be very good reasons the Federal Reserve hasn't done more!') And I think there's a way to further refine Mr. Ball's analysis, published on Feb. 28 on Vox, the Center for Economic Policy Research's online policy portal - a way that makes more sense of Mr. Bernanke's retreat from earlier positions, albeit one that still doesn't cast a very flattering light on the Fed." 

Rich Countries Seek to Block UN From Working on Global Finance Reforms
Rick Rowden, Truthout: "An important fight between rich countries and developing countries over the question of UN involvement in researching and advocating for a new global financial architecture has spilled into the open in the weeks leading up to the April 21-26 quadrennial ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). At issue are apparent efforts by the rich countries to water down and block the key planks of UNCTAD's proposed work plan related to needed reforms in finance and the global financial architecture." 

Report on Iran's Nuclear Fatwa Distorts Its History
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service News: "The Barack Obama administration's new interest in the 2004 religious verdict, or 'fatwa,' by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banning the possession of nuclear weapons, long dismissed by national security officials, has prompted the New York Times to review the significance of the fatwa for the first time in several years. Senior Obama administration officials have decided to cite the fatwa as an Iranian claim to be tested in negotiations, posing a new challenge to the news media to report accurately on the background to the issue.” 

Hang on to That Paycheck! ALEC "Sharpens Focus on Jobs"
Mary Bottari, PR Watch: "ALEC has a sweeping anti-union agenda that would cripple labor's ability to serve as an effective counterweight to corporate CEOs.... On collective bargaining, ALEC's 'Public Employee Freedom Act' declares that 'an employee should be able to contract on their own terms' and 'mandatory collective bargaining laws violate this freedom.' This ALEC bill and the 'Public Employer Payroll Deduction Policy Act' prohibit automatic payroll deductions for union dues, a key aspect of Walker's collective bargaining bill struck down by a federal court judge." 

Money Struggles, Not Mommy Wars
E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post Writers Group: "There is a profound class bias in our discussion of what mothers should or should not do. The public debate seems premised on the idea that all two-parent families have a choice as to whether one or both work. That's still true for the better-off. But this choice is denied to most American families. They have had to send two people into the workforce whether they wanted to or not." 

The Botox of Late-Stage Capitalism
Phil Rockstroh, Consortium News: "Wall Street is again flush with the electronic facsimile of the stuff once known as money. But this is a Botox Recovery: A superficial procedure, accomplished with a nerve paralyzing poison, reserved for the wealthy whose vanity has driven them to transform their faces into caricatures of corruption ... to acquiring a countenance, frozen as a creepy doll, incapable of showing emotion - a grotesque simulacrum of the human face." 

The Bully Politics of Education Reform
Paul Thomas, The Daily Censored: "To mask the bully culture of the U.S., bullying is confronted as a school-based problem among children (note the distraction of the R rating in the documentary on bullying addressed by Nancy Flanagan and Douglas Storm). Yet, the exact ruling class who denounces bullying among children are themselves bullies. So there is no surprise that the current education reform movement is characterized by bully politics." 


Yes, There Is a Kindergarten Cop, and It's Not Arnold Schwarzenegger
Mark Karlin, BuzzFlash at Truthout: "On Friday, a six-year-old Georgia girl was handcuffed, arrested and taken to a police station after throwing a tantrum in her kindergarten class. No, BuzzFlash is not making this up! A Truthout staff member Skyped a message wondering how the police found handcuffs small enough for a toddler. Is there a now a vendor for the 'criminalization industry' manufacturing kiddy cuffs?" 
Veterans Sexually Assaulted in VA Clinics and Hospitals
Read the Article at Care2
As Romney Courts Latinos, GOP Cuts Their Services
Read the Article at Talking Points Memo
Two-Paycheck Couples, Working Because They Must
Read the Article at The Washington Post
Investigation: Two Years After the BP Spill, a Hidden Health Crisis Festers
Read the Article at The Nation
Christian Right, Targeting Gay Kiss, Is at It Again
Read the Article at BuzzFlash
Catholic League Promises to "Mobilize" Religious Groups Against Jon Stewart
Read the Article at BuzzFeed
Owner of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut Is 12th Corporation to Drop ALEC
Read the Article at ThinkProgress

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

SCET Call: Extended


The South Carolina Council of Teachers of English welcomes contributions to South Carolina English Teacher (SCET), a journal that represents varied perspectives, formats, and voices focusing on the teaching of English in our state.  SCET publishes teacher research, critical essays, teaching strategies, bibliographies, interviews, personal essays, short stories, poetry, and other creative works including black and white photography and drawings.  We invite original artwork for our cover design.  Each manuscript should be no more than 12 double spaced, typed pages in current APA style.  SCET is a blind, peer-reviewed journal.  Place the author's personal and institutional identification including an e-mail address on the cover page only.  Please attach a copy of your manuscript in Word, subject heading, SCET, to  Submissions will not be returned.  Deadline for submission for the 2011 issue of SCET is July 30, 2012.  All submissions e-mailed by this date will be accepted.