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The Education Picture: Follow the Money and Agendas

The Education Picture:  Follow the Money and Agendas

Education and improving education has become highly challenging with so many stakeholders and various agendas.  Democrat and Republican politicians have their own agendas and preferences for how and what students should learn.  Politicians utilize their networking skills to stay in office, relying upon close relationships with union bosses and educational corporations.  These edu-corporations produce educational materials, textbooks, tests, and standards, and trainings.  School board members are often caught between state and federal mandates, funding changes, and regulations.  

These politicians also have their own educational philosophies and political campaigns to win.  Superintendents also have many masters and may feel deserving of salaries higher than the president of the United States.  Parents that place their children in private schools or that live in healthy, high aspiring neighborhoods look over at public schools and shake their heads.  Often not realizing the substantial differences in schools, between those with students whose parents pay for tutors, who have high aspirations for their children, and who work very hard to have healthy homes and those that do not.  To complicate matters more we have a number of parents that desire schools be circuses to keep their children entertained.  

The film Two Million Minutes contrasts Brittany's and Neil's easy suburban lives with those of two Indian teenagers and two Chinese teenagers, making the case that the foreign students are just plain hungrier for success.  "You just want to shake America and say, 'Wake up. We are falling behind daily,' " Compton says.  And Two Million Minutes finds plenty to be worried about: not enough study or homework time, not enough parental pressure, not enough focus on math or engineering. American teens, it argues, are preoccupied with sports, after-school jobs and leisure.  The film repeatedly contrasts foreign students' drive with what seems like American cluelessness: In one scene, Chinese 17-year-old Hu Xiaoyuan diligently practices the violin — then we cut to bone-crunching rock 'n' roll and the Friday night lights of Carmel's top-ranked football team. (USA Today)

Many people are appreciative and kind to their teachers and teachers of their children.  Yet, for some that got detention or an F when they were in school their citizen right to free speech and vote is an opportunity for revenge.  While others use their positions to further themselves, not always realizing they are doing so.  "The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines scapegoat as one that bears the blame for others, or one that is the object of irrational hostility. Those of us in the education profession would define scapegoat this way: teacher.  Scapegoating teachers has become so popular with policymakers and politicians, the media, and even members of the public that it has blurred the reality of what’s really happening in education. What’s more, it’s eroding a noble profession and wreaking havoc on student learning, says Kevin Kumashiro, author of Bad Teacher!: How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture.

In his book, Kumashiro, president of the National Association for Multicultural Education and professor of Asian American Studies and Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, explains how scapegoating public-school teachers, teacher unions, and teacher education masks the real, systemic problems in education. He also demonstrates how trends like market-based reforms and fast-track teacher certification programs create obstacles to an equitable education for all children."

Suspicious that our schools are not as good as they should be have led to much speculation about what might be done to correct this problem”, (Armstrong, Henson, and Savage).  In the 21st century teachers face the goal of preparing students to live in a very different world than ten, twenty, and thirty years ago.  News stories abound with tales of bad teachers and bad reviews of American education in contrast to other countries.  All this while more and more students are entering American schools from poor socio-economic backgrounds, greater numbers of English Language Learners, and more and more students and parents whose values and perspectives differ with their teachers.  One interesting fact is that the American public rates its neighborhood schools higher than schools in general.  The American teacher has thus been “Jesusified” to improve education.

The foundations for Common Core trace back to the 1992 presidential election.  Then president of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), Marc Tucker, wrote to then First Lady Hillary Clinton.  Tucker envisioned a national, comprehensive system.  He stated, “It needs to be a system driven by client needs (not agency regulations or the needs of the organization providing the services), guided by clear standards that define the stages of the system for the people who progress through it, and regulated on the basis of outcomes that providers produce for their clients, not inputs into the system.”  As the Bill Clinton presidency progressed, education laws were passed such as Goals2000, the School-to-Work Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  These laws gave more power to federal officials over education in the U.S. through standardization of the curriculum, testing, and data collection.

Hillary Clinton supported and promoted Common Core—an education initiative developed in 2009.  Common Core was implemented during the Barack Obama administration and supported by Clinton and others.  She maintained her support for the standards throughout the Obama presidency.  During the first debate of the 2016 presidential election, then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called Common Core “the most important non-family enterprise”. 

Hillary Clinton was either unaware of the public’s dislike for Common Core or was attempting to politically advance the standards and testing methods in-spite of the fact.  However, the lack of support for Common Core was not lost on the Democrat National Committee.  Wikileaks, an international organization that publishes private and significant information, released an email from Eric Walker, Deputy Communications Director at the DNC.  In the email Walker stated,

“A) Common Core is a political third rail that we should not be touching at all. Get rid of it.

B) Most people want local control of education so having Cruz and Trump saying it on a DNC video is counterproductive. Would get rid of any references to that.

C) We wanted Christie in there bc he’s a trump surrogate / could be trump VP / most anti-teacher guy out there. He’s yelled at pretty much everyone, there HAS to be video of him yelling at teachers and looking like a bully

D) Need Cruz saying dept of ed should be abolished. If you can’t find it – use this from AFP summit: “The department of Education – which should be abolished”

“The professional teacher recognizes that the classroom is a complex environment; the most successful teacher is one who is capable of making decisions and solving problems in that environment.”  (Wong).  What are the challenges?  The list is long and varied from child to child and school to school.  Among the challenges may be pop culture, media, drugs, divorce, violence, learning American English, socio-economics, lack of materials, unproductive staff meetings, cell phone distractions, large class sizes--work load, ever changing standards, unsupportive principals and vice-principals, some union leaders, helicopter parents--neglectful parents--parent behavior, and student behavior.  Once again.  Tiresome as it is to repeat, yet if it is not repeated there are some people that will go into a rage. Yes, people know these challenges exist before getting into the teaching profession.  That does not; however, mean teachers should stay silent.  Speaking out, correcting misconceptions, and bringing to light these challenges is essential to being a good teacher.  The Jesusification of teachers says that teachers are the solution.

Parental aspirations for their children has a larger impact on student learning than feedback from teachers, study skills, homework, testing, and teacher education.  Other important factors in school:  self-reported grades--students predict their performance  1.44, reinforcement 1.13, instructional quality 1.00, testing .30, and teacher education 0.11.  Student characteristics:  prior cognitive ability 1.04 and disposition to learn .6.  Home influences:  parental aspirations for children’s educational achievement .80, home factors .67, home environment (socio-psychological) .57, parent involvement .46, transiency/mobility -0.34, negative .34.  Social influences:  peer .38 and television -.12, negative .12.  (Professor John Hattie).

How to solve these challenges.  That is where politicians, voters, administrators, principals, and school boards give teachers “tools” to work miracles.  Teachers tend to be people pleasers and often go along with these programs in hopes of helping their students.  Among these supernatural tools:  Project Self-Esteem, Whole Language, Multiculturalism, Professional Learning Communities, Data Teams, Clickers, A.V.I.D., Group Work, Devices, Merit Pay, President Obama’s Race to the Top, and ever changing district, state, and national standards.  

Tiresome as it is to repeat, no, these tools are not necessarily bad.  That does not mean they are good, that they solve problems, or that they don’t create other problems.  All to often, if not 100% of the time, these tools do not solve the root of the problem.  If you have a bad teacher in the classroom, one bad enough to worry that children are not learning, then it is actually best to fire the teacher within the first few years before they earn tenure.  Firing a teacher after tenure is still doable, although at that point we need to look at those school administrators.  We can back up the scenario even further and ask certain universities to improve their teacher credential programs, as well as the qualifications they set for entrance to their teaching programs.

This cycle of culture wars and political ping pong is hard to break.  It is not easy for politicians to negatively criticize the same people they wish to get votes from for election.  That goes for presidents, school board members, state assemblymen, ministers, and others.  It is far easier to blame state test results on too many bad teachers than to hold up a mirror to society.  The next time you hear a politician, TV host, or radio personality blame the state of education on too many bad teachers, ask them for their statistics, their proof, the numbers.  Yes, there are a few teachers that do not belong in teaching.  The story does not end there.  

Some tests are not designed to test a non-English speaking population, that is highly transient, and from families with parents that have little education themselves.  The current California State Test would be suitable to measure the student population of California in 1985, it is not suitable for the population in schools since 1985.  Finland’s education system has consistently ranked among the best in the world for more than a decade, making it the envy of every education reformer.  In Finland the emphasis is not entirely on standardized tests.  Finnish teachers are not highly monitored or rated based on test scores, and teachers (as well as their students) have a great deal of autonomy.  It is a system built on trust, and the film really drives home the notion that trust – rather than faux accountability – leads to real results, leads to teachers and students and members of government all wanting to live up to the trust given to them rather than simply scraping by.

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