Category Archives: Education / Youth

SB 500–Because Who Needs Oversight? Or Civics?

I have absolutely no idea why anyone would think Indiana needs a bill like SB 500, but State Senator Pete Miller (R-Avon) evidently thinks accountability is a communist plot–and civics a “frill.” He says his bill will “return local control.” The nonpartisan Marion County Commission on Youth (MCCOY) says what it will really do is remove accountability from Hoosier schools. A few of the (many) things this bill provides:

  • It makes accreditation of schools voluntary and removes requirements for school improvement plans, including schools that have been designated as needing improvement.
  • It removes any reporting of demographics of students or any reporting of suspensions or expulsions, including the reasons for the suspension or expulsion.
  • It establishes a “school data board” that will review all data collection requirements with the aim to “combine, streamline, or eliminate” data reporting by schools. No information will be able to be mandated for school data collection unless it goes through this cozy little committee first.
  • It removes school safety reporting requirements including suspensions and expulsions for alcohol, weapons and drugs.

The measure also removes a number of regulations related to student safety, bullying and mental health awareness. SB 500 entirely removes the current rule against cyber-bullying using a school’s computer, computer system or computer network.

What I find particularly outrageous at a time when Indiana ranks in the bottom tier of states in civic literacy and voter turnout, the bill also removes the requirement that instruction be provided in both public and nonpublic schools on the United States Constitution or the Indiana Constitution.

There’s much, much more. The bill eliminates parents’ ability to review instructional materials, and takes away a variety of other rights that parents have come to expect. But the major thrust of the bill is to stop making data on the schools’ academic and safety  performance available. As MCCOY notes,

Schools are required to compile and report certain types of data, particularly related to safety and discipline not only to protect students and inform parents and the public about how safe a school is, but also to ensure that they are providing high-quality education to all of their students and that certain students are not being left behind or excluded.

If they don’t have to report, parents and taxpayers will have no way of knowing how the schools are performing. I assume that’s the point. The GOP is constantly hyping school “choice,” but evidently they don’t want parents to have access to data that might actually inform that choice.

This bill is being heard Wednesday, January 28 at 1:30 p.m. in the Senate Education and Career Development Committee in the Senate Chambers. Anyone who can attend should make every effort to be there.

To view the bill in its entirety, visit: http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2015/bills/senate/500#document-f7a3b2a7

 

Testing…

I used to introduce my undergraduate Law and Public Policy class by administering a test–20 questions drawn from the citizenship test immigrants have to pass in order to become U.S. citizens.

I stopped because it was too depressing. Foreign students regularly passed the test; native-born students just as routinely failed it. So I’ve been intrigued by the recent effort to require American kids to pass the test in order to graduate from high school. Arizona was the first state to pass such a measure, and Sen. Kruse has advocated doing so in Indiana. 

Similar measures are under consideration in 15 states, according to Sam Stone, political director for the Civics Education Initiative, an Arizona-based non-profit group that is lobbying for the civics test across the country.

Stone told the newspaper that about 92 percent of immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship pass the test on their first try, but as few as 5 percent of high school students passed the test.

“Those are really poor numbers,” he said. “No matter how much knowledge you have, if you don’t know how to use that knowledge within our system of government, it’s not much good,” he said. “Our government was designed to be run by informed, engaged citizens. We have an incredibly dangerous form of government for people who don’t know how it works.”

No kidding!

So what are the pros and cons of requiring the citizenship test? The biggest pro is pretty obvious: it shines an important light on this country’s abysmal neglect of civic education. At the very least, students will have to learn the material covered by the test. If the past few years of high-stakes testing have shown us anything, it is that we don’t teach anything that isn’t tested.

And that leads to the “con.” A quibble, really.

In this era of “reform,” schools teach to the test, and a number of the questions on this particular test have a very tenuous connection to how our government actually works. (Knowing the date the Declaration of Independence was signed is nice, but distinguishing between the Declaration and the Constitution and understanding the role of each is more central to informed citizenship.) I would hope that passage of the measure–which I support!–would include a provision for updating the test as research gives us more information about what sorts of knowledge correlate most closely to civic participation and literacy.

But by all means, let’s send the message to young Americans that we expect them to actually know something about the country they will ultimately control.

 

 

 

 

It’s More Complicated Than That…

Education policy tends to be a staple discussion item in our family. My sister has headed the art program at Sycamore School for the past quarter-century and written several well-received books on arts pedagogy. Our daughter served three terms on the IPS school board, took a “time out” to work with education policy organizations, and was recently re-elected.

Family get-togethers, as you might imagine, focus a lot on education. If there is one thing I’ve learned during these (sometimes interminable) discussions, it’s that education in a highly diverse democracy is complicated–and that folks with the simple answers aren’t helping. (Yes, Governor Pence, that most definitely includes you.)

My sister recently shared a post from Edutopia, a respected education website, that goes a long way toward explaining why those simple answers are so often wrong answers. The author consults the available research to debunk 8 myths that undermine effectiveness–widely-held beliefs that are belied by the available evidence. (Class size really does matter. So does money. Etc.)

The entire post is worth a read, but one myth he explores–and debunks–is one that I admittedly had harbored: merit pay.

Paying more effective teachers more just seems like a no-brainer. The devil, as the author points out, is in the details.

The full argument is that merit pay is a good way to increase teacher performance, because teachers should be evaluated on the basis of student performance, and rewarding or punishing schools for student performance will improve our nation’s schools. However, evidence suggests that competition between teachers is counterproductive and interferes with collaboration. Measuring teacher effectiveness is very difficult, and no simple measures effectively do this. There is no evidence that merit pay correlates with improved student achievement, but there is strong evidence that basing teacher salaries on student performance is counterproductive and ethically wrong — it frequently punishes teachers and schools for socioeconomic factors over which they have no control.

Crap. Back to the drawing board…

 

When Will We Learn?

We Americans believe in magic bullets, in bumper-sticker solutions to complex problems.

Quick-and-easy.

Need to spur job creation? Pass “Right to Work” (for less) laws. Want to address poverty? Make the lives of poor people intolerable, so they’ll take one of those (non-existent) jobs. Want to make government more efficient? Outsource government functions to unaccountable for-profit vendors.

Are our public schools struggling? Let’s take their resources and create a parallel system.

How is that working out?

 A story that appeared at Forbes in late 2013 foretold a lot of what would emerge in 2014. That post “Charter School Gravy Train Runs Express To Fat City” brought to light for the first time in a mainstream source the financial rewards that were being mined from charter schools. As author Addison Wiggin explained, a mixture of tax incentives, government programs, and Wall St. investors eager to make money were coming together to deliver a charter school bonanza – especially if the charter operation could “escape scrutiny” behind the veil of being privately held or if the charter operation could mix its business in “with other ventures that have nothing to do with education.”

As 2014 began, more stories about charter schools scandals continued to drip out from local press outlets – a chain of charter schools teaching creationism, a charter school closing abruptly for mysterious reasons, a charter high school operating as a for-profit “basketball factory,” recruiting players from around the world while delivering a sub-par education.

Here and there, stories emerged: a charter school trying to open up inside the walls of a gated community while a closed one continued to get over $2 million in taxpayer funds. Stories about charter operators being found guilty of embezzling thousands of taxpayer dollars turned into other stories about operators stealing even more thousands of dollars, which turned into even more stories about operators stealing over a million dollars.

Does all of this prove that Charter schools are a bad idea? Absolutely not. Many charters are doing exactly what they were established to do–trying new and innovative education models, focusing on particular or at-risk populations, or otherwise offering creative alternatives from which public systems can borrow.

What it does mean is that there is no quick and easy “fix” for what ails education. No panacea.

The mere fact that a school is not part of the traditional public school system is not evidence that it is a good school, or even an acceptable one. Just as there are great public schools, there are great charter schools, but charter schools are not magic bullets. Charters and (especially) voucher programs require careful supervision and oversight–and they aren’t getting that oversight, because Americans think we can outsource all our civic responsibilities.

We can’t.

At some point, that hated government must exercise responsibility.

 

 

I Guess Facts Are Just a Matter of Opinion…

The things I learn at Juanita Jean’s (the World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon)! Juanita Jean writes from Texas, a state that is definitely in a league of its own (for which I am incredibly grateful…), so no matter how crazy any given story seems, you just know it’s true.

I am pleased to report, however, that even the most ridiculous agencies in the Great State of Texas evidently have their limits. As Juanita writes,

The Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition (formerly known as the Let’s All Drool Consortium) has submitted 469 pages identifying more than 1,500 “factual errors, omission of facts, half-truths and agenda biases” in proposed materials. The material was submitted a month after public comments ended on proposed changes to Texas textbooks.

Among its objections: A passage on coal mining should say it has “minimal effect on the environment”; a chapter on Spanish colonization of Latin America should point out the “continuous discrimination and oppression practiced by the native American peoples on each other”; and a statement that Shariah law requires religious tolerance of non-Muslims should be removed.

You will be gratified to learn that the Texas Board of Education–long an embarrassment–did not look kindly on these proposed changes. Not because they are ridiculous, but because they weren’t offered in a timely manner.

When you are creating an alternate reality in Texas, you really do need to do so in accordance with the official timetable.