"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, September 26, 2014

Your Morning Cup of Joe Kool-Aid

On September 25, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the new president of the NEA, appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe show (see embedded video below). The display of ignorance by the host and his "reformer" sidekick was breathtaking and began almost immediately.

One would think that before you start an interview with someone you would make sure you are informed of the facts. Joe Scarborough and Steve Rattner hadn't done their homework. Instead they stuck with "reformist" talking points. Scarborough focused on the "failure" of American public education. Rattner focused on the nation's poor showing on PISA, and both of them fought desperately to defend the nation's chief "reformer," Arne, never-attended-or-taught-in-a-public-school, Duncan

Early on Lily made reference to the Kool Aid...it was flowing freely.


At 1:43 Joe said
Obviously the reason why we started trying to figure out how to have a better way to measure student success and teacher success and school success is because of the failure of public education.
and a bit later, 2:27
You can't just come on here and ignore the plight of working class Americans and those in poverty who have horrific circumstances in their schools.
and 4:40
You have people so obsessed about the scores...
Much as she might have wanted to, Lily couldn't (or wasn't given time, or wouldn't) answer those claims. Perhaps it was just too much ignorance coming at her all at once.

First, the failure is not with public education, it is, instead, the nation's failure at dealing with the high rate of child poverty. Can we improve public education? Of course we can, though not by defunding, deprofessionalizing, and privatizing. We can improve it by making an investment in our future. See chapters 21 through 33 of Diane Ravitch's Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools for just one example.

Second, we can't ignore the plight of working class Americans and those in poverty...and Lily didn't do that. She correctly responded to this insulting implication by saying, "Nobody did that [ignore the plight...], nice straw man." This was probably the most effective response she had the whole morning, though it happened so quickly I doubt it registered with most watchers.

Third, people are so obsessed about the scores on standardized tests because NCLB and RttT have incentivized that obsession. If Joe had done his homework, and learned about the system of rewards and punishments instituted by the obsession with testing in this country, he would already understand that. Maybe it's because NBC, the parent company of his show, has a financial interest in school reform.


Enter Steve Rattner, another apparent shill for "reform." If you watch the video below pay close attention to how he dismisses everything that Lily says in response to his comments by saying things like, "yeah, yeah, but..." and "okay..." Perhaps, we shouldn't be surprised by this disrespect. Disrespect of educators is common with "reformers" (see the Straw Man incident, above). We are, after all, "only teachers." Kudos to Lily for not punching him in the nose.

He said, (4:51)
The US has fallen further and further behind other developed countries if you look at PISA.
He brings up Common Core -- because we all know that anti-common core sentiment is only present in whacky, lunatic fringe, right wingers. (NOTE: No one mentioned Common Core up to this point.)
I don't think you're going to blame the Common Core.
If the man had done his homework, he would have known that Lily doesn't hate the Common Core and in fact thinks it's just swell...it's just the testing issue that's a problem for her.

Lily told him that the reason Finland, Singapore et al are doing so well is because they are doing the opposite of us -- no privatization, no defunding, and no tossing untrained teachers into the highest need schools -- "There is no Teach for Finland."

Not to be distracted, and apparently ignoring everything she just said with yet another, "yeah, yeah, but...", Steve goes back to PISA...
We used to be here and now we're here.
Lily responds that the other countries improved. We didn't get worse.

And then, in a response that elicited a Chicago-esque phrase expressing dissatisfaction from me, Rattner said,
Finland moving is the same as saying we moved.
He had no response to the statement that high achieving nations are improving their public education systems instead of killing them by false "reforms." He had no response to the obvious conclusion that we have wasted billions of dollars and dozens of years on those false "reforms" while other nations did things which worked. He seemed to have no clue -- or else didn't care -- that there is a correlation between poverty and achievement.

He could only say, "yeah, yeah, but..."

[Insert a second Chicago-esque phrase here.]


Steve, you're right, we have "fallen further and further behind other developed countries if you look at PISA." Unfortunately, you're wrong about what it is we have fallen behind in. We haven't fallen behind in our education. We've fallen behind in the level of poverty in the United States and the level of Child Poverty specifically.

The PISA scores show a direct correlation to the level of poverty in the U.S. If you disaggregate the U.S. PISA scores by poverty level you'd find that our low poverty schools score at the top of the world on PISA...and even our high poverty schools score in the middle of the pack. The problem is that we have such a high rate of poverty compared to the high achieving nations that our average score is much lower.

And Steve, your statement that "Finland moved, so we moved" seems to imply that you're more concerned about our national rank on the tests than what is actually being learned in school. Finland moved up, so we moved down. You're right. You don't get to shout, "USA, USA, We're #1, We're #1!"

Unless of course, you're talking about childhood poverty.

It's fairly clear that Lily Eskelsen Garcia was discussing education policy with people who had no basis in fact for their opinions and weren't really interested in hearing what she had to say.



Mel Riddle, writing for the National Association of Secondary School Principals explains it so that even Steve and Joe could understand it...

PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid’
...notable is the relationship between PISA scores in terms of individual American schools and poverty. While the overall PISA rankings ignore such differences in the tested schools, when groupings based on the rate of free and reduced lunch are created, a direct relationship is established.

...Schools in the United States with less than a 10% poverty rate had a PISA score of 551. When compared to the ten countries with similar poverty numbers, that score ranked first.

...In the next category (10-24.9%) the U.S. average of 527 placed first out of the ten comparable nations.

...For the remaining U.S. schools, their poverty rates over 25% far exceed any other country tested. However, when the U.S. average of 502 for poverty rates between 25-49.9% is compared with other countries it is still in the upper half of the scores. [emphasis added]
Diane Ravitch explained the PISA scores...

My View of the PISA Scores
The U.S. has NEVER been first in the world, nor even near the top, on international tests.

Over the past half century, our students have typically scored at or near the median, or even in the bottom quartile.

...The point worth noting here is that U.S. students have never been top performers on the international tests. We are doing about the same now on PISA as we have done for the past half century.
She went on to pull 4 lessons from the scores...
Lesson 1: If they mean anything at all, the PISA scores show the failure of the past dozen years of public policy in the United States. The billions invested in testing, test prep, and accountability have not raised test scores or our nation’s relative standing on the league tables. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are manifest failures at accomplishing their singular goal of higher test scores.

Lesson 2: The PISA scores burst the bubble of the alleged “Florida miracle” touted by Jeb Bush. Florida was one of three states–Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida–that participated in the PISA testing. Massachusetts did very well, typically scoring above the OECD average and the US average, as you might expect of the nation’s highest performing state on NAEP. Connecticut also did well. But Florida did not do well at all. It turns out that the highly touted “Florida model” of testing, accountability, and choice was not competitive, if you are inclined to take the scores seriously. In math, Florida performed below the OECD average and below the U.S. average. In science, Florida performed below the OECD average and at the U.S. average. In reading, Massachusetts and Connecticut performed above both the OECD and U.S. average, but Florida performed at average for both.

Lesson 3: Improving the quality of life for the nearly one-quarter of students who live in poverty would improve their academic performance.

Lesson 4: We measure only what can be measured. We measure whether students can pick the right answer to a test question. But what we cannot measure matters more. The scores tell us nothing about students’ imagination, their drive, their ability to ask good questions, their insight, their inventiveness, their creativity. If we continue the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations in education, we will not only NOT get higher scores (the Asian nations are so much better at this than we are), but we will crush the very qualities that have given our nation its edge as a cultivator of new talent and new ideas for many years.


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


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