Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Flunking the "Accountability" Mongers

Yesterday I was about to publish a new blog post about the state board of education, their last meeting on July 19th, the way that Glenda Ritz was marginalized and much of her power usurped, when the story about Tony Bennett rigging the system of the grading schools in order to appease a major donor and charter school operator broke. Darn.  I'll publish it tomorrow.

If you haven't read the emails that were obtained by an AP reporter through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), you should.  It's shocking to me that Bennett and his staff would put this stuff in writing.  My public education advocate friends and I were nearly giddy at first with this news of his wrongdoing and cheating.  Bennett was a bully and a zealot. He was deaf to the cries of protest from teachers and parents alike about his "reforms" and the effects that they were having on the classroom experience.  And he got his comeuppance last November when he lost to Glenda Ritz. Badly.  Now I hope that his new job as Florida's education commissioner will be in jeopardy, too.  

The beauty of this story is that it exposes what so many of us have been saying all along.  These "reforms" (grading schools, taking away teacher voices through the loss of collective bargaining, tenure, evaluations based on test scores, corporate takeover over failing schools, charters, vouchers, etc.) were and are not about improving the educational experience for children..  They are about destroying public education and putting in place a model of private schools and letting "free markets" work their magic.  It is about profit.

As I've said many times, the bottom line for a business is the dollar.  The bottom line for public schools is the child.  No parent wants his or her child's education to be a commodity to be bought and sold.  We don't want our children to be points on a graph of data, the purpose of which is to show that public schools are failing.  We want our kids to have a rich educational experience led by a professional teacher, not some Teach for America kid who has no background in child development, methods, student teaching and the myriad of ways that teacher education programs create those experts in the field who work their magic with our kids every single day.

And speaking of magic... We always knew that no letter grade issued from politicians in the statehouse could sum up the magical things that our teacher and children accomplish every day in the classroom.  We've been frustrated that many of our school districts have advertised their high grades on banners across administration buildings, on stationery, on telephone voice mails at schools.  Enough already.  If you celebrate your "A" status, you are validating a system that is, by its very design, punishing children in poverty and the teachers who positively affect their lives everyday.  The A-F metric system of grading schools is an ALEC law put in place by our state legislators. It is a grade on a curve.  Why, you ask, would they set up a curve where nearly a third don't make the cut every year? Well, if you're looking to show that schools are failing, there's nothing like ensuring it.  And if the schools you care about (Tony Bennett) don't receive the grade you hoped they would, just cheat.  Rig the system again.

I hope that you are outraged.  I hope that the schools across Indiana will stop announcing their grades and begin an era of non-compliance with regard to a system of grading that is designed to fail public schools. This is no accountability system. This is just another tool in the box of reformers to privatize public education and make a buck.

How should we evaluate our schools, then? There was a great article recently, ironically about the grading system in Florida, before their commish Tony Bennett got in hot water this week.  In the article, a PTA mother, Rosemarie Jensen, makes the suggestion that we evaluate our schools on several things:

*the degrees and experience of the staff
*is there a library and librarian?
*do they have gym, music and art teachers?
*do they have foreign languages and a science lab?
*are there many guidance counselors?
*what are the class sizes?
*is there a broad curriculum and range of electives?

And she says: " These are all the things that parents look for in private schools. Public school children deserve all these things regardless of the neighborhood they live in. Every child deserves a fully funded, well rounded safe neighborhood school, staffed by professional educators with education degrees."

She's right.  These are the things that parents care about. And this is why we must demand from our state legislators that they stop gutting the funding of our public schools through vouchers and entitlements to charter schools (paying their loans).  We must demand that they stop spending our precious dollars on tests and testing companies, wasting valuable classroom time and sucking the joy out of learning.   We must demand that they see to it that we have all of the above characteristics of schools given to all of our children, regardless of zip code. We must also demand that our local school districts not be accomplices to their own demise.  Downplay the role of ISTEP and IREAD3 in our kids' experiences.  Don't validate an "A" grade from the state. This is enabling the reformers.  If you are co-dependent, find a 12 step program.  "Hello, I'm a school board member and I'm addicted to competition in education... I've bought into the Race to the Top."  Any and all school board members, state legislators, the governor, who have supported these reforms should be voted out at the next opportunity. 2014 is around the corner.

As the saying goes, "Childhood is not a race. It's a journey." Demand true accountability from your state legislature and state board of ed.  Tell them what your school should be evaluated on and ask them how they are helping to ensure it.  It's time to get active. Be informed. And vote. Give those legislators a failing grade in the next election.

Truthiness: Tony Bennett believes in "accountability." As in: 
"Despite their outcomes, that school's performance doesn't seem like a 'C'--We know in our gut that they deserve an 'A'.   Otherwise, our accountability work is compromised." Truthiness.