Monday, February 21, 2011

Stop fighting lost causes; start talking with the people

By Laurie H. Rogers

I’ve had a Eureka moment.

We advocates for public education heroically argue against bad legislation, bad policy, and bad process. Ultimately, it’s a losing battle. We spend scarce time and energy fighting a single fire – watching numbly as 20 more erupt. And the fire we thought we’d extinguished flares up again.

We, the People are on one side – minimally funded, with minimal time. On the other side is the Education Machine: administrators, legislators, governors, national leaders, business and institutional interests, and folks with a reform agenda. The Machine has the process sewn up tight – people in their pocket, well-heeled connections, powerful promises, backroom deals, and seductive lies.

Just look at much of public education today. The most dedicated, caring teachers can’t overcome the program: We have guessing and estimation rather than accuracy; weak process; insufficient grammar, civics, or math skills; no cursive writing (so, no reading original historical documents); constant group work and "consensus-building" that lead to groupthink; "peer reviews"; low achievement; weak skills; social issues and self-esteem trumping academics; inadequate testing; deceitful scoring; manipulated data; wasted taxpayer dollars; and administrative denial and obstruction. It takes one's breath away.

It’s time to switch gears. It’s time to stop arguing with the power structure and start talking with the people.

What do students need in any academic subject? They need a strong set of learning materials, an effective teacher, and a focused learning environment. We, the People must work together to make this happen, to focus on what matters, and to push for what our children and our country need.

The Education Machine doesn’t want this kind of involvement. Legislation is oozing across the country that will remove the People from the process, through a) “common” K-12 standards/tests/curriculum; b) consolidation and centralization of public education “from cradle to career”; and c) elimination of elected positions. Why are they forcing this legislation? Because it’s easier to press an agenda when no one can argue.

Textbooks and program materials

School administrators like to say that the textbook is less important than the learning standards. Here's why that's wrong. With good materials that are clear, logical, concise and thorough … written in appropriate language for those who are to learn from them ... students don't need standards OR testing to learn sufficient content. Conversely, with excellent standards and testing, but with weak materials, students are unlikely to learn sufficient content. 

Our daughter is a prime example. We’ve tutored her in math since the 4th grade. We pulled her out of her 6th-grade and 8th-grade math classes to avoid reform content and excessive constructivism. She takes a traditional textbook to school and works on her own. At home, I check for good process, correct answers, understanding and application. She’s comfortably halfway through Algebra II. She blows Washington’s weak tests out of the water. She took the PSAT as an 8th grader and scored in the 94th percentile in math. The difference in math knowledge between her and most Spokane 8th graders is a mountain. Most of them could be where she is, but Spokane teachers must use the materials and process they’re given.

The keys to learning math are efficiency and effectiveness in content and in teaching. Interestingly, parents, teachers, students, and community members want to talk about these things, while administrators, legislators, politicians, and policy makers do not. Meanwhile, the People are being neatly excised from discussions, as the tentacles of national standards and national tests envelop the nation. These initiatives are unlikely to bring clear, logical, concise, and thorough materials into our schools. Here’s why.

Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and common test initiatives

Shortly after Arne Duncan was appointed Secretary of the Department of Education, advocates heard about an initiative to develop national standards. Called the Common Core State Standards initiative, or CCSS, it wasn’t a new idea. The 1989 NCTM Standards, which brought today’s reform math into our schools, were an example of de facto national standards, albeit not mandatory.

Billed as a grass-roots effort, the CCSS were to align all state standards and produce stability and international competitiveness – supposedly for less money. States, districts, organizations and companies fell in line with this federal vision – lured, no doubt, by political alliances and promises of money.

I respect the effort and intent of some traditionalists who helped write the CCSS, but in the end, these initiatives will bury us in more bad materials. People who oppose anything of a more traditional bent are excited at the prospect of the CCSS. States began signing on to the CCSS sight unseen. Supporters didn’t seem bothered by early weak drafts or by public concerns over the clarity, rigor, and thoroughness of the final version. State adoption processes often cut out or ignored public opposition. Proponents dismissed public concerns about “local control,” “state rights,” and “federal overreach.”

What’s the result? Even supporters of the initiatives acknowledge that the CCSS for math aren’t as good as Washington’s 2008 math standards. Why would taxpayers want to spend scarce dollars adopting standards that aren’t as good? We don’t, but the Machine is determined to do it. If the CCSS are a pathway to more reform math – this time, reform will be mandated, and the people will be powerless to change it.

The process of adopting the CCSS in Washington State was fraught with secrecy, deceit and manipulation. We, the People were allowed just minimal involvement. Despite what the people were led to believe, the 2011 legislature never had a chance to vote against the their permanent adoption. It was a done deal from the beginning, on the sneak -- before the standards were written, before the people saw them, before we could give input.

These political machinations at local, state and federal levels indicate that the initiatives are about control, not academics. The CCSS are dangerous, and the Education Machine wants them badly. How will We, the People argue with Sec. Duncan, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the NGA, the CCSSO, Achieve, Pearson Education, Texas Instruments, state legislators, our governor, our superintendents, various institutions, and multiple corporations and organizations? Our interests are about our children and our country – not about profits, ego, reform ideology, and political alliances.

The solution, then, is to stop arguing. Stop fighting with an immoveable force. Start rousing the people. We advocates have been nobly but ineffectually focused on putting out spot fires, and we’ve neglected to light a fire under the people. When the people do hear the truth, they listen, they understand, and they want to save their children.

We need to remove from our classrooms 1) reform math programs, 2) excessive constructivism, and 3) constant distraction from academics. If district staff won’t do it, then the superintendent must replace them with people who will. If she/he won’t do it, then the school board must replace him/her with someone who will. If the school board won’t do it, then the people must vote out the school board. If that doesn’t happen, then parents have choices to make about how they’ll get good materials to their children.

District people keep trying to distract the conversation away from the math materials. But - minus that distraction - the people can hear us. Advocates must stay focused.

Here’s what needs to happen for things to improve for the children:
  • Replace K-12 reform programs with programs that are clear, logical, concise, and thorough, and that are proved to be effective in scientifically conducted, peer-reviewed research.
  • Teachers must be allowed to directly teach their students.
  • The learning environment must be focused on academics.
  • Remediation must be provided to all students who require it.
 In addition, to retain our voice and to promote real public accountability:
  • The CCSS must be stopped. CCSS adoptions must be reversed.
  • Centralization of public education, and the elimination of elected positions, must be rejected. In WA, there are half a dozen bills that seek to consolidate and centralize public education, pre-K to career:
  • Check registers for school districts and state education agencies must be posted online. It’s all our money. Let’s see where it’s going. I guarantee that a) there’s a lot more money for public education than you think, and b) most of it isn’t going where you think it is.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:

Rogers, L. (February 2011). "Stop fighting lost causes; start talking with the people." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

No comments:

Post a Comment