Saturday, October 02, 2010

Oklahama school district removes 'dead white men' rap

PUBLIC officials in Oklahoma were forced to halt the use of a rap-themed education tool for at-risk students after critics complained about the curriculum's lyrics, some of which refer to the U.S. founding fathers as "old dead white men".

The program, known as Flocabulary, uses raps and rhymes to help students learn academic content. It includes music and corresponding textbooks that explain the lyrics line by line, reported The Oklahoman yesterday.

The Oklahoma City school district said it would put the program on hold to evaluate it after 15 teachers complained about its version of U.S. history. "

One song, entitled "Old Dead White Men" gives an account of the leadership of early US presidents. Some of its lyrics about James Monroe include, "White men getting richer than Enron. They stepping on Indians, women and blacks. Era of Good Feeling doesn’t come with the facts."

The song goes on to say, "Andrew Jackson, thinks he's a tough guy. Killing more Indians than there are stars in the sky. Evil wars of Florida killing the Seminoles. Saying hello, putting Creek in the hell holes. Like Adolf Hitler he had the final solution. 'No, Indians, I don't want you to live here anymore.'"

"The science behind the concept is wonderful," Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Karl Springer said, according to The Oklahoman. "There may be some things, though, that are inappropriate that we need to be careful about."

The co-founder and CEO of Flocablulary, Alex Rappaport, said the lyrics are meant to be provocative and humorous. [HUMOROUS?? It's just black racism and pure hate]

The Oklahoma City School Board has authorized the district to spend $97,000 in federal funds on Flocabulary. The district has already spent $10,000.


British critics of choice in education should go back to school

Writing in the TES, English teacher Julie Greenhough has a short article entitled ‘Why freedom of choice is often no freedom at all’. It is sympathetic towards a view that has recently been expressed by many working in education: that freedom doesn’t work.

Ms Greenhough opens with the classic ‘too much choice’ argument. Apparently, she didn’t buy a cup of tea because she was faced with too much choice. I suppose that is why shops don’t tend to sell thousands of different pots of jam or types tea for that matter. And this, I suppose, is the reason companies advertise and build up branding, as we don’t want to read the label of every product. Instead, we can draw on information from the market and get a free ride from even more advanced consumers. Variable pricing also transmits useful signals of this front, while feedback from friends, family, the media, as well as consumer oriented magazines and websites are part of the process.

Next there is a swipe at those supporting Swedish-style reforms in education. Ms Greenhough thinks the fact that we spend 5.6% of GDP and Sweden spends 7.1% of GDP on education is enough to cast the reforms aside as useless. Of course more money can help (up to a point), but it is far from the be all and end all of a good education system. If it were, Cuba would be twice as advanced in education as even Sweden and that is clearly not the case. In fact, the fact that the Swedish reforms have proved so successful – garnering increasing support from parents, pupils and politicians – suggests that we can see improvements without having to spend more money, a policy that surely deserves support from libertarians and socialists alike.

In the final part of the article, Ms Greenhough suggests that because more pupils have been achieving better grades, we are already seeing educational improvement. I wish this were the case. Recently Mick Waters claimed that the exam system is ‘diseased’. Although Mr Waters misdirects his ire at the wrong target – it is principally the fault of government regulation, not disreputable companies – there can be little doubt that the image he portrays is broadly accurate. Grades are being inflated and devalued as fast as the pound. Radical change is needed if this is to be reversed.


The federal takeover of education

Federal control over education has been growing since the 1960s despite the fact that the word "education" does not appear in the Constitution of the United States. Now, as the current administration pushes for national education standards, federal control over education is about to expand considerably at the expense of state and local control.

A little more than a year ago, state leaders launched the Common Core State Standards Initiative to develop a common set of K-12 standards in English and math. The standards they developed, known as the "Common Core," are the first and only common education standards. Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott described the push for national education standards as "a step toward a federal takeover of the nation's public schools."

Although the Common Core standards were developed by the states and not the federal government, federal funding has been linked to their adoption. Using a combination of carrot and stick, the current administration has been pressuring states to adopt the standards.

As an incentive, states that adopted the Common Core by August 2, 2010 greatly improved their chances of receiving a share of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top federal grant money. The strategy worked: most states adopted the standards. However, only nine states and the District of Columbia were actually awarded the money. All ten of those winners had adopted the standards.

As a penalty, states that failed to adopt the Common Core risked losing funding from Title I, a $14.4 billion program that provides funds for low-income students. Most school districts participate in the Title I program.

This penalty was announced in a White House press release issued on February 22, 2010. It stated that new polices from the Obama Administration would "require all states to adopt and certify that they have college- and career-ready standards in reading and mathematics, which may include common standards developed by a state-led consortium, as a condition of qualifying for Title I funding."

Public discussion about the Common Core has been severely limited because of the rush to establish national education standards and the lack of transparency in the procedures involved.

Alabama State Board of Education member Betty Peters said, "It is most unfortunate that the American public has been left out of the most drastic change ever in public education; even most school board members have been kept in the dark when it comes to details."

Are Americans being bypassed once again by this administration? Remember when the health care reform bill and financial reform bill were rushed through Congress before anyone could learn what was in them? Remember when U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said, "But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy"? Now, with the same warp speed and stealth, this administration is pushing for national education standards.

Part of the stealth has involved proponents maintaining that adoption of the Common Core is a voluntary decision to be made by each state and outside the realm of the federal government. But is it really? Or does voluntary adoption disappear when federal financial strings are attached?

At a time when states are facing difficult economic times and budget shortfalls, how would they be able to justify turning down millions of federal dollars? Typically, when federal financial strings are attached, control begins with a nudge. Then it's a push. Then it's a shove. Ultimately, it ends up becoming a takeover. For now, it's a nudge to national education standards. Then it will be a push to national testing. Then it will be a shove to a national curriculum.

Consider the federal funding for No Child Left Behind which led to mandatory testing and proficiency requirements for the states. Did that federal intervention actually lead to higher academic standards or improved student outcomes? No, it led to the dumbing down of many state standards and zero improvement in student outcomes.

In fact, ever since President Lyndon Johnson implemented the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, federal involvement in education has led to zero improvement in student outcomes.

Who is benefiting from the federal government's expanding role in education? It's not the students or society as a whole. So who then?

Should federal involvement in education be expanded even further with the creation of national standards, national testing, and a national curriculum? Or should state and local governments be liberated from additional federal tyranny and be allowed to make their own decisions about education?

In exchange for temporary federal money, state and local governments would give up their authority over education. The loss of that authority would mean that public schools would no longer be directly accountable to school boards. Parents and other taxpayers would lose their voice in the selection of standards, testing, and curriculum.

In other words, those who have the greatest vested interest and the most at stake in improving student outcomes would have the least amount of control over the process.

Thus far, I have not addressed the quality of the Common Core. Federal intrusion has obscured the discussion over whether or not these particular standards are any good. Again, the rush to establish national education standards and the lack of transparency in the procedures involved have severely limited public discussion on the matter.

Just because the Common Core are the first and only common education standards does not mean they are the best possible ones. Because academic standards vary widely from state to state, the Common Core may improve some state standards while worsening others. For these reasons alone, it would not make sense to make the Common Core the de facto national education standards. However, that is exactly what is happening because of the federal government's nudging.

Unfortunately, many states have already adopted the Common Core, but it's not too late for the others. They can still choose to maintain their authority over education and continue to empower parents and taxpayers, the people who have the greatest vested interest and the most at stake in improving student outcomes.

The Founding Fathers knew that national control of curriculum would result in national control of ideas. It was no oversight that they left the word "education" out of the Constitution of the United States.


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