Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Are Democrats Eating Their Own Over Charter Schools?

De Blasio checkmated?

Amidst all of the 24/7 coverage of the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, a news story did manage to bubble up from the depths and it posed an interesting question.Are Democrats really concerned about minorities and the poor?Are they really looking to help them achieve success and prosperity in life?

In a move that garnered more attention than newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio probably expected, a decision was made to close some, and limit the growth of other Charter schools in New York City.

De Blasio’s major foe on this issue is Success Academy Networks CEO, Eva Moskowitz.She runs 22 city schools with millions of dollars in assets and is determined to keep alive the promise that former mayor Bloomberg gave to keep and expand the charter school program.

At the center of this firestorm is the decision to displace the 200 students from the highly performing Success Academy Harlem Central Middle School. This particular school which opened in 2012 boasts some of the city’s highest scores.As recently as 2013, 96% of fifth graders at that school passed state math exams, the highest passing rate in the state. Now, De Blasio wants to boot them from their public space and force the children into lower performing public schools.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has come out swinging against de Blasio and in support of Moskowitz and the charter school program.He has even gone so far as to suggest that perhaps a “technical” change could be made to the state law that would protect the schools.

This is a tricky position for both of these hard-core Democrats to be in since everyone knows that they are beholden to the unions in that state.Especially the teachers union which is putting the screws to any elected official that dares to jump ship after they got them elected.

Cuomo’s position on this matter is to include in his budget more state money for the Charter schools.This is in line with former Mayor Bloomberg’s thinking.De Blasio, on the other hand, says that Charter schools have a “destructive impact” on traditional schools and has vowed to charge rent to these schools which are privately run but publicly funded.They also have non-union teachers.

The 6700 students in schools run by Ms Moskowitz are 90% black or Hispanic.These children have consistently outscored traditional schools on state tests.They not only outperformed in math, but in reading, they triumphed with 58% vs 26%.

This begs the question; what are they really concerned with?Is it about advancing the lives and education of the mostly minority children that are affected, or continuing the downward spiral that we have seen in public education for decades?This is the only chance that many of these children have to get out of the substandard education system of the New York public schools.The stats speak for themselves and the parents know it.

Many Democrat voters who championed de Blasio’s more Socialist agenda are now turning on him when it begins to affect their children.Most parents want to see their children succeed in life and many of these families are watching a bureaucrat take away that one opportunity that was promised to them.

Dig a little deeper however and you can see that both Democrats at the center of this firestorm are not really looking out for the best interests of the children.Even though I favor Cuomo’s side, I found that he has major ambitions to run for President in 2016 and is courting money from Wall Street and hedge-fund managers who favor Charter schools.They have lined his pockets with over $400,000 in contributions and the number rises even higher when you add in bankers, philanthropists and real estate moguls who support education and Charter school causes.

De Blasio, on the other hand, is in the pocket of the unions.He depends on their undying support which is why he continues his income inequality mantra ad nauseum.

So the Democrats find themselves between a rock and a hard place.They are being faced with hypocrisy and can’t find a way out.They are fighting among themselves and splitting their voters.This issue is spreading across the country and even Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has to take a side on this subject When they find themselves hurting the very people that they depend on to get re-elected, what do they do?

Do the right thing, or cave into special interests and money?What do you think?


Common Core and Obamacare: Two Peas in a Pod

Two of the biggest intrusions into American liberty have come because American politicians assume things that just aren’t true. Specifically, that it’s the duty of the federal government to guarantee that the entire population is educated and healthy.

There is almost no debate that people should have health care and education. But why should the federal government be involved?

In the fantasy lexicon of government bureaucracy, education means, “someone will pay for your college degree” or “you will pass tests” and health care means “someone will pay for your health insurance.” Sadly these definitions have nothing to do with what health care and education are really about.

Education is about learning. Learning can occur in many places outside of traditional classrooms. Measuring learning effectively is difficult, because each child is different, so the government seeks to quantify it through examining who goes to school or who passes tests.  Most recently, the federal government has sought to extend control of educational outcomes through “Common Core” standards and assessments.

As an educator, I find the idea of creating uniform standards of measurement, for every public school in the nation located in those states which have adopted such standards, disturbing.  Teachers understand that students are not robots. Government-imposed educational standards limit creativity and force teachers to abandon innovation in favor of conformity.

The issue is not just the quality or lack thereof of the standards themselves. It’s that government-imposed standards come with government-defined goals and measurements, and a government-directed student database.

For example, the Common Core standards operate according to a premise that the education of a child should be for the purpose of“college, career and life”   readiness. What is “life readiness?”  How is that term even defined, and how is it measured when a youth graduates from high school?

By pretending it has the ability to define and measure readiness for “college, career, and life” the government can promise to bring comprehensive change to public education when, in reality, it is simply accruing power.

Though they are not often linked, the arguments for federal government involvement in healthcare and education are strikingly similar. Like education, government uses definitional changes to trick citizens and fake its own success on the issue of health care. Notice in the debate over health care, what the government actually mandated was a product – health insurance. Health care is not health insurance. Yet, in the world of bureaucratic control, these are the same. Notice that the government measures Obamacare’s success not by whether citizen’s health has improved but by how many citizens have signed up. This is absurd.

Health care and education are intensely personal and are not given to standardized measurements and centralized controls. By redefining education and healthcare and then pretending to be able to solve the problems in each, the federal government shields itself from the truth. Uncle Sam’s attempted solutions often have only made matters worse.  Politicians love to promise us the things we desire, but informed citizens should scrutinize carefully what they are really saying.

It is time we stopped letting politicians pretend they know how to run our lives. If local communities can no longer educate their children or take care of their sick, then America is in trouble. Government has the power to coerce but not the power to heal. Government has the power to regulate but not the ability to educate. It is time for Americans to stand and reclaim their freedom from the bureaucratic leviathan lest, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” shall perish from the earth.


Teaching history in British secondary schools

Getting history teachers to agree on pretty much anything, is quite difficult. If you ever want to see some ding-dongs between teaching staff, just sit in on a History Department meeting and watch the sparks fly.

I cannot imagine my colleagues from the Maths department slogging it out over Pythagoras' Theorem or chemists disputing the periodic table. But, historians; yes, historians are hard work. Even when we agree on the evidence, we rarely agree on the evaluation or analysis of it.

History throws up the best debates and the best arguments. That’s why it is such a fun, vibrant subject to teach. I think Mr Gove might well have found that out; writing in the Daily Mail to bemoan the "leftie" belief that World War One was a mistake.

Depending on the history teacher you had in front of you, Dunkirk was either a triumph or a humiliation. The British Empire was jolly good or rather awful. King John was a nice chap or a nasty piece of work. And, the First World War was either a total disaster in which millions of decent people were led to their slaughter by an “out of touch elite” or a just war that put an end to the imperialist ambitions of an autocrat and an attempt to stand up for the self-determination of the people of Europe.

Michael Gove believes the latter, whereas Professor Richard Evans et al, believe the former.

I don’t necessarily see this as a “political” argument (though clearly Mr Gove does) but the wild reaction of the left suggests he might be right and I might be wrong.

Twitter exploded, with many declaring that Mr Gove ought to have no view on history whatsoever and that, at any rate, his view of history was clearly wrong. I saw one tweet that read 'Michael Gove defends deaths of 37 million people as “just"'.

Actually, that wasn’t what he said, but our Education Secretary does seem to have a knack of pushing all the wrong buttons with a large number of people.

Mr Gove was saying, from what I can see, that the war was one worth fighting (asking what would have happened if Britain hadn’t gone to defend Belgium in 1914) and that our leadership weren’t inept per se, but just badly equipped for the conflict ahead.

Both sides of the argument here seem to have missed the point, and especially missed the point of history teaching. Give the students both sides of the story and let them decide; let the students argue the point, debate the evidence and take a view. Any student who could do that and explain why they have reached that viewpoint is doing well, I’d say.

Personally, I think that Mr Gove has a point about an overuse of certain popular “historical sources” like Blackadder, but when set against other sources – Path√© newsreels or newspaper cartoons of the age, for example – they have their role to play.

I certainly wouldn’t show Blackadder and expect students to use that as their basis for understanding the war. I have to admit that I have shown clips of Blackadder, but I haven’t struggled to find other sources which support the case that Haig was not a bumbling idiot.

If we can get the students to decide if dropping the A-Bomb in 1945 was justified, then surely we can get them to debate World War One in an open manner.

If “lefties” (whoever they are) can accept that Mr Gove has a right to speak out, a right to make a case, even a right to pen an article for the Daily Mail, and if Mr Gove can accept other people's perceptions of events like World War One – which was a hundred years ago but not unchallengeable as a milestone in our nation’s history – we can then say to young people that trying to shout down the other side really won’t do. We can put the cases together and intelligently weigh up different viewpoints and come to a balanced judgment. Perhaps that really would be a fitting outcome of this row.


No comments: